Metropony City! Mighty skyscrapers towering over the millions of ponies going about their lives on the streets below! Working, playing or just taking in the weather, Metropony bustles as only the big city can. But! All is not well in this equine metropolis! Below the streets lies a threat - a threat to the happiness and friendship of good ponies everywhere! And the name of that threat is Luna, the exiled Princess who has returned with vengeance in her eyes! With the aid of Her villainous helper Trixie and her army of terrible Lunatrons, She will stop at nothing to destroy the pony way of life! Standing against her, however, are two heroic mares, known only to the citizens of Metropony as...
HARPFLANK AND SWEETS: EPISODE 14 - A SCRATCH IN TIME
“TRIXIE! WE WOULD ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, IF WE MAY.”
Trixie bowed as low as she could at the foot of Luna’s throne, radiating an almost palpable fear. Her mistress was being polite. Of all the worst things that could happen, this was the worst possible thing.
“Y-yes, Oh Glorious Lady Of The Night?”
Luna’s gaze was piercing and calm. The calm that heralds storms.
“WE FIND OURSELVES PONDERING WHY IT IS THAT METROPONY CITY REMAINS A FUNCTIONING POPULATION CENTRE AND NOT, SAY, A SMOULDERING CRATER. IT WOULD APPEAR TO US, YOU UNDERSTAND, THAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN INFINITE RESOURCES AND AMPLE TIME. YET YOUR RESULTS DO NOT INSPIRE CONFIDENCE.”
Trixie was quaking in terror now, her well-honed sense of Luna’s moods screaming at her to just give up and run. In her heart, however, she knew it would do no good. She swallowed.
“My Lady, I have tried! You Yourself have witnessed the wonders I have wrought with these very hooves! My... Your Lunatrons stand as the mightiest army of all!”
She squeaked as Luna stamped Her hoof with a terrible fury.
“AND YET STILL THAT PATHETIC ORGANISATION STANDS! YOU ARE ROUTINELY DEFEATED, ON A WEEKLY BASIS NO LESS, BY NAUGHT BUT TWO PONIES WITH COSTUMES AND TOYS!”
Luna was blazing with the light of the moon now, Her imperial rage painful to behold.
“SO, THE WEAK AND POWERLESS TRIXIE, TELL US WHAT YOU WILL DO TO STOP US DESTROYING YOU HERE AND NOW.”
Trixie lay curled in a ball of shame and fear, wracking her mind for something, anything she could throw to the former Princess to buy some time. How did Harpflank and Sweets always win? How did they do it? All they ever had were their ludicrous costumes and those infernal gadgets! Her shaking stopped as the Trixie in her mind held up an idea, pointing furiously.
“I... I have it.”
Luna scoffed, mane still aflame with anger.
“OH? THE WHELP SPEAKS. WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO SAY FOR ITSELF?
Trixie suddenly leapt to her hooves, eyes aglow with inspiration.
“My Lady, I have it! We have been too focused on the battle and have forgotten the war! It is not Harpflank and Sweets that are our enemy, but the organisation that backs them! If we remove their supply line, their power base, their friends...”
Luna’s royal aura faded as She grasped the outline of the plan Trixie was presenting.
“THEN WE REMOVE THEIR STRENGTH. HMM. VERY WELL, LITTLE TRIXIE. YOU HAVE EARNED OUR REPRIEVE. GO NOW, AND MAKE IT SO. DO NOT RETURN IN FAILURE.”
Trixie backed away towards the towering bulkhead that protected Luna’s throne room, significantly slowed by her bowing to the ground on every alternate step.
“Yes, my Lady, Your grace is unrivalled! I shall return with news of Harpflank and Sweets’ defeat, I assure You!”
As the metal slab closed behind her, she collapsed, the adrenaline that had taken her through the conversation finally spent. Despite her exhaustion, a smile crept across her face.
“I have just the thing.”
The Experimental Technology lab was as busy as ever, if not more so. Lab assistants carrying files, beakers of dangerous-smelling chemicals, and, in some cases, heavy weaponry hustled along the spaces between workstations and equipment racks, each utterly engrossed in their work as the bleeding-edge of Metropony’s defense. Yet, despite their haste, none of the ponies purposefully trotting about entered the circular depression in the very centre of the lab in which was set a single workbench. This particular workstation, however, was almost twice the size of any other in the lab and covered in technology that put the rest of the room to shame. In the midst of the chaos stood the leader, co-founder, and most mechanically adept member of ExTech, Vinyl Scratch, poring over a clipboard held in place by magic.
