The bleach white walls of the Canterlot medical ward always left Twilight with a somewhat uncomfortable twist in her stomach. Unlike the beautiful murals and sculptures of great Equestrian artists that decorated the rest of the pony capital, Dr Bedside Manner was always adamant on keeping her area of rule clear of 'unnecessary clutter and color'. 'More stuff means more to clean', she always said. Still, the young alicorn always felt it left the patients and visitors with a feeling of melancholy despite the almost literal brightness surrounding them.
"Good heavens! What were they thinking using ivory curtains on a seashell backdrop? The least they could do is go with a nice aqua trim over beige royal. Or maybe a chocolate brown."
"Chocolate?!? Why would you paint a wall with chocolate? That's just silly! Unless... *gasp* THE WALLS ARE MADE OF VANILLA ICE CREAM! Ponies can get better AND have all the sweets they can eat! It's pure genius! Can I have a taste? Or is it only for patients?"
And just like that, the tension in the room dissolved into a fit of giggles from Pinkie Pie that Twilight couldn't help but join in on.
"Not countin' what Pinkie said," Applejack drawled as she rubbed a forehoof along the wall, leaving a very slight streak of dirt -- unintentional and unnoticed-- in its wake. "It seems purty practical to me. Easy to tell where ya need a quick spit shine ta glossy it all back up." The orange Earth Pony tilted her stetson back, looking up. "Though havin' such a high ceiling kinda makes it a moot point."
Rarity tittered as she gave her friend a sidelong glance with a toss of her coiffed mane. "Come now Applejack. Just because a pony needs medical treatment doesn't mean they can't appreciate a little feng shui."
"If'n I were needin' a checkup like those critters in there, the last thing I'd be lookin' at would be the curtains." The farm pony replied flatly.
Applejack turned around to the sight of an unamused Unicorn mare with a yellow coat and light blue mane holding a spray bottle and a rag in an almost translucent purple aura. She then proceeded to step past the Earth Pony, clean the dirtied surface with a quick spray and wipe before walking away. The Element of Honesty looked away as her muzzle scrunched.
"Seriously, who cares what color the walls are?" Rainbow Dash griped from her perch along one of the horizontal supports on the ceiling, stomping a hoof in protest. "And why can't one of us be in there for her?" She pointed a hoof in the direction of the heavy wooden double doors separating the five from their most timid friend. "You know how she gets around strange new ponies, and she's in there with four of 'em forcing her to do Celestia knows what since forever ago. We should be in there, you know, for support!"
Twilight shook her head, pausing in her pacing to look up at her elevated friend. "Believe me, there's nothing I want more right now than to be there for her. But what could we do? None of us know anything about medicine. It hurts to say this, but we'd just be in the way."
Rainbow Dash harrumphed and turned away with a scowl.
"Oh, girls don't be so frowny!" Pinkie Pie said from her spot upside down on one of the nearby couches next to Spike, who was engrossed in his comic. "Fluttershy's the best there is in what she does! Soon she'll be aaalllll done everything will be nice and hunky dory and we can get back to the party!" She then flipped up into a sitting position, hooves positioned as though she held an invisible guitar. "Vinyl and I got a doozy planned for the finale!" She threw her lower hoof down and --somehow-- let loose an electric riff. Spike jumped at the sound and stared at his couchmate for a moment.
"Shhh!" Seven pairs of eyes locked onto that same yellow nurse, who now sported in her aura a long handled broom. Said mares also watched as she made no further comment, but --with that same annoyed expression-- began swatting Rainbow Dash in the flank until the young athlete was forced to abandon her perch and glide to the ground among her friends.
"What's her problem?" Rainbow Dash glowered, flicking her tail several times in agitation.
"Nurse Lemon Scent is kinda Dr Bedside Manner's sound and sanitation enforcer." Twilight replied.
"She slaps me with that broom again and I'll show her some sound and sanitation."
Applejack gave the athlete a half lidded look. "That made no sense."
"Still," Spike interjected as he sat his comic on the table and hopped off the couch, interposing himself between Twilight and her pacing route. "Rainbow Dash does have a point. It has been a long time since she left with the doctors, and we haven't heard anything since. Isn't there anypony that we can ask to at least tell us how things are going?"
Twilight watched the only pony available for such a task return to her desk and begin rifling through papers aggressively. "Ehhh --- I think we should just wait for the surgeon."
Af if on cue, an almost imperceptible mystical jingle drew their attention to the wooden double doors that were now glowing a soft gold. A moment later the doors opened to reveal the regent of the sun walking towards them with a somewhat subdued expression on her face.
Twilight and her friends quickly surrounded the diarch, with a slew of questions from each pony creating a dull roar of inane chatter, aside from Rainbow Dash's loud demand of "Where's Fluttershy!" from above. The tall white alicorn raised a hoof and the group slowly quieted. "How did it go? Is everything alright?" The young alicorn almost pleaded, her eyes rife with worry.
Celestia gave the group a tired smile. "Oh Twilight, in all my centuries of rule, I have never met such a wondrous group such as you seven." She said somewhat sadly. "Unfortunately while we were able to stabilize the aliens for the time being, the procedure is only a temporary solution due to the seriousness of their injuries."
"Ya-...ya mean..?" Applejack stumbled over her words.
Celestia nodded solemnly. "The best we can do at the moment is to make certain they are comfortable."
The mares and dragon looked back and forth at eachother in remorse, every equine ear in the room folded flat against their heads.
Twilight took a step forward and opened her mouth to speak, finding the words difficult to articulate. Still, she tried. "How -- uhm -- h-h-how long before..." she paused and closed her eyes a moment, swallowing hard. She tried to continue, but ended up repeating the last word over and over several times until she eventually gave up, biting her lip in anxiety.
"Three days. A week at the most."
A collective gasp echoed through the group. Rainbow Dash suddenly dove to the ground with a clack, landing just in front of Twilight. "Where's Fluttershy?" She demanded again, even more fervently than before.
Celestia turned around and motioned for them to follow, "Come with me and I'll take you to her."
As the group followed their ruler, Pinkie Pie stopped at the door frame, eyeing the wall critically. Then with a huge slurp, she licked it from base to head height. She brought a hoof to her muzzle while smacking her lips a few times before looking at the now completely stunned and enraged nurse. "Eh, tastes kinda spoiled. You should really keep it refrigerated." She said before walking out and slamming the door behind her.
Fluttershy stood center against the flow of water in the cramped little shower stall, her eyes downcast and face impassive as she stared at her hooves. She barely noticed the warmth as it seeped through her coat and flushed the soap from her fur that she had so vigorously scrubbed all over a few minutes prior. The entirety of her focus was on the swirling blood that once stained her felocks circle the drain. Her body felt hollow.
The sound of a click and squeaking hinge, followed by Princess Celestia's voice in mid conversation, alerted her to the fact that she was no longer alone.
"-- on the second creature was the most invasive of the procedures, and due to her accomplishments on the first, the doctors allowed her to perform the majority of the operation. And most impressively, even while limited to physical contact, she was able to seal the "whispering barrel" without causing further blood loss."
"Amazing..." Spoke another voice with intense emotion, which she immediately recognized as Twilight's. "She did all of that with her hooves? I-I've never heard of a surgical procedure done almost completely by hoof. I thought you only needed her to help guide the other surgeons."
Fluttershy's heart began to race and her breath caught in her throat. How could she possibly face everypony after they put their trust in her to save them, only for her to utterly fail? She sank to the ground, curling in on herself, clenching her eyes shut tightly as she listened to them converse with the Princess.
"Miss Fluttershy." Celestia called out. The butter yellow Pegasus flinched. "Are you finished? Your friends are here to see you."
Fluttershy took a deep breath and stood up. Lethargically she shut off the water, shaking herself off before before poking her head out of the stall. "Um." She said quietly, her mane dripping on the tile floor. "Hi girls."
Surprisingly it was Rarity that got to their distraught friend first. "Oh dear, sweetheart you look absolutely dreadful!" The white unicorn pulled her out of the shower into a full embrace and ran a hoof down her soaked pink mane reassuringly. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash took flight again and hovered over the two worriedly, looking back and forth between the groups with uncertainty.
"Girls..." Fluttershy began, struggling to get the words out. "I'm so-- I-I-I'm sorry I..." Her muzzle trembled and her eyes -already wet with tears- began to drip down her cheeks, disappearing into her fur and becoming indistinguishable from the results of her showering.
"It's okay, darling." Rarity pulled back to look her in the eyes. "We know you did your best. Nopony could have asked for more."
Fluttershy let out a sniffle as the dam crumbled, overwhelming her in despair. She buried her head in the unicorn's coiffed purple mane and began to cry heavily. The rest of the group followed Rarity's lead, quietly joining the pair into what quickly became a massive group hug, with Applejack draping a large white towel over her that was sitting on a nearby bench.
Celestia observed from a distance as the thrice times saviors of Equestria tended to their own. She found herself feeling unusually out of place. Something that was both foreign, and somewhat refreshing, despite the circumstances. She waited quietly until Twilight, with Spike trailing behind, eventually separated from the rest and made their way back to her. "I don't understand." She said quietly, glancing back at her friends. Applejack and Pinkie Pie continued to dry off Fluttershy's back and legs, while Rainbow and Rarity smoothed out her wings and mane, the former lauding Fluttershy's animal skills and the latter humming a comforting tune. Their chatter was menial but effective at lifting her spirits. "You said all these amazing things about how it wouldn't have been possible to save them without her, but you didn't explain why it wasn't enough."
