The technology recovered from the Batarians had been brought back to the
ancient labs and analyzed, and it became startlingly clear to her from
the reports the difference in their weapon-design paradigms. A pile of
report scrolls lay piled on the floor next to her bed, all originating
from somewhere deep inside the mountain. One of them detailed the
operational theory of the weapon, its origins, and its inner workings
complete with detailed sketches of the disassembly. Another carried a
transcript of the Batarian’s interrogation and the degree to which he
faltered as they administered the surgical procedures upon his
completely alien biology--there was another scroll for that, covered in
more sketches and notes outlining the procedures and every note and
diagram of his anatomy, along with speculations of theorized female
constructs. All of them were copies; the originals were headed for the
Royal Archives for safekeeping.
Celestia remembered the day that she had begun mentorship of
Dustov: like most of her students, only Celestia had recognized the
potential where others only cowered in fear and ignorance. There had
been some concerns about her after her cutie mark had been revealed to
be a scalpel across a threaded needle--there were so few surgeries
performed or even needed in the soft world of Equestria--but she showed
incredible talent in her field. She was meticulous, reliable,
methodical, and above all, curious. Celestia could not ask for a better
pony for the job. Dustov had been personally assigned by Celestia for
the wet-work down in the labs, and her notes showed annoyance at Luna’s
presence and interference during the dissection. She sighed; she’d talk
to Luna later about it, but there was nothing to be done about what had
The...probe, as he called it, levitated in front of her. She had
removed it from the small sealed room they had kept it in, since it had
been revealed that it was ever-watching, but now she wanted to talk with
The Illusive Man again, a human. She recalled the description the
Batarian had given them of humans: ambitious beyond their capability,
racist, manipulative, deceitful, conniving, both morally restrictive and
evangelical, and bred like vermin. They were a blight upon the galaxy.
She considered his words with a grain of salt. It had been
hundreds of millennia since she had been required to deal with
inter-species and galactic politics, and the petty squabbling of mortals
gave her such a headache. It was safe to assume, however, that this
galaxy was not a safe place to wander about. She needed details,
“Guard,” she called, “please summon Quill for me.”
“At once, your highness,” he replied through the door. A short
moment later, the unicorn pony known as Quill knocked once on the door
and bounded into the room, a bright smile on his face. A quill across a
scroll was branded on the flank of his light-brown coat, and as he
trotted gleefully into the room, his frazzled blond hair bowed up and
down. He carried several scrolls in one side of his saddlebags and a
bundle of quills with several bottles of ink in the other.
“Yes, your highness? What can I do for you?” he started. “Shall I
take a letter? An essay? A memo? A list? Speaking of lists, I just
recently completed one abou-”
“Please, Quill,” she interjected, “A transcript will be fine.”
“Of course, Princess.” He whipped out his writing equipment, horn aglow. “Classification?”
“Top Secret, Code White. I will be speaking to someone through
this device, Quill. Anything it says is to be labeled as ‘Tim.’” Quill
Her hoof tapped against the glass a couple times above the square
bubble. She knew he could see her. The thing flickered to life.
“Hello, Princess.” Tim sat against the multi-colored backdrop of
what Celestia thought was a star of some kind. Only his silhouette was
visible and two blue dots glowed from inside his head.
“Greetings, Tim. I have considered your offer of assistance, but I believe you will want something in return.”
“That’s true, Princess. Not much in the galaxy is free after all,
but I think we can reach an agreement that benefits the both of us.”
“I’m sure we’ll see.”
“Now, I’m not sure exactly what you want. Maps? Weapons? Basic
technology, like computers?” He paused to take a drag. “We’re not
exactly sure about your technological progress,” he exhaled, light blue
smoke drifted in the air in front of him. “If you dealt with the slavers
that easily, I’m sure you can make do.”
“Maps and weapons will be fine, Tim.” She thought for a moment before asking “What do you mean by ‘computers’?”
“Electronic information systems. We use them for just about everything. Do you have anything like that?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“That’s fine. This probe has an empty VI in it. I can send the
information to him and he can explain everything.” Another puff. “That
is, once our negotiations are complete. I have yet to explain my part of
“I’m listening,” she said with a smile.
