by ShiveredTimbers


by Shivered Timbers

Alarms blare through the Empire base as you and your team hustle into the security closet. Your blood runs cold. Using the intel provided to the Rebels, you should have been able to bypass every security measure in this base without alerting the Empire. And you have, until now, which means only one thing.

The intel was bad.

There's a mole.

Helpless, you sweep your gaze across the cramped closet, alighting on Rusty Pipe. His strong golden eyes, long a source of hope through many a soul-rending session of basic training, return your look. But now they only hold unrestrained malice. The corner of his mouth twitches upward. His voice comes out in a hiss.

"That's it for you Rebel scum."

The blast of a laser pistol sears a hole through his skull, and he collapses against the wall in a limp heap. You all but piss yourself.

"S-Sergeant!" you squeak, turning to her.

Tempest Shadow casually returns her blaster to its shoulder holster, throwing you a sideways glance. "If the traitor didn't want to die, he shouldn't have outed himself." Her tone is as blunt as her broken horn.

You would back away from her if there were any room.

Sergeant Major Tempest Shadow is the Rebellion's most decorated member, and an absolute terror to behold in person. Through her steely glower, you can see the final screams of each Empire Trooper she ever singlehandedly cut down.

Those eyes bore a hole right through you, asking one thing: Are you worthy?

You could just die. You aren't worthy. You barely even know why you were included on this mission. Heck, if anyone your senior possessed half the technological prowess you did, you'd have been passed over in a heartbeat. That's what your commander had intimated during the pre-mission briefing, at any rate.

You just aren't cut out for field work. A little nerdy unicorn from a backwater town on a backwater planet at the ass end of the galaxy could not compare to a legendary action hero like Tempest fucking Shadow. She's supposed to be leading dangerous missions deep in enemy territory, not babysitting a wimp like you.

"I'm only going to ask this once," she says, never blinking or taking her eyes off you. "Do you think we can do this?"

"D-do I think..." You hate that waver in your voice. It's so hard to maintain a professional demeanor after seeing what you just saw. Not when your only friend in this entire base is now her. You swallow. "It's just you and me now. We've been compromised, a-and this whole place is probably already swarming with guards looking for us."

"Say the word," she says, lifting her blaster once again, "and I'll get us out of here. I can't do this alone, so if the mission has gone to the shitter, tell me it's shit."

Well, that's unexpected. Sergeant Major Tempest Shadow, hero of Valia IV, liberator of the Crystal Planet, asking you if you had the ability to salvage this mission. Because it is in the shitter right now. And yet...

You lick your lips. "No. No, I think we can pull this off. All you have to do is keep me safe, and I can find and secure the Storm Core, intel or no intel."

"All right." She nods and cocks her weapon. It hums with a charge of energy. "Then I'll follow your lead, Corporal. We dispense with formalities from here on out, all right?"

"Yes, ma'am." You catch yourself a moment too late. "I-I mean, yes. Tempest."

"Good." She takes a deep breath. "On your signal, we breach and move. Can you get me eyes on the other side of that wall?"

You shake your head. "I think so. Give me a second..."

Pulling out your personal mainframe, you jack it into the wall outlet nearby. "You know, the intel wasn't a hundred percent bad."


"It couldn't have been." You shake your head again as security code flashed by. Babbling whatever is on your mind always helps you cope with anxiety. "It had to be good up until this point. It had to scan, pass the preliminary checks. It wouldn't have worked if it simply stonewalled us. They wanted us to get inside the base, far enough in that we'd likely never make it out."

A beep from your mainframe signals connection with the base's security cameras. Tempest nods.

"Good thing they didn't count on us being us, right?"

You look up at her, startled. She's a mountain of a mare, with shoulders bigger than your entire head. It's well known around base that she spends all her free time keeping her body in tip-top condition. Minimal body fat, all power and speed: No segment of her physical being lacks cords of musculature, and all of it brims with incredible strength. Though the blaster is her signature weapon, she's more than capable of destroying another pony with nothing but her bare hands. You've seen her do it once already during this mission.

But now she's relying on you to set the pace. She's looking to you as the pony who will get the both of you out here.

Well, if you're going to do that, not being consistently intimidated by your commander would be a good first step.

