One important rule that comes in handy and holds true in most places, except for when it doesn't, of course, was the first law of motion. It was simplicity in its truest form, really. To summarize: an object will maintain a stable velocity unless acted upon by an outside source. Very simple, right? Pity I totally forgot to warn Rainbow Dash that her usual 'outside sources' of gravity and air friction were almost non-existent here.
We smashed into another chunk of rock, barely managing to avoid the massive beam of charged, superheated particles as it put a rather impressive hole through the rock next to us. My barrier staved off the heat but I could still feel the tingling sensation, as if too much static electricity had built up. Not possible in a vacuum, if I recalled correctly, but it was better than imagining the beam microwaving the outer layer of skin cells off me. Trying to look on the bright side, I assured myself that it was a good thing this wasn’t a military ship.
Rainbow learned very quickly, bless her heart. She booked it rapidly across the surface, turning much faster once she realized she had to counter thrust against her own velocity to slow down. She took to an amazingly graceful swerving pattern to avoid the big shots. I kept my eyes closed, of course. One, to not wet myself by seeing how close we came to becoming a pile of ionized ash, and two, to keep my focus on deflecting the small arms fire of the mechanical soldiers that were following us. Thankfully their aim was traditionally crappy.
The Grosh didn't colonize well, so their soldiers consisted largely of mechanical infantry. The problem was in what they breathed. They called it Icheon Gas in Universal Common. It was a combination of dense hydrogen, a few neurological stimulants, and a fascinatingly large concentration of tiny parasites that infested the Groshs' lungs. They processed the hydrogen for each individual Grosh, somehow turning it into a concentrated oxygen mixture, and were native to their original biosphere. It was a creative process, as the Grosh's bodies in turn processed only the heightened oxygen levels. We didn’t fully understand the process, but then again, we weren’t exactly given much time to research them. Regardless, the drawback was that the parasites had a shelf life of almost nil and nitrogen was poisonous to them. Oops. It slowed down the whole terraforming thing when you had to convert the entire atmosphere to a different gas, introduce several biologically-dependant plant species en masse, and then saturate the planet with a parasite before you could live on it. That also meant their ships had to haul around a full eco-deck just to sustain their life support systems. It made personal space suits a bit complicated, I'd assumed. Yeah, robots were just easier.
Rainbow Dash followed the purple line coming from her chest as fast as she possibly could. The closer we got to the glowing barrier ahead of us, the more of my old energy pool I could tap into. My eyes opened again, once we got within thirty meters or so. They widened to full as I took in the sight. Across our dirty, charred expanse of rock was a partially collapsed but perfectly functioning Aegis Barrier. More specifically, my Aegis Barrier. Our strongest barrier magic, the Aegis formed an absolute field that blocked everything and enclosed in on itself. The downsides were that it kinda stopped air too and wouldn't let attacks out of it from the inside. Its use was really situational at best. Of course, a charged particle blast fired from an orbital battleship was a pretty nasty threat.
The weak atmosphere danced with deflected ion bolt energy as Rainbow broke into a no holds barred line for the bubble. My focus shifted from the now missing shots to keying us into the resonation of the barrier. Her speed almost caused us to pancake into the side of it before I managed to sync us! We passed through the field and she immediately spun, boosting hard in the other direction. We still smashed into the inside of the barrier across from our entry point, but at least she braked. A few lacerations and bruises were better than a caved in skull I suppose.
We collapsed into a panting, breathless pile at the bottom of the barrier wall, and I reflexively checked our oxygen supply again. We had about twenty-five minutes of air left, I estimated. Plenty, I hoped.
Rainbow shakily stood again after a few moments and looked around. I stared apprehensively at the walls until I saw one of the large, charged particle shots skip off. Whew, it was indeed perfectly functioning. The massive, impossibly large moving wall of metal stopped firing after a few deflected shots razed some of their now useless robotic infantry. They couldn't do much to us in here and I decided the new plan was to simply chill until Twilight finished charging her teleportation magic. Heroic, I know.
Rainbow was momentarily fascinated by the gently flowing field of lights and symbols surrounding us and smiled softly as she took it in. I had to give her credit. She was taking having been shot at with an anti-cruiser weapon amazingly well. She seemed to draw in the sights with amazement, like it was a massive amusement park or something. The energy that danced behind her amethyst eyes made me smile.
"That was actually kinda fun, but we should probably stay in here," Rainbow suggested, smirking back at me finally.
"Ug, should I ask, or will knowing cause me to die of worry and guilt?" Twilight asked, speaking for the first time since the barrage of apologies after we started screaming in panic. Getting shot at brings out the best in me, I had to admit.
Rainbow snickered and shook her head to nopony in particular. She remembered with a start a few seconds later, and added hastily, "Ah, n-no. You probably shouldn't ask."
I watched the massive ship slowly start to turn, lining up one of the main cargo bays with our trajectory. "Uh, how much time's left on those three teleports, Twilight?" I asked nervously.
"This isn't a little jaunt across town, you know. I'm almost done with Rainbow's charge, and then I'll do yours and your twin’s. Uh, twelve, twelve and a half minutes?" she estimated.