“Your world is full of precious minerals and resources that my
people want, Princess. Jewels, diamonds, eezo, and, most importantly,
magic. Not just any kind, the kind that actually works. I’d like to
trade some knowledge. These abilities can be very useful to my
organization.” He put the smoking thing back up to his face.
“And just what will that entail, Tim?”
“I’ll send a small delegation of representatives of my people to
your planet. You can train them for me in exchange for the VI’s data.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow theatrically, “You’ll have to do
better than just basic technological knowledge then, Tim. If you can
include the secrets of space-flight with us,” add a smile, “we’ll gladly
train your friends in the use of magic!”
“Done. You’re going to need it. I’ll send the data now. The VI
will explain everything you need to know. Also, the probe will serve as a
beacon for my crew’s ship to land, so you’ll need to put it in a proper
landing zone when they arrive in a couple days.”
“We look forward to making new friends, Tim.”
“Good. I expect this relationship to benefit us both,” he said right before the square bubble went black again.
Celestia placed the object back inside the closet and looked at Quill.
“Did you get all that?” she asked.
“Yes, Princess,” he replied, still scratching feverishly on the parchment.
“Take a note. There’s a scroll with a list of names marked with a
cog on the end; I want you to send summons to the ponies on that list.”
“Yes, Princess.” He paused, then looked up at her. “Are we really going to teach them magic, your highness?”
“Don’t be silly,” she said with a smile, “if they haven’t already
learned how to use it, they lack the capability.” They certainly did
not lack the capability for manipulations and lies. But here was another
opportunity for study. Here an opportunity to learn more about these
humans first-hand presented itself; she couldn’t let this chance for
testing them slip away. “And take another letter to Doctor Dustov, same
classification. Tell her to prepare for much more work; she’s going to
have new specimens to study in a few days.”
Gregor looked down at the map. The ship sped toward the traverse
faster than light itself, to a small, pastel-colored rock afloat in
space. Around him stood the rest of his team. They were going over the
mission details but Gregor thought the crew was trying to play another
prank on him. “So let me get straight,” he spoke with a thick Slavic
accent, “people on planet are all ponies. Ponies from Sol?” He crossed
“No, Gregor.” It was Robin who spoke at him. Her amazing looks
had cooled his anger throughout the trip, even though she annoyed him
greatly. She always seemed to speak down to him, but he thought the view
from below made up for it. “They only resemble ponies from Earth.
Surprisingly, they speak common and seem to have social values
resembling our own. The Illusive Man thinks they can train us in magic.”
“Magic? From pony?”
“I heard that they move their own sun around their planet.”
“Sound like crazy story from back home. I think you speak too big
of pony’s talents. And what about magic? Magic also fairy tale. I say
we arrive and see biotics.”
“It doesn’t matter, Gregor. You’ll do as the boss says.”
“Anyway,” Mark interrupted, “regardless if magic exists, once we
land we are to present ourselves to their leader.” Mark was the team
leader in title only. That spineless man thought too much for his own
good, and Gregor knew that his place was back in the safety of his lab.
Once again, it was up to him to carry the team through. “But that’s not
our only objective here. The boss also wants us to observe and record
everything about this place. Social hierarchies, customs, technological
level, population density...the list goes on and on. Just keep your
armor’s recorder on and we’ll review our findings each night in the
“What? We’re staying in the shuttle?” Robin sounded almost
indignant. “I thought they would arrange for us to stay in the Castle.”
Mark looked at her with disgusted surprise. “Yes, we’ll just let
them all watch us in our sleep while we go over the details of their
“Just suck it up, Princess. Ship life ain’t so bad,” Emily stated
proudly. She was new to the team; Gregor didn’t quite know what to make
of her. She was their tech specialist; the things she could do with an
omni-tool were far beyond anything Gregor had seen, and he’d been
through many a desperate situation. He knew, deep down, beneath the
rough exterior lay a soft and sensitive soul. She had opened up to him
at the chow tables late one night, something about living on a ship her
whole life like a Quarian. She probably liked him, and he intended to
make the most of it.
“Don’t you have something to calibrate, sweetie?” Robin shot her a glare.