Celestia didn't answer right away and instead walked over to the the window overlooking the Canterlot garden. The hull of the strange ship illuminated by the moon sat in its center ominously, its sharp angular shape a jarring contrast to the flowing curves of the Unicornian architecture surrounding it. "During the surgery, Dr Manner came across something unusual in their bodies." She said, conjuring images above their heads of dozens of miniature objects of seemingly random shapes.
Twilight's eyes widened and she raised herself as high as she could without using her wings, entranced by what she saw. "What are they?"
"Tiny mechanical devices everywhere; their purpose completely unknown to us. Many were damaged and non functional, and those that were unharmed have seemed to stop working altogether. We haven't a clue as to how to get them to work." She dispelled the illusion, causing Twilight to blink rapidly. "All we do know is that several organs vital to survival seem to be failing without them."
"What if we used magic to..."
"Twilight." Celestia turned back to her former protege and lowered herself to her level. "Some of these devices are smaller than a single dragon scale, and far more complex than anything we have in all Equestria. How precise and intricate would any repair spell need to be in order to fix something like that? Especially when we have no idea how they work."
Twilight looked away sadly but didn't answer. Spike laid a claw on her withers in an attempt to comfort her, but it did little to improve her mood.
Celestia brought a hoof to the youngest alicorn's cheek to look her in the eyes, but the purple mare couldn't bring herself to do so. "Without a firm understanding of their magic and technology, anything more would likely do more harm than good."
Twilight sniffled at her words and retreated from her mentor's touch, turning away. "Doesn't that mean we should at least try?"
The old mare watched helplessly as her former student silently punished herself and shook her head. She had long hoped the young prodigy had come to understand one of life's most difficult lessons on her own before being exposed to such a situation. It had been one of Starswirl's weaknessess as well, never accepting the reality and delving deep into the study of magic for all the answers. "I'm sorry. Sometimes there are things that Magic can't solve."
Twilight took several slow deep breaths in an attempt to compose herself. She stayed that way for several seconds. "If magic can't help them..." She said, lifting her head to look her mentor in the eyes and giving her pause. The sorrow was still there, shimmering with emotion, but at its forefront was a look Celestia had seen many times before. It was there upon her discovery of the prophecy years ago that led her to Ponyville. It was there when it was discovered that Discord had stolen the elements. It was there when Chrysalis had impersonated her niece. And it was there when she took on the burden of all the Alicorn magic in Equestria.
And it was the first time the expression filled her with dread.
"Then maybe their technology can."
Jason dove to the ground in a panic and covered his head just in time for the rock he was hiding behind to be obliterated in laser and ballistics fire. He clutched his rifle close, his gloves creaking under the tension. The indistinct shouts and screams of his Squad were temporarily muffled by the onslaught. As quickly as possible, he crawled from his battered position to a nearby ditch to get a better vantage point and returned fire to the tree line along the far side of the clearing. The heads-up display in his helmet showing his teammates locations shuddered as one signal disappeared and another went red.
"Foxtrot Delta Sierra, this is Michaels! Kintz is down! Rupert KIA! Imps have got me pinned down near the drop site! Requesting air support to my target!" He shouted as he activated the targeting scanner, locking onto the enemy location. "Give'em hell Jenkins!"
"Yankee Zulu Kilo Niner, delivering care package." A moment later three bright streaks of red slammed into the tree line, followed by a trio of massive explosions that ripped across the field. When the dust settled, a flicker of green energy rippled across the enemy position as they again resumed fire, no worse for wear.
"Negative impact! I say again negative impact! Mobile Prismatic Shield generators in place on enemy position! Holden, where the hell's our Shields!"
Jason's radio crackled as he switched to thermal and begin firing. "Primary generator was hit before we could activate it! The imps got it when they got the jump on us! Smith and Fredericks are working on the backup!"
"Keep working to get those things online! Jenkins, I need covering fire!"
Three more missiles from the federal Dropship above struck the Imperial Shields with a resounding boom, followed by a volley of machine gun fire from the ship's multicannons. Jason used this moment to rush from his position to another rocky outcrop.
Suddenly, a pair of Imperial Eagles and Imperial Couriers came out of nowhere from opposing directions striking the Dropship in a literal hellfire of laser and Plasma Blasts. The Federation transport broke off its attack and attempted to return fire, but was quickly overwhelmed as its shields failed against the onslaught and slowly fell to the surface in a ball of flames and twisted metal.
"Jenkins!" Jason let out a scream of horror as the downed ship slammed into the forest clearing, blasting more dirt and rocks into the air. A heavy rumble echoed through the battlefield as the Imperial troops let out a vicious charge, rapidly advancing on its position. Jason's heart dropped as a cold knot formed at the pit of his stomach and he quickly lined up his shot, shredding two approaching Soldiers in kinetic fire, hitting both several times center mass and one in the neck nearly decapitating him. The remaining Soldiers dove behind varying forms of cover and began firing on his position, forcing him to take cover himself. "Dropship down! All available units protect that ship! Petty officer Jenkins do you read? Incoming hostiles on your position!"
As Jason settled back into position to fire, he paused as his rifle's optics locked onto a figure walking calmly out of the flaming wreckage straight towards his position. It was a bizarre contrast to the constant blaize of laser fire and fast approaching armored Imperial soldiers. The young dark-skinned woman strode through the chaos without so much as a care in the world. The inferno of the downed ship parted around her, revealing her clad in a tight full length midnight blue gown, one that glittered in the light as though it were decorated by a multitude of tiny stars. Long flowing locks of blue hair slightly lighter than her outfit flowed behind her counter to the direction of the howling wind.
He was so caught up in the strange spectacle that he almost didn't notice the two Imperial soldiers in white flight suits rush past her, weapons blazing, though it was too late to react. A well-placed shot slammed into his head, knocking him off his feet and into a backward roll splitting his helmet down the middle, flying off in two directions. He had barely enough time to register that he was still alive when the first Soldier was on him.
Instead of Simply shooting him where he lay, the Imperial dropped his weapon and leapt onto him like an animal. The impact drove the air from Jason's lungs and his vision swam as his head bounced off the ground. He tried to lift his arms in defense, but his limbs felt heavy despite nothing holding them down. He looked up dazed, barely able to see his enemy pull a wicked-looking knife from his belt and swing it in an overhead stab towards his chest.
The voice struck the pair with the force of a sonic boom, causing the Imperial's form to twist and disperse into the wind as though he were made of smoke. The sound of combat fell away, as did the scenery of the forest moon around them, leaving behind an endless void of stars and nothing else.
Jason laid there for a moment as he tried to rein in his labored breathing and take in what just transpired. Through the silence, he could hear the clip-clop of something approaching him. Slowly, he pushed himself into a sitting position and locked eyes with the strange yet strikingly beautiful woman heading towards him, her dress parting slightly from a slit along the side showing off a slender leg as she walked. Stranger still, with every single step she took, a duet of clacks could be heard despite her wearing no footwear at all.
The woman tilted her head to the side and began circling the old Soldier just outside his reach as he sat there mesmerized. For a while, she simply observed, curiosity readily apparent in her steely teal gaze. When she did speak, her words flowed in a harmonious melody unlike any language he'd ever heard before. "I am relieved to see that your mind has resisted the damage I feared you had taken while in the dark expanse." The hairs on the back of his neck raised as her singing echoed across the void. While the sounds and words remained alien, their meaning rang perfectly clear in his mind, including the deep laced sorrow. "Forgive me for my intrusion, child. But I could not stand by and watch you suffer in these last hours."
Jason licked his dry lips and swallowed loudly. "Who... are you?" He asked.
The woman's lip twitched upwards slightly.
"I am the moon. Welcome to my world."
"You should've seen it! Treats and goodies stacked sky high! But of course the best ones were on the bottom! So I went digging around and found a super fantabulous little snack that I still have NO idea what it was. But it was tasty! Then I took the rest and headed back to the table, and wouldn't you know it, the rest of the food decided to come with me! Too bad it all landed on that wierd white Unicorn that Rarity hung out with during the gala."
Fluttershy couldn't help but giggle softly, turning her head away with a mild blush. "Thanks girls." She said with a tiny smile and tired eyes.
"Feel better sugarcube?" Applejack asked, her hoof still making small circles along the base of her neck.
"Yes, thank you." Fluttershy tucked a lock of her mane behind her ear. She closed her eyes a moment and basked in the comfort the others' closeness provided. "Sorry I made you worry."
Rainbow draped a hoof over her friend's withers with a smirk while the other waved in the air nonchalantly. "Hey, It's our job to worry. So don't sweat it!"
"She's right darling." Rarity ran the brush through her mane a few more times before stowing it away in her satchel. "We couldn't possibly allow ourselves to let you go through this all alone." The four friends stepped back, allowing Fluttershy to get back onto her hooves. "And after we get back to Ponyville you and I are going to spend the entire day at the spa. Celestia knows what hospital bath soaps will do to your fur, and I'm absolutely certain I felt a few split ends."