"Right," you say, sounding more confident than you feel. "Right, we can do this. But it's not going to be easy."

You scan the security readouts for a moment. "The base is on full lockdown, high alert. There are armed patrols everywhere. We won't be able to slip by them for more than the length of a corridor, I suspect."

"That's fine," she says. The flash of her teeth remind you of laser fire across no-pony's-land. "That's what I'm here for."

She stands and offers her hand. You take it, unjacking your mainframe and wincing at the power contained in just her pinkie. She's effortlessly crushing your hand.

"Wait!" You squat back down before she has a chance to say anything, taking any excuse to free your poor hand. Reeling internally, trying not to retch, you quickly rifle through Rusty Pipe's pockets. It takes the better part of a minute before you find what you're looking for: a beige plastic semi-rectangle with gold contacts on the irregular end.

"This will make bypassing security the tiniest bit easier," you say, pocketing it. "All right, when you're ready."

She nods and counts down from three on her fingers. On zero, you unlock the door, and she shoulders her way out into the hall. Though hesitation is your typical reaction to any frightening scenario, you stick close behind her, grabbing your own as-yet unused blaster out of its hip holster and pointing it shakily behind you.

Common knowledge says Storm Troopers aren't the best shots. They're slow, stupid and apparently can't see well through the masks they wear. It seems like a bad design choice, but the fact is, what they lack in ranged killing power, they more than make up for with tenacity. The damned hairy beasts are plain hard to kill.

Luckily, you have a sound strategy. Firing near the ones behind you is enough to distract them from hitting you in response. Since your hands are shaking, 'near' is the best you can do. That leaves Tempest open to take out whatever threats lie ahead of you.

This, she's doing effortlessly. She targets the Troopers' weak points with every shot. The hovering security drones, a larger threat, stand no chance when faced with her mighty fists. She swats them out of the air when they get close, or closes her fingers around their delicate rotor arrays, crushing them to sparking dust.

You feel a little bad for the drones -- you'd love to salvage some for parts and tech -- but there's no way to interface with them outside of major security stations. The Empire at least has that much sense when it comes to security.

Still, with laser bolts whizzing close enough past your face that you feel a wave of heat every few seconds, it's all you could do to keep your footing as the two of you race down the corridor. She must have memorized the location of your next waypoint, because you sure as heck have no idea where you are without a chance to stop and check your mainframe.

As you scramble along behind her, you find yourself incredibly thankful that it's Tempest Shadow with you and not anypony else. Not only is she amazing, she's amazingly keeping the two of you alive.

"This way!" she shouts, turning a hard right around a corner. You follow without question, and almost plow your way right off a sudden cliff before Tempest grabs the back of your shirt in her free hand.

"Get the door!" She trains her blaster back the way you'd come, and the howls of wounded Storm Troopers echo from behind you.

You fumble a second with the beige key card, then slip it in the nearby card slot. The door behind you slides smoothly shut with a whoosh, leaving the two of you standing on a very small piece of floor above a yawning technological chasm.

You gulp. You really should not have looked down there. All those spires and wires, and the enormous gaping chasm... This must be a maintenance shaft, or something connected to the output of the base's superweapons. You really don't want to think about what that might mean, not when there is actual wind blowing up at you from below.

The sound of blaster fire impacting the door behind you brings you back to your senses. Tempest does something with her harness, and the sound of a zipline whizzes across the chasm to the door on the opposite side.

Without so much as a by-your-leave, she wraps one strong arm around your waist, says, "Hold on!" and kicks off from your precarious perch.

You have time to squeak out an annoyed "Shit!" before you're dangling above the infinite blackness below.

Unavoidable, pants-shitting terror helps take your mind off of how much you really are not enjoying your situation right now. Muscles bunch under Tempest's skin, sliding around like really hard... worms. Or something.

You can't explain it, but muscles have always grossed you out. When you started building a little bulk in basic, you tried to find a way of getting rid of it. That was silly, of course, not to mention impossible. Being physically fit at least means that you can keep up with Tempest through a herd of enemies without getting winded.

Regardless, the sensation of muscles pressing on every side of you is only part of the problem. The reason why you've always kept Tempest Shadow at a distance -- beyond her being famous and you being nobody, beyond her being seven feet tall and immensely intimidating -- is that she reminds you of all the kids who picked on you when you were young.

