“That’s the Chancellor Idared’s been yammerin’ on ‘bout? Twi!?”
Glenlivet gave Applejack a long, cool stare, before wisely speaking. “Who?”
“That big ol’ alicorn on yer magic screens! Twilight Sparkle! That’s the Chancellor!?” Applejack may have been shouting. It was hard to tell. Her attention was on more important issues.
“Chancellor Sparkle? That would be her.” Glenlivet gave Idared a look that spoke a thousand words. Applejack’s sanity was being questioned. Idared shrugged in return.
“What’s wrong wi’ this place!?” The cap had blown on Applejack’s patience. Her confusion had kept her quiet before, but now she wanted answers. “How did Sparkle end up in some fancy seat o’ power?” She had to determine if this Twilight was anything like her Twilight back at home.
“She’s from outside the city,” Idared added, clearing up any misunderstanding Glenlivet may have had.
“That so?” An interested smile tugged at his lips, like a child with a new toy. “Well, there are two stories of how The Chancellor rose to power. The story the government would like you to believe, and the real one. I’ll give you the bullshit first.” He motioned them to come into the room, as Applejack realised she was still lingering at the door. “Over two hundred years ago, Princess Luna, overtaken by greed and jealousy, rose up against Princess Celestia, and turned her to stone.” The names of the princesses certainly caught Applejack’s attention. So they also existed in this world, too? “But before she could take her place as ruler of Equestria, Ms Sparkle, Celestia’s most loyal and powerful student, avenged her teacher, defeating Luna in battle. However, she felt pity for the weak alicorn, and merely banished her from the kingdom.” As he spoke, Applejack could hear the words laced with disgust. “Sparkle selflessly took it upon herself to take control of the sun and moon, and vowed to turn Equestria into a kingdom Celestia would have been proud to call her own.” He trailed off, finishing the story on an incredibly sour note.
“And the real story?” Idared prompted him.
“Oh that?” he continued offhandedly, as if it was a well-known fact. “Sparkle delved into magic she should never have done, and murdered Celestia in cold blood. Luna escaped to who knows where. Sparkle named herself supreme ruler, and royally bucked up Equestria for everypony.”
The first story certainly sounded like her Twilight. But at the same time, it did read like a lie somepony would feed you to explain a situation they messed up. Perhaps it was just the way Glenlivet told it. The second story… yeah, that wasn’t her Twilight in the slightest.
“So what ‘bout the earth pony deal? Why’s mah race such a gosh darn big deal?”
“There are places where it isn’t a big deal? Thank Celestia!” Glenlivet’s voice dropped, his anger evident. “There’s a form of tier structure in this city. Ponies have their place in society, and they have to stick with them. Unicorns, with their long lives and magic and,” his hoof was grinding the ground so hard, Applejack was surprised she couldn’t see sparks. “Superior intellect, are on the top rung. They fill the roles of artists, inventors, politicians. The pegasi, with their ability to fly, agility, and weather control, are automatically enrolled in the army. Why we need such a large army is anypony’s guess. The last war was before I was born. Their main role is keeping the peace, with whatever force necessary. The earth ponies…” His words faltered, and he decided to switch his view from Applejack to the far wall. “The earth ponies, as the strongest, least intelligent ponies, with the shortest lifespan, are given the generous role of labourers. Why bother ensuring safety or basic rights for the workers when they’re just going to die on you soon enough? Why let them live in the rich parts of the city when you can confide them to the slums? They won’t know the difference. They don’t have the mental capa-”
“Glen.” Idared shot him a warning, her eyes steady. The stallion had been gritting his teeth, the words coming out in ragged bursts. Applejack couldn’t blame him. What she was hearing only made her frustration worse.
She wanted more conclusive answers than this. Surely Twilight would be able to answer them, and even give her a means of getting home. That is, if she was anything like the Twilight that Applejack knew. The Chancellor wasn’t being painted in the best of lights so far. She also didn’t realise pony races had different lifespans. It was probably just a result of the different professions and medical care available.
Glenlivet, having composed himself, continued. “That’s where we come in. The Resistance. I don’t know how much Idared’s told you.” He glanced at the filly.
“Nothing at all.”
“Ya told me ya’ll were terrorists.”
“I didn’t!” The filly’s whine, once again, reminded Applejack of her little sister.