“Eat a bag of dicks, Robin.” Emily retorted, with the finger as a
bonus. This woman was growing on him, Gregor thought to himself.
“Guys, guys.” Mark tried to regain control of the meeting. They
turned their heads to him as if he had interrupted with trivialities.
“You all have the plan at your personal consoles. You should study them
before we land. Uh...any questions?”
“Yeah, can we go now?” Emily asked.
Gregor turned to leave without a word. The first one out the door
was John. He didn’t speak much, or make much noise at all, really.
Gregor had only heard him speak when he introduced himself to the ship’s
captain, and even then it was only his name. He had heard that the man
was an assassin of the highest caliber and had received personal orders
from The Illusive Man. Gregor could respect a man who kept to himself,
kept quiet, but this man went out of his way to keep his voice low, and
the armor he wore was custom. He avoided him as much as possible.
“Hey, uh, Emily,” he called her out in the corridor. “Maybe you
and I could go over mission plan together. You know, be sure we know
plan better than others.”
She smiled at him, her soft green eyes narrowed and one eyebrow arched in suspicion.
“Sure, Greg. We can study together if you like.”
“Good. My quarters or--”
“Oh, uh, just so you guys know,” Mark popped his head out of the
briefing room, “We make the jump in eight, so get some sleep
“Sure, Mark,” Emily walked towards Gregor, passing Mark’s face.
She smiled and gave his cheek a couple of pats as she did. “We’ll spend
plenty of time ‘sleeping.’” Gregor turned and grinned widely at his look
The Captain of the Guard burst into the barracks early that
morning. The stern look on his face had, for a moment, caused Starbuck
to worry someone had squealed that he had been the one to take the last
apple tart in the break room. He knew how much Captain Brickwall loved
treats, and whenever Apple Fritter would send his squadron a bundle of
her very own apple tarts, he would only begrudgingly follow her specific
instructions that he should share them with the rest of his men. He had
told them he had come from a farm not too far away from a small rural
town called Ponyville, and that had been where he met Apple Fritter,
whose picture he kept on the desk in his office. Starbuck and the rest
of the ponies in the royal guard had come to notice that whenever they
were called inside, if her photo was face-down on the desk, they were in
for it. He looked like he had come from a farm; his muscular bulk
filled the door frame, covered in the gilded heavy plate armor that had
been custom-built for his size.
“Starbuck!” He barked, and every head in the room turned to face
him. One of the ponies in the back of the room winced when the force of
his voice caused his delicate four-story house of cards to collapse.
Starbuck slammed shut the book laying open on his bed and thrust
it into his hooflocker, scrambling over to where the Captain stood.
“Sir!” He barked in return, standing in front of him at attention.
“Starbuck…” he growled as he started to circle him. Starbuck
could feel the captain’s eyes inspecting every inch of him; but his eyes
were fixed ahead, listening to the deep thumps of the captain’s hooves
stalking around him. “Hrm…Yer armor seems ta’ be up ta’ snuff, Starbuck,
but what…” Suddenly his face appeared in his field of view, inches from
his face. “…is that I see on your flank?!” His voice was deafening from
this close. “Have ya’ forgotten yer basic hygiene, Guardpony? Didja’
roll ‘round the yard earlier and miss a spot in the baths? DO AH NEED
TUH WASH YA’ MYSELF, STARBUCK?”
“No sir! The blemish is my cutie mark growing through. My
scheduled visit with the bleachers is in one hour.” His cutie mark, a
red five-pointed shooting star, was starting to grow back. Each of them,
when they volunteered to be in the Royal Guard, had submitted to
bleaching their coats pure white and dyeing their manes in shades of
blue. They gave up the showing of their cutie marks when they joined as a
symbol of the personal sacrifice they made in service to the
Princesses. Eventually all of them would grow back, and regular trips to
the bleachers were required.
