I am terribly sorry for placing one of these here, but I feel the need to warn the reader of a change within the series. From now, until the end of the first climax (that is, the battle you have all seen coming) the chapters will be much, much shorter. Too many important characters are centred around this one focal point, and I feel the need to cover much ground while keeping the story fresh.
My deepest apologies for the inconvenience.
The contrast was interesting, Pipsqueak noted.
He and Apple Bloom were still within the Moon, Princess Luna’s flagship, nearly an hour after the sudden end of the meeting. Ponies were milling around, most with determined, if sombre, scowls on their faces as they ran and trotted in every direction.
Apple Bloom, unlike those around her, was far from sombre. She was jovial. Her hoof skirted the ground lightly as she skipped, while a beaming smile split her face from ear to ear, showing off an impressive mouth full of white teeth. Her tail rode high in the air, occasionally brushing against the tip of his nose --not that he minded, quite the contrary. Seeing her this happy made his own heart skip frantically.
She had found her friends. Not just one of them, but both and as far as she could tell, they were a-okay.
“So, what are we looking for?” he finally asked as they passed the entrance of the conference hall for the five-hundredth and first time.
Apple Bloom sighed. “Sweetie Belle, of course! She‘s alive Pip, and she‘s here! Can you believe it?”
“Uh-huh,” he replied, his humour only slightly fazed as he looked around once more. The crowd was beginning to thin out. From outside one of the many small port windows that lined the walls, he could see dozens of small, two passenger airships gliding away from the Moon, each heading towards what was presumably their own commands.
“So, how long are we going to search for her?” he asked, one hoof idly rising to the side of his brand new coat. The rebellion had given him a fighter pilot's jacket, with his name printed along the back at the nape of his neck. The same hoof slid to the lip of one of the coat’s many pockets. Inside that pocket was a folded piece of paper, one that held the information of where he would be deployed.
“Aw, don’t worry, she’ll show up soon. Ah can feel it.” She practically gushed with excitement, even slipping into her family’s thick accent for a verse.
“Right, but that’s not what I’m worried about. I mean, I’ll be fighting soon, right? I know how to pilot a ship and all, but I’ve never fired at anypony before, and I’m sorta worri--”
Apple Bloom jumped, her hoof whipping out to point somewhere in the crowd. “There she is!” Grabbing Pipsqueak by the scruff of his coat and giving him a firm tug, Apple Bloom raced forwards and through the sparsely decorated room.
Pipsqueak didn’t protest. He simply sighed, lowered his head slightly, and followed meekly.
“Sweetie! Sweetie Belle!” the farm pony cried out. Ahead of them, the white unicorn in question turned around, green eyes searching until they landed on the fast approaching pair.
Her face twisted into a huge grin as she moved to face them. Two ponies beside her instantly twisted and followed, though Pipsqueak didn’t recognize either of them. One was a bright red mare, while the other was a tough looking stallion who stood at Sweetie‘s side like a well-trained bodyguard.
“Apple Bloom!” she cried, galloping forwards. The two friends crashed into a tight hug, spinning in a half-circle under the somewhat surprised looks of everypony around.
After a short while, they broke the hug apart and looked into each other’s glowing faces.
Apple Bloom spoke first. “I thought the Imperials had killed you! Or worse.”
Sweetie Belle shook her head, denying the notion that she was dead with a smile and a few tears. “I was certain that you were dead. When I saw the Crusader crash…”
For a few moments, they became quiet. Still close, still happily looking each other over, but quiet. They were mourning, Pipsqueak realized.
“Scootaloo’s alive too,” Apple Bloom added, and they both broke into large smiles again.
For a while, they both gushed out a torrent of words that were lost on Pipsqueak, and apparently on the stallion too. He yawned, a forehoof in front of his mouth. Slowly, he looked around and spotted Pipsqueak.
With a quick look around him, the stallion got up and trotted over at a brisk pace, stopping beside Pipsqueak. “Hello,” he said without hesitation.