Back on your planet, in your little village, you were the scrawny smart kid, and your older, bigger, stronger peers had made your life a living Tartarus in every way they could. Some of them had grown out of it as they grew up. Many had not, and ended up taking up bounty hunting or signing up with the Empire, where their desire to cause others pain could be put to practical use.

But you, their serial victim, had never had a chance to grow out of it, because you'd never had a say in how you were treated to begin with. Nothing you said or did ever convinced your tormentors to leave you alone. Heck, nothing you said or did should have drawn their ire in the first place. Children were horrible, and some simply lived to pick on whoever was weaker than them for a thrill.

Tempest isn't like that, of course, but it still doesn't change the fact that muscles reminded you of the big colt who liked playing hoverball and ground your face in a pile of dustworm dung when you were seven. His friends had laughed, and you had gone home in muddy tears.

Your hooves touch down on the other side of the chasm, and you take a long, deep gasp of breath. You aren't at home, or on your planet: just in the middle of a technological death trap wielded by the greatest enemy of free people the galaxy over. No biggie.

"Sorry if I roughed you up," Tempest mumbles as she reels in her grapnel line. "No time to give warning. Can you get us through this door?"

"Of course," you reply offhandedly, reaching for your key card. The door across the chasm blows in as you get the way ahead open, and a hail of poorly aimed blaster shots rocket across the gap. Tempest returns fire, but neither side is having an easy time compensating for the distance and whatever energy might be cascading through that void at this very moment.

"Get in!" you shout, and once the two of you are through, you slide the card into the slot on the other side, shutting and locking the door.

"That should keep them busy for a minute," Tempest says, wiping a bead of sweat from her brow.

"Give me a second." You pick up your mainframe and jack into the wall, not waiting for an answer.

It's only a matter of moments before you have a schematic downloaded and displayed on the insides of your holo-specs.

"I've got a route," you say, projecting the image ahead of you a little ways so Tempest can see. "The Storm Core is housed at the very center of this base. Direct approach to the room it's in is going to be impossible under these conditions, but we might..."

You tap the image, and the AI inside your specs react, spinning it around and adding labels.

"This server room here might have an access shaft that would get us close if not inside." You spare a glance at Tempest, who watches you work, rapt. "Do you think you can get us there?"

She nods. "I'd better. Do you need anything before we go?"

A hot bath, some food, a good massage... "No. Let's get going before the alarms--"

And that's when the alarms on this side of the base go off.

The next few minutes of your life become a complete blur as you race toward the six-sided doorway at the end of the hall, your heart pounding a galactic mile a minute. "Here! It's this one!" Laser bolts impact the bare walls around you, too close for comfort.

Rushing to the door, key card in hand, you open it and spare a glance back. Tempest is just a few yards away, holding off a whole squadron of hovering security drones with only her blaster. With the seconds available before she makes it to the door, you open the access panel and begin typing away. You'll likely be in this room a while: better make sure your pursuers have to take their time getting in.

Stepping inside, you hold the door with your card as Tempest rounds the corner. Then she lets out an "ARGH!" and falls into the room as though she tripped.

"Tempest!" Breathing hard, you slam the control panel close and yank the key card, sliding the door shut as you kneel beside her.

She turns over, clutching her left shoulder in one meaty fist, one eye closed and sweat pouring down her brow.

"Are you..."

"It's just a graze. I'll be fine."

You know enough field medicine to know that the 'nice' thing about blaster fire is that it cauterizes wounds instantaneously. No risk of infection, so a light blow won't imperil her. The problem is when they cauterize a hole in the middle of your chest. Or your head.

You let out a sigh. "Oh, thank--"

Your words cut off in a squeak as Tempest's hand shoots out, as fast as the lightning brought by her name, right for your head. Your life flashes before your eyes as those powerful fingers close...

Around something behind you, which collapses in a sparking crunch. She draws her hand back, revealing the remnants of a security drone, which she carefully tears in half with both hands. Then she falls backwards.

"Drone," she pants. "Either got in with me or was already in place."

You pass out.

Something in the darkness reminds you of home.

"--on, come on! Corporal Circuit, wake up!"