“We’re not terrorists.” Glenlivet calmly explained. “We never aim to take pony life unjustly, and everything we do has a direct purpose. Claim food for the slums, release unjustly incarcerated earth ponies, disrupt government operations with no loss of life. We will, when the times call for it, assassinate those who have brought harm to our kind, but that’s only in cases where we have strong evidence that they will repeat their actions.” As he paced round the table, the words came out as if repeated hundreds of times before. “Our goals are simple. Bring equality to Nova Equestria, bring down the tyrant Sparkle, locate Princess Luna and reinstate her on the throne, and turn this city into the peaceful nation it always should have been. These goals may be out of our reach at the moment, but we have hope.” He stopped pacing, giving Applejack a soft, yet proud smile. “We will show them the power and ingenuity of earth ponies. We built this city for them, and we intend to take it back.”
In the silence that followed, long enough for the imaginary applause to ring in Glenlivet’s head, Applejack pondered his words. Whether it was the power of his voice, or the reality of the situation, she felt the stallion was on the right track.
“Course, when I say we, I mean Commander Firefly.” His voice took a humble tone. “She’s the one who began the resistance. Her leadership and organisation are what will win us the day.”
“He has a major crush,” Idared whispered. Glenlivet either couldn’t hear her, or chose not to.
“An’ the city I keep hearin’ ‘bout?” Applejack felt she was on a roll with this Q&A session. “How big are we talkin’ here? An’ why was I getting’ rounded up for bein’ in Ponyville?”
“You were in Ponyville? How in Equestria did you get in by yourself?”
“Long story,” Applejack drawled. Glenlivet merely nodded, and made his way over to a map hanging from the wall.
“This is Nova Equestria.” The map was divided into various sections, and surrounded by a thick line. Applejack assumed that indicated the city walls. At the top of the city were a number of rings, a cartographer’s way of indicating a mountain. A dart had humorously pierced the paper at this point, and was lodged into the wall. Glenlivet’s hoof tapped the bottom right of the map. “This is West Ponyville, unicorn residential housing. Beautiful place. Just above that is East Ponyville. Financial centre of the city. All government sanctioned maps prefer putting Canterlot at the top, so North is off to the left.”
“That’s where you would have been, judging on where you were taken. East Ponyville,” Idared piped in. “Giant glass buildings, right?” Applejack nodded.
“Ponyville and Canterlot are strictly off limits to earth ponies.” The sections he had indicated, plus the mountain, were tinted slightly red. “Not a problem though, as we have plenty of space to live in the slums.” Noting the sarcasm, Applejack watched his hoof skipping the middle and moving to the other side of the map, indicating the largest section of the city. “This is your current location, The Mile. The earliest settlement after Ponyville and Canterlot. It was originally a shanty town, thrown together for the earth ponies building the city. The Chancellor never got around to renovating it, however, and what we’ve ended up with are huge areas of poorly built shacks that we have the honour of residing in. Originally it was called ‘The Dirty Mile’ by the charming unicorns, when it really was just a mile. It was officially renamed The Mile as an attempt to hide its conditions. You’ll mostly hear it being called the slums though.”
“Glen. Information overload.” Idared had a point. This was getting to be too much for Applejack to take in.
“Right, right. The rest of the city is made u-” The filly shot him a glare. “You’ll, uh, pick it up. The only other important part is Cloudsdale, where all the pegasi live. It’s not on the map, but you can’t miss it. Just go outside and look up.”
Applejack hadn’t seen it since winding up here, but maybe that’s because she hadn’t been looking. At the mention of outside, she felt the sudden urge to stretch her legs. Even if they were in the slums, there were always reasons for exercise to clear the head.
“But I feel I’ve become distracted slightly.” The stallion paced away from the map, his voice losing its friendly air. He rested once again in his chair. “The reason I want you here should be obvious. Any enemy of the government is a possible ally of The Resistance. So, let’s hear it.” He crossed his forelegs. “Why do they want you?”
“Ah, well. This is a mite awkward, but yer guess is as good as mine.” She decided to explain as much as she could without revealing her connection to The Chancellor. “Like I was sayin’ t’ Idared, I woke up here. A friend’s magic went all kindsa haywire, and ‘fore I could think I was in yer Ponyville.”
“A friend’s magic?” Glenlivet was sceptical. “A unicorn?”
“Well, yeah. But she’s harmless. Where I’m from there ain’t all this bad blood ‘tween unicorns and earth ponies.”