“Hi, I‘m Pipsqueak.”
“Spray,” he replied as he extended his hoof. “So, you’re with Miss Bloom?”
“Yeah, you’re with Sweetie?”
He smiled sardonically. “I was with the rebellion… but I guess Miss Belle stole my allegiances a little.”
“A little? C’mon Spray, we’re all on the same side!” the red mare piped up from beside him, rearing up and standing on his back. She reminded Pipsqueak of Pinkie Pie. “Hi, Pip, I’m Mira!”
“Um, hello, Miss Mira.”
The mare checked him out, eyes widening when they stopped on his jacket. “Oh, you’re a fighter pilot! How nifty.”
Pipsqueak idly touched the lapels of the coat. Blood rushed to his face against his will and turned it a fierce shade of red. “Yeah, I guess I am. Just joined really.”
One of Spray’s eyebrows popped up. “Hmm, can I see your papers?”
Pipsqueak obliged, and moments later, Spray was looking over the sheet with a critical eye. He turned towards Sweetie Belle and walked over to her, sheet still in hoof. “Sweetie Belle, you know how you’ll have an escort during your voyage? Well, Mira and I are certainly coming, at least part-way, so is most of our group --on the Vanquishers you, um, acquired-- but we might still have a few spots empty, and Pipsqueak is a pilot with the rebellion…” He left the implication to hang in the air.
Sweetie Belle nodded sagely. “Of course, I’d love to have Pip with us.” She grinned at Pipsqueak kindly and nodded again, this time as if accepting him into the crew.
“Coolio! Aren’t you happy, Pip?” Mira asked as she hugged him close with one forelimb.
“Um, of course I am. It’s an honour, I think… that was brave, what you did in the auditorium,” he said to Sweetie Belle. She blushed in turn, but held her back straight and proudly.
They stood in a rough circle, quiet as they looked at each other. Pipsqueak in particular was paying a lot of attention to Apple Bloom. He was starting to realize that he might never see her again. They all did. From the hunched shoulders, to the nervous laughs. They even stayed closer to one another than was usually permissible, as if they were afraid of separation.
“Alright, I think this is it guys,” Spray said as he scratched the nape of his neck. “We need to get going.”
Sweetie Belle nodded, and practically jumped on Apple Bloom. Both mares hugged again, their emotions pouring out of them. “Where will you be?” the unicorn asked.
Apple Bloom smiled shyly in response. “I’ll be fine; Applejack wants me onboard the flagship. I should be on the safest place around.”
“Well, um, okay then. I guess this is it… See you later?” Sweetie Belle took a timid step back, splitting the physical bond that held them together.
Without another word, the group split. Sweetie Belle, Mira, and Spray reluctantly heading one way, while Apple Bloom and Pipsqueak hung back. “You should go with them,” she said, her voice almost cracking.
“Right,” he replied, taking a few tentative steps after the threesome. He stopped. This was a war. He might die. Apple Bloom might die. This might very well be the last time he saw her alive.
He spun around, taking a few decisive steps towards her. Her brows furrowed a little, in that way he always thought was so cute. He stepped right up to her, really close. He was vaguely aware of the other three slowing to a halt behind him, but he didn’t care.
“Pip, what are yo-”
Not letting her finish, he leaned forward, his blushing face touching hers. Oh, Goddess, what am I doing? Her frown disappeared, replaced by very wide eyes. “I-I, um, like you a lot,” he whispered as he backed away. The air became still, the two ponies lost in their own world despite the bedlam surrounding them. They stared into each other's eyes. Expressions of shock, confusion, and maybe some kindness played across them.
Apple Bloom opened her mouth, shut it, and opened it once more, her brow was furrowed as she struggled to find the right words that never came.
Not waiting for her response, Pipsqueak turned tail and ran, catching up with the rest and blowing past them while radiating incredible heat.
Behind him, Apple Bloom finally spoke. “Oh.”