“Really, Starbuck? Well I got some news for ya’. Take that stuff
off and get going there right now!” His frown turned into a grin in an
instant, his accent becoming less thick. “Princess Luna has *personally*
requested your transfer to the Nightguard!” Starbuck’s mouth fell open,
but only for a moment. He had only volunteered to stay after dark with
Princess Luna after Celestia had gone. With all the guards there at the
same rank, she’d taken to giving him the commands, and he had followed
them without question, as he would have with Celestia. Whatever he had
done, she’d taken notice to him. “Tell the bleachers you’d like a shade
of Knightmare purple!” His hoof came up and smacked against his
shoulder, nearly toppling him over. “And while yer at it, turn that
set’a armor back in. You’ll be wearing silver in a night or two.”
Ivory Clockwork and Cog had been in the same master’s degree program
at the Manehatten Institute for Technology when Princess Celestia
called upon their teacher, Professor Pushbutton. Graciously he had
suggested they could help as well, and now the three of them were here,
under the castle.
Well, not technically under it, but underground near it. Ivory
had promised absolute secrecy before she had been allowed to even enter
the enormous underground complex. Bookshelves upon bookshelves and racks
of scrolls filled the room in which she stood now. Pushbutton had sent
her for a book on experimental kinetics, a subject she had learned about
early on in her coursework, but they regarded it as something with
little application in the real world. An area of theory and conjectures,
fit only for the mathponies and their giant chalkboards. But the
Professor thought differently.
She returned to the lab with the book. The Professor stood in
front of a large green chalkboard, equations and diagrams of what she
recognized as collision maps, vector diagrams, and various calculations
of mass and velocity. On the table in the middle of the room a large
metal object sat on the table. The lights in the room reflected off the
gleaming, newly forged metal. The thing was roughly rectangular, with a
protrusion at an obtuse angle at one end, and at the other, a hollow
“That’s called a ‘Gun,’ Ivory.” The Professor looked at her. He
had noticed her entrance and turned from his board to interrupt her
“A ‘Gun’...” she worked the word in her mouth. She had never heard the word before. “What does it do”?
“Well, according to our books,” the Professor said as he walked
over to his desk, stacked high with books and papers, chalk still
levitating in front of him, “It’s a kind of weapon. A mass accelerator.”
“A weapon?” Her eyes fixed upon it as she brought the book over.
She had been briefed on weapons and their functions, but this was the
first time she had seen one of them outside of sketches.
“Yes, a weapon.” He took the book from her and browsed quickly
through it. “ The earth ponies down in the shop built it to the
specifications given by the VI Adam. They had to use a strange substance
called ‘eezo,’ a material we’ve never encountered before.”
“Have you used it yet?”
“No, we’re going over the plans the earth ponies had sent us
right now. Team Five’s testing results are over there.” He pointed to a
small stack of papers near the gun. Team Five had been the team tasked
with testing the weapon on various materials and in differing
environments. She had been to the hay hall with some of them; this was
the thing of which they had talked excitedly about assembling and
“What are we supposed to do with it?”
“Princess Celestia has tasked us with testing its limits of
operations and any defenses we can suggest for it not already posited by
the VI. We don’t want to have to rely on Roughspace tech for defense.”
She pulled up a piece of canvas with a schematic diagram. This
object used magnets to accelerate a small shaving of metal to incredible
speeds within less than a second. She had once done a study on magnets
and their possible applications to pony life, but this was simply
ingenious. There wasn’t anything like this in any of the university labs
she had used anywhere in Equestria. She mentally kicked herself for
overlooking something so simple. “What did the VI have to say about defenses?”
“Well, they use devices of varying size that generate fields
about their bodies. Hardly completely effective, they wear off after
taking only a few rounds. And they’re useless against slower-moving
projectiles; that’s why it was so easy to incapacitate the Batarians
back in the Everfree Forest. Team 10 said they found a much larger
version in the vehicle they recovered in that scary place.”
“What do they call them?” she asked. She felt a twinge of jealousy
for Team 10, who had been assigned to deconstruct and reverse-engineer
the small spacefaring vehicle. Team 10 consisted of several dozen ponies
of all kinds, and they spent all their time talking eagerly about the
things they had discovered while disassembling a totally alien craft.
Others in the complex held them in high regard and almost all of them
shared in Ivory’s feelings. “The devices, I mean.”