Vinyl scratched her head in frustration and threw the clipboard to her desk, giving an exasperated sigh and sinking into her chair. She shouted over the laboratory’s din, pulling her headphones from her ears.
“Tavi! We need to talk!”
There was no response.
“Come on, Tavi, out of your box!”
There was, if possible, even less of a response. She knew Octavia could hear her, even above the noise of ExTech. She was being ignored. Grumbling under her breath, she picked up the clipboard again and crossed the lab to a large steel door covered in security measures, skirting around a pile of large crates stacked the ceiling. After performing the 13 steps necessary to open the door - among their number a tongue-scan, a voice-print, and lighting a stick of incense - she stepped into the ExTech head office. Inside sat Octavia, co-founder with Vinyl Scratch and digital genius. Vinyl levitated the clipboard over to the array of terminals at which Octavia sat and dropped it unceremoniously beside her.
“Something’s wrong with this order. We have, like, a billion crates of stuff and I have no idea what we’re supposed to do with it.”
Octavia didn’t turn to face her. Vinyl sighed.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay? That whole thing with the experimental glider and the comm tower... I mean, how was I supposed to know that Lyra was going to do, well, that? You know what she’s like! She treats every training exercise like everypony at Rainbow Racetrack is betting on her.”
Octavia’s hooves continued to tap away at the keys.
“Okay, yes, I bet her she could totally do it. And she totally didn’t. It won’t happen again.”
Tap tap tap.
“Except that it probably will, and I’ll be saying this to you again in a couple of days. So, uh, sorry in advance?”
The tapping stopped. There was a silence, a silence heavy with possibility. Then Octavia’s chair swung around and a light smile flitted across her face before it was replaced by her usual impassive mask.
“The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.”
Vinyl laughed at this, her friend’s brief display of emotion a rare and pleasant enough sight to dispel the irritation she had been feeling. She lifted the clipboard once more and hovered it nearby so Octavia could read it easily.
“Take a look at this. We have almost one hundred extra crates of tech coming in, who knows where from, and it’s all unmarked. There could be anything in there, but the Commander’s slap-bang in the middle of her annual crazy-time so of course I couldn’t get an answer out of her that wasn’t ‘Sweet Celestia, the paper, please help.’”
Derpy Hooves, commander of the organisation that defended Metropony from Luna’s predations, had what many in the base considered a deeply-ingrained psychological inability to interact with paperwork. Unfortunately for her, roughly once a year it became apparent that running a vast pseudo-miltary research complex was impossible without signing a few forms and she was forced to spend upwards of a week locked in her office with nothing but a pen, a forest’s worth of unsigned paper and enough muffins to feed a small army.
Octavia scanned the list in front of her and furrowed her brow, a far more worrying sight than her usual stoicism.
“You’re right, Vinyl. This is wrong. We should-” She was cut off by an alarm sounding shrilly in both Head Office and ExTech outside.
Vinyl dropped the clipboard and made to gallop to her workstation as Octavia settled back into her chair, but the sound stopped almost immediately after it had begun. A junior researcher’s head appeared around the door and informed them that there was no problem, Lyra and Bon-Bon had luckily been in the area when the Lunatron appeared and were engaging now. Vinyl paced back to Octavia’s chair.
“Looks like we’re on standby, babe. Lyra and BB were on scene.”
“Don’t call me babe.”
Behind them lay the clipboard, forgotten for the moment in the fear of a Lunatron attack. Beyond, in the main lab, were five of the crates that had Vinyl had so worried. A barely perceptible red light began to glow, deep within the crates’ recesses. Then something began to move.
Lyra and Bon-Bon seperated, leaping to either side as the spiked ball swung by the 20-foot Lunatron threatened to crush them both. Glass and rubble scattered as the flail smashed through the frontage of a saucepan store, revealing three ponies - one cream, one magenta and one pink - huddled behind the counter. But the two heroes were long since out of range, circling around the robotic pony to meet behind it.
Trixie’s voice boomed from the machine. The Lunatron swung again, its weaponised tail darting at the two heroes before they had a chance to dodge, or so it seemed. The cloud of dust cleared to reveal them standing on top of the ball. Lyra grinned and Bon-Bon nodded to her friend. Before the Lunatron could retract the wide chain that gave its weapon such deadly reach, Lyra and Bon-Bon were running along it.