Blueblood was ecstatic as he sat in the command chair, a new one fit for the grandest of kings. He was, after all, the Emperor. He paid no heed to the nervous glances of the other ponies in the room; they didn’t matter. They were just lowlifes who had the wondrous opportunity to be in the same ship as he that day. “This, this is absolutely beautiful!” he finally said.
In front of Blueblood, in a cavity carved into the ground, Bunnyhelm stood tall and proud over a holographic map that displayed accurate positions of the rebellion’s fleet. He trotted around, whispering advice to the commanders and war-planners gathered there. Surprisingly, much of the upper brass had found excuses not to be there at this time, and Scribeswell, Bunnyhelm’s famous secretary, had been hard pressed to find these replacements.
Beside the Emperor’s seat was a sweaty Vice-Admiral, the well groomed pony swallowing nervously after each sentence uttered by the giddy monarch. The pony’s rank meant nothing here, that much he knew, and his attitude was slowly wearing off onto the rest of the nearby crew, all of whom were hunched over consoles and screens.
Just then, the Vice-Admiral’s worst nightmare came to fruition: Blueblood lolled from one side of his throne to the other, and stared at him calmly. “So, Commander,” the noble pony began, misreading his rank. “What do you think the rebels will do?”
With a quick swipe of his hoof, the vice admiral wiped his forehead. “Well, your majesty, if I may use the projector, I could show you the best statistical possibilities the mathematicians at Canterlo--”
Blueblood waved his arm, signalling for quiet. “No, no, none of that. I want to know what you think.”
“What I think?”
Blueblood glared at him, but he kept grinning. His mood would be hard to ruin that day.
“Well, I think that the rebellion will do one of two things, sire. Either they will use everything they have to take down the Sol Scorcher, then hope that the rest of the fleet flees whe-- if it goes down. Or, they’ll focus on every other ship and try to ruin our defences. Either way, I think they will try to lead us into a trap.”
“Preposterous!” hollered Blueblood in good cheer. “Nopony would be foolish enough to try and trap us. We have the mightiest fleet ever built right under our hooves! Don’t you agree Captain?”
“Oh, um, yes, sire.”
Bunnyhelm trotted over from the holographic display to the Emperor, a confident smile playing on his lips. “Actually, your majesty, the Vice-Admiral is right. Either one of those plans he proposed is likely to occur.”
Blueblood looked at him doubtfully, but the flicker was soon replaced by genuine trust. “I’m not in any danger, am I?”
“Of course not. The Sol Scorcher is the most advanced ship ever conceived,” Bunnyhelm reassured him, a hoof reaching out and tenderly touching the Emperor’s shoulder. “The rebels would practically need its blueprints to find a flaw in its design.”
Ending with that boast, Bunnyhelm walked by, his smile, from the position where the Vice-admiral sat, turning ice-cold. “I have to go, my liege. As usual, problems plague every good plan, and I still have a few… loose ends to take care of. I shall return.” With that, Bunnyhelm marched away, the doors at the far end of the room swishing open mechanically as he reached them.
“Wait!” Blueblood called out, startling many. The Emperor twisted around in his throne, looking at the noble pony behind him. He looked like a child, clutching the back of the chair as he did, thought the Vice-Admiral. “You will be back, before it all starts?”
Bunnyhelm gave Blueblood a calming nod. “Of course I shall return here; I swear as much.” Turning once more, he walked out of the room, Scribeswell in humble tow. “Goodbye, Blueblood.”
Sweetie Belle checked everything again for the umpteenth time. The Sparkle Generator was running at optimal, all automatic defence guns were on stand by, the other six planes behind her were flying in a decently tight formation, and the Imperial fleet was only just within sight.
She sighed, desperate to relieve some tension from her aching shoulders.
“Something bothering you?” Mira asked. The red pony was leaning into her own seat, occasionally tapping on one command or another, otherwise remaining uncharacteristically quiet.
“Hmm, oh, no, I’m fine,” the skittish unicorn replied. She roved over the commands again, making sure that every relay was positioned just so.
