June 5th, 2307 SET. ESI Prowler-Apple Harvest Orbit
Rainbow Dash sat down on one of the chairs that were in the shuttle, taking in her surroundings. She whistled slightly under her breath, the space craft was very nice. Clearly an officer’s ship, it had all the comforts of a private yacht. It had a refrigerator and above it sat a small cupboard filled will a variety of wine glasses and other types of drinking ware. There was a lamp that was resting atop a small bookshelf which itself sat next to a leather chair that the stallion in the fancy get up was currently sitting in. He had seen Rainbow’s expression and whinnied with pleasure, “Do you like my ship? Had some of the...” he paused a moment before continuing, looking for the right word, “utilities put in for the sake of entertaining guests and diplomats and what not. Also, it is nice to travel in style, is it not?” He looked among the group, as if expecting a response.
“Oh, that wasn’t rhetorical?” Ace asked sharply, clearly not pleased about being on the same ship as an ESI spook.
He shot her a quizzical but threatening look, “Commander Mustang, is there a problem?”
She winced at the sound of her real name, not happy to hear it, “No...Sir, it’s just that we are in the middle of repairing the Dauntless, and all of us are needed to get the ship back to operational status...” She locked her eyes with the grey stallion seated in front of her. His silver eyes scanning her, taking in every detail.
“Well, then let us make this quick shall we?” He said bemused.
It was Applejack’s turn to cut in, “uh...just who the hay are ya’?”
The grey head turned to her, his short, white mane locked in place by the officer’s hat resting on his head. He began observing the colonist pony in front of him, a slight smirk sneaking in on his face, “Ah, where are my manners? You may call me The Diplomat.”
Confusion spread across Applejack’s face, “The...Diplomat? Is that really yur’ name?” She looked to the other three ponies in the shuttle and to her surprise none of them shared her confusion, “Uh, what’s goin’ on?” The Diplomat sat there with a smug grin on his face, clearly proud of the confusion his name stirred up.
Rainbow leaned over and said quietly, “He is an ESI operative, they all have cover names, kinda' like our call-signs.” The Diplomat nodded in agreement.
“Yes, except we will never reveal our true names. I am The Diplomat, that is all,” confidence held his tone firm. He cast his gaze over Rainbow and Spectre, studying them. “Bolt, otherwise known as Rainbow Dash,” he started, “you are the pony that holds the current record on Solstice, no?” Rainbow nodded slowly, she had no idea where he was getting all of this information, although something like that wasn’t a secret. What was a secret however, was Ace’s real name. Rainbow had only heard the name once before and even then Rainbow still always addressed her as Ace. “Also, from the reports I’ve received it sounds like you have made yourself out to be a bit of a hero. What do you have to say to that?” He watched her closely.
Rainbow pressed her ears against the back of her head before saying, “just doing my job sir, nothing else.”
He stared at her for a moment, carefully calculating what she said, “Well, doing your job is good, but doing it well is better and will earn you rewards,” he said as rose out his chair. He approached Rainbow, “First Lieutenant Rainbow Dash, you are here by promoted to the rank of Captain for your valor and bravery in the face of danger.” Rainbow stared in disbelief for a moment and she thought she saw something in his face, a small grin maybe, but if it was there, it wasn’t for long. He held is face firm, waiting for the return salute. Rainbow flicked her fore-hoof up to her head, copying the pony in front of her.
“Thank you sir!” She replied with practiced resolve. She was slightly confused about the honor that was just given to her. She had said she was only doing her job, but Rainbow was also not one to turn down a promotion when it was handed to her. The grey pony in front of her continued on to Spectre.
“Second Lieutenant Sidewinder, you are here by promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant for your valor and bravery in the face of danger,” he said. That time Rainbow did see a small smirk on his face before burying it under a straight face.
“Thank you sir, it’s an honor,” Spectre said with the same resolve as Rainbow, well-practiced. The Diplomat trotted over to a small cabinet and pulled out a small box, levitating it with his magic. Rainbow took note of this; she hadn’t seen his horn for it was hidden under his hat. He proceeded to float out two pins that looked like a pair of wings with a circle branded with the Mark of Celestia in the center. He removed the old pins off of the lapels of the flight uniforms the two pilots were wearing and replaced them with their new ranks. He flashed one more salute and they returned it with pride.