Rainbow suddenly went rigid under me and inhaled sharply. Had she noticed the ship? Turning my head back, I realized she was looking into the center of our barrier instead. The whole thing was barely ten meters across and a small figure rested in the center that I had previously overlooked. It was extremely tiny now, and cratered partially into the rocks. My mind started to ache and I involuntarily winced as a sharp stab went through it. The figure was me.
"Oh, oh, that's not... I think I'm gonna be sick," Rainbow muttered, looking away from my other self rapidly. It was easy enough to see the source of her discomfort.
My old body was actually smaller than my new one, I realized. For one, I was a runt, really. Two, our race was actually on the small size, barely reaching four foot, if I recalled. Lastly, my other form was severely emaciated, almost a skeleton. The light blue, patchy fur that was covering parts of its skin was falling out and I saw that the tips of the foot long ears were withered and drying badly. Oh, and it was in three pieces. That was important too, I think. Not that it really mattered at that point as the prior starvation and dehydration would have made my survival iffy at best. I could see the organs and blood, frozen in time a week back, still somehow alive as the rainbow energy threads wove through it all. But there was no helping it anymore.
"Scratch that third teleport, Twilight," I whispered quietly, my voice surprising me by catching on her name. I took a moment to close my eyes and compose myself, feeling Rainbow turn around and away from the slowly dying alien body.
There was a light, squeaking whimper, followed by a sigh in a different voice. "You found your other self?" Twilight asked in a weak, but understanding voice.
"Oh dear," Rarity muttered quietly, followed by a low growl from Applejack.
"Are ya really gonna just give up? We should try ta heal him up, anyway," she argued.
Rainbow let out gentle breaths, shivering under me now. I surprised myself by frowning and gently nuzzling my muzzle along her neck. A hug kinda didn't work with broken forelegs. She started momentarily, before sighing and bending her neck against my head, resting there. "It's kinda a little late for healing. I don't think even magic could repair that," she muttered, after recovering for a few moments. I found myself oddly numb, however. I realized that if I searched my memories, I'd seen worse. It was different when it was myself though.
"Rainbow... Are ya alright?" Applejack asked a few moments later, irritation gone from her voice and much quieter. I distracted myself by peeking around the barrier.
Up close, I saw it was a lot more deteriorated than I thought. Thankfully it was strong magic. I watched the four-armed mechanical monsters gather around the edges of the barrier. Then I thought about it more. How had I lived without air this long?
"Yeah. I mean, no sweat, right? He's just a bit worse off than I had anticipated," she excused, waving her hoof to nopony again. She wasn't used to this whole 'long distance communication' thing, it seemed.
I found the tube shortly thereafter. It was pumping a healthy supply of oxygen in through a deteriorated part of the barrier. They were intentionally keeping me alive, then. That entire side of the barrier was lined with scanning equipment as well, now that I looked closer. They knew how the Aegis functioned so they definitely weren't scanning that. That meant…
There was a weak, whimpering noise. "I'm worried about Mender's legs. He n-needs medical attention," Fluttershy reminded. They had gone mostly numb, at this point. It was a blessing, really.
"He'll get it right away, upon the teleport. Don't worry, Fluttershy," Rarity assured.
I stared up at the massive ship above us. It had given up firing upon us. Now I knew why. They didn't want to blow up their research. The transmitters on the scanning system attached to the Aegis were easy enough to see, as well. A sinking chill crept into me as I realized it wasn't going to be as easy as this.
"Uh, Rainbow? Are you up for one more flight?" I asked quietly, losing my strength of voice. They had the data on the ship already. I needed to buy some time.
She glanced back at me questioningly, and then followed my gaze up towards the massive research ship. On the top of it, towards the front, there was a large array of angular, pyramid-like transmitters and receivers. "They're learning about the link, aren't they?" Twilight asked, sounding uneasy.
"The scanner's still running, so they're not done yet. They'd keep the data on the ship until they have it all. But I don't know how much they have," I reasoned. Did they have enough to be a threat? There was literally no way of knowing from here.
Several micro-drones, about half a meter in diameter, landed on the outside of the barrier a second later. Rainbow Dash jumped at the loud impact noises and looked back and forth between them. I counted about five, as they started trying to pull at the weakened segments of shield. My eyes softened as I realized it didn't matter. They had data on Equestria, in all likelihood.
The uneasy silence was broken by my sigh, as I explained, "We need to take out their transmitters, Dash. They're those angular things sticking out of the front up on top." That would buy us time to figure out how much data they had, anyway. I hoped. The radiation they vented during FTL transmission meant they had to be outside of the ship. That definitely worked to our advantage. Dash surprised me by smiling, however.
"Hit and run?" she asked, widening her stance and lowering herself, coiling her leg muscles in what looked like anticipation. The soldier in me that I denied for so long grunted his approval and I smirked. She was made of a lot sterner stuff than I had given her credit for.
"One pass is all we need. Then back to here," I added. Simple and efficient.