“No! Get off! What are you doing?!” Trixie’s voice was desperate, tinged with the melancholy of inevitable defeat.
The two ponies jumped, tracing graceful arcs through the air before bringing their hind-legs forward into a synchronised flying kick that crashed into and then through the Lunatron’s neck, severing the controls from the rest of the monstrosity. The metal body sank to the ground lifeless, a slowly descending hum all that accompanied its loss of power.
Landing flawlessly, Bon-Bon turned to face the detached control unit and called out.
“Lyra! She’s not coming out!”
Lyra, who had never mastered aerodynamics to the same degree as her partner, pulled her face from its hole in the ground and shook the dust from her mane. She gave Bon-Bon a look of surprise.
“No way! You mean we might actually have caught her?!”
The duo moved carefully to the side of the Lunatron’s detached head and Bon-Bon, poised to leap away at the first sign of foul play, disengaged the pilot hatch. With a pneumatic hiss it slid open to reveal...
“Nothing? What the hay?!”
Lyra pushed past Bon-Bon and started poking around in the cockpit, but it was entirely empty. The controls necessary for a pony to pilot the machine were there but all that lay in the pilot’s seat was a broken tape recorder and an orb, roughly the size of a pony’s head, emitting a fading red light that was gone by the time Bon-Bon had picked it up for examination. Lyra kicked the hatch, her face a picture of bitter frustration.
“We were so close! We almost had her. Where could she have gone?!”
Bon-Bon was still turning the orb around in her hooves. There was something about it that made her feel strange. For the tiny moment that the red light had remained while she held it, it had felt... alive. She tapped Lyra’s shoulder as she put the orb away in her utility saddlebags.
“We should get back to base, Vinyl needs to see this.”
“Lyra. We’ll get Trixie.” She smiled at her partner warmly, reassuring her with the confidence that had carried them through so many battles before. Lyra sighed and smiled back.
“Heh. ‘Course we will! We’re Harpflank and Sweets, right?” At that, the two turned their back on the smoking wreck and began the long walk back to base.
The suspicious crates stood in the centre of the lab now, a rudimentary scanner erected around them in the depression that held Vinyl’s workstation. Vinyl herself was at a desk nearby, watching with a bored expression as Octavia used a nearby terminal to program the ad hoc contraption to determine just what was in the containers. She perked up as the machine came to life, the scanner bar whirring across the length of the boxes. A picture began to form on the screen before Vinyl as the scanner did its work. Her eyes widened with dreadful realisation as the image rendered.
“Uh, Tavi, I think we have a problem...”
Even as she spoke, there was a mechanical sound from the topmost crate. Before anypony could react, the crate burst open, sides falling to the floor with a clang. Within, unfolding from its compact storage mode, stood an unmistakable metallic figure.
“Lunatron! Everybody out!”
Vinyl’s authoritative bark was drowned out by the sizzling crack of the Lunatron’s shoulder-mounted plasma rifle flaring into life, scattering the assembled ponies as they ran for cover. She ducked behind her desk and scrabbled at the bottom drawer for the weapon which every member of staff was required to keep within easy reach. She blinked as she remembered her magic and proceeded to just rip out the drawer, grabbing the gun inside in her mouth. It was at precisely this moment that she realised she couldn’t remember how to use it. Building them and firing them were two very different things.
A thump above her made her look up. Standing on the desk was the Lunatron, glowing but lifeless eyes fixed on her. She dropped the gun in surprise, noting despite her shock that this particular model had a glowing red orb set in its chest. As the sounds of more Lunatrons bursting free of their containment echoed through the lab, she looked into the barrel of the plasma rifle and saw the spark that would soon ignite a stream of energy and end her life.
Something slammed into her from the side, shoving her out of the line of fire. Gasping from the impact, Vinyl picked herself up and watched in horror as the Lunatron fired. The bright beam lanced at the grey pony, gun in mouth, who had pushed her.
Octavia fell to the ground, gritting her teeth at the beam’s impact. Before the Lunatron could warm up another shot, she emptied her pistol into the red orb. The orb shattered and the robotic pony crumpled, deprived of whatever strange technomancy propelled it. Octavia slumped with it. As her friend desperately ran to her side, she gave another rare smile and closed her eyes.