Applejack pulled her Stetson off and held it against her chest, revealing an unkempt mane with strands sticking out in all directions. "For once, I think a lil pamperin' in't all that bad an idea. Ain't even been a whole two days since the whole giant magic eatin' centaur fiasco." She gave Rainbow Dash a friendly jab. "Maybe we all should go."
The Wonderbolt in training rolled her eyes, but couldn't keep the grin off her face. "Oh all right. I guess the weather team could get by without me for a day."
Pinkie leapt out from between the two with a squee and a pop of confetti. "Yeah! Ponyville pamper packed party palooza! I'll bring the cake batter and the party cannon!"
"I thought we agreed no explosives in the spa."
"Can I at least bring the cake batter?"
Any further conversation was halted at the sound of a shrill "NO? BUT THEY'RE GOING TO DIE!" from the other side of the room. The five mares' attention was immediately drawn to the entrance where Celestia held a calm yet displeased gaze at the young Princess's outburst. Twilight, on the other hoof, was standing borderline threateningly towards the larger pony. Her hooves were spread wide as they dug into the tiles and her wings flared open in an aggressive display. The only sign of the contrary was her head placement, which was raised high in disbelief rather than low with the horn facing forward. "It's the best chance they have! How could we not at least
try? Please!" She begged.
Celestia, however, was undeterred. "Twilight, there will be no further discussion on this. We have done all we can. While I sympathize for their dilemma, I am not going to risk the lives of any of my subjects for them. I'm sorry."
Twilight raised a hoof to her chest. "But I can do it! I could use--"
"I SAID IT IS NOT UP FOR DISCUSSION!" Celestia boomed. The entire room shuddered for several seconds from the sheer intensity of her words alone. Twilight wrapped a wing around Spike protectively and dropped as low to the ground as she could, her face mirroring the shock of her friends a short distance away. Celestia towered over her with an intense and unyielding gaze a few moments longer before taking a deep breath and taking a step back. "I know you want to help them and I admire you for that." She spoke softly, the nurturing warmth in her voice returned full force, though it was tinged with a hint of steel. "But you must understand that there are things in this world even you are not ready for. I know that my decision is at its core a condemnation to death, one I do not take lightly. I have accepted the consequences, including the knowledge that I will have to carry that weight for the entirety of my life."
Twilight said nothing for almost a minute. All she could do was simply stare back at her mentor frozen in disbelief. When she did speak it was almost a whisper. "It's not fair. They didn't do anything to deserve this."
Celestia sighed and turned her back to the cowering pony as she headed to the exit. "Once your friends are ready, you will either return to Ponyville, or you can retire for the night in your old room. I'll have the castle staff prepare it for you and your friends in case you agree."
Celestia paused upon exiting the infirmary, the image of Twilight's almost broken expression burned into her mind, bringing with it the old familiar weight of guilt and remorse hanging heavily on her heart. 'If I had known this was what I had seen, I'd have never gotten her involved.' She sighed, 'Yet another mistake in my long list of failures whose consequences I must deal with.' As her head tilted upwards, she tucked away her emotions deep inside and addressed the two armored bat ponies behind her. "Double the guard around the crashed vessel. Nopony aside from myself or my sister are allowed near it."
"Yes your highness."
The heavy click of the latch echoed ominously in the locker room, leaving behind an awkward tension that could be felt by everyone in the vicinity. As a result, everypony found themselves struggling to even make eye contact with one another, as none of them had ever witnessed such an exchange between the two before. Rarity, who had suddenly found the ceiling to be quite interesting at the moment, nonchalantly cleared her throat and bumped her flank against Applejack to garner her attention. Once successful, she leaned her head in Twilight's direction. The farm pony glowered in return. "Really?" She deadpanned quietly.
Rarity glared back and again tilted her head two more times with greater urgency. Her intent was clear, not that AJ liked it one little bit. 'You're the straightforward one, so be straightforward and ask already!'
The earth pony groaned and readjusted her stetson before speaking stiffly, "So... Mind fillin' us in on what in the hay that was all about?"
Twilight's ears folded down as she returned to her friends and dropped her plot onto the ground in a huff. "I had an idea that, if everything went well, would give the humans a chance at survival."
The five ponies gasped at her declaration and suddenly Fluttershy was in front of Twilight a hoof's length away, brimming with energy and unchecked emotion. "Is it true?” She pleaded. "Did you really find a way to save them?"
Twilight hesitated, somewhat intimidated by the normally shy Pegasus's enthusiasm. She bit her lower lip nervously, as she attempted to collect her thoughts. "It's not a guaranteed solution. In all honesty, I'm not sure it would work in the first place. Everything would have to go perfectly right. But it's the only chance they have."
"If what you say is true, shouldn't we at least consider it?" Though she didn't voice it directly, Rarity wasn't exactly subtle with her own desire to support Fluttershy's nurturing instincts as she sidled along side her.
"But... When I told Princess Celestia... well you saw how that went."
"Yeah we saw, alright. It's the why we're not getting at the moment." Rainbow Dash said. "Maybe if you told us what you had in mind then it'll make a little more sense?"
"I was thinking..." Twilight motioned for her friends to follow and the group ended up in front of the window overlooking the Canterlot Garden, pointing at its center "If we couldn't help them, then the next logical step would be to take them to somepony -- somebody -- who could."
The group was silent for several moments until--- "Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!!!" Rainbow Dash let out a loud squeal of excitement as she slapped her hooves against her face. "Best! Plan! EVER!"
Pinkie Pie let out a cheer with a burst of confetti. "Whoooo! We're going into space!"
"Huh." Applejack and Rarity shared a look. "Well that explains a lot."
"Yes... Yes it does."
Twilight's brow furrowed as she whirled around and let out a loud "rrrrrhhhhg!" followed by a stamp in frustration. "I don't even know why she asked us to help in the first place if she wasn't willing to take them back! It doesn't make any sense!"
"Yer joking, right?" Applejack quirked an eyebrow as a frown settled across her face. "Ah dunno bout you, but It don't look like she's behavin' all that strangely 'bout all the hugh-mans iff'n you're planning somethin' this crazy. Sounds ta me this ain't gonna be easy or safe by any stretch of the imagination. I'd say she's got plenty a reason ta worry. "
Twilight recoiled as though she'd been struck. "Not you too..." She whimpered with one hoof raised, looking ready to cry.
"Now hold up." AJ silenced her with a hoof to the muzzle. "Let me finish." She waited for her to collect herself before continuing. "What ah'm trying ta say is that the Princess has ev'ry reason ta get 'er crown in a twist. Doesn't mean she's right about it." The farm pony winked as she gave the purple alicorn a friendly jab in the ribs. "Yer plan may be crazier'n a fruit bat on zap apple harvest, but iff'n it's the best chance they got, then Ah think it's a thought worth considerin'."
It took a moment for the words to sink in, but slowly the tension in Twilight faded and she eventually found herself smiling slightly in gratitude.
"So what now?" Spike asked. It was clear to Twilight that neither he nor her friends wanted to simply end things now and go home. "Should we try to change her mind?"
Her smile quickly fled as the original reason for her despair was brought back to the forefront. And with the new knowledge that it would likely be dangerous, she began to have second thoughts. Could she? Could she really go against the mare she had looked up to for her entire life? Her ruler, her mentor, her foundation? Would she be forgiven for so blatently defying her and risking the lives of other ponies, her friends, for the lives of two aliens whom she just met a few hours ago?
'No.' She decided. There was no way she could knowingly do something like that, to her teacher or her friends. The Princess of Friendship looked into Fluttershy's begging gaze and slowly wilted under the scrutiny. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything." She scuffed a hoof on the ground dejectedly. "I appreciate your willingness to help, but I didn't think about the possibility of it being dangerous. If that's the reason she forbade it, then I can't go against the Princess' orders. Besides, nothing we say is going to convince her otherwise." She looked away from group of ponies and dragon as she took a deep shuddering breath. She turned to leave. "You guys can head back to the party if you want. I think I'm gonna lay down for a bit."
She had barely made it to the door when a rainbow blur shot in front of her, barring Twilight from the exit. "Whoa whoa whoa! Now hold up a sec. That's it?" The blue weather pony jabbed a hoof lightly into Twilight's chest to stop her momentum, a mild glare on her muzzle. The small alicorn jumped slightly from the contact and glanced down at the offending appendage. Satisfied she now had her attention, Rainbow, now back on all fours, walked straight into Twilight's personal space, forcing her to back up lest they end up bumping muzzles. "You're telling me that you were able to come up with a plan to do what everypony thought was impossible, a plan that sounds incredibly awesome by the way, and yet you're just gonna walk away cuz the Princess says so? That's not the Twilight Sparkle I know."
Twilight flinched but didn't respond.
Pinkie Pie let out a loud "pbbshhhh!" as she hopped onto Twilight's back. "Aw come on girls! Give her some slack!" She then proceeded to smush Twilight's cheeks as she continued, much to her friend's consternation. "Do you really expect it to be easy for her? It's Princess Celestia we're talking about! She taught her everything she knows! If anypony told me that I had to do the exact opposite of what my Grannie Pie said, I'd lose my marbles!" She dropped her chin onto the top of Twilight's head and a trio of marbles dropped from her mane and clattered to the ground. "And there they go! Again..." She declared, the last word spoken with a distinctly flat and annoyed tone.