“Oh, they call them shields, or kinetic barriers. They use the
material called Eezo too. Speeding objects turn them on, but otherwise
don’t block anything. A good idea, too, so the wearer doesn’t
Cog opened the door to the room, wheeling in a large steel block
from the forgery. On one side concentric circles were set into the
metal, and behind him an armor rack borrowed from the Royal Guards’
armory followed, covered in a golden-colored robe.
“Here’s the stuff you asked for, Professor,” he said in an eager
voice. “The block was a bit of trouble at first, but I found some wheels
for it--we can take them off for the test if you want. And, uh, who’s
gonna wear this?”
The model was a unicorn pony and set at the base of its horn was a
thick gold ring, as if someone had sliced a cylinder width-ways, with
two prongs that sat on either side of the model horn, shaped and colored
like lightning bolts upside-down. Their points almost touched the tip
of the horn, and cloth straps ran down the back behind the ears to
attach to the main portion. The robe on the back of the model hung
loosely; strips affixed with small diamonds swayed and swung with its
movements through the room, and strips of shining purple runes
crisscrossed across its entirety.
“Why, Ivory of course,” Pushbutton said. “She is the most adept at magic among the three of us.”
“B-but, Professor,” she began to argue, “I don’t--”
“No buts about it, Ivory. I know you’re not a magic specialist,
but you’re better at it than either of us and you know it. Just put on
that clearance outfit and we’ll get started.”
“Is that what this is?” Cog asked loudly, eyeing the clothing up
and down. “The pony down at the armory said this thing had been covered
in dust where he found it and had no idea what it did. What does it
“It allows amplification of a certain kind of magic the user
casts. For this model, it will be lightning strikes. Go on, put it on.”
“Lightning...” she sighed. She had never been very good at magic,
even as a unicorn pony. There were plenty of other ponies in Equestria
who were much better than her; she knew some of the best magic users
were in this complex somewhere. And lightning strikes? She could cast
little more than a little spark or shock from her horn at some of her
friends as jokes, but only when she was near enough and concentrated
deeply. In fact, telekinesis was the only kind of magic she could use at
all, and even then it was only on things like clocks, watches, books,
and locks. Engineering had been the obvious choice for her career.
Reluctantly, she levitated the ring down around her horn and fastened
the straps around her body. The cloth clung to her lightly and, save for
the weight of the device on her horn and the diamond fasteners, she
could hardly feel its presence.
“Good. Now Ivory,” Pushbutton said in that tone of a teacher he so
enjoyed using, “I want you to focus on the space right in front of the
block. I’m going to throw something at it, and I want you to strike it
with a lightning bolt as fast as and hard as you can.”
“Professor,” she started to object, “I’m no good at this kind of
magic. I can barely make a spark at something standing still. How am I
supposed to get something in motion?” “C’mon, Ivory. I know you can do it!” Cog encouraged.
Professor Pushbutton sighed and his horn started to glow as a small
metal pointer levitated over from the table near the large green
chalkboard. It came to a stop about two feet from his face, hanging in a
light purple glow. “That outfit will increase your magic exponentially,
regardless of your talent. I’ve read of the magic testing from when you
were younger, and I can say with certainty that you’re suited for this.
Now, focus on your horn, feel the power lent by the suit; it has been
enchanted by both Princesses themselves to help ponies increase their
magical strength. Try and hit this pointer with a bolt of lightning.” She concentrated on the feeling of the suit and the ring with the
lightning bolts on either side of her horn. Her horn began to glow, and
she felt lighter; like a burden of which she had been unaware had been
lifted from her shoulders and back. She felt she could jump and fly out
of the room. Imbued with confidence, she now focused on the pointer in
the air before her, the endless possibilities of her new abilities
overshadowing the feelings the suit had initially effected on her.
In an instant, a tiny thundercloud the size of her own head was
summoned from aether above the pointer and fired a string of blindingly
bright light at it.
It only lasted an instant, but the pointer now glowed red-hot, sending curls of white smoke into the air.
“I knew you could do it Ivory!” Cog shouted, leaning back to clop his hooves together.
“Good, Ivory,” Pushbutton smiled widely. He turned to Cog. “Hold
this while I fetch the goggles.” The other pony’s horn glowed in
response, keeping the glowing rod from touching anything while the
professor retrieved the protective eyewear.