“Right, right. You mentioned that. And you’ve done nothing that would get the government’s attention.”
“Well, ‘side from the arrest, then gettin’ pulled into Idared’s jailbreak, no!”
“What?” Glen look uncharacteristically confused. “Jailbreak? That was today?”
“Of course it was!” Idared whined. “Where do you think I was all day!?”
“Oh, uh. I wasn’t sure. I assumed making mischief as usual.” The dig was intentional, but Idared remained silent. By her expression, Applejack suspected she was sulking. “Anyway, those aren’t enough reasons to become Equestria’s most wanted. There’s nothing else?”
“Nope,” Applejack lied, the picture of alicorn Twilight still in her memory. Her status as the element of honesty took a blow.
“Well, that’s… odd. The government usually has obvious reasons for wanting a pony captured, even if they never state them. But this one makes no sense at all. Still!” He launched out the chair, trotting up to Applejack. “Now that you’re here, I don’t have much option but to offer you a place in The Resistance. So how’s about it?”
There was an uncomfortable silence that followed. Glenlivet waiting for an answer, and Applejack reluctant to give one. Eventually she spoke. “Can I think it over first? Go for a walk?”
“Well, not really.” The reply was instant. “You know the location of our base, so for all I know you could be a spy for The Chancellor. And, while barely anypony has a television in the slums, you’re still taking a chance by going out right now. There must be somepony’s who’s seen the report on you.” The reasons were pretty conclusive. She felt she had no choice but to agree.
“Wait a sec!” Idared caught Glenlivet’s attention. “She’s been through all sorts of shit since she arrived. Why can’t she just go for a quick walk?”
“Well, as I just said, we have no idea if she’s… she’s… oh no. No you don’t, little missy!” Glenlivet, for some reason, was having trouble looking at Idared. The little pony was fixing him with the most intense glare. “Alright! Fine! She can go. But I’m sending somepony to keep an eye on her.”
“That’s fine by me.” Idared calling the shots caused a noticeable twitch in Glenlivet’s grimace, but he remained silent. Instead, he marched up to the pony, and pulled her to the side of the room.
“So, I see you’ve taken a liking to her, lass?” He was whispering. Was Applejack supposed to be hearing this? Should she say something?
“Yup. Us Apple family members gotta stick together.” Despite the guilt of eavesdropping, Applejack politely remained quiet.
“Right. Apple family.” Glenlivet’s anger seemed to lose momentum. “But seriously. Next time you use your damn Stare on me, you’re banned from the firing range for a week.”
Glenlivet had led Applejack into the main room once again, as Idared enthusiastically waved goodbye, and through the door that the filly had claimed ‘lead to the exit’. After a few soundproof metal hatches, the two of them had emerged in the back room of a shop. Various mechanical parts littered the shelves, and the faint smell of alcohol lingered in the air. Checking for signs of company, Glenlivet strode out on to the main shop floor.
“Tera? Packing up shift?” Applejack followed behind the stallion, her eyes roaming the room. With only four aisles, it was a fairly small shop. The target of Glenlivet’s call still managed to remain hidden. The crooked shelves of the far wall were packed full of whisky, from the highland’s scotch, to Appleloosa style bourbon, to bottles reminiscent of Ponyville’s own blended malt whisky. The remainder of the shop was stocked full of radios. Or, at least, Applejack assumed so. Some reminded her of the ones she knew back home, while others looked like something out of a science fiction book. At the far end, she thought she could spy a window, but what was outside was hidden by the glare of the shop. Everything looked absolutely filthy.
From some distant corner of the shop, a sudden crash was heard, followed by a muffled “Oh shit…”
Glenlivet didn’t move an inch, his expression impassive. “I’ll take that a yes.”
After a moment, a mare appeared from one of the aisles. “H- hey, Glen. What’s up, boss?” Her teal coat clashed horribly with her golden mane, which nearly reached down to her hooves in an untidy mess. It was maybe hypocritical coming from Applejack, but had no one in this world heard of a hairbrush? Resting on the pony’s nose was a pair of crooked glasses, which she was trying to straighten as she stumbled over to the pair, her somewhat lanky legs making a complete mess of things. Her cutie mark consisted of a wrench somewhat awkwardly jutting out the top of a radio, as if somepony had forced it in there. “Uh, that was… you- you don’t have to worry about that sound, kay?”
