Chapter One: Falling from the Sky
Twilight Sparkle trotted up the narrow trail to her friend Fluttershy’s cottage. The many little homes were occupied by a menagerie of small creatures that scampered about and sniffed curiously at her hooves. The lavender unicorn gently knocked on Fluttershy’s door. As expected, the timid Pegasus opened the door only wide enough for one grey eye to peer out.
“Good morning, Fluttershy!” Twilight said cheerfully. Normally, her friend would cautiously peer out to see if anyone else was there, and then slowly open the door to allow her visitor in. Today, however, she surprised Twilight by throwing the door open, leaping over her, and then practically shoving Twilight into the cottage, slamming the door shut behind them.
“I’m so glad you came!” Fluttershy exclaimed, throwing her forelegs around the flustered unicorn. Twilight, off-balance from the sudden change in position, fell over with the butter-yellow Pegasus sprawled on top of her. A blush crept across Twilight’s cheeks as Fluttershy made no move to get up.
“You, um…,” Twilight stammered, “You wanted me to look at something?”
“Oh, yes,” Fluttershy said. She beamed at Twilight and lifted off, her wings beating softly. “It’s right upstairs.”
Twilight rolled onto her hooves and followed the hovering Pegasus.
“It’s in my room,” Fluttershy continued. “I just know you’ll be able to help me with it.”
“Um…what exactly…what is it?” Twilight silently cursed the blush that was deepening across her cheeks. Surely the demure, scared-of-her-own-shadow Fluttershy couldn’t…. Then again, they do say it’s always the quiet ones.
“I mean, you do so much reading, surely you must have heard of it.” Fluttershy didn’t seem to have heard Twilight’s question. “I can’t be the only one who’s found something like this.”
They finally reached her room, where Fluttershy moved to the side of her bed. Twilight’s half-formed apology died on her lips when she spotted the form under the cover. Fluttershy gestured to it with a forehoof.
“I found it at the edge of the Everfree Forest, next to a big metal egg and a bunch of craters. It was hurt, so I brought it back and took care of it, but I don’t know what it is or what to do when it wakes up.”
Twilight nodded and stepped forward, taking in as many details as she could. It had four limbs that she could see; the forelimbs ended with grippers similar to her baby dragon’s, but with an extra claw on each, and the rear legs ended with long, flat pads with five nubs at the end that hung over the foot of Fluttershy’s bed. It was covered with soft-looking, light tan skin. The face was similar to a pony’s, but the eyes were too small, the muzzle too flat, except for the nose that stuck out. The only fur it had was dark brown and on the top of its head, small patches on the chin and over each corner of its mouth, and in light dustings over its limbs. Its torso and the rear legs were covered by Fluttershy’s delicate quilt. Twilight guessed, based on the similarities with her dragon Spike and with the Diamond Dogs, that this creature may walk on its two hind legs and use its forelimbs to interact with its environment. If that were so, then standing, it would be about one and a half times as tall as she was at the shoulder.
Twilight focused again on its face. Its eyes were closed, but it was breathing steadily. Fluttershy had wrapped bandages around its head, left arm and chest. Twilight noticed a small scar on its lip and another on its cheek.
“It also had this,” Fluttershy said, gesturing to a pile of cloth and two clunky-looking things that may have been shoes. Twilight stepped around the bed to investigate them. The cloth was obviously the creature’s clothing. The two larger pieces (Twilight was having trouble identifying the fabric—it was light and soft as cotton, but had no stretch to it) were a neutral green, while the third piece looked like a belt with several pockets sewn into it, of many different shapes and sizes. A quick examination proved it to be made of a material different from the other pieces (It was smooth, with no visible weaving—Twilight wondered how it was made) and was a glossy purple. The back had a line of markings embroidered in white. A section of it shined, and Twilight found a hexagonal badge made of a silvery metal. It was broken into four parts: one in the top only held an embossed wrench; the center featured a draconic wing with a crown and a scepter held in the claw; the right side only had a single tilted line; and the bottom had five raised bars. The backgrounds of all of them had been painted black. Twilight hummed to herself in thought and turned to ask Fluttershy where exactly she found the creature when it jerked suddenly and sat upright in the bed. The quilt fell into its lap as it whipped its head wildly, the long fur on its head flying about it.