They did not re-open.
Vinyl gave a cry of anguish. Straining with all her power, she lifted Octavia’s body onto her back telekinetically before running for the door to the base, tears blurring her vision and plasma fire screaming past as the remaining Lunatrons fired volley after volley after her. Exiting the lab, the crackle of plasma and the rattle of gunfire met her ears. She choked quiet words through the tears as she ran, half to herself and half to the limp form she carried.
“Don’t worry babe, we’ll get you to the infirmary. We’ll get there. You’re going to be okay. Please be okay.”
Bon-Bon stuck out a hoof to prevent Lyra from rounding the corner. Lyra raised an eyebrow quizzically as her partner gestured with her head to look. Peering around the wall, Lyra stifled a gasp.
Before lay Celestia Boulevard, the organisation’s gleaming white HQ standing tall and proud at the far end of the tree-lined street. Beneath the trees were not the usual ceremonial guards but Lunatrons of a make Lyra and Bon-Bon had never seen with a glowing red orb, like that of the larger model, set in their chests. The HQ’s entranceway was covered in what looked like cables, a thick and tangled mess of electronics feeding into a large power supply nearby surrounded by white crates. Trixie stood before a twenty-strong line of the red-orbed Lunatrons standing to attention. Too far away to see exactly what she was doing, the two ponies could nevertheless hear her penetrating voice.
“Excellent! Preliminary infiltration is successful! Now, creations, we attack!”
The robotic line-up turned sharply on its heels and marched into the doorway not smothered by Trixie’s machine. Lyra pulled back into cover and whispered to Bon-Bon.
“What are we gonna do, BB? Looks like Trixie’s got HQ locked down!”
Bon-Bon frowned, thinking hard and fast.
“If HQ is compromised, then we’re probably all that’s left to fight Trixie. She probably hasn’t hurt anyone, but only so she can hold them hostage. Who knows what she’ll do if we run straight up to the door?” She bit her lip. “I think we have to retreat.”
Lyra sputtered incredulously.
“You serious? Run away? How can you say that?! If we’re all that’s left, then we’re all that can get HQ back! We gotta fight!”
A nearby Lunatron jerked into activity, raising its weapon and clanking towards them. The others lining the boulevard swiftly followed suit, Lyra’s raised voice giving away her position. Bon-Bon groaned.
“Well, I suppose that ends that discussion.” The two heroes leapt into the open, ready to fight.
Vinyl hammered on the door of the infirmary until her hoof ached. All around the sounds of battle shook the base as the Lunatron invasion progressed. She had carried Octavia through the base for almost fifteen minutes now, having to step out of the crossfire and avoid Lunatron patrols several times. On her way she had briefly glimpsed the entrance elevators and seen the jungle of cables protruding from one of the doors, red light pulsing from the cracks they had opened. Barely registering this, she had run on.
After what seemed an eternity, the infirmary door slid open the tiniest possible amount and an eye appeared in the crack. Taking in the panting Vinyl, Octavia slung across her like a saddlebag, the eye retreated and the door opened fully to reveal Nurse Redheart who ushered her in with hurried gestures. The door closed and audibly locked behind them.
Vinyl collapsed, the weight of her friend too much once the fear that had driven her was replaced with exhaustion. Redheart lifted Octavia with practiced care from Vinyl’s back and onto a clinic bed, beginning her examination while Vinyl finally took in the clinic’s situation. Largely untouched by the destruction raging outside, there were nevertheless several wounded guards out cold on the beds and the tinted glass was pitted in places where weapon impacts had failed to break through. Taking several deep breaths, Vinyl stood up and tottered over to where Redheart tended to her partner.
“Nurse, I... is she gonna all right? She took a plasma shot for me. Just pushed me out of the way and took it right in the chest. Please, tell me she’s gonna be all right.”
The nurse stepped back from Octavia and hesitated, unable to meet Vinyl’s gaze.
Vinyl’s shoulders slumped in terrible sadness. As the tears began to flow she stumbled the last few feet to the bed and fell to her haunches, resting her head on Octavia’s unmoving chest. Redheart stood apart, head down. Between sobs, Vinyl forced herself to speak.
“Why’d you do that, Tavi? Why’d you take that shot for me? What’s the point of keeping me alive if my best friend isn’t there to keep me company? I can’t do this without you, babe.”