“You know, with the width of the beam, and the amount of ships trying to catch it, even if you’re off by a few degrees, it won’t matter much.”
“I know,” Sweetie Belle answered absently. She adjusted the system another notch. “I just want to make sure they all get the message as quickly as possible. You know, do my part.”
Mira scoffed back a laugh. “You did your fair share already. Something’s bothering you. Want to talk about it?”
“Absolutely,” Sweetie Belle said, shifting her attention back to the Thunderbolt’s controls. With a flick of her hoof, she switched it off automatic flight, if only to occupy her hooves.
“Fine then,” Mira said, a note of defeat in her usual bubbly voice. “Mind if I talk about something else then?”
Sweetie huffed noisily. “I can’t stop you.”
The earth pony smiled mischievously, then said, “Nope, you can’t. So, what do you know about cannons?”
Sweetie Belle frowned. “Cannons?”
“Yeah, the things that go boom, sometimes result in the loss of life. I’m sure you know the ones.” Sweetie nodded. “Right, but what do you know about their origins?”
“Not much, I guess,” the unicorn admitted almost reluctantly.
“Pinkie Pie invented them. Don’t look at me like that. You’re not really surprised. She didn’t create them for war, not at first. They were a toy, a party implement to surprise ponies. Then, when the war started, she wanted to use it, scare the living heck out of the enemy.
“But somepony had a better idea. They replaced the confetti with projectiles. Next thing you know, both sides had cannons, and tons of them. She was sad, apparently, and hid away for a while, refusing to help even while her friends were trying their best. Then, somepony invented the hoof cannon, the musket. The giant mechs were equipped with them too. Before that, the only ponies with ranged weapons were the unicorns. Now the earth ponies and the griffons were in on it.”
Mira looked outside, eyes following the clouds idly while Sweetie flew in a straight line. It was a beautiful day, for now. “She stepped out of her hole when they invented the gattling cannon. Damned things could take out the old steam mechs, kill everypony in them. They were light, too. So, Miss Pie decided to win, by creating the most powerful weapon ever. Others, who by then, were making money selling these weapons, tried to stall her. Even her friends discouraged her. She went on.
“There are three types of cannons, you know? The old gunpowder ones, those became the more conventional shell-firing ones used today. The arcana canons, they fire a single beam of energy. And another type, this one was sorta like the arcana canons, but much, much stronger. Those ones worked with gravity or something, and the Sparkle Generators couldn’t tolerate them at all. By the time the war finished, Pinkie Pie had strapped weapons onto some airships and steam mechs that made the enemy quake in fear.”
Sweetie Belle looked at Mira evenly and said, “Why are you telling me all of this?”
The red earth pony shrugged. “My intuition tells me that it might be important. I met Miss Pie, once or twice. She told me to always follow those senses.”
For a while they remained silent, Sweetie Belle following her pattern of self-thought as she looked straight ahead. “I can see the Furtif,” she finally said.
Far ahead of them, a blue smear stood out from among the clouds, barely noticeable as something other than a hole through the white canvas.
Instantly, a dozen machines throughout the Thunderbolt started clicking and rumbling. “Signal is on, and strong,” Sweetie said, a smile playing on her lips.
She bent backwards, reaching out and tilting a small screen so as to see it. Images, all tinted in a light blue, were flashing by. Most were mundane, but some were obviously the inner workings of a very large ship. The Sol Scorcher. No wonder they couldn’t upload these files. They’re massive, Sweetie Belle thought.
Silently, Sweetie Belle glanced around, and through the window of the Thunderbolt’s cabin. In the distance, maring a huge patch of sky, was the Imperial Navy’s prized possession, the Emperor’s flagship. Beside it, and only taking up a small portion of its length, were the tiny Interceptors and the much larger Obedience class ships.
“Pay attention, Sweetie,” Mira cautioned, all of her humour long gone.
“Right.” The unicorn returned to her task of piloting the ship toward the Furtif. The blue ship was quickly approaching in the distance.