“What the—” it said, prompting a gasp from both of the ponies. It turned to stare at them with sharp, calculating brown eyes. It spoke again, and Twilight was surprised to hear perfect, if slightly accented, Equestrian.
“Where are my clothes,” it asked, “and why are there two Technicolor mini-horses here?”
Eight Hours Earlier…
Redel Yanvorren climbed up the ladder to the Utility Deck of the Dufojorr Avoyigo, the flagship and personal transport of the supreme ruler of the Kavican Empire. He was the First Engineer—everything on board the ship was his responsibility, from the fusion reactor that powered her to the tiniest diode in the starboard navigation light. The ship itself was a state-of-the-art, sleek, graceful beauty designed by the best minds in the Kavican military. Four decks, the topmost more like a luxury hotel than a ship to cater to Her Majesty and any dignitaries or guests that may travel with her. The Dufojorr Avoyigo could get up to .15 light-speed in open space, and was crewed by the First Company, a hundred-twenty soldiers, engineers, pilots, and medics whose sole purpose was to protect the Empress.
Redel Yanvorren made his way to his office at the rear of the ship, adjacent to the Reactor Room. There, he activated the computer terminal built into his steel desk and scanned the day’s To-Do list. First item: install and test the new port wing servo on fighter number three.
Yanvorren looked up to see Re’dan Tea’mahk, one of his engineers, at the door of his office. She was a Kavican, like everyone on the ship except for Yanvorren.
Kavicans are reptomammals, ranging six and a half to eight feet from the end of their snout to the tip of their tail. They have long, slender torsos and digitigrades legs ending in three-toed talons. Their arms are slender, with three-fingered hands tipped with dull brown claws and sharp spikes reaching back from their elbows. Long necks support heads with long pointed ears, a six-inch-long snout filled with sharp teeth, and a pair of horns that sweep back from the top of their skull. A rounded sail runs from the snout to the top of the head. Their whole body is covered in dark green scales, except for on the sail—there, a rainbow of colors changed in a constantly-swirling pattern that reflected their emotions.
Tea’mahk wore the same uniform as Yanvorren, except that her trousers were made to have an extra leg that ran half the length of her tail, and she (like almost all Kavicans) wore no shoes or socks. Yanvorren, one of the handful of humans in the Military, wore a pair of heavy combat boots. They both carried their blaster pistol on their right hip and their fighting knife on their left.
“Redel,” Tea’mahk said. “I’ve got the new servo connector ready.”
“Good,” Yanvorren said. He made a note in his log and followed Tea’mahk down the corridor. They made no small talk during the short walk and ladder climbs down to the Flight Deck at the bottom of the ship. Once there, they quickly found fighter number three and set to work.
A Kavican light fighter is thirteen feet long with a ten-foot wingspan. The fuselage was cigar-shaped, except for the bubble of the canopy near the nose. Two short tubes that looked like barbed stingers extended from either side of the canopy. A single engine discharges in the rear, the ion stream it generates passing over a hardened rudder. A pair of stubby wings held smaller engines and spun on gimbals to steer. While onboard, the twelve light fighters were kept on motorized carts that ran on tracks through the Flight Deck, allowing them to be easily moved from the storage and maintenance bay to the launch catapult.
After only a couple of hours, Yanvorren bolted the maintenance panel on the port wing shut and put his tool kit back in the rear pocket of his belt.
“Right then,” he said. “I’m going to take her out for a test run.”
“Wait, what?” Tea’mahk stammered. By the time she had crawled out from under the fighter, Yanvorren had already opened the canopy and was using the short stepladder to get in. The seat was made to be straddled like a motorcycle, and he quickly leaned forward to grip the control yokes. “You can’t ‘take her out’! You’re not a pilot!”
“I may not be as good as the hot dogs that keep messing up my fighters,” Yanvorren admitted as he started up the fighter’s microreactor, “but I’m certainly good enough to do a simple test flight. Get to the control booth and ready the catapult.”