As she choked the latter between teeth clenched in sorrow, her eyes shot open. Beneath her cheek, for a moment, it had felt like... Something patted her on the head.
“The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.” Vinyl’s head snapped up and she looked down at her friend. Octavia smiled that rare smile and waved at Redheart - herself wiping a single silent tear from her eye - as Vinyl’s eyes filled with tears again, this time accompanied by a wide smile of relief. Clasping her friend in a violent hug, she laughed with joy.
“Octavia! You’re okay! You’re okay!” Breaking off from the hug and holding her friend by the shoulders, she sniffed happily. “Don’t do that to me, babe!”
Octavia winced in pain but continued to smile, as glad of her own survival as anypony else in the room.
“Don’t call me babe.”
Lyra and Bon-Bon stood panting but defiant in the centre of the boulevard, costumes torn and ragged, surrounded by the wreckage of Lunatrons. And still more continued to appear, bursting from the ground like diamond dogs. Trixie’s laughter mocked them as they steeled themselves to fight on.
“What’s the matter, Harpflank and Sweets? Hard to fight without backup from your precious friends? I wouldn’t know, of course. You see,” she said with a menacing undertone, “The Great and Powerful Trixie has plenty of friends.”
At a wave of her hoof, yet more Lunatrons emerged from the storage crates stacked about the power hub. With cold efficiency they unfolded and marched towards the beleaguered duo. The ring of metal closed around them, weapons glowing with energy. Trixie reared in triumph.
“Welcome to your end, Harpflank and Sweets! For the Luna Empire!”
The Lunatrons took a step forward.
The infirmary was empty now. The unconscious stallions had awoken while Redheart was tending to Octavia and had insisted that they rejoin the fight, eager to leave their place of safety and take the fight back to the Lunatrons. The three mares had saluted them as they left. Now, Vinyl was talking animately as Octavia stretched to test her wound and Redheart bustled about the room gathering medical supplies from various cupboards..
“Okay, so I’m looking at it like this. Somehow, Luna got into our supply network and got these crates delivered to us. Each one contained a single Lunatron, so we’ve got at least one hundred robots running around the base right now.”
Octavia settled back into her bed and brought her hoof to her chin thoughtfully.
“We can assume that there is significant enemy presence topside to follow up on the confusion.”
“We’re just going to have to leave that to Lyra and BB for now. What I don’t understand is how these Lunatrons are acting in tandem. We’ve only ever seen one active at a time before. Unless...”
Before Redheart could object, Vinyl trotted to the door and opened it for a moment before closing and locking it again. She was grinning now, imminent danger forgotten in the joy of discovery.
“Yup, I knew it. Those red orbs like the one you shot, Tavi. They all have one and we’ve never seen them before. Those have to be some kind of core. Trixie must have found some way of miniaturising an AI, or computerising a soul, or something. But that’s far ahead of what we have, and these things still seem way too coordinated.”
They thought for a moment. Redheart continued to fill her bags, moving to a particularly large metal cupboard that took up almost half of the clinic’s back wall.
Octavia broke the silence first. “Perhaps they’re not individual AIs. Perhaps there’s a central unit tying them together.”
Vinyl considered this then nodded again.
“That would definitely explain it. Which means that central core must be somewhere around here, in the base. Even if Trixie’s gotten this far, there’s no way she could broadcast a signal like that straight through the ground from Luna’s place to here. In fact,” her eyes widened as realisation dawned, “I think I’ve seen it. Redheart, you got a map of the base in here?”
The nurse pointed without turning around, still rummaging in the depths of her depository of something-or-other. Vinyl levitated the map to herself, laying it out on one of the beds. Octavia walked over to her and followed her hoof as it moved across the map, searching.
“Here. The main elevators. When I was carrying you here,” a flash of pain crossed her face as the memory came and went, “I passed the entrance and saw... I don’t know, something weird in Shaft B. Some big hunk of tech that glowed red. I think that’s our central unit.” She sat on her haunches again, sighing. “So now all we have to do is leave our secure room, travel through almost half a mile of hostile corridor and deactivate something we didn’t even know could exist until now. Should be simple, right babe?”
Octavia waved her hoof dismissively before reflexively adding, “Don’t call me ba-”
She was interrupted by an explosion tearing at the door, flying shrapnel narrowly missing Vinyl and Octavia as they leapt to cover behind the bed. A Lunatron stood in the shattered doorway, rifle charging its next shot, scanning the room for targets. Its eyes locked on to the huddled specialists.