Dash nodded briskly, eyes narrowing as she locked them onto the array. "Yer kiddin', right? Ya need medical attention, an' you two're gonna go off on some crazy flight?" Applejack questioned incredulously.
Part of me realized she was right. Rainbow gave an angry snort, however. "There's no way I'm letting these jerks anywhere near Equestria. They won't even see us coming!" she boasted and I almost felt her coat bristling up under me. If they'd seen her now, I don't think my old soldier buddies would have found a single bad thing to say, I realized. Rainbow mane included, of course.
I considered the goal, however. There were several reinforced carbon struts that connected the array to the ship. I was unfortunately, a support caster, or I could have just blown the crap out of it from where we stood. They probably realized I wasn't an attack class already. But there was one technique I could do that was offensive. Just one.
Rainbow's eyes got wider in direct proportion to the length of the blade of energy extending off the left side of my mouth. Shields were basically just a plane of force. Smash one to a few nanometers thick and ionize the end, and it becomes a pretty nice blade as well. It was my last line of defense, all else failing. I don't remember ever using it apart from training, but that didn’t surprise me much. For one, blades were a little outclassed in that war. For two, I didn't remember a huge amount still. I didn't have access to my other self's memories, which was a little depressing. I had been secretly hoping I'd recover them when I came here, I supposed.
"Thish'll cut thru it like bhutter," I mouthed through the block of energy between my teeth.
Rainbow started to giggle, but nodded. "Ya got it, Partner. One hit and run, coming right up!" she affirmed, grinning again and turning her head back towards the giant research ship.
"Be-Be careful, you two," Twilight asked, giving in. She knew this had to be done. What I didn't mention was that we somehow had to get rid of the ship too, after we knocked out their communication. My mind started racing through diagrams as I tried to desperately remember my training. There had to be something on the ship. Some weakness we could exploit. It wasn't a military class vessel.
"Piece of cake. Relax, Twilight," Rainbow assured. Heh, it wouldn't be, but I think she already knew that.
I nodded against Dash, leaning down tightly to her. Letting the blade drift from my mouth, I advised, "They have a minimum firing range."
Rainbow Dash grinned openly now. "So fly down their throat. Got it. Give my wings a boost," she requested.
"Be careful, Rainbow. Ya need ta get yer pretty little rainbow flank back in one piece, yeh hear?" Applejack warned. Dash blushed lightly and I tried not to smirk at what I knew she heard that as.
"Yeah, you don't want to miss this amazing party, Dashie!" Pinkie Pie tacked on.
Okay, I snickered at that. "Then let's knock 'em down a peg, Dashie," I spoke up directly into her ear. Her nickname was adorable, I had to admit.
She shot a glare back at me but I just smiled innocently at her, earning an eye roll. "Don't try dumping on the cute with me. I'm not Twilight or Fluttershy," she muttered sarcastically, but smirking now contrary to her tough act.
"W-What?!" Fluttershy stuttered out. We never got a chance to reply, though.
The charge had finished, and I dumped it into Rainbow's wing thrusters. They expanded almost three times, planes of light extending off her wings, over doubling their normal size. She got a look of exhilaration, and turned back to the ship again.
"Hit 'em hard and fast, Rainbow," I affirmed, catching the blade in my mouth again, holding it out firmly before dumping the remainder of my charge into it. The blade exploded in light, expanding almost three meters in length, putting the tip through one of the weak spots in the shield. I secretly was delighted as I saw one of the mechanical micro-drones fall in half as the point of the blade extended through it.
Rainbow Dash dropped low and sprung like a rubber band straight up, an explosion of thrusters lighting up the area around us as we phased through the top of the shield.
If Rainbow Dash didn't have my respect before, she sure as hell did now. We banked hard as she counter-thrust through a laser field, barely slipping through between two shots. They had opened up with everything the second we cleared the gravity field. Dash kept her flight pattern tight and varied, spinning in a tight roll as she blasted out of the thrust, dodging the entire attack field with ease. Her wings of light scorched the darkness of space as she danced towards our target. Best flier in Equestria? Yeah right. She was a goddess of flight!
We came out of our tight spin as she corrected our velocity and burst under their firing pattern. A few smaller, anti-fighter rays grazed us, but were deflected harmlessly by my angled shields. It had to be done. I released the limits on my magic pool once more, this time with all of my other self’s energy, causing Rainbow's wings to explode into light again as she shot past the range minimum in an instant. She let out a roaring battle scream as we swung in along the hull of the ship, hugging its shield line.
Three flaps were all it took. A hundred meters she covered as if it was nothing, lining up the support struts with measured precision. I gritted my teeth hard into the blade grip, letting out a growl around it. The blade flared up and we made contact just as they tried to raise their shields up around the array. Rainbow ducked and I swung.
I barely felt the wedge that was my deflective shield smash through the severed line I made through theirs. We passed the array an instant later. Rainbow flicked her back legs around, pulling a hard U-turn along the shield of the ship. Exhausted, I let the blade dissipate as I felt the dull ache along the back of my head from overexertion. The rest of my body soon joined the skull ache as Rainbow slammed the thrusters against her own velocity, momentarily almost doubling the g-forces on us. Admittedly, her body was probably used to it.