When you come to, unconscious of the amount of time that's passed, you became aware of a few things. Something nice and warm is draped over you. Your body is sore, but you're being lifted, supported and comforted by something as hard as it is yielding. And somewhere, some damn fool is using a cutting torch. Why would anyone need that here?

Your eyes flutter open, to give you a view of solid maroon.

"You're finally awake." Tempest's voice is breathless.

You take in a sharp breath of air as you realize where you are. Under a thermal blanket. Behind some kind of makeshift barricade in the server room you just busted into. In the strong, tender arms of Tempest Shadow.

While the Storm Empire's troops slowly cut through the door.

"You were going into shock," Tempest says, and you're surprised to note a hint of sheepishness in her voice. "Had to keep you warm somehow. Hope you don't mind."

You're aware of just how big Tempest Shadow is. She's bigger than most ponies in the corps, so this is not a surprise. But here, held in her lap, cuddled like a baby up against her firm chest and surprisingly pillowy breasts, you realize just how much smaller than her you are. She cradles your entire body in an effortless bridal carry. Your head is nestled in the crook of one elbow while your hooves barely stretch past the other. She's wide. She's enormous.

And despite the imminent threat of a security breach through the room's only door, her holding you like this makes you feel something you have not felt in many, many years.


Maybe it's the warmth, amplified by the blanket but emanating from her nevertheless. Here, in the arms of this buff, powerful, legendary mare, you know none of the galaxy's innumerable threats can touch you. Here, you are warm and comforted, finding softness in immense strength. Here, you are safe.

"I don't mind," you whisper. Tempest clears her throat softly.

"If you need a moment, take it. But we can't sit here forever. They're..." The muscles shift under you, as she most likely is craning her head up to look at the door.

Those muscles are so powerful, yet so protective. They're nothing like the muscles of your childhood bullies, made to torment, destroy and hurt. They're like mountains, walls of stone meant to keep the outside world at bay through storm and fire. The bullies aren't here. With Tempest beside you, they can never hurt you again.

"...About a quarter of the way through," she murmurs. "We have a few minutes."

Oh, how you want to take those few minutes all for yourself. But she is unfortunately right. There's still a mission, the most traitorous part of your brain reminds you, and you aren't even halfway done with it. In the name of indulgence, you stretch, reach up, and wrap your arms around her.

"Thank you," you mumble into her strong neck.

She snorts and turns her head away from you. "Thanks yourself. Whatever you did to that door, cutting's the only way they're getting through it."

The praise sends a happy jolt through you. You did do a damn fine job on that encryption, if you don't mind saying so yourself. But hearing her say it means so much more.

"Right," you say, reluctantly doffing the blanket and stepping out of her arms. She doesn't protest. "I've got to do a little hacking to get the next few steps to our target. Do, um, what you can, I guess, with what we have." You glance at the door. A chill runs through you. The bright eye of the cutting beam is around four o'clock. "I should have enough time. Hopefully."

She gives you a sharp nod and quickly packs the blanket into her bag as you heft your mainframe out and jack into the central terminal. You spare Tempest one last glance as she moves toward the door and starts doing... something involving being hunched over and grunting a lot. You can't waste any time wondering about it; you need all of your considerable brain power for this hacking job.

Unlike the lesser digital security present on the door locks, finding the best route to the Storm Core presents more of a challenge, especially since you wants to keep the Empire's own tech ops off your scent. This code is more elegant, the systems more tightly wound, and you soon lose yourself in the joys of cracking something no one wants cracked. You could make some delicious cyber omelets out of these digital eggs. Or something.

Tempest's shout of "Do we have an exit?" is the only thing able to break your concentration.

"Just a second!" you call back. The route is secure, but you want to add in a few extra lines of code that will make the road ahead easier for the two of you. You have the time, after all, the door is only...

There are scant centimeters left between the start of the glowing orange cut in the door and its end.

Sweat beads on your brow as you hit the execute button, unjack, and slap your mainframe to your chest. The access hatch in the ceiling pops open a moment later. "We need to leave!" you shout, kicking yourself as your voice cracks with fear.

"Agreed," says Tempest. Whatever she has been doing resulted in a glowing green ball, which she lobs at the door before turning to run in your direction.