"Thanks Pinkie I--"
"All you need is for us to pressure you into doing it!" The confectioner then leaned over to look her friend in the eyes --albeit upside down-- and gave her a pouty face that rivalled the best the Cutie Mark Crusaders had ever performed. "Can we please please please go to space?"
Twilight shifted uneasily and glanced at the rest of her friends. "I want to... But I don't... I can't..."
Spike gave a supporting pat on her withers and spoke with a strength that belied his small stature. "Hey, relax. We trust your judgement Twilight. If you think we need to do this, then we'll do it. No questions asked." He turned to the others. "Right girls?”
Fluttershy gave an affirming nod. "After what they went through, they deserve every chance we can give them."
Twilight's eyes began to shimmer as she gazed lovingly at the group of friends for a few seconds, barely registering Pinkie hopping off her back to chase after her lost items. "Oh Spike." She said softly as she pulled him into a tight hug. "Thank you." She turned to the rest and gave an appreciative smile. "Thank you all." The four mares quickly joined in, turning it into a massive group hug.
"So..." Rainbow dash started. "We doing this?”
Twilight gave a giggle followed by a firm nod. "Yeah. We're doing this."
Pinkie Pie exploded out of the center of the group with a squee and a shriek of exuberance. "WE'RE GOING TO SPAAAAAACE! Oh, I need to let Mr. and Mrs. Cake know I can't babysit tomorrow. Does anyone have a quill and paper? Hey Spike, do you require stamps? What's the return address for the castle?" The pink pony darted from Twilight to Spike as she rambled, forcing the dragon's mouth open wider than should be possible and sticking her entire head down his gullet while looking for ---whatever it was she was looking for.
Twilight smirked as she gently pushed the party pony away, giving Spike some space to recover. "Okay, since we're going to be doing this without the Princess express permission, we'll need to get some supplies for the trip without arousing any suspicion. So here's what we need to do..."
"Is this... real life? Am I dead? Of course I'm dead. I got shot in the face... Or did that happen a long time ago? Who is that woman? Do I know her? Man is she hot..."
Luna watched in amusement as the human muttered to himself and shook his head several times, as though he was trying to will himself to see past what he was witnessing. An impressive feat, given the effects the dream world had on the sleeping mind. "So, young Warrior..." She said idly as she swiped her avatar's --hand, was it?-- in front horizontally creating a ripple effect in the air that washed over him like an ocean wave. The alien blinked a few times and climbed to his feet as she felt his mind suddenly snap into clarity. "Tell me how you came to be in these lands."
"Wha--," The alien replied intelligebly as he placed a hand on his forehead and staggered forward, "Lands? What lands? Where... Where am I?" His eyes wandered for a moment before widening and he collapsed to his knees. His free hand slapped against his neck pulled heavily at his collar. "My helmet! No vacuum... How-- what-- Am I still breathing...?"
"As I said before, you are in my domain." The dream-walker closed the distance between the two and extended a hand. "Do not fear. You are not in any danger from me or this place."
The man's brow crinkled as he appeared to scrutinize her words before grasping her arm in a firm grip and pulling himself to his feet.
To say that Jason was a little intimidated would be an understatement, though it wasn’t the first time he had come face-to-face with such an imposing female. The last time he felt any kind of pressure even remotely comparable, it was in the presence his late mentor, of one of the Pilot’s Federation’s most highly decorated ELITE Commanders of her time. She was most known for almost single-handedly leading her home system to victory against an invasion of a rival faction backed by the Imperial Navy. It was said she was responsible for the destruction of over 6,000 enemy ships and the withdrawal of, not one, but two Majestic Class Interdictors. Standing at 186 centimeters and 83 kilos of solid muscle, he watched her put two hit men through a palladium glass door while on a mission in New Africa.
In contrast, the woman in front of him was a petite thing, barely reaching his collar bone at best, and from all appearances, it looked as though she could be blown over by a strong breeze. Yet despite her small stature, her gaze alone... He had no words to describe the pressure he felt, though his wobbly knees had something to say on the subject.
But that could also be attributed to the fact that every sense was practically screaming at him that he was standing on absolutely nothing and could at any moment start falling to his death.
"Soo... Miss moon is it?" He coughed awkwardly and glanced away. "So uh-- you come here often?"
The woman tilted her head and blinked in reply.
Jason mentally slapped himself. "Really? That's the ice breaker you come up with to the first pretty girl you see in six months?" He paused for a moment as two more things came to mind. "Did I just say that out loud? And why is my hand on my face again?" He pulled his hand away and glared at the appendage, slightly disturbed.
The woman let out a refined giggle, the bell-like trill sending another shiver down his spine, "Here there is nothing that separates your thoughts from your words and your will can easily define reality."
Her answer only proved to confuse him further. "Wait, this isn't a holo-sim of some sort?"
Moon's smile faded slightly. "I'm afraid I am unfamiliar with the term. What are these 'Hollow Sins' you speak of? Do you seek some sort of penance from past misdeeds?"
"What? No! I..."
The Moon, as she called herself, silenced him with a simple gesture, causing his mouth to click shut mid sentence. "Perhaps we should start again. What is your name traveller? And what brings you to my home?"
"Uh... Sure. My name is Jason Michaels." He extended a hand in greeting. "A pleasure." His curiosity piqued further when she for the first time appeared unsure. After a moment's contemplation, she shrugged, and instead of shaking his hand, she placed her wrist on his palm, her fingers curled inward. "Uhm..." He awkwardly wrapped his fingers around her wrist and gently shook. "And as to how I got here--" his back suddenly went ramrod straight, panic beginning to set in. "My crew!" He pulled her in without thinking and latched onto her shoulder with his free hand. "What happened to my ship and crew?!?"
Moon's eyes dulled for a moment as remorse flooded her next words. "I'm sorry. Your vessel is intact, but we were only able to save you and one other. Even then, it is not likely she will survive." Jason immediately pulled away from the strange woman and took several steps back as though he'd been burned. "Please, I need you to remain calm."
"Calm?" He snarled. "You expect me to be calm knowing that my crew is pretty much dead, and that I have no idea where the hell here is?!?" He began patting himself down frantically. "And what the hell happened to me? I was banged up pretty bad when I landed on..." He froze. "That rocky planet. The moon." Suddenly, everything began to click. "There was a woman on the surface... She looked like an angel. She sounded like... You." He looked at her with a critical eye.
"But she wasn't human."
Luna held the man's fierce gaze unflinchingly. "Did I ever claim to be hoomun?" She asked cooly.
The alien paled at her declaration and she felt his pulse begin to skyrocket. "Oh god." He muttered to himself. "Ageis was right... They've come back..."
"...Aye-jiss?" New questions began to form in Luna's mind as she processed his words. "So... You know of us." She said. He suddenly backed away several steps while pulling a half rectangle shaped device from his hip, an item that clearly wasn't there a moment ago, pointing the open end towards him. It was obvious to her that it was a weapon of some sort, but as to what it did, she could only guess. "Please, do not be afraid. I am not here to hurt you. I only wish to know--"
"Cut the crap!" He shouted. Luna clenched her jaw, a spark of anger running through her at the interruption. "Now listen here 'lady', I'm not in the mood for games, or metaphors, or that mind bendingly bizarre singing you keep doing with your words. So you're gonna drop the act right now, tell me who and what you are, and what you want with us, or I'm gonna start popping holes in you where holes shouldn't be." The tense standoff pervaded the dreamscape for what seemed like forever until Luna closed her eyes and bowed her head.
"Very well, Jade Spoon. If it is truth you seek, then truth you shall have."
The moment the words left her mouth, a heavy gust of sparkling blue wind slammed into Jason's back hard enough to faceplant him if he hadn't taken a heavy step forward and hunkered down. The gale continued on its path until it reached the woman, surrounding her in a small but powerful vortex, obscuring all but her silhouette.
An ice cold lump began to form in the old pilot's stomach when she started walking forward. He braced himself against the winds and raised his pistol again. "Stay back!" He cried out.
The woman continued forward, undaunted by his threat. As she made her way to the edge of the vortex, her upper body began to disintegrate from right to left, as though she were made of ash. "Do you wish to kill me?" Her melodic voice bellowed, echoing over the raging wind seemingly from everywhere. "After all we have tried to do to help you?" The telltale click-clack of her footsteps reached his ears as a limb broke through the tornado wall.
A very inhuman limb.
As the vortex dispersed, he found himself looking at a familiar sight. The starry dress was gone and in its place was a coat of dark blue fur from top to bottom, complete with four dull grey metal shoes adoring each hoof. Her hair was darker and now sported the glittery pattern of her once apparel, giving the imitation of a beautiful night sky as it flowed seemingly of its own volition. "You're..." Jason unknowingly lowered his gun, his eyes fixated on the long horn jutting out from atop her head, barely obscuring the crown behind it. "You were real."
The horse's short muzzle spread into a smile. "You thought me a dream? I guess it's fitting given the current circumstances." She spread a pair of wings he had not noticed before and crossed one foreleg in front of the other. "So..." She dipped herself into what he could only define as an equine version of a curtsy. "Shall we try this again? I believe third time's the charm, as they say."