Without warning, the sharp rattle of an assault rifle filled the room. The Lunatron’s head was riddled with holes and its legs slid from under it, another barrage smashing its orb to fragments. Sparks flew as the last vestiges of power spent themselves futilely.
Nothing moved until, slowly, Vinyl and Octavia turned to face the back wall. The sight that greeted them caused even Octavia’s expressionless mask to drop as she stared open-mouthed.
Redheart, standing in front of what was now visible as a gun locker, cocked the assault rifle hanging from her neck with one hoof and shifted a cigar from one side of her mouth to the other. Her nurse’s cap was undone at the back and fashioned into a makeshift bandana. Weapons ranging from several pistols to what looked like the disassembled parts of an anti-material rifle were strapped wherever a weapon could conceivably be strapped.
She turned and reached up to the ventilation cover next to her weapons cabinet, undoing the latches with casual ease. As she began to climb into the shaft, she looked back at Vinyl and Octavia, both still utterly stunned by her appearance. Rolling her eyes, she spoke in a soft, beautiful voice that felt like having melted chocolate poured onto your brain.
“Are you two going to sit there all day like newborns, or are we going to destroy this whatever-it-is? Sheesh, it’s like I’m watching a pair of fillies.”
With that, she hoisted herself into the darkness and disappeared.
The three ponies crawled through the darkness of the ventilation shaft, making no sound save the quiet vibration of the thin metal beneath them. The shaft was wide but low, able to fit Octavia and Redheart side-by-side while Vinyl crawled behind them. As they moved, stopping occasionally so the beweaponed nurse could look through a grating and check their position, Vinyl began to talk.
“So, hey, Redheart. What’s with the silence thing? I mean, it was getting the point where I thought maybe you actually couldn’t talk, you know what I’m saying? Then boom! You’re all guns and-” She stopped as Redheart made clear in one over-the-shoulder glance exactly how well this line of questioning was going to succeed.
They continued crawling, the sounds of battle growing more distant as they neared the entrance elevators and the Lunatron invasion’s rearguard. Vinyl’s voice echoed again.
“But seriously, where did you learn all this stuff? Nursing school? Next time I go to Metropony Hospital, should I be looking out for ninja doctors?”
Her persistence was rewarded with a hoof in the face as Redheart stopped at a floor grille suddenly. She motioned Vinyl and Octavia to look down, bringing her hoof to her lips for silence.
They were directly above the main corridor now. Judging from the rooms Vinyl could see from their vantage point, they were at least one hundred feet from the elevator with almost twenty Lunatrons patrolling between them and their destination. She looked back up as Redheart passed weapons around and outlined the plan through a combination of mime and, as Vinyl’s questions grew increasingly irrelevant, casual violence.
For a brief moment, the three ponies were silent. They took a deep simultaneous breath and let it out slowly. And then, having made their peace, they kicked downwards.
The Lunatron directly beneath the ceiling grille was crushed as Vinyl and Octavia landed, rolling into opposite doorways for cover while the wreckage jerked and spat sparks. They fired wildly down the corridor at the Lunatrons now converging on their position, Octavia’s pistol providing a light counterpoint to the roar of Vinyl’s shotgun. Redheart dropped down after them and swiftly began assembling the huge rifle Vinyl had noticed earlier, unflinching as searing plasma singed her mane every time the deadly-accurate Lunatrons fired.
A few seconds later, Redheart was lying across the grille with her weapon ready, eye on the scope and scope on the target. The elevator’s doors were fully open now, the central AI core’s cables snaking across the walls like steel ivy. Within the twisted ball of segmented metal was the core. This orb was larger than those that powered the Lunatrons, almost the size of a pony, and its glow was a sickly and malevolent crimson.
Vinyl and Octavia’s cover fire was, though unskilled, keeping the Lunatrons at bay and Redheart settled into the sniper’s calm, readying the shot. She breathed out and squeezed the trigger just as a blast of plasma knocked the rifle out of her hooves, the bullet flying wild and sinking deep into a wall. She turned to grab the rifle and line up another shot, but recoiled as she realised the barrel had melted in the heat of the Lunatron’s energy projectiles. Vinyl saw this and began to visibly panic, still firing.