You lose seconds fiddling with securing your mainframe to your back so you can climb. It's just enough time for Tempest to catch up with you before the door falls inward. The instant the glowing orb on its surface impacts with the floor, it detonates, sending the door sailing into the hallway and cutting through quite a number of drones and guards.

"Come on," she grunts, shifting her blaster rifle to her side, then hefting herself up through the hatch and onto the access ladder. "Climb on my back and we can get there faster."

Nodding, you sling your pack over your shoulder and accept her hand up. She could toss you all the way up to your target, you think, considering the ease with which she pulls you through the hatch.

You loop your arms around her neck, trying your best to position your knees around her midsection for extra grip.

"Too tight," she groans, pulling your arms away from her neck with one hand while clinging to the ladder with the other. "Wrap your arms around my chest instead."

Your cheeks grow suddenly hot. No doubt they have turned a vibrant shade of crimson, too.

"I know what that hesitation means," she says with a sigh. "Don't worry about getting handsy, we've got to get moving."

So saying, she hefts the both of you up a rung. It's all you can do to clamp your arms around her chest and hold on tight. You are very aware of what's rubbing against the tops of your arms. Given that the two of you are likely going to be spending a lot of time alone in this elevator shaft, there isn't likely going to be much to take your mind off it, either.

She grunts, taking the ladder one rung at a time, legs and arms working in powerful synchrony as the ascent begins. A minute in and the access hatch swings shut beneath you, lock engaging with an audible click.

"That your work?" she huffs.

"Y-yeah," you say, nervousness preventing your statement from coming out any more confidently.

"Not bad." She takes a few breaths. "So how far is it?"

"Thirteen floors."

"Okay." Another few breaths. "Don't mind if I don't talk. Gotta save it for breathing. I can listen, though."

You let the rhythm of her ribs expanding against your arms soothe you for a few moments. Clinging to her back like this, you're getting an extremely intimate demonstration of just how all her muscles work. Her back rubs against your chest, far less comfortable than when you rested in her lap. Through your pants, you can feel the way her abdominals flex in time with each pull up the ladder. There are probably some deltoids in there, too. You really don't know what deltoids are.

The one thing you do notice after a bit is the tiny pained grunt she loosed whenever she pulls with her left arm. That blaster wound must be hurting her more than she initially let on. There's nothing you can do about it right now, sadly. You don't want to reach into your pack lest you slip from her and fall -- you hazard a glance down, and your head spins -- really, really far to your probable death.

"It's hurting, isn't it?" you ask quietly. "Your arm, I mean."

She grunts noncommittally.

With a sigh, you lay your head against her neck. She makes a soft, almost happy sound. The thought occurs to you that it might be what a smile sounds like.

That sure gets your mind whirling. First, she cuddles you to bring you out of shock. Then she doesn't mind if you get 'handsy' with her. Now, she's just enjoying the feeling of being close to you? Which you can't say isn't mutual, at least a little.

Does Sergeant Major Tempest Shadow have a crush on you?

There is thankfully no more time to cogitate on that as Tempest says, "One floor to go. Get ready."

You snap out of your stupor and risk reaching back into your pocket for your key card. "Get me up near the access door," you say quietly, on the off chance the sound might carry through the wall. You tap your holo-specs and give the room schematic a once-over. "I'm not sure what resistance we'll meet on the other side."


It's just a few more pulls, spaced out a little more slowly. You have to imagine Tempest is conserving her strength, considerable though it already is. When she finally stops, you are just barely able to reach out and shove your card in the slot. The door whooshes open, and you leap for the floor. Tempest follows a moment later, rolling onto her back and panting heavily.

"Who's there?" cries a shaky voice elsewhere in the room. "I-identify yourself!"

You look up to see two stallions -- traitors! -- in plain brown uniforms plastering themselves against the far wall. One looks like he's going for a weapon; the other reaches for what has to be the alarm.

You don't think. You whip your blaster out of its holster and fire off two shots. The first goes wide but is close enough to the stallion reaching for the alarm that he backs off it. The other is a lucky shot, striking the second stallion's blaster and knocking it from his grasp.

You won't tell anyone that one was meant for the alarm.