“This is Tera Hertz, our communications expert.” Glenlivet ignored her. “She also deals with the base’s cover, Whisky and Radios.”
“Oh, sup.” Tera pretended to notice Applejack for the first time. Her voice was so relaxed.
“Good t’meetcha.” Applejack cocked a foreleg slightly in greeting. “Name’s Applejack.”
“Cute accent.” Was that a compliment or sarcasm? “And yeah, this is Whisky and Radios. Bet you can’t guess what we sell.”
“Tera. Take care of closing the shop later. For now, I need you to take Applejack outside. She wants a walk. Keep an eye on her.” His gaze narrowed. “A close eye.”
“Oh snap. A real mission besides selling and fixing this crap? No problem!” Despite the inflection on the last few words, she still sounded like she was half asleep. “And, uh, if you see a smashed bottle around aisle one, that totally wasn’t me.”
Glenlivet rolled his eyes. “Get to it. Oh, and Applejack.” A flicker of concern entered his eyes. “Stay safe.”
“I’ll be back ‘fore you can say ‘apple’, Glenlivet.” She didn’t intend to stay out for long. Ten minutes should be enough to clear her head.
He nodded, eyes returning to normal. “Just Glen’s fine.” And with that, he returned to the back room.
“Once you get to know him, he’s a softie,” Tera explained, after the sounds of sliding metal disappeared, indicating Glen’s decent into the bowels of the base. “That’s the reason why he could never replace the Commander. He gets too caught up with the safety of every one of his little ponies, and the lives of the enemy, to make any decent plans. But dude, Firefly is brutal. Don’t know how she sleeps at night.” Applejack was looking forward less and less to meeting this Commander. If she got lucky, she’d never have to.
Tera turned and led Applejack to the shop entrance. “It feels weird to be babysitting somepony my age though, AJ. I can call you AJ, right? Anyway, just go where you want, I suppose. I’ll get us back here afterwards, no probs.”
“It won’t take long, I reckon. Jus’ want to get a lay o’ the land an’ all.”
Tera giggled slightly. “You’ll get more lay than you’ll probably want. This land ain’t pretty.” And with that, she opened the door to the shop.
Glen hadn’t been kidding. Applejack had thought the inside of the shop was dirty, but compared to the outside it had been a spa. The air was chocking with dust, catching the sickly orange light of the streetlamps, and hiding what was probably a beautiful sunset. The colour seemed to blend with the muddy brown tones of the houses. What may have once been clean corrugated metal was now thick with soil and dirt. What wood that hadn’t collapsed had turned an unhealthy, old shade of rotten brown. Of the two streets stretching from the shop, both were thin as can be, while one was even covered by more makeshift housing built overhead, creating a dimly lit tunnel. As the two mares headed of, picking the brighter route, Applejack couldn’t see a change in the quality of buildings, or streets, if they could even be called that. Voices could be heard from inside the structures as if the walls weren’t even there. Dreading what she was stepping in, she looked up, failing to see even the brightest stars. Through the chocking air, she did see a glimpse of what must have been Cloudsdale, but it was hard to tell.
As she turned back to look at Tera, the other mare was busy lighting a cigarette. “Hmm?” She had obviously noticed Applejack’s expression. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Ya smoke? A mare yer age?”
Tera’s expression looked lost for a moment, before she lightly chuckled. “Dude, where the hell do you come from?”
“Oh, uh. Never mind.” She didn’t feel like going in to her past again. Somepony not treating her like she was completely ignorant would be nice. Tera thankfully had the courtesy to drop the issue.
“Fine. Be all mysterious. Just keep an eye out for rats. They’re pretty bitey round this part of town.”
As Applejack suddenly began paying a lot more attention to the ground, they passed two colts on their right, also smoking. One shot Applejack a wink, while the other flicked their cigarette to the ground. “You two beauties lookin’ fer some company?”
“No thanks.” Tera called, her expression dropping as soon as she passed. “I swear, ever bucking time I’m out at night. You ever get that?”
“Not lately,” Applejack diplomatically replied, not wanting to lie. Maybe taking a walk had been a bad idea. She had held some mistaken belief that the city would be just a larger version of Ponyville, or maybe Manehatten. Instead, she was suffering some serious culture shock.