I gritted my teeth as pain exploded through my forelegs. A sharp mineral taste entered my mouth shortly afterwards. Either I bit my tongue, had massive internal bleeding, or it was a nerve overload sensation. Most likely it was option three. Rainbow didn't notice however, as she was now too busy grinning.
The field around the array collapsed as fast as it had popped up. I saw the white hot line going through the struts and gave a sigh of relief. Dash burst forwards and kicked the side of the array a second later, dislodging the entire thing and sending it drifting off into space. We were too close to their hull to target now, and she took the time to do a victory pose. At least research ships didn't have mobile attack drones.
"Ha! We totally took 'em down! That was awesome," she declared, sounding beyond proud of herself.
Weakly, I glanced back at our bubble and swallowed as I saw one of the micro-drones almost inside. I didn't know if it could go back through the portal the other direction or not, but finding out wasn't on my to-do list. Crap. Now I was starting to think like Twilight.
"Rainbow, the portal. A drone," I managed to mutter through the demolition sequence going off in my skull.
"Aww horse apples! I'm gonna kick the hay out of those stupid metal beach balls," she growled, giving a hard flap of her wings and bursting off the hull shield surface. Much to my dismay, her path was taking a straight line.
I winced and smashed my jaw shut at the acceleration but managed to shout, "The beams, Dash!"
She gasped, remembering an instant later. We dove into evasive action instantly just as a full array of five beams scorched through the spot we were half a second ago. My scream was drowned out in the high-pitched wail of the laser energy as it burned through our air bubble hard enough to generate sound. By instinct, I ejected the outer layer of our deflection shield as it was heated to the point of combusting. Rainbow dove into a rough spiral, gritting her teeth as the perspiration turned to steam off of her forehead before dispersing into space. My mind reeled as I felt her make several more dodges and another wave of the large lasers shot past us, missing entirely this time. I felt the anti-fighter shots power up in my detection range, and struggled to anchor my mind enough to move the deflector shields into interception position.
"Rainbow! Mender!" I heard Twilight shout, feeling like the echo bounced around inside my head a few times.
"No yeh don't, ya little monsters!" I heard Applejack suddenly shout out as well.
It was hard to see with my vision swimming, but I swore I saw red objects suddenly exiting the portal at high velocity. The first drone that got through the barrier caught the thing right in the sensor panel. To my amazement, it cracked through the casing and sent the drone hurtling backwards into the side of the barrier! The second drone seemed to panic, managing to block the second red orb with a utility arm, but the velocity tore the arm off and spun the drone around. The third projectile scored a direct hit on the power pack in the back. The coupling must have snapped, and the entire drone lit up like a light bulb momentarily, before giving off weak wisps of smoke and drifting motionlessly.
All other attention was cut short as the anti-fighter turrets fired. Rainbow went into a dodging pattern, slowing noticeably as her wings started to lose power. No! I tried to direct power into both her wings and the shields at the same time, my mind falling into the proverbial acid pit to manage it. One parry. Rainbow spun, dodging two more of the shots. Another parry. She felt her wings flare up again and made a mad dash for the shield, taking advantage of the larger weapon’s firing delay. The third parry. Deflection barrier one of three collapsed. They lead us as we shifted to a straight line and I threw the healthiest barrier into the path of Rainbow's head. Parry four and five skipped off it, narrowly avoiding removing her head as she flew. Four meters from the shield. The lead fire fell behind and Rainbow tucked into a roll to brace for impact. I shifted the healthy shield in-between the barrier and us, using its energy to slow our velocity. We rotated, coming in hard and fast. A glancing blow, barely deflected, skipped off the weakened third shield, reducing it to critical. Two meters. Things slowed as I felt my heart smashing against my ribs. Our velocity dropped, but so did our angle, bringing us back into line with the three prior missing shots. I barely managed to move shield three into position, shifting the now lined up laser fire away from us using redirection. The shield flickered and I saw a burn line lance across Rainbow's right shoulder, an inch from my face.
Startled, I missed the final deflection. The angle was bad. I saw my mistake instantly, but it was too late. The shield took the full force of the shot, having to absorb it rather than deflect. Naturally, the shield shattered, letting ribbons of energy through. The impact knocked the air out of me as I felt a split second lance of burning pain and then nothing at all, as bits of feeling disappeared from the lower left side of my back. We went through the barrier, and cratered into the rock next to the portal.
There was a momentary lapse in awareness. It felt like I took a long blink, and then lost a bit of time during it. Ah, I lost consciousness. Rainbow let out a low groan as she shakily stood up. I contented myself to silence, as I rested limply on her back. There was almost no magic left in either of my bodies now. I did a passive scan of my systems, running on power saving mode as best I could.