Mira sat up straighter in her seat, her attention focused on a screen at her side. “Um, Sweetie, the blue on this radar thing is us, right? And the green are the rebels.”
“Uh-huh. Grey belongs to the Furtif, and red is Imperial.”
“Okay, well, there’s two little grey ships heading our way.” -Sweetie Belle smiled.- “And about sixteen red ships somewhere above us.”
Scootaloo smiled. She always smiled when she was flying like this. The Expedite was purring below her. Beside her, Kami Kaze was sticking to her flank. Everything was going smoothly. And finally, she was going to meet Sweetie, or come as close as she could to meeting someone that was in another ship and flying messenger during the biggest battle in recent history.
The mare slapped the comm unit --a new one, installed by a slightly grumpy Wrenches the day before--and was glad to hear a familiar voice over the static crackle.
“What do you mean by ‘sixteen red ships somewhere above us,’ exactly?” a voice asked that Scootaloo immediately identified as Sweetie Belle.
Another voice answered, the shrug almost audible. “Heck would I know. I’m no expert at reading this thing. There are sixteen red points, and they are heading this way.”
Scootaloo frowned. She had been hoping to surprise Sweetie Belle a little, as much as the white unicorn had surprised her over the screen, but the context of the conversation was far from difficult to guess.
Pressing on the comm once more, Scootaloo signaled Kami Kaze’s little plane, the Divine Wind, and the Furtif. Hardly a second passed before she received two response signals.
“Guys,” she began, “I think we might have trouble sooner than we wanted it. Sixteen Imp ships. Can’t spot them, but Sweetie thinks they are there...”
Arnaquer’s gruff voice was the first to reply. “Merde. We must protect the Thunderbolt, at least until we have approached the main fleet sufficiently, or until the information is all sent. Do what you must, Scootaloo.”
Another voice squealed over the comm. “Oi, kid, tell that unicorn friend of yours to hurry up. I can’t stay cooped up in this tin can like some sort of chicken. Get me a plane!” Rainbow Dash shut her own device with a scratch and a screech.
Scootaloo took a deep breath, touching the fringe of her jacket lightly as she did so. This was it, the moment of truth. Today was a day where she would either kill, or be killed.
Her keen eyes scoured the bright blue skies, searching desperately for the stains that would mark an Imperial squadron. C’mon, where are you? She blinked back, glancing at the Thunderbolt and the six Vanquishers flying behind it. The small airship was hurrying forward, its engines puffing madly as it cut the wind and clouds that surrounded it.
Around them, the sky was cloudy. Serene, peaceful, but entirely blanketed in swaths of white mist that seemed to stretch as far back as the Sol Scorcher and its imposing escort.
Scootaloo could also see the multi-coloured rebellion fleet. Ships of every hue flew in loose formation while heading out to meet the Imperial Navy.
“Kami, you see anything?” she asked, slightly nervous.
For the first time since they had left the Furtif, Kami Kaze spoke. “Maybe. Movement above the ThunderBolt.”
Scootaloo glanced up, catching only the faintest streak of grey from behind the clouds. Homing in on the area, she gave a slight tap on her yoke and pointed her crosshairs over that region.
Over a dozen ships appeared. Gently, almost delicately, they rolled out of the great mass of a cloud front. The smooth maneuver contrasted greatly with the destruction they were built to accomplish. Behind them, four more planes appeared, these ones ripping massive chunks out of the sky as they lowered themselves awkwardly. “What in the hay, is that?” Scootaloo exclaimed as she eyed the newcomers apprehensively.
The four new ships were fat. There was no other way to describe them. Fixed, arrow shaped wings curved inwards over a thick, round body. The front end was shaped like a rounded cone, with a few needle like protrusions Scootaloo recognized as antennas. The oddest part of the already far-from-normal vessel, was the rear end. Three props jutted out the bag, each one bigger than the last. Two of the three spun in one direction, the other went the opposite.
“Moths,” Kami Kaze answered. “The Empire once needed bombing ships that were smaller than airships. The damned things are easy targets, and a waste of good ponies, but they can pack one heck of a punch.”