“Redel, I must protest.”
“Don’t make me pull rank, Re’dan,” Yanvorren said sternly, shooting a harsh look at her. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s not a single ship, planet, moon, or asteroid for ten light-minutes. Just a few laps around the ship—I won’t be but five minutes.”
The two stared at each other before Tea’mahk deflated with a sigh.
“Fine,” she said. “But if the Guane calls us out on it, you’re taking responsibility.”
“I’m your commanding officer. I’m already taking responsibility.” As Tea’mahk ducked into the control booth, Yanvorren pulled the safety webbing over himself, fastened it securely, and flipped a switch to close the canopy. It sealed shut with a hydraulic hiss while he finished the pre-flight procedure. Tea’mahk’s voice suddenly came over the comm.
“Redel, the catapult’s ready and waiting. I’m moving you into the launch chamber now.”
“Got it,” Yanvorren said. He used the tiny keyboard in the middle of the console to disable the rudder—without a tail, he couldn’t operate the paddles that controlled it—as the cart carried him from the fighter storage bay to a small airlock. The door closed and the airlock cycled through before another door opened and he was transferred onto another cart on the launch catapult. The airlock door closed behind him, and he looked up to see the clamshell doors at the end of the long launch tunnel sliding open to reveal the spotted, inky nothingness of space. The fighter’s computer gave him a green light. “Ready to launch.”
“All ready. Launch in three…two…one…launch!”
Yanvorren suddenly got the idea of being a pellet in a slingshot. The catapult did exactly as its name implied and shot his fighter out the front of the Dufojorr Avoyigo. He stamped down on the foot pedals, kicking the engine into speed, and quickly accelerated away. He yanked back on the control yokes, and the fighter’s wings tilted to aim their thrust down in relation to the ship. That sent the fighter into a climb that ended with Yanvorren speeding back towards the ship. He rolled a few times before skimming over the larger ship’s hull, slipping under her wings with a playful wave at the windows. He began a slow, slightly jerky dance around the ship, putting the fighter through several maneuvers before he was almost satisfied.
“Okay, Redel. You’ve had your fun. The catcher is ready.”
“Not yet,” Yanvorren protested. “I want to make sure the new servo will still work in a hard burn. Just a dart out, u-turn, then I’ll come back.”
“Fine. But just so you know, the Flight Deck commander, the First Officer, the Guane, and Ludel Jyenozarka are all yelling in my ear about this. I told them you threatened to have me scrubbing coolant valves for a month if I didn’t…Redel? Redel. Redel Yanvorren are you even listening?”
“Sorry, got distracted. I just flew by the Empress’s cabin. She’s got a really nice ass. Good curve, very firm looking, but not too—”
Laughing, Yanvorren stomped on the throttle and shot away from the ship. He waited until the little fighter was running as fast as it could, then jerked back on the control yokes as the start of a complicated set of maneuvers that any experience pilot would have called clumsy, inefficient, and downright stupid. He was pleased to see, despite his graceless piloting, no problems were cropping up with the servo. He cut the speed back and lazily aimed the fighter back at the ship, headed for the receiving bay at the rear. He nervously lined up painted-on tick marks on the canopy with the sides of the door—landings were never his strong suit.
“Okay, Redel. Your cart’s ready. So are the stocks and the paddle.”
“I do hope you’re kidding about the stocks,” Yanvorren said with a nervous laugh, “but I wouldn’t mind the paddle so much if you were the one holding it, Tea’mahk.”
“What if it’s me?” That wasn’t Tea’mahk speaking—instead, it was the rough, low voice of Guane Moeve, the commander of their company.
“Not so much, Guane,” Yanvorren admitted sheepishly. A small warning light flashed yellow on his console. “Hold up a moment… got a master alarm, here.” Several other warning lights started flashing before the whole avionics suite went black. Yanvorren flipped switches and stabbed at buttons, but nothing came back. “Guane? Tea’mahk? Prrak!”