Torn muscles in both forelegs. They were effectively useless. Abrasions covered my skin as well, but that was expected. The real damage was done to my back. I had three reasonably deep burned gashes in my back, above my left hip by a few inches. The air barrier I made sealed it but the top one was bleeding badly. With nowhere to go, the blood just pooled and spread out under the barrier, along my coat. I felt light headed, but decided it was probably due to over-exertion of magic and my headache. I tried exercising as much pressure against it as I could using the barrier that was left from before, but my throbbing head made that hard.
We were back inside the barrier, with bits of mechanical parts lying about. There was just enough gravity to keep them anchored and allow Rainbow to stand. Chunks of apple drifted slowly along the surface of the rock, too, I noticed. The barrier looked ragged, but had self-repaired to some extent. The mechanical soldiers stood outside it still, apparently having given up infiltration for now. I caught a glimpse of the giant ship rotating slowly above us, aligning us with the massive, rear-facing cargo bay. That explained why they weren't trying to get inside. They were simply going to swallow the rock whole.
"Ouch. That stung a bit. Mission successful, though!" Rainbow Dash announced, rubbing her singed shoulder absently.
"Oh, thank Celestia you're all right! You took out the communication device, then?" Twilight asked, exhaling in relief. I decided to keep my mouth shut, and put more pressure on the wound, feeling the barrier get a little slick. It was hard to think through the cloud in my mind.
Rainbow nodded pointlessly, and added, "Yup! Kicked it off into space. They nicked my shoulder, but other than that, we were untouchable!"
"S-So you saved Equestria? That's awesome, Rainbow! How's M-Mender?" Fluttershy asked quietly, which sounded odd in an enthusiastic tone.
Rainbow smirked. "Well, I am kinda awesome like that! And he seems fine. His barriers were amazing out there," she added. I was vaguely surprised she gave up some of the credit.
"Then why ain’t he talkin'?" Applejack asked, sounding a little irritated for some reason.
I wasn't sure how to respond to that. "I, mmm, just tired. Cool apple attack," I managed to mutter, watching one of the red, tasty looking snacks roll and twist across the rock near us. Wait, no, it wasn't moving. I think my eyes were instead.
Rainbow frowned and twisted around to look back at me.
"Well ah thank ya kindly. Ah simply agree with Dash. No metal monsters'll set hoof in Equestria, so long as ah have any say 'bout it," the farm mare declared, followed by the unique sound of a hoof impact, probably against her chest.
"And I helped load the apples!" Pinkie followed up in delight.
Rainbow got a look of mild concern, however. Uh oh... "Why is your nose bleeding, Mender?" she inquired a moment later. Whew. She couldn't see my back.
"Oh, he over-exerted his magic. I got a little nosebleed that night after the Ursa Minor incident, too," Twilight answered for me. The constellation? I momentarily entertained an image of her fighting off the stars themselves, and getting a 'little nosebleed' from the ordeal. Damn. She could have done all of this without batting an eyelash, I bet. My ego momentarily felt worse than my body.
"Regardless, Rainbow's teleport is ready and Mender's is about halfway charged. I'll wait and pull both of you out at once," Twilight went on to inform.
Rainbow was watching the giant ship now as well, as we started to pull closer to it in a massive beam of murky green light. "Uh, what's it doing?" she asked hesitantly.
"Pulling us in. Trying to trap us," I managed, getting tired suddenly. It was getting harder to keep my breath.
Twilight snorted. "I'll just teleport you out in a few minutes and we can be done with this nightmare."
"Rainbow can go now..." I whispered, wishing she'd use the escape route available to her.
"Uh, no way. I'm sticking with you until the end, Partner," Rainbow refused, smirking back at me again.
I groaned and shook my head. Stubborn mare. "You don't need to," I protested tiredly.
"Yer with the element o' loyalty, remember?" Applejack spoke up, chuckling after.
Rainbow Dash started to nod in agreement, when we were jolted forwards slightly, to the sound of a loud crash. "Whoa!" she protested, bracing against the rocking motion. I looked forward again and saw them backing up our floating rock, and raising us up a little more using the spatial manipulation field. Idiots. The bottom of our floating island must have smashed into the bottom of the docking bay. They never were too accurate with those.
The artificial gravity took over inside of the ship and I winced as I was pushed down onto Rainbow. My forelegs were on fire with pain and I was starting to sadly recover feeling in my back now. The wound, or more accurately, the nerves around the damaged areas, began to scream out under the newly discovered pressure. I hadn't been expecting this reaction and fought back a wave of nausea and lightheaded vertigo. I felt the warm liquid running down my flanks now and swallowed. Not good.
"...some kind of big room. Ya could hurry that teleport a bit, Twilight," Rainbow continued speaking. My hearing fully recovered after a few more seconds, and I shivered, feeling myself get colder. Not good at all. At this rate, I'd die from blood loss. Trying something new, I let most of the only remaining barrier mostly dissipate until it was the size of a walnut or so. I then gritted my teeth and carefully plugged it into the only hole that wasn't cauterized. My mind exploded into agony and I almost bit my tongue trying to keep from screaming as I rode out the now spinning room. Son of a bitch! I was not cut out for this kind of thing. I winced at the concept of getting a tattoo, for crying out loud.