Scanning boredly across the largest clearing in the Canterlot Garden from atop the massive alien behemoth, Corporal Lime Light rolled her aching neck and adjusted the chest plate of her armor for the fifth time since the start of her shift, one wing clutching the shaft of her spear tight to her body to free up her forehooves. "By the sun, this stupid thing is so darn uncomfortable!" She complained to her three compatriots, also pegasi, that were stationed in a similar pattern as she, only facing in opposing cardinal directions.
Before any of her teammates could reply, the old gravelly voice of the commanding officer spoke from below. "Stop your fidgeting and complaining, Corporal." First Lieutenant Straight Arrow admonished from his earthbound position beneath her and the ship. "Keep your eyes ahead and your hooves on your spear. A distracted lookout is a useless lookout, you hear?"
"Yes sir. Nothing to report, sir." The young Pegasus replied, her annoyance as readily apparent in her voice as the muzzle on her face. "Same as the past two and a half hours." She muttered under her breath.
"Why did we have to pull out this stupid gear anyways? Every time we wear this junk I end up chafing the heck out of my withers." Private Night Flare, one of the three Unicorns on shift asked. "And don't get me started on what it does to my horn!"
"How do you think my wings feel?" Lime Light replied. "It's not so bad when I'm flying, but guard duty? I'll be lucky if I still have feeling in them by morning!"
"Don't worry." LT Straight Arrow boomed. "Once Bronze Barista returns from roving guard, you'll have your turn to put in some flight time. Now keep your mouth shut and eyes open."
"Uhggh. Yes sir."
Straight Arrow rolled his eyes and snorted. 'Why did I have to get stuck with the recruits? Stupid party.'
Fluttershy was gasping for breath by the time she returned to Twilight's old room, slamming the door much harder than she had intended --which was still far softer than anypony else had achieved up until this point-- "Sorry I'm late girls." She panted.
The rest of her friends, minus Applejack were corralled in the center surrounded by a variety of blankets, jewels, outfits and books that were needed for the trip. "It's alright." Twilight replied, her nose deep in an old tome with Spike scribbling away, writing down any spells she wanted on hoof in case they were needed. "We're just finishing up here. Rainbow already got the bedding we need--"
"--and Rarity got the rest of the gems for the spells." She finished. "Did you get your portion?"
Fluttershy turned to the side, revealing a white saddle bag with a starburst cutie mark filled to the brim with medical supplies. "I picked up what I could, but Twilight! Princess Luna was in the recovery room!"
The purple alicorn went rigid as she dropped her book. "Oh no ohnoohno! This is bad." She turned to the animal caretaker in panic. "Did she see you?"
Fluttershy shook her head. "No. That was the strange part. She was sitting by one of their beds, just looking at him." She gave the saddlebag to Pinkie, who immediately started nosing through it.
Twilight let out a sigh of relief and shelved the book she was reading. "Thank goodness. I thought for a moment we were finished before we had even started. Did you get to drop off the magic infused gems I asked?"
"You mean my dessert?" Spike grumbled under his breath.
Fluttershy lowered her head in shame and dropped a large hoof sized ruby on the ground. "Yes, but I could only get it on one of their beds. I was afraid the Princess would notice me if I got too close."
Twilight ignored the gem and gave the pegasus a quick nuzzle. "It's okay. The second gem was more for accuracy than anything else. You did the right thing. Thank you." Fluttershy gave a tiny smile in return. The Princess of Friendship turned to the rest. "Pinkie how's the packing--"
"All done!" The pink party pony declared with yet another pop of confetti. The surrounding area was now completely bare of supplies. In its place was Twilight's saddlebag appearing almost empty, its top buttoned shut with a tiny corner of bedding sticking out as the only evidence that it held something inside.
Rarity and Rainbow Dash stared wide eyed at the small pack. Their gaze then drifted to the five empty saddlebags cast off to the side before settling on eachother.
"Not it! Drat." Rarity scowled. "You're going to make me carry this the whole way, aren't you."
Rainbow shrugged. "Hey you snooze you lose."
Twilight shook her head. "Come on. We need to get to the airship before the Princesses figure out what we're doing and try to stop us."
As the group filed out, Rarity looked at the satchel and cringed. The white unicorn took several deep breaths as she encapsulated it in her magic in preparation for the arduous task ahead. She heaved---
And the little bag floated into the air with no discernible effort.
"Oh... Well." Rarity stated intelligibly as she pondered it's surprisingly trivial weight. "I was certain it would've been heavier than that." she began to put it on her back, but her curiosity got the best of her and started to open it to look inside.
The next thing she knew, a pink hoof obscured her vision as it slammed the flap closed, latching it in place. She look up and found herself staring straight into the eyes of a very serious Pinkie Pie. "If you're going to be in charge of this, make sure you only look for what you're looking for. And whatever you do, don't pull on the blanket." Rarity nodded frantically and Pinkie Pie's face returned to the jovial confectioner she was known for. "Now let's get going! I can't wait to meet some space pirates! Arrrr!"
Rarity stayed frozen in place as she watched the pink party pony bounce out of the room. "This isn't going to explode on me is it?" She called out. When she received no answer, she begrudgingly sat the bag on her back and tightened the straps before following suit. "Oh I hate it when things explode on me. Pinkie Pie, I'm talking to you!"
Meanwhile, Fluttershy cantered alongside Twilight and leaned in, a question on her mind. "Um, outside of the, you know, obvious... what do you think they would do to stop us?"
Twilight shrugged. "Oh I don't know. Maybe they'll cast a spell on the ship or put it under a bubble shield..."
A few minutes later...
Or she could double security?!?" Twilight half shrieked, half whispered. "And they're moving in a helix pattern! A helix pattern! Because of me! What in Equestria did she expect me to do?!?"
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, "Oh I don't know... Maybe foalnap a couple of dying aliens, steal their ship and take off on a crazy mission into space to try and save their lives?"
"...Oh. Yeah... Right." Twilight mumbled, her jaw clenched in frustration as she and her friends watched from a hedge on the outside corner of the garden with the most direct route to the ship.
Just ahead, ten guards patrolled above around and on top of the human vessel. She thought hard, running a series of variables and strategies through her head at an accelerated rate, compiling countermeasures and countermeasures to their countermeasures, only to come up short. "I don't think I can do this without somehow alerting the Princesses. Anypony have any ideas?"
The four mares looked back and forth at eachother, "Can't you just, oh I don't know, cast a sleep spell on them or something?" Rarity asked.
Twilight shook her head and pointed in the direction of the ship. "Do you see the armor they're wearing?" The girls conversed among themselves in affirmation before she continued. "That armor is designed to absorb and negate all thaumaturgical effects to a certain degree while also alerting the wearer to the threat. Anything capable of overriding the disenchantments would certainly be detected by Princess Celestia or Princess Luna, rendering the entire act pointless in its endeavors."
Her friends stared at her for a moment. Finally Rainbow Dash spoke up. "One more time. With less nerd speak."
Twilight groaned. "It protects the guards by absorbing spells. If I try to overpower it, the Princesses will sense it and stop us." It wasn't entirely accurate, but it would do.
Rainbow shrugged. "That's all? Pshhh. It's not that big a deal. I could just fly over there and, wham bam, nappy time. No problem." She made a few striking motions before crossing her hooves in front of her confidently.
"So you're saying you want to attack... and knock out a squad of Princess Celestia's Royal Guardsponies? Forgive me, but isn't there a law against that?"
Rainbow Dash frowned. "Oh, and knocking them out with a sleep spell is better?"
The fashionista brought a hoof to her chin. "Huh. I've never thought about it like that."
"Oo! Oo! I've got the PERFECT tool for the job!" Pinkie Pie quickly wrapped a hoof around Twilight's neck and pulled her in cheek to cheek. "Don't you worry about a thing! Just leave this one to me!" She exclaimed, pulling out a bright pink bazooka loaded with a rainbow colored cupcake and settling it on her shoulder. As she let go, her eyes snapped to the Royal guards as she gave a wicked grin. "And cue the sneaking music." She then lowered herself into the bushes before disappearing entirely.
When she did resurface, it was in another bush a good distance away from the rest of the group and a few paces away from a roving earth pony guard, with Pinkie now wearing a flowing dark pink bandana on her head and a lollipop in her mouth.
Spike leaned in towards Fluttershy and whispered. "Should we be worried?" The shy Pegasus could only shrug.
LT Straight Arrow jumped when he heard the sound of rustling leaves. He looked to his right at a nondescript bush where several leaves had jarred themselves loose and were finishing their decent to the freshly trimmed lawn. He strained his senses and listened for any sign of anything out of the ordinary, only to be greeted by utter silence. Not even a breeze could be felt in this part of the garden, in part due to the obstruction the ship provided behind him.
The old Soldier's eyes narrowed in suspicion. No wind meant no reason for leaves to be knocked loose. He slowly moved forward to investigate. The moment he leaned into the suspicious shrubbery, a pink hoof struck outward and stuffed a cupcake into his unsuspecting muzzle. A cacophany of delicious flavors assaulted his tongue and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. A moment later, a snoring pony was pulled into the brush, never to be seen again.