“What do we do now?! There’s no way we can hit that thing from here!” Redheart threw her forehooves in the air as to question how she was supposed to know. Octavia, however, dropped her pistol and moved to Redheart’s side. Without saying a word, she grabbed a fusion grenade from the nurse’s harness and began to gallop straight at the massed Lunatrons. Both Redheart and Vinyl sensed her intent at the same time and followed, firing as they ran.
The heat was indescribable, the plasma rifle’s shots cooking the very air they travelled through. The three ponies dodged, ducked, dipped and dove through the fusillade, reaching the sixty feet mark before the Lunatrons could react and adjust their firing lines.
They ran on, the distance passing in seconds. Vinyl’s ammunition ran out and she began hurling the wreckage of destroyed Lunatrons forward with magic, smashing several more into scraps. Redheart was a whirlwind of destruction, seemingly firing more guns than she had limbs to fire them with at the robotic wall before them and the Lunatrons they passed. Octavia’s face was implacable as she galloped onwards, eyes never leaving the red orb that seemed to stare back with an empty, soulless hatred.
At twenty feet, everything went wrong.
Octavia’s hooves tangled in the cabling that coated the walls and floor and she stumbled, the grenade flying out of her mouth secure and unprimed. Vinyl caught it with her magic, and continued to run. Redheart had fallen behind, the weight of her many weapons slowing her down, and was now covering Octavia as she pulled herself up and looked after Vinyl in horror.
At the ten foot mark, Vinyl pulled the pin. A blast of plasma cut a line of fire across her side and she gasped in pain, her magic dissipating for one small but all-too-important second and sending the grenade spiralling through air. The world seemed to slow, time moving at a crawl. Vinyl saw the wall of Lunatrons blocking the corridor, heard Octavia screaming at her to just get back to safety, felt her coat burning where the energy bolt had clipped her, but ignored them all.
She could see what she had to do. She had five seconds before detonation.
One. She jumped. Moments before she crashed into the line of mechanical warriors, she launched herself over them.
Two. Coasting almost lazily through the air, she caught the grenade in her mouth.
Three. She landed, rolling with the impact.
Four. She reached the door. Coming out of the roll on all fours, she threw the grenade at the central unit with such force that it was embedded in the orb. In the same movement she slammed the emergency blast-door release with one hoof. A sheet of metal strong enough to withstand Celestia Herself scythed through the hissing cabling and encased the AI core.
“Now! Finish them!”
The Lunatron reared above the fallen Bon-Bon at Trixie’s command, bladed hooves poised to strike. In her peripheral vision she could see Lyra bucking a Lunatron in half before being smothered by electrified nets fired by several others, pinning her to the ground beneath their buzzing threads. She closed her eyes in despair. They had lost. HQ was taken, Trixie had won, and now the only thing there was to do, it seemed, was die.
But death never came. The sound of an explosion rocked the boulevard, making Bon-Bon look up in surprise. A pillar of flame erupted from the blocked door, a horizontal volcano vaporising the twisting blockade of cables. Every Lunatron simultaneously shut down, the red glow from their midriffs fading as they collapsed. Trixie stood where she had been gloating not moments before, stuttering in confusion.
“But, but, you’re up here! How can the core be destroyed when you’re up here?!” Her confusion turned to rage as the failure of her plan finally registered fully. “I had you! I had you! Curse you, Harpflank and Sweets! Curse you to the moon! Rest assured, lucky heroes, The Great and Powerful Trixie will return!”
Lyra, wriggling free of the clinging wire, leapt at Trixie but was too late. Before she came close, Trixie had thrown a glass ball to the ground and been consumed in sparkling smoke, disappearing in a flash of fireworks. Lyra spat ash from her mouth in annoyance.
“Tch, she got away again. Just like every week.”
Bon-Bon shook herself and ran to the HQ’s doors, the doorway’s edges glowing white-hot, and called back.
“We need to get below, find out what’s happening. I think Shaft A is still working.”
Lyra followed, kicking a few fallen Lunatrons as she passed. They entered the elevator and steeled themselves for more combat as they sped downwards. Finally, the room came to a halt and the doors slid open. They leapt out, ready to fight, and then stopped and stared.