The radio was dead, too. He was set on a ballistic course with no way to stop himself and no way to warn the flight crew—no, he still had his personal comm.! As he scrambled to pull it out of its pocket on his bandolier, he thanked his drill instructor at the Military Academy for hammering the habit of being ready for anything into his skull. He held the square black rod to his mouth and mashed the button down.
“Yanvorren to Dufojorr Avoyigo! Yanvorren—is anyone—Prrak!” he cursed again as he realized the little rod was just as dead as his fighter, and he soon would be as well.
Or so he thought—there was a blinding flash of blue-white light, and when his vision cleared, the ship was gone. In its place as a planet, blue and green and dazzling and…getting closer. Yanvorren groaned; his luck could not possibly be this bad!
But it was. The fighter was dead in space and rapidly falling through the planet’s upper atmosphere. The avionics, the engine, the wings—nothing was responding, no matter how hard he kicked, jabbed, or yanked. Streams of plasma started trailing from the edges of the fighter, but he wasn’t worried about burning up like a meteor: the ceramic hull plating on these fighters was designed to go through most atmospheres just fine.
The sudden stop at the end of his fall is what worried him.
The plasma died off once he hit the planet’s troposphere—he didn’t have long now. His attempts grew even more frantic until, miraculously, the little ship came back to life! He immediately stomped on the throttle and leveled out. Breathing a sigh of relief, he slowly lowered himself until he was only a hundred feet over a dense forest. He began looking for a place to land and figure out just what went wrong and where he was when he noticed that he had started drifting to the right. He should be going straight, unless…aha. The lock he had put on the rudder had been disabled when the craft shut down, and hadn’t been put back in. There it was on the readout—the rudder had shifted five degrees to starboard. Yanvorren tried to correct the deviation with the wing thrusters, when his small well of good luck dried up and the left wing exploded.
“Prrak!” he cursed again as the ship fell into a spin. The hundred feet between him and the forest quickly became zero. Branches snapped like matches as the three-ton fighter crashed through the trees. Yanvorren was thrown about as far as the tight safety webbing would allow; he would definitely be bruised almost all over if he managed to survive this. The ship steadily slowed from all the impacts, but suddenly reached the edge of the forest and flew out into an open field. It fell and bounced once, twice then buried itself in the side of a hill. The safety webbing tightened as soon as it hit the first time, wrapping around Yanvorren and holding him still until the ship stopped.
He groaned as he felt that the fighter had come to a rest. The safety webbing slackened a bit, letting him look up to see a clear blue sky through the cracked canopy. The stubby nose of the fighter had been smashed in, and the left wing was bellowing oily black smoke. Everything hurt and his ears wouldn’t stop ringing. With a pained grunt, he jabbed at the canopy release button, but the transplast bubble stayed stubbornly sealed. A hose that had broken in the crash sprayed his back and head with hydraulic fluid. A muttered curse and twist of a safety control later, he stabbed the canopy eject button. Explosive bolts sent the canopy flying in an arc that landed it thirty feet away.
“Crap…crap…crap…,” Yanvorren moaned as he released the safety webbing and crawled out of the fighter. His head was throbbing, and a sudden bout of nausea sent him crashing to the ground with one boot still hooked on the side of the cabin. Pain shot up his leg as he held a hand to his head and clenched his eyes shut. Everything here was bright, but he could hear chirping birds, probably upset over the new gouge in the forest. He felt himself slipping away, but the last thing he saw before falling unconscious was an angry white rabbit.
The next thing Yanvorren knew, he was lying on his back in a human-style bed. It was soft and warm and incredibly comfortable—not at all like his bunk on the Dufojorr Avoyigo. Even with his head still throbbing angrily (or perhaps because of it), he remembered the crash. He felt the soft sheets and realized he was only dressed in his underwear. Like a shot, he sprung into a seated position, looking around wildly and taking in a small, simple bedroom made of wood. Then he spotted the ponies.
The first was butter-yellow, with a soft pink mane and tail and big, expressive grey eyes. A pair of feathered wings were gently folded and held to her sides. The other was lavender. Her mane was purple with a magenta streak, and her violet eyes glinted with intelligence. A horn poked through her bangs. He spoke in English:
“Where are my clothes, and why are there two Technicolor mini-horses here?”