Pinkie Pie continued her silent assault on the castle guard with disturbing efficiency. Earth Pony, Pegasus, Unicorn, it didn't matter. All fell to the pink terror with nopony being known the wiser. In the span of a minute, all that was left was the unsuspecting quartet of pegasi perched atop the ship. The closest guard let out a huge yawn.
Plap-Plap-Plap-Plap! "Yeah! Quadruple headshot!"
"You know," Rainbow Dash said slowly. "I'm not sure what's freaking me out more. The fact that Pinkie Pie single hoofedly took out ten guards with a cupcake launcher, or the fact that she carries around a box of cupcakes laced with sedatives."
The rest could only nod dumbly.
A few minutes later, Twilight was sitting in the cockpit of the alien vessel behind the large metal chair as she and Spike ran through her notes. "Okay. So we've gathered nonperishable supplies..."
"Check." Spike said as he did just that.
"Sent Applejack to Ponyville for food via portal..."
"Check." Another scratch of the quill.
"Secured the ship..."
"And traumatized the rest of us in the process..." Spike mumbled. Louder, he said, "Check."
"And Rainbow is moving the guards to a safe location," Twilight finished, "so we can check that one off the list as well." She waited as the baby dragon did as she requested. "So what's next?"
Spike skimmed down the list. "Plug any holes in the ship, which Pinkie is working on, fetch Applejack, and teleport the aliens inside before making a break for it and not getting caught by the princesses."
The purple scholar wilted slightly. "Right." She said.
A moment later, the pink party pony trotted in from the open door in the back, a giant roll of polka dotted wrapping paper balanced on her back. "All the holes are covered!" She declared in a loud voice. "Though I don't see how a bunch of paper is going to hold without more tape."
"It's fine Pinkie." Twilight headed over to one of the walls and placed a hoof on the metal surface. "I've been going over a few spells and I think I can transmute the patching into the same material the hull is made of." She turned back to her friend. "Did you find a place we could put our food supplies and the humans?"
The confectioner beamed. "Yes-sir-ee I did! There's this reaaaaly big room in the bottom with all kinds of shelves and empty containers that we can use to put everything! If we're smart with space, we can get the alens in and still have plenty of room for the swimming pool!"
Twilight chuckled. "No. No swimming pool."
"Ah poo." Pinkie pouted, her lower lip stuck out in an over dramatic fashion. "Well, Fluttershy and Rarity are ready whenever you are." She said.
Twilight gave a nod and opened up two portals in the center of the cockpit, the one on the left which led to the outside of the ship, while the other side showed the iconic barn and field of Sweet Apple Acres.
Applejack trotted in thought the portal on the right a few moments later which closed behind her, pulling a small cart laden with a variety of food. "Al'ight. Got ev'rythin' ah thought we might need for a long trip." She looked around as she parked the cart in the corner and let out a long whistle. "Whoo-wee. Well ah'll be. Color me impressed. Looks like somethin' outta one o' Spike's comic books."
At the mention of his beloved literature, Spike's claws slapped against his cheeks as his eyes widened in panic. "Oh no!"
"What's wrong?" Twilight asked, her heart skipping a beat at his sudden declaration.
"I forgot the comic book you got me in the waiting room!" The baby dragon paced back and forth, frustration clearly showing on his face. "I can't believe I just left it there! I'm so stupid!" He groaned as the Princess of Friendship let out a sigh of relief.
"It's okay Spike," Twilight let out a laugh as she reassured him by wrapping a hoof around his neck. "We'll make sure to pick it up when we get back." She gave the grumbling dragon a quick nuzzle before gently guiding him towards the door. "Now go find Rarity so you can help her when we teleport the humans in."
As he headed off, the young alicorn then headed over to the remaining portal and called out. "Rainbow! Are you done yet?"
The Prismatic maned Pegasus trotted in a few seconds later, a smirk on her face. "Relax Egghead. I was just finishing up with a few final touches." She looked around. "So are we ready to go?"
Twilight closed the last portal and brought a hoof to her chest. She took a slow deep breath in and held it for a moment before exhaling and extending her hoof outward. "Yeah. We're ready." She said.
The young alicorn closed her eyes and began to concentrate her horn alighting in a bright purple aura.
As she focused, Applejack turned to the others in the room. "So did ah miss anythin' while ah was out?"
"Actually? Yeah you did." Rainbow Dash said as she pulled her pranking buddy into a headlock that lasted all of two seconds. "Pinks here took out ten guards on her own in a minute flat."
The farmer quirked an eyebrow at her athletic rival and gave the pony in question since over. "Should ah be worried?"
"I got two words for ya. Cupcake launcher."
The farmpony's brow raised higher.
Pinkie smiled wide and procured a pair of rainbow frosted treats. "It was some of my best work. And the best part is that I've got a couple left over!" She then tossed the remaining two cupcakes in the air, catching them in her mouth and chewing happily. "Mmm, tasty!" She said after swallowing. A moment later, she face planted into the floor and let out a few theatrically loud snores.
Applejack regarded the unconscious mare flatly. "Sometimes that girl's her own worst enemy."
"So I'm dying." Jason said dully.
The blue horse sitting next to him gave a solemn nod. "If your decline continues as it has been, then yes."
The pilot gave a deep shuddering sigh. "Well, ain't that a kick in the pants."
Moon shifted back and forth a few times. Whether it was from the melancholy of the conversation or the bubbly and constantly shifting sensation of their shared seating, he wasn't sure, nor could he bring himself to care. "I know nothing I say will bring you comfort, but I would be remissed if I were not to try."
Jason let out another deep breath. "After how I acted, I'm not so sure I deserve it."
"Though I would have preferred you hadn't tried to shoot me with your crossbow, it would've been hypocritical to not try. Every creature deserves a chance. No matter their past misdeeds." Her words were thick with emotion, more so than he had ever heard up until this point.
Jason gave a sidelong glance to the mare beside him. "I'm still finding it a little hard to believe." The winged unicorn met his gaze and he responded with a self conscious smile in return. "Not the whole dying part. I had a feeling this could've been my last mission, and I'm kind of okay with it."
Moon frowned. "And what praytell is it you find uncertainty in?"
The Commander let out a scoff and returned his attention to the scene before him. "Oh I don't know, maybe its the fact that I'm sitting on a dream cloud overlooking a completely fantastical world, that by all intents and purposes shouldn't even exist. All while chatting it up with a bonafide talking unicorn."
"Oh." She replied intelligebly.
The pair returned to their gazing over the moonlit countryside of the strangely friendly alien's home world. The rolling hills and plains stretched out as far as the eye could see, with nary a blemish dotting the mystical landscape. After an indeterminate amount of time, the world seemed to take on a shimmering purple hue for a few moments before returning to normal. Moon's eyes narrowed as she stood up and turned to her cloudborne companion. "As much as I wish to stay, I have duties to attend to."
"Not a problem. Just two questions." Jason leaned back, propping his body up by his hands. He watched as she stepped off and gave a mighty flap of her wings to hover beside his floating platform. "Will you visit again?" He asked. "Before... Y'know."
"Of course." The space unicorn knickered quietly. "And the second question?"
The pilot gestured around him. "So how am I supposed to get down from here?"
The blue horse let out hearty laugh. "However you wish, Jade Spoon Night Elks. The dream is yours to do with as you will." The unicorn turned and shot off into the sky, eventually fading into the night.
Jason shook his head and laughed. "Jade spoon? Really?"
Luna opened her eyes as she pulled her magic from the dream realm. The tiny white strand retracted slowly, tracing itself back from the window, following the spiral of her horn to its base before disappearing into her fur. She sat there on her haunches for a few minutes contemplating the scene in front of her before turning to the only other pony in the room.
"Nurse Lemon Scent? Did you happen to move the aliens while I was connected to the male's dream? They appear to be missing. Along with the beds..." She looked down. "...and part of the floor."
The pony in question could only stare back dumbfounded, her left eye twitching erratically.
Celestia looked up from her writing as a powerful surge of magic brushed across her senses. She turned to her right where she could see a flicker of purple light glowing softly somewhere below on the castle grounds. A dark forbodence settled on her as she stood up from her desk cushion and headed over to the balcony, leaping over its railing to take flight towards the now illuminated garden.
When she landed in the now empty field, she found herself drawn to the four depressions in the ground left by the landing gear. A dark blue mist swirled around her before taking the form of her sister on her right. "It seems our newest Princess has outdone herself."
Celestia could only nod in reply.
"She was also able to teleport the hoo-muns right out from underneath me whilst I tended to the dreams of one." Luna continued, snorting in mild agitation. "Rude."
The Regent of the Sun turned to her opposite. "Can you locate the ship like before?" She asked.
"I don't see why not." Luna closed her eyes and focused on her connection. The muscles of her neck tensed and her muzzle scrunched. "Well that's strange..." She said. Eventually, she let out a breath, clearly perplexed. "Nothing! Either they've already left our realm, or she must be shielding herself somehow. At this point, they could be anywhere. I must say, she is extraordinarily clever to be able to pull this off."