“Will they target us?”
Kami barked a laugh. “I don’t think so. It’d be a waste of ammo. Your friend’s ship on the other hoof, is a fat, juicy target...” He left the implication to linger for a while.
With a single, fluid motion, Scootaloo slammed the throttle as deep as it would go. Her back slammed into her bench and her harness tightened, biting into her coat. Hoping that Kami Kaze had the sense to follow, she rocketed forward and towards the oncoming Imperials.
“Sweetie,” she called out through set teeth. “Get to the Furtif, I’ll take care of these mules!”
“Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle’s voice asked. Even over the static, Scootaloo could hear the slight tremors of fear.
“Yeah, it’s me. Long time no see! We’re all about to die, so let’s save the pleasantries for later, all right?”
“Right!” Sweetie said, fully determined.
“I’m about to engage those Imps on your tail, but us two can’t do it alone. Tell a few of your escorts to veer off and hit the Imps head on. The rest of you head towards the Furtif.”
“Nope, not if you’re in danger behind me.” Scootaloo raised an eyebrow at the comm unit. Sweetie Belle the obstinate, she could live with it.
“C’mon Sweetie, you need to get those transmissions sent; it’ll be hard to do if you’re dead!”
Scootaloo could practically hear her friend’s frown. “Okay, but once it’s done, we’re coming back,” Sweetie Belle said. Seconds later, the line went dead and Scootaloo noticed a small bump in the Thunderbolt’s speed.
The pegasus positioned herself within the Expedite’s cockpit, hooves set lightly against the controls, just brushing the knobs and switches that were arrayed in front of her. She blinked, forcing herself to focus on the task ahead of her.
Afar, four wedges of fighters were diving out of the clouds, slowly angling themselves towards Sweetie Belle and her escort. The twelve planes were Requisitors, Scootaloo noticed, the awkward biplanes she had fought with weeks before. The guns along their backs swiveled around and pointed out above the top of the planes at a shallow angle.
What are they doing? Scootaloo wondered as she quickly approached the fighters. She was just above the Thunderbolt when she caught on to their plan. “Crap!” she swore to nopony in particular before switching on her comm.
“Kami, the Imps are about to pass below Sweetie!” she called frantically.
“An undershoot? Good, they’ll lose time pulling back up.”
“No, not good. Those back guns of theirs will rip Sweetie to shreds!” Scootaloo screamed. Kami Kaze remained quiet. “What are you doing?”
“Sorry, I was giving orders to the planes that’ll join us. Should we engage them from ahead?” he asked, wondering whether they should barge right into their formation and hoping to split the tight wedges apart to cause a few to break off. Scootaloo quietly grunted. There was no point in that. Only a few fighters needed to make it past them and under Sweetie Belle. What they needed was a way of making them weave and dodge.
She smiled a cruel, mischevious grin. “I have a plan,” she said.
By then, the two had reached the four triangles, and they could clearly see the young faces of the pilots looking back at them.
“Follow me in. We’ll heat them up from behind!” Scootaloo pulled up, joy building up within her as she felt, rather than heard, the familiar motions of her plane around her. The Expedite’s nose poked up, climbing perpendicularly along the top of the formation. Scootaloo turned, jamming her hooves on the rudder and slamming the yoke to one side.
The Expedite flipped over, the back end spiraling around as the plane did a tight corkscrew to face the back of the Imperial formation.
Below her, still arranged in neat rows, were the twelve Requisitors. She took a deep breath, eyes peeking quickly at the rapidly approaching Thunderbolt. It was now or never.
Wind whistled around her as everything shook, rattling her teeth as she glared down at the nearest craft. Applying a little pressure to the rudder, she moved her crosshair over the back of the gray-green craft, and pulled the trigger.
This one was surprisingly hard to write. Hopefully it will be worth the effort!
Your Antagonist (king of farmcon)
Frederick the Saiyan
I usually post urls to their pages... but Fimfic is being a little... Well...