“As for you Commander, being that you are such a high ranking officer, we must do your promotion in according to the traditional ceremony, and that will wait until after the briefing. We must be fast however, complications have arisen during your mission here,” his normally smirking face had turned hard. “If you would all take a seat around the holo-projector, we can get started.” The four other ponies gathered around the large circular table-like object in the center of the ship. He pushed several buttons and the table whirred to life, light pouring out of it. He turned a solemn look upon the ponies that were watching, “We are at war, fillies and gentlecolts. The Shadow Syndicate has openly assaulted a trade convoy en route from Solstice to the planet Eclipse.” He paused for a moment to push a few more buttons. A star map popped up, highlighting the trade route between the two planets. A small green line began to follow the route before being swallowed by red. “This happened about twelve parsecs away from SS controlled territory,” he said as a large area was painted a faint red and was labeled SS space. The convoy was very much distant away from the area that was mapped as Shadow space. “Now, and I’m sorry to say, that the only force within distance that could help was the fifth fleet that was stationed to help you, they were only two parsecs away.” On the map, blue blips had gotten mixed in with the green and red. “I apologize for that, but the trade convoy was carrying military equipment that could not fall into the hands of the Shadow Syndicate. Anyways, the detachment of the fifth had managed to repulse the Shadow Syndicate fleet for a time, but not before sustaining casualties. Currently, two frigates and a destroyer are dead, and another destroyer crippled. Reinforcements are on the way to back them up, but deep contact radar has picked up enemy movement as well. They are coming back for round two. Now, this is why I have brought you here. While the Dauntless is in no condition to fight, her fighters are, and that is why I brought the ship we are currently bellied in. This shuttle will remain on the planet to make room for more fighters, and I will be giving orders from it down on the surface. While I know your pilots are still tired, and you are not up to full strength, I have a small supplement of crew for you to utilize.” He paused for a moment, letting the ponies in front of him take in what he was saying. Ace had maintained a poker face through all of it, deep in thought. Spectre looked rather angry and was ready, whereas Rainbow was thinking deeply.
Applejack broke the silence, “Uh...Mr. The Diplomat? Where do I come in? Why am I involved here?”
He cast a gaze over her, “You have fighters yourselves I understand. While I know you and your ponies are not fully trained pilots, you have experience, which is more than can be said for some of the military. While not a demand, I ask you to let us utilize your pilots. They will provide cover fire only, they will not be sent into direct combat, and by doing this, we can use our pilots for the real fighting, not guard duty. Also, if you do agree, Captain Dash shall remain here to train your pilots until the Dauntless is ready to go. Once that happens you will join us in combat at the battlefield.”
This revelation shocked Rainbow, who quickly turned her gaze at her friend. Applejack thought hard about the proposal. Rainbow voiced a concern, “Well the Dauntless will be ready to go in a couple of weeks but that won’t be soon enough to be of any help.”
The Diplomat thought hard about this predicament, he did not actually know how much damage the Dauntless had taken. “I understand, but Solstice is very far away, it’s going to be a long time until the Second and Third fleet arrives. The remainder of the Fifth is inbound and should be there in a few days, I will have them send another frigate to pick your craft up.”
“A few days? How can I train ponies in only a few days?” Rainbow was shocked.
“Well from my understanding, they already have previous experience, but they will need to learn unit cohesion; especially if they would be used for guard duty,” The Diplomat replied smoothly.
“Unit cohesion isn’t something you just learn...” Rainbow muttered.
“Right, they need to fly together for long periods of time to achieve this. You have several days, make it happen,” he ended. If Rainbow had not known any better, she would have shot him a glare.
Applejack was quick to break the silence, “My pilots don’t need no trainin’, we can fly as well as the rest of ya’ll.”
“Then it will make the training process a whole lot smoother now wont it?” The Diplomat replied, not breaking the stare he held on Rainbow.
Ace stepped in, “Why are you offering us an ESI prowler? Surely there would be better uses for a stealth ship.”
“While normally I would be inclined to agree, an invisible prowler acting as a strike carrier could do serious damage, don’t you think? Also, this is a strategy that is going to be implemented during this battle with several stealth prowlers. If it’s technology they want, its technology they’ll get.” His grin spread back across his face.