Celestia gave a half smile. "She certainly is full of surprises. Even when directly going against my wishes, I find a part of myself impressed by her inventiveness and dedication." Her expression hardened as she focused her own pool of magic to the forefront. "But she isn't the only one who can think outside the box. Stay here. I was the one to drag her into this mess, so I should be the one to bring her back."
"What are you going to do?" Luna asked.
A dozen scrolls and a quill popped into existence above the duo's heads. "I'm going to send a letter." Celestia replied wryly. "Several of them actually."
The alien craft flashed into existence far above the planet surface following a burst of purple magic. Inside, Twilight rubbed a hoof along her sweaty brow as she floated a little over a hoof's length off the floor. "Wow." She panted. "That was a lot harder than I thought."
It wasn't even a moment later when a fuzzy blue mass collided with her from behind sending her into a wild spin, accompanied by panicked flapping and multiple additional impacts. "WHAAAGAHAGAAGG!!! What the haaaaaay!" *Fwap Fwap Fwap* *THUD*
"WHOA-NELLY!!! Watch it Ar Dee!"
Apparently, the sudden introduction to micro-gravity wreaked havoc on Rainbow Dash's instincts, turning the best flyer in Equestria into nothing more than a giant fur and feathered pinball bouncing about the cabin. One that had already sent every other occupant in the cockpit tumbling as well.
Minus Pinkie, who was still peacefully floating with her hooves tucked under her head, snoring away.
Twilight scrunched her eyes and her horn --still shimmering with magic-- flared brightly. The entire ship, along with everything within the entire ship was quickly enveloped in her signature aura. When the spell completed, everything not pinned down crashed to the floor with a heavy thud.
Pinkie Pie jerked awake at the impact with a snort. "Zzhuzhuh-wha?" She looked around at the chaos in confusion, her sleep addled mind struggling in its processes. *yawn* "Whud I miss?"
"Um Twi." Rainbow Dash said as she clamored to her hooves. "What just happened?"
Twilight took a little longer to get upright. Her breathing came in short pants and her body ached as though she had run a marathon. "Apparently... We're too high to be... Affected by the planet's gravity." She winced and put a hoof to her dully glowing horn. "Ugh, I'm definitely going to be feeling that one in the morning."
Applejack picked up her steston from where it had fallen and brushed it off a few times before returning it to her head. "Well ah dunno 'bout you, but ah'm all for not doin' that again. Ah'd prefer ta keep mah hooves on the--- woah." The farm pony trailed off as she stared ahead, mesmerized.
The remaining ponies followed her line of sight through the recently repaired glass canopy. The sun peeked out from behind the edge of the horizon of the planet below, coating the outer rim in a heavenly glow of intermingling blue, gold and shadow. Swirling cloud formations larger than any controlled by weather ponies could be seen floating lazily like tiny cotton balls above the surface.
Applejack took a few tentative steps forward. "Is that?”
"Yeah." Twilight replied with no less emotion. "Our home. Equestria."
"I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life..." Pinkie said, her voice uncharacteristicly soft.
Rainbow Dash put a hoof on the glass, her wings twitching sporadically in amazement. "It looks so... Small." She turned to the the young alicorn, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "This. Is. So. AWESOME!!!" She squealed.
The young Princess didn't respond, her entire being remaining transfixed on the massive, yet now somehow infinitesimallly small orb that filled their view. Their world --the combined lands of Equestria, the Crystal Empire and the other non-pony kingdoms-- all resided in front of her, floated silently in an endless night sky of such beauty, she felt as though she had connected with Faust herself. In that moment, she had forgotten how to breathe.
"Twilight!" The serenity shattered as Rarity rushed in with a nauseous baby dragon on her back and a half dozen scrolls floating above her head. "I think we have a problem."
Spike heaved and let out hearty belch of dragonfire leaving behind another scroll that dropped to the floor and rolled to Twilight's hooves. The purple mare broke the seal and unfurled the paper only to drop it after reading its contents.
Twilight whirled around back to the canopy only to gasp at the sight of her old mentor floating regally outside the ship barely a pony length away, her eyes narrowed and a soft frown on her muzzle.
Rainbow leapt back to the others, her wings fully spread and her stance low. "How did she find us?!?" She shouted, "I thought you said you could hide us!"
"I don't know!" Twilight replied. "She must have tracked us through the letters!"
Spike blanched from atop Rarity's back, his already irritated stomach protesting further from the guilt welling up deep within his chest. "This is... My fault?" He asked quietly.
The instant Celestia's horn began to glow, her disembodied voice echoed into the minds of the ship's occupants, her tone calm and soothing despite the tension her mere presence brought them. "Step forward."
The mare in question cowered. Even so, she slowly separated herself from the rest, her eyes staring down at her hooves, looking more like a foal awaiting punishment than a hero of Equestria. "Y-y-yes? Princess?"
The great white mare softened her gaze, appearing almost hurt by her former student's submissive behavior. "Please... Don't be like that. Look at me. I'm not angry at you." The purple scholar did as she was told, but --like in the infirmary-- was unable to meet her gaze.
"Aren't you?" Twilight replied quietly. "I'm purposefully doing what you told me not to do."
As as Celestia focused on her protege, Spike took this time to open the flap of Rarity's saddlebag and began to rummage through it. The fashonista felt the shift on her back and froze when his upper body disappeared into the bag. "Spike, what are you doing?" She asked warily.
"Making things right." He whispered. "I have an idea."
Rarity hesitated, her focus entirely on the pack she had forgotten to take off when they arrived. "Alright," she said finally. "But be careful! And don't touch the blanket. Heaven knows what'll happen if you do..."
It wasn't long after that he pulled out a couple dozen slips of paper and plucked one of the scrolls out of his mount's aura. "Quick, while she's distracted, I need you to cast this spell!" He flipped through the pages till he found what he was looking for and held it out in front of her nose to read. "Third from the bottom."
Rarity skimmed the page and tilted her head to eye the little drake questioningly. "How is this supposed to help?
"Trust me, it'll work."
The unicorn bit her lip nervously. "I'm not sure. It looks simple enough but I'm not exactly a skilled spellcaster."
"Could you at least try? I believe in you." He glaced at his surrogate sister. "We'll need to hurry. I think we're running out of time."
"You're wrong about this!" Twilight suddenly cried, sending Celestia's head back in surprise from the outburst. "These creatures have friends and family of their own. Creatures that care about them and will miss them! They landed on our world! Our home! And nopony else was going to to anything for them! Its our responsibility to do everything we can to save them! Even if it's dangerous for us! And if you're not willing to let us all go, I could do it mysef so nopony but me is put at risk--"
The moment the words tumbled out of her mouth, all compassion vanished from the Solar Diarch like a drop of rain against a raging inferno. All that remained was a raw terror-stricken expression that was so quickly replaced by fury, it would have been missed completely had she even blinked at the wrong time. Her long white horn flared brightly and the ship itself groaned under pressure as it was encased in a similar glow. "I'm not going to ask another time. Return of your own volition, or I will drag you back to the castle kicking and screaming and lock you in the dungeon until the humans have passed."
Her affinity as an Element of Harmony --along with her special talent in all things arcane-- granted Twilight a vast well of magic no other unicorn yet encountered could compare. Adding to it her asencion to alicornhood and the magic boost from the results of the Elements victory over Tirek, one could say that this pony was not so much a mage as she was a force of nature. The hero of Equestria proved just that when she countered with her own magic --a blaze of purple pushing outward-- which slammed into her mentor's grip with enough force to level a mountain.
Princess Celestia took it without even flinching.
Twilight continued to pour everything she had into holding back her teacher's pull. Sweat poured down her face while the air around her horn rippled from the intense heat it was giving off. "Please! Stop!" She begged. "Why are you doing this? They deserve a chance!"
Her mentor said nothing in reply and only increased the pressure, driving the purple alicorn to her knees.
Behind her, Rarity finished the spell with a pop and Spike unrolled the scroll he was holding before setting it alight in green flames.
As it disappeared, the smoke swirled around itself for a moment and then took off across the cockpit, flowing straight through the glass canopy, where it swirled a second time before rematerializing into the opened scroll--
Where it promptly slapped Celestia in the face.
The Princess of the Sun let out a silent cry of surprise as the object wrapped around her head, covering her eyes and breaking her concentration. Her magic faltered, and with nothing to hold it back, Twilight's counterspell surged forward, blasting the otherwise preoccupied mare into the black.
Twilight's eyes bulged as the sudden lack of pressure holding her back launched the ruler of Equestria into a golden comet that flew off at speeds that would make the Wonderbolts envious. "Ewa... Cewe...heet her... Fwying..."
"Oh dear. I think we broke her." Rarity said.
Spike quickly leapt off the unicorn's back and rushed to their momentarily catatonic leader and shook her for all he was worth. "Twilight! Now's our chance!" He yelled.
With nothing better to do, the traumatized Pony did as she was told.
By the time Celestia had regained control of her momentum and tore off the makeshift blindfold, she found herself alone amongst the stars.