Ivory blushed. It had to be true, then, that this outfit she now
wore was enchanted by the Princesses of the Day and Night. She swelled
with pride, standing a little taller.
The Professor returned with a set of goggles for the two of them,
his pair already covering his eyes. “Here, put these on, Ivory. You’ll
be doing much more than just heating things up here. Much more.” Cog’s
eyes widened and he smiled at the idea. Ivory slid them on and giggled
at Cog, who’s goggles were a tad too big for his face and fit awkwardly
on his head. The Professor let out a small cry as Cog’s concentration
broke on the pointer, levitating it himself when the struggling pony let
“Cog, you should be more careful,” the Professor chided warmly.
“Now Ivory, I want you to focus on the space in front of the block--put a
cloud above beforehand if you wish. I’m going to throw this pointer at
the target, but I want you to use lightning to prevent it ever reaching
“But, um, how am I going to do that with nothing but lightning,
Professor?” she asked, flabbergasted at the very idea. “It won’t affect
its direction or velocity.” She created a small dark thundercloud above
the area in front of the block as she spoke. She looked over at Cog for
help, but he was listening intently to the Professor.
“I’m not asking you to do either of those things, Ivory. Think
about what I asked.” She looked to Cog for help again, but he just
returned a blank stare. He was as stumped as he was. She turned to look
at the space in front of the block, thinking hard of ways she could use
the lightning to move the pointer as it flew in the air. Perhaps she
could create opposing magnetic charges in the block and the pointer to
repel each other--no, she had no idea how to use lightning to do
something that advanced! Today was the first time she had been able to
make a proper bolt at all, much less this!
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted when she caught the
mischievous grin on the Professor’s face as he threw the pointer, still
red-hot from earlier, like a dart at the block next to her. In
desperation she chose to simply make this bolt as powerful as she could
muster, her horn now blazing with a purple light. Her eyes couldn’t move
fast enough to keep up with the pointer, and she closed them tightly in
She could feel the blast rock her back onto her hind legs; even
from behind her eyelids, she could see the flash, and the sound was
deafening in the large room. When she opened her eyes some of the tables
had been knocked over and loose papers were strew across the entire
room. She spotted Cog first when his head popped up from behind an
overturned lab table, his head swaying dizzily. The Professor stood up
in front of another, his legs shaking as he did, but a wide grin on his
face despite what had happened.
“Much better than I expected,” his voice was faint even in her
ears despite his shouting. “Princess Celestia will be most pleased at
“What progress?!” she shouted in reply, “We’ve only proved that the
suit works!” She trotted over to help Cog back to his hooves.
Pushbutton had a hoof up to his ear as he inspected the face of the
metal cube. His eyes widened in realization. “Oh wow! Ivory, come look
Specks of red-hot metal peppered the entire side. Here and there
larger bits of molten metal faintly glowed, but the rest had already
blackened and cooled into dust inside the tiny pits made by their
impact. The surface was perfectly smooth in the three innermost circular
“Do you realize what this means?” the professor’s eyes were wide,
and a smile stretched his open mouth. “Ivory, take the robes and the gun
to the testing chambers on level 48. Cog, follow her and bring the
block. I’m going to stop by the metal shop and get my hands on a barrier
generator!” His sudden exit into the hall caught him in the path of two
other ponies passing through, carrying stacks of papers on their backs.
Stumbling into their sides, the loads were scattered about the hall in a
flurry of black ink on white parchment. With a quick apology, the
Professor’s body struggled to catch up to where his mind was taking him.
Cog looked closely at their target as Ivory focused on the gun in
front of her. He expected her to take that three levels down? She could
barely hold the book in the air on the way back from the library, much
less something almost as big as her head. Perhaps she could convince Cog
to pull it on top of the cube, she could move that far easy. Calming
herself, she focused on lifting it.
It sprang into the air, perfectly suspended at eye-level. She raised
an eyebrow and turned her head for a moment, expecting it to start
sinking, but there it remained. She turned to look at Cog.
“Wow! Great job, Ivory! Maybe that suit makes you better at telekinesis too!”
She smiled and nodded her head, deciding not to point out his oversight.