Twenty or more deactivated Lunatrons lay before them. The corridor around them was scorched black and the smoking remains of Shaft B’s blast doors splayed out as if some great animal had smashed them from within. Beyond the devastation Nurse Redheart and Octavia tended to a soot-blackened and lightly bleeding Vinyl Scratch, who noticed them and gave a small wave, smiling as if they had just walked in on a casual lunch rather than the smouldering remains of a battlefield.
“Guys! You missed the party! It was totally wild.”
Before Lyra or Bon-Bon could process this and reply, the Commander’s door at the far end of the corridor opened. Derpy Hooves trotted out, beaming.
“Attention, my little ponies, the paperwork is all finished! You may all return to your duties, safe in the knowledge th-”
She stopped short and her eyes focused, taking in the blackened wreckage, scattered weapons and wounded Vinyl. A door fell over with a clang. The commander opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. Finally, she managed to talk.
“So... busy day?”
Trixie took a deep breath, trying to let it out slowly but shuddering as she contemplated what was to come. She had failed. Her greatest plan yet, and she had failed. Luna’s wrath would be unimaginable, and Her ultimatum rang in Trixie’s mind.
DO NOT RETURN IN FAILURE.
She took one last quivering breath and opened the vault door. As her mistress came into view, Trixie cowered and crawled into the throne room, unable to bring herself to look up. Luna’s voice rang out, almost knocking Trixie back with its force.
“TRIXIE! MOST FAVOURED SERVANT! HOW GOES THE FIGHT AGAINST THE WRETCHED HARPFLANK AND SWEETS?”
Trixie blinked. This wasn’t right. Luna should be furious, screaming with rage and blasting her to smithereens. She cautioned a glance up at the throne.
Luna was reclining in all Her splendour, an unreadable expression on her face as She dismissed a quaking henchpony who had been showing Her something on a datapad. She motioned for Trixie to stand, who did so with no small amount of trepidation.
“COME, BRING ME NEWS OF YOUR MACHINATIONS. HAS THE ORGANISATION BEEN DESTROYED FROM WITHIN?”
Trixie began to cringe again, and forced out the words that she felt sure would doom her.
“There was a, uh, a minor setback, my Lady. The base’s defenders proved more... capable than I suspected and-” Luna cut her off with a dismissive wave of her hoof.
“NO MATTER. THE GAME HAS CHANGED.” She beckoned Trixie to her side. “COME, TRIXIE. WE HAVE SOMETHING TO SHOW YOU. SOMETHING THAT WILL BECOME THE KEY TO OUR VICTORY, A VICTORY THAT HARPFLANK AND SWEETS AND THEIR PITIFUL ORGANISATION WILL BE POWERLESS TO PREVENT.”
As Trixie trotted up the steps of her throne, Luna’s expression changed to a smile, dark and terrible.
“AND YOU, LITTLE TRIXIE, WILL BE THE ONE TO BUILD IT.”
[ Credits roll.
NEXT WEEK ON HARPFLANK AND SWEETS:
“I call them ‘hands!’”
“There’s something underground!”
“You can’t win, Harpflank and Sweets!”
“Bon-Bon, help me!”
“CELESTIA, I WILL PROVE MY STRENGTH TO YOU!”
TUNE IN FOR THE NEXT EXCITING EPISODE OF... HARPFLANK AND SWEETS ]
Vinyl rubbed her side, the plasma burn still smarting despite Redheart’s ministrations. The image of galloping through a hail of burning death briefly consumed her, but she pushed it out of her mind. Plenty of time for nightmares later. She took advantage of the pause in her work to look around the ExTech lab.
The rebuild was going well. Clean-up were doing their jobs admirably, and the walls were already repaired of all damage. Overall-wearing ponies were rolling lifeless Lunatrons through the main door and righting desks as she watched. Those members of her division that hadn’t been wounded in the attack were aiding the workponies, gathering and sorting the piles of technology that had been scattered in the attack. Octavia was elsewhere, Redheart having insisted on her getting at least several days’ bed rest to alleviate the effects of charging into a firefight not an hour after nearly dying. Pleased with the activity and teamwork on display, Vinyl turned back to her work.
On her desk lay an intact Lunatron core orb, a dull translucent black without the red light from within. She thought about how the Lunatrons had moved in perfect unison, efficient and deadly in their shared senses and purpose. The seed of an idea began to grow in her mind and had soon blossomed into a sea of red and blue flowers, all waving as one.
Coming soon: Episode 19 - Under Siege Under The Sea!