"I'm trying, Dash. Just keep yourself and Mender safe. Five minutes tops," Twilight assured, sounding a bit frantic.
Rainbow sighed and paced slightly, trying desperately to look at anything other than my other self in the center of the rock. It wasn't that hard, as the hanger gave us ample amounts of curiosities to look at. It was massive, for one. I knew it was almost a kilometer long and half that or so in width. In theory, it was a dry dock for experimental ships. In reality, they used it to store essentially anything they found interesting enough to study. Us, in this case. Lights shone down from high above, illuminating the docks in a murky green light. It wasn't enough to light the place to satisfaction, really. Dark labs were in rows to the sides of the docks, and sinister robots followed us with their sensors through the glass windows. Other ships were also landed; the cool blue pulse of their hover disks simply added to the ambiance.
"This place is kinda cool," my cyan partner noted, looking about with curiosity now.
"Greetings, Last Known Member of Species 5387! Welcome to my ship!" suddenly boomed from unseen speakers high above.
Rainbow let out a yelp, diving to the rock for protection while looking around. A massive panel opened up in the wall next to us as we slowed to a stop. The holographic projector hummed as it powered up, the face of my nightmares coming onto the screen. His hideous visage was twisted and warped and the sickly white fur turned up around the corners of his mouth, a sinister grin bestowed on his features. Two sharper looking teeth dropped down menacingly and half of his scarred face was replaced by gleaming metal. The two longer ears were stretched out far behind its head like some mockery of hair. I shuddered and tried not to convulse. Rainbow stared blankly at the face and I was shocked at her stoic behavior. To show such calm in front of one of them! A Grosh.
The deadpan expression soon gave away into a massive fit of laughter. I was shocked, jaw dropped as I watched her roar with glee until tears came from her eyes. The Grosh looked utterly shocked, then annoyed, and finally downright irritated.
"The big bad oogly wooglies are fluffy bunnies with cheese graters stuck to their faces? Really?!" she managed to gasp out between chortles. She started stomping rapidly on the rock in ecstatic laughter.
"Enough of this! I could destroy you both whenever I want, so silence!" The Grosh screamed. I blinked at Dash, who was still giggling, and then looked back to the view screen. Yeah, it did look like a bunny from their world. Well damn. That totally ruined it for me. Now I couldn't not see it.
Dash finally recovered enough to snort. "Wow. Somepony's grumpy. Remind me to feed Angel a nice big carrot when we get home, Fluttershy. Bunnies apparently get really cranky," she requested.
There was no response. She blinked after a few more seconds and looked around. "Er, Fluttershy? Twilight?" she called out hesitantly.
Nothing. I sighed as I realized the magic had given away. "Her spell wore off, Dash. It must have been... strained going through the portal. Less duration," I muttered, trying to head off the panic.
"Aww, the spell wore off? Pity. Looks like you won't be getting a rescue," the Grosh taunted, looking amused.
I shook my head. "The teleport's still, mm, charging," I assured her, still able to see the energy buildup.
She nodded and grinned. "You don't scare us! We're gonna get out of here, no sweat," she bragged.
"Go ahead. We're still hooked into him. Really, show us how the transfer works by taking him back. Then enjoy your last days," the Grosh offered gleefully. Oh crap.
Rainbow narrowed her eyes, but I shook my head. "They still have the data on the ship. Only... slowed 'em down," I muttered, shivering again.
"W-What? We didn't save..." she started to question, looking worried.
The Grosh started laughing. "Of course not! You just inconvenienced us. It'll take a couple hours to fix the transmitter array."
"Rainbow... Go back. Please," I requested, feeling dizzy again.
"No way! I'm not leaving you here alone," she refused.
More laughter from above. "Aww, it's touching. You know, I could save you, right? All you have to do is help us get the research done. You can live, and become a Grosh commander. Think about it! This deal wasn’t even offered to your traitor allies," the screen offered.
Rainbow snorted and backed away from the screen with me. "He can live without your help!" she shouted, looking irate now.
"I wouldn't... accept anyway," I managed to whisper, getting more tired by the minute. Yeah, definitely blood loss.
Rainbow didn't answer, getting a sudden questioning look in her eyes. I wondered what was wrong until she looked back at her left flank. "You'd better not have peed on..." she started to warn, before freezing in place. I followed her line of sight to the blood now running down her flank. "Oh, no, no, please, no," she muttered, yanking the cord on her chest. Oops. I felt the harness release and I slid gently down her back. She waited until I was completely off her before turning around again, ignoring the blood coating her thighs and running down her back legs.
I winced at the pain of the bump against our rock, but then tried my hardest to smile up at her. It felt weak, and she just shook her head. There was a light chuckle from above, which she ignored. "No, please, Mender. Why didn't you say something?" she whined out, shifting behind me and trying to put pressure on the wound.
"W-What would you have done?" I asked skeptically, resting my head against the rocks. I felt so tired. A little nap sounded so good about now.