As the path ahead turned into a tunnel of houses, a stallion stepped out the shadows, directly in their path. Applejack had a feeling her walk was going to get a lot worse. “Well, well. Two lovely mares out for an evenin’ stroll, eh?” Next to her, Tera immediately tensed up. “Lovely weather, is it not?”
“H- hey. We don’t want any trouble, kay?”
“Who said anything about trouble?” He stepped forward. Behind her, Applejack could hear a number of other hooves squelching in the filth that made up the street. “You come with us all nice and quiet like, and there’ll be no trouble at all.”
With her attention on the stallion, Applejack only now noticed the mare hyperventilating at her side. “I- uh. We… we don’t- Buck! I can’t-” And like a flash of lightening, Tera darted backwards, dodging between the unsuspecting ponies, and disappearing round the corner. Applejack, forced into motion, tried the same. But this time the stallion’s friends were ready, and she slipped into the waiting hooves of one of her assailants.
“Wow. Loyal friend you ‘ave there.” As the first stallion approached, Applejack acted. She launched herself off the pony that held her, and bucked their leader square in the jaw.
Leaving him to stagger back, she pulled forward again, using the unwanted grip on her forehooves to her advantage. Her mouth connected to her captor’s ear, biting down hard and ripping flesh. As he stumbled back, clutching his ear in pain, she slammed into his side. He fell, a loose pipe catching the side of his head, and he collapsed like a rag doll.
Gasping air into her lungs, she checked the rest of the tunnel. One more mare had been flanking her, a switchblade gripped in her mouth. Using Applejack’s hesitation to her advantage, she swung her muzzle, slicing cleanly through Applejack’s cheek. Blinking tears away, the cowpony reared up on her back legs, and smashed her hoof into the mare’s nose. She lost her grip on the switchblade as she howled in pain, and it fell harmlessly into the mud at their hooves. Blood streamed from her broken nose, but she was hardly finished. As the two mares squared each other down, Applejack felt a heavy blow to the back of her head.
Dropping like a brick, she heard the voice of the first stallion. “Bucking bitch. More trouble that she’s worth.” His hoof pressed againt her neck as she writhed in pain, holding her in place. Her vision spun. “The hell ‘appened to Lucky?”
“Not sure,” the mare groggily replied.
“Forget about ‘im then. I’ll tie ‘er up, since you look like a bucking wreck.” The mare nodded lazily, fighting a losing battle with her nose.
Applejack tried to protest, her senses returning, but the stallion kept a strong pressure on her throat. As visions of what they planned for her flashed through her head, she didn’t hear the sound of a heavy metallic object landing just outside the tunnel behind her. Her captors also didn’t notice the additional guest. That is, until an ear splitting crack brought the stallion crashing down on top of Applejack.
“Oh shit.” With the pressure gone, Applejack was able to move her head. Looking up, she saw the stallion struggling to his hooves, blood gushing from a hole in his shoulder. “Pegasi! Bucking run!” The mare did so, sprinting for the end of the tunnel. The stallion tried to follow, leaving Lucky to his fate. He didn’t get far though.
His silhouette was visible near the end of the tunnel when the second crack sounded directly behind Applejack, violently assaulting her ears. She saw the stallion’s head jolt horribly, liquid exploding in the air around it. His body slid for a second after dropping, before going still.
Frozen in terror, Applejack remained on the ground as she heard the heavy hooffalls behind her. In the corner of her vision, she saw the black gleam of the pegasi soldier uniform stopping next to Lucky. A deep, disgusted tut could be heard as Applejack closed her eyes, followed by a third thunderous crack.
With her eyes clamped shut, she could only wait as the pegasus approached her. The hoofsteps stopped and a horrible silence rang in the air. This was it. The pegasus would either recognise her, and she’d be shipped off to prison, convicted for a crime she didn’t even know she did. Or she wouldn’t be recognised, and her life would come to an undignified end.
She dared to open her eyes, confused over the hesitation. The now familiar face of the soldier’s mask that met her still sent shivers down her spine. The barrels under the pegasus’ wings were lightly smoking. That must have been the tool used to do... whatever it did to the other ponies.
“Applejack?” There it was. The soldier had heard or seen the report. Well, at least it was a marginally better fate than death. Curiously, her fearful mind still noticed the tone behind the voice changer. A deep female rasp.
“You’re alive?” Was it her imagination, or was the soldier’s voice cracking slightly? “Rainbow Dash always told me you were dead.”