Star system: TUN
Galactic coordinates: R: 55.209 / l: 110.076 / b: 22.322
Equatorial coordinates: Right ascension 20h 9m 45.870s / Declination 77° 22'52.468''
Location: Nav Beacon
Time: March 12, 3302 1908 Galactic standard time
Security Officer Corbin Roux lazily pulled back and right on his flight stick, sending the Viper MK III into a wide vertical U-turn followed by a 180 degree roll before boosting back towards the center of the Nav Beacon AO. His pinky flicked idly across the the flight assist toggle out of habit, not hard enough to do anything outside of reminding him of its presence. "Tango uniform november one one five eight. Reached perimeter of AO. Coming about, Over."
His comms panel expanded and the image of his his wingman appeared, a young woman in her mid thirties whose face was completely obscured by her opaque flight helmet. "That is a good copy, one zero five nine. Returning to center, Over." 1158 replied, her Achenarian accent barely leaking through the official police chatter.
Corbin glanced at his radar display as he rolled his aching shoulder while confirming his partner's position. and locked onto the beacon. "You know Maeve," He started. "I still can't believe you volunteered us for two weeks of this crap. We've only had two fines for reckless flying and one neutralized pirate in a 12 hour shift. The last time I had this slow a day was during my apprenticeship time in the academy." His pinkie again brushed against the flight assist toggle. "Could've racked up ten times that amount in an hour easy if I were in the res."
His partner grunted in exasperation. "Good God, are we doing this again?" It was a common argument he and his partner had, particularly on days when the workload was lighter than average. "You keep this up and neither one of us are gonna live long enough to catch the eye of the Pilots Federation. Low tempo patrols may be dull but they're still flight hours."
"Flight hours with no action isn't gonna get me a commission." Corbin responded pointedly.
Any further conversation died off as an alert on the info tab popped up, identifying new contacts in the area. Corbin throttled down as he checked the radar, confirming another six ships arriving in system --three Eagles, a Cobra MK III, an Asp Explorer, and a massive Anaconda. "1158, We've got another half dozen that just dropped in at the same time. Adjusting route. Sending you the telemetry. Over"
"Telemetry received. ETA two minutes. Over" Maeve replied. The comms channel fell silent for almost twenty seconds. "Aren't you gonna say it?"
"Say what?" Corbin asked.
"I know you want to..." Came the sing-song reply.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Corbin clenched his jaw and watched as his wingmate tauntingly cycled through her targets several times before finally settling on a particular vessel. "... Don't you dare. The Anaconda is my target. You take care of the small fry."
"There it is." Maeve laughed and switched to one of the three Eagles closest to her. "Oh and feel free to send me a mayday if you get in over your head."
Pilot 1059 irritatedly closed the comms line, cutting off his partner's laughter as he continued on his flight in silence. He hated that woman, in all respect. In fact he hated anyone he was forced to be paired with on duty. Just a bunch of nobodies trying to get ahead with the least possible effort, while he put his life on the line every single day just to get noticed by one of the mysterious benefactors...
Suddenly an alert he had never seen before appeared on the center of his HUD, followed by the blocky voice of the onboard Verity COVAS speaking in a robotic tone. "Warning, hyperspace anomaly detected."
"What the---HOLY HELL!!!" Corbin banked a hard left, disabling the flight assist and opened his vertical thrusters full throttle as a badly damaged Asp explorer exploded into existace in a literal blaze of purple fire. The Viper vibrated as it spun wildly, the G forces exerted on his body momentarily turning his vision a muted red. His grip on the controls failed as his consciousness slipped for a moment. Thankfully, the accumulated momentum was barely enough to carry him over the anomaly, while the rotation helped him maintain a visual lock at the same time.
To say the ship had seen better days was an understatement. It was a complete mess, with scorch marks, scrapes and dents all over the place. One of the fins appeared to be warped and twisted in on itself, and finally, several huge wrinkled metal sheets were haphazardly welded over the majority of the starboard side making the hull look like it had been torn apart and pieced back together by a four year old.
The flight assist reengaged, and the onboard computer took over, --arresting all momentum with precisely timed counter-thrusts-- which eventually brought the security pilot to what counted as a complete stop in space a little over two kilometers away. Corbin remained motionless and swore repeatedly to himself as his senses returned to him. He angrily began scanning the ship to apply a reckless flying fine.
"Scan unsuccessful. Target powerplant offline." Verity replied.
Corbin swore again. "Dammit. I don't have time for this." He quickly hailed his partner. "Maeve, I need you to rally at my location. Some nutjob jumped in and shorted out their powerplant in the process. See what you can do."
The comms line crackled a moment. "Why can't you do it? You're right there." She asked.
Corbin glanced at his contact list. "The Anaconda is heading towards another convoy and is about to go beyond my scanner range."
"Are you freaking serious?"
"Just do it. That's an order." With that, he turned his Viper around and took off to his quarry.
As the last vestiges of her magic escaped her horn and dissipated into the air, Twilight collapsed to the ground in a heap. Her pounding heart thundered in her chest and sweat dripped off the soaked fur of her brow onto the cold metal floor. She laid there for who knows how long trying to regain control of her breathing. A light brush against her forehead forced her to open her eyes to the sight of Rarity dabbing her with a soft white cloth. "Did... Did we make it?"
"I believe so." Rarity replied with a concerned look on her face. "Though I'm not quite sure where it is we are at the moment."
"You sure you're okay sugarcube?" Applejack asked. "Ya look like you went a few rounds with an Ursa Major whit' nothin' but a waste basket an' a gardn' hoe."
Twilight gave a weak nod and attempted to stand, only to stagger right into Spike and Rarity --who braced her at her chest and side to keep her from collapsing a second time. The white unicorn gave a stern glare to her tired friend. "Darling, please. Take it easy. You're absolutely exhausted."
Twilight shrugged them off and slowly made her way to the canopy area. "Don't worry, I will. Holding back Princess Celestia took everything I had. I'm going to need some time to recuperate my magic to cast the primordium recrudescence spell again."
"The prima ra whatsa?" Rainbow Dash asked. "Is that nerd speak or just unicorn speak?" Rarity gave a helpless shrug in return.
"It's a spell that will send the ship back to its place of origin. Depending on the distance, it could take several castings to make it there. I'll probably need to take a break in between each one."
Applejack marched over to the group and hoofed out a few cups of apple juice. "Well you go ahead an' take tha time ya need. No point in pushin' yerself too hard an' gettin' hurt. Princess said we got about three days, right?"
Before anypony could respond, the room jolted sharply to the left following a heavy boom from outside, throwing everyone careening into the ceiling with bone jarring force. Twilight's vision swam as her chest collided with a nearby console hard enough to hear something inside her crack. Pain lanced through her neck, as she tried to stand, the repeated blows from outside continuing to batter to their transport relentlessly.
Applejack was scrambling against one of the panels as she failed to find purchase and eventually bounced off the floor with an oof. Rarity was clinging desperately on some unknown object, her eyes clenched shut and mouth open wide in a shrill scream. Rainbow Dash held onto Pinkie Pie --who was bleeding and unconscious from a heavy blow to her own head-- underneath a console, her other three limbs secured firmly against the underside of a desk of some sort.
She focused through the pain and attempted to throw up a shield spell, only for it to shatter into fragments of purple energy after another four or five heavy impacts.
She then noticed Spike climb onto the sole chair in the room, pulling himself into it and digging his claws into the fabric. A few seconds later, a large shadow eclipsed the sunlight coming through the giant window, bathing everyone in a shroud of shadow. Another alien ship leveled off in front of the cockpit and begun blasting them with what sounded like hundreds of tiny rocks at an incredible velocity on the helpless occupants.
A sharp cracking sound caused Twilights blood to turn cold as the glass began to weaken under the assault. If it gave way, not only would it leave everypony exposed to the vacuum of space, but it would put the baby dragon directly in the line of fire. "Spike! Get away from there!"
Spike didn't respond and only hunkered down tighter. Twilight pushed off the wall in desperation, grabbing him with her wings and forelegs in a protective embrace and throwing a smaller shield inbetween the chair and her friends.
The canopy exploded inward in a shower of glass for a fraction of a second before the fragments were sucked out into the void. Sparks begin to fly around them as the projectiles rain down on the two in a hellfire of destruction.
Then something clipped Twilight in the side of the head hard enough to throw her out of the seat, baby dragon and a spatter of blood in tow. Her vision darkened in one eye while half of her body went numb and all the spells she casted before failed.
As she floated there, she detachedly watched the silent chaos around her. Four ponies and a little dragon she couldn't recognize were struggling to breathe before her. They looked upset. She didn't like that. As to why, she couldn't be sure. But what she was certain of was the warm feeling in her chest when she looked at them. It made her want to help them. To be with them. To hold them, like she was holding the dragon.
Unconsciously the mare who could no longer even remember her own name, reached out with the last remnants of her being and touched each and every one of them with all she had left as the world erupted into a flash of white.
FSS message to Tun branch command: March 12, 3302, 2016 Galactic standard time.
NCOIC: Sergeant Corbin Roux, ID TUN1059WSZ
Incident: ASP Explorer of UI pilot was destroyed by pirates of the Tun Gold Mob faction in Nav beacon of the local system. Three pods were recovered, two in critical but stable condition. The third is unknown, as the bio-readings of the third appears to be scrambled. During the incident, scavengers were able to make off with some of the cargo before the area was secured. Contents of cargo is unknown. Currently assisting rescue vessels with recovery of black box and debris. Full report to be submitted in 12 standard hours.