Rainbow tied the harness strap over the wound, tightening it as hard as she could. "You stupid, stupid stallion! Why? I would have brought you to Twi! She has healing magic," she shouted, sounding more and more angry.
"My offer still stands," the Grosh reminded, snickering merrily.
No. This wouldn't do at all. A nap would be easy. Is that how I wanted to be remembered? I pushed my head into the floor and shifted my legs under me, wincing at the burning agony crawling up my spine. It didn't matter though, as I slowly shifted to my haunches, looking up at the Grosh.
"M-Mender, please, stay down," Rainbow asked, trying to nudge me over. The anger was gone from her voice again and I saw her eyes starting to get watery.
Turning my head to look at her, I managed a warm smile. "I'm sorry for being, mmm, stupid, Rainbow," I apologized. A tear slipped out of her left eye and she shook her head rapidly.
"We can still get you to Twilight. Don't you dare give up," she warned, trying to smile.
"I flooded the entire hold with Icheon gas. If you exit your bubble, you die anyway, so don't try anything, worms," the Grosh warned.
Wait, gas? Oh yeah, it was toxic and absurdly deadly to us. Probably to ponies, too. What was it again? There was something important.
Everything snapped into place and I suddenly smiled. It made sense now. It was all karma. I threw away my life before, in a pointless attempt to save a few. I didn't want to die. And I had failed. Our species was lost and I was all that was left. I should have gone with them, but I didn't. I was given another chance. Why?
To get my wish. My real, true wish. It was the reason I joined the guard in the first place. To make a difference. To fix what was wrong and lacking justice. I had lost sight of that alongside my memories but it was part of who I am, still. To mend. Both physical, emotional, and justice itself. My memories might never fully return, but I found myself at peace. I didn't need them. I had another chance.
"Can you tell everyone that I'm sorry?" I asked Rainbow quietly, slumping against her left shoulder. Everything in me quieted as she went rigid against me.
"M-Mender, you need to tell them yourself. This isn't... I'm not going to," she started to protest.
Oddly, I felt a sense of calm, finally. "This ship still holds Equestria's secrets. And the others need you..." I muttered, fighting to stay awake.
"Wh-What can you do against this huge ship? I'm staying with you until Twi teleports us," she insisted once more.
I sighed, and the Grosh started laughing behind me. "How cute. But you can't do anything. We have your bio. You focus on support and barrier magic. Your only attack is that silly blade and you're in the middle of a hanger flooded with lethal gas. Really, entertain me with your pathetic plan," he taunted. I ignored him entirely.
"Then... I apologize to you as well. If nothing else, Applejack needs you," I spoke quietly, a lump forming in my throat. It was taking all of my energy just to talk, and I felt my eyes get wet.
"No, Mender," Rainbow muttered.
I shook my head before she could say more. "Please, confess to her. For me, all right? Be happy," I requested from the bottom of my heart. It wasn't fair that I had come so close to the happiness she could still have, only for this to happen. I wanted to hear them one last time, if nothing else.
Rainbow backed her head back, shaking it rapidly. I didn't care if she saw me crying. She was as well. "S-Stop it. You need to," she almost pleaded.
"I'm sorry, Dashie. You're a goddess of flight, if that means anything," I complimented, smiling weakly at her. She swallowed and opened her mouth to say something, but I shook my head. "Goodbye, Partner," I spoke, before gently pushing the polarities of Twilight's teleport spell together with my magic.
Rainbow's eyes went wide as she felt the spell activate on her back. "Mend," she started to shout out, before vanishing in a flash of light. Mend. Indeed. That's what I'd do.
With nothing left to support me, I fell through where she was, collapsing into a heap on the rocks. The spot where she had been sitting was warm. I couldn't hold back anymore, and just let the tears come. They slid down my cheeks and mixed with the slowly expanding smear of blood under me. Fluttershy. Twilight. I wished I could talk to them again. All of those wonderful ponies. It wasn't fair.
"Well that was noble. Bravo, good sir," the Grosh complimented snidely, sounding amused.
I said nothing and just lay there, wishing he'd die. Well, he would die in a few minutes. Of that I could promise. "But now that she's gone, you can make the choice guilt free. Help us recreate the portal, and finish the research, and I will make you the head of our R&D department. You can even hunt down those cowards you allied yourself with. You will live forever and get anything you so desire," he offered.
I rotated my head enough to glare skeptically at him. Was he truly trying to offer me that? I didn't give him the satisfaction of a response as I sponged up the last few dribbles of magic inside of me. He hesitated, and then sighed. "All right, I'll add to it. We have DNA from your species. Your record stated that you didn't get on the breeding lists, so wouldn't having all the subservient females you want now be nice? I'll clone dozens, just for you," he tacked on.
Amusingly enough, I discovered a new level of hatred for the Grosh. It surprised me, because I didn't realize that I could want somepony dead so badly that I thought just killing them might not be satisfying enough. With still no answer, he twitched significantly. "Fine! When we invade, I'll round up all your little friends and give them to you as well. How's that sound?" he asked eagerly.
My eyes widened a little. Fluttershy and Twilight. I could see them again. But, they would hate me. It would destroy everything they loved for my own desires. My eyes softened as the tears came again. I wasn't willing to become a monster, was I? This offer was what every individual would normally strive for though, wasn't it? Such power and control, and everyone I cared about protected. All achieved in an instant with little to no effort. But it would sacrifice everypony else in Equestria to achieve it. That wasn't acceptable.
"Oh ho! I see you're interested, now," the Grosh muttered, followed by, "You're sweet on one of them, aren't you?"
Two, actually. Not that he needed to know that. It was a cold, sinking sensation that matched well with my failing body. What I truly wished for way back then. I rotated my head enough to see my old self slumbering, dreaming of the end of the world. Well, it was the end for him. He died with his species, didn't he? He failed and wasn't able to protect anyone. And he paid for the failure with death. He failed so badly that he almost doomed another universe to the same fate with his selfish desire to not die.
But I had another chance, didn't I? To protect. To fix what I almost destroyed. To mend. I was able to finally make a difference. Then it occurred to me. His offer was massive. Which could only mean one thing.
"You really have almost nothing, don't you?" I asked quietly, smirking.
He froze, and then slowly shifted to a scowl. "We... No. We have about thirty-percent of the information scanned. But it looks like the final results will require your species' magic, aggravating as it is," he finally admitted.
If this ship disappeared, all of the data would go with it, I realized. This wasn't a Grosh project. This was this Grosh's project. He hadn't reported it due to greed and having next to nothing, then. I smiled openly and couldn't help but chuckle.
He glared irritably at me, but I interrupted with, "You were wrong earlier, by the way."
"Oh? Pray tell," he requested, sounding angry now.
"I have one more spell. It's rather simple and only has a few purposes, so it wouldn't be on my bio," I informed, smiling pleasantly up at him from my laying position. My mind tested the stone I resided on, but it was too hard to manipulate with what little I had left in me. Hmm. Oh, I know.
He scoffed and rolled his eyes. "And I assume you believe this spell to be powerful enough to bring down this entire ship? Please. Be reasonable, now. I doubt you want to die," he reasoned.
I couldn't help but laugh. "Destroy this ship? Of course it can’t. I'm not crazy," I added in a rasp, after my laughter degraded into a dry coughing fit. I continued, regardless of his now amused expression, "And of course I don't want to die. But if it's asked of me to protect those I care about, even if they'll never know, then I don't have a choice do I? Besides, I admit to a certain satisfaction to taking you with me."
He outright laughed. "You are so entertaining! Now, I await this display of magic eagerly," he added, smirking at me. I saw medical drones lining up outside of my shield. He probably presumed to collect me after I passed out. Pity to disappoint.
"You won't be impressed, as this was only ever used to heat soup and light pilot lights," I warned, deciding upon the closest soft object. My left front hoof shook slightly as the creation symbol was carved into it instead of the rock. I felt nothing, thankfully. Channeling all the energy I had left, I ignited a small flame in my hoof.
The Grosh watched skeptically. "A lighter? Really?" he questioned.
"Mender... I'm coming..." was suddenly whispered into my head, in Twilight's voice. My heart fluttered and I smiled softly. A small miracle for my last wish? I sent silent thanks to whom, or whatever, granted it. Her image appeared in my mind, horn screwing with perspective as it seemed to stretch out towards me. The charge on my back sped up significantly. But it was too slow. Too late. The entrance was a kilometer wide square. Two and a half kilometers back at least meant…
"You Grosh are kinda slow. Did you know that you've surrounded me with roughly two hundred and fifty thousand cubic meters of Icheon gas? The stimulants in it are flammable. The oxygen in the parasites, mixed with the hydrogen in the base, is even more so. I calculated that to be roughly six times the yield I'd need to reduce this ship and surrounding space to a very fine dust," I spelled out, smiling as I killed the power to the Aegis Barrier and watched it slowly start to fade.
The Grosh panicked. "Vent the hold!" he screamed, hitting buttons rapidly.
Way, way too late for that. Now I knew why they didn't let their research ships on the front lines. Our primitive, heat based culture with our solid fuels would have gotten endless joy out of popping them like balloons. I turned my head back to the image of Twilight as the barrier started to flicker.
"I'm sorry, Twilight. I wish I could have stayed in Equestria forever," I apologized, trying to nuzzle her image as her eyes widened. She could hear me?
"No, please, no Mender! Hold on, I'm almost," she started to shout.
I looked up at the shield as it flared up once more and then faded. The docking bay doors hadn't even cleared their unlocking segment, as predicted. It was too late. The gas rushed in to mingle with my oxygen and I watched the flame on my hoof start to flare up as embers drifted into the air. The parasites had gotten to the fire first, and were now regretting their decision it seemed. No stopping it now.
The spread was fast. The flames seemed to coil like a snake. Twilight screamed, her eyes becoming white orbs of energy as her horn flared up. I felt her spell fire off without full charge, just as the flames flared and exploded. There was no flash of memories, or even a pleasant tunnel. Just a momentary pressure, then nothing...