Holding your blaster level in front of you with both hands (to stop it from shaking), you watch as the stallions gulp and raise their arms. You've never cornered enemies like this before, and you have to admit, it's kind of a rush! Sure, if you fire, you'll more likely blow your own tail off than kill or injure either one of them, but still. Is this how Tempest feels all the time?

Speaking of, she disappeared from beside you while you were busy holding up the enemy, only to suddenly reappear behind them. You drop your aim as she looms up, a hand on each of their shoulders. They scream, trying and failing to back out of her iron grip.

"Boo," she says with a grin before clocking their heads together. They crumple to the floor without further noise, and she gives a thumbs-up.

"Nice shooting, kid!"

You let out a little laugh and run a hand through your mane. It gets tangled up in your horn as you forget you have one for a second, but it's fine. You're cool. Everything is cool.

"So this is the place?" she asks, and you nod, reholstering your blaster. "All right. Then the Core should be..."

She goes to a console and taps in a few commands. There's a whir, and a large panel in the wall slides upward, revealing a sparkling orb held in electromagnetic clamps. A grin splits her face.


Something odd occurs to you just then. You should have been the one to open the Core housing, once you'd gotten jacked into their servers. At least, Tempest has been leaving all the technical stuff to you throughout the mission up to this point.

"Tempest... How did you know the code to open that panel?"

She pulls back, mouth partway open but doesn't have a chance to answer as a loud, jovial voice crackles in over the intercom.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Commander Tempest Shadow!"

Her eyes narrow to fierce slits as she glares up at the speaker. "Storm Emperor!"

Your blood goes ice cold as the voice cackles in crazed mirth.

"Oh wait, sorry, you prefer Sergeant Major now, isn't that right? Bit of a downgrade, if you ask me!"

"What do you want?" Tempest growl. "Your clown factory couldn't stop us, and you're not going to, either. We've got what we came for." She jerks her head to the side, and you quickly fumble the portable housing out of your pack. "It's only a matter of time until we escape this shitty little outpost with it."

"Aww, Tempest, I'm hurt! I thought you'd at least be happy to see an old friend again! After all, I sent Rusty Pipe to come be pals with you. And funnel intel back to me, sure, but I thought you liked him!"

The jibe stings; it seems to be having a similar effect on Tempest. She clenches and unclenches her fists as you type commands into the console. Carefully, you use the electromagnetic waldos to guide the Storm Core into your housing as you choke back the fear of knowing the Storm Emperor himself might be watching your every move. Somehow, it goes off without a hitch.

Tempest growls at the intercom. "I'll show you just how much I like you if you'll come down here and face me!"

"Oh, we'll see each other again soon enough. Just let my guards into the room, and then we can have a nice little chat, just you and me! Like old times."


You toss her your key card, and she uses it to lock down both doors. The worm you implanted in the base's system means you don't need to be the one in command of the simple things, now.

When she turns to hand the key card back to you, it's to see your blaster pointed shakily at her face.

"Why did he say you were old friends?" You're surprised your voice isn't shaking as much as your hands. Your entire body trembles, in rage and fury and a hundred other stupid emotions you don't have time to put a name to.

Learning about Rusty's betrayal was hard enough. In fact, you've been using this mission as the perfect excuse to not have to process it. But Tempest?

"Oh-ho-ho!" laughs the voice on the comm. "Seems your little friend didn't know about your secret dark history, ol' pal!"

"Shut up!" you scream, firing a blast at the room's speaker and frying it. The blaster continues to shake as you level it at Tempest once again. "Talk!"

"Easy," she says, slowly raising her hands. "It's true I used to work for the Storm Emperor. I was his right hand, in fact."

Tears spring to your eyes. Words spill from your mouth. "How could you? How could I not know?"

"It doesn't get brought up much around the Rebellion." She shakes her head sadly. "The commanders at least believe I've worked off my debt to them."

"Well, why'd you quit, huh?" You thrust the blaster at her as though it might force the answers from her, and not as though it might accidentally go off and kill her.

She taps the stump of her horn. "He told me he could fix this. Then some smart ponies helped me realize he never would." Closing her eyes, she draws in a long, deep breath. "The Rebellion gave me a purpose, a place I could actually help other ponies instead of just myself. And exploring the Old Ways let me find a way to help myself that didn't involve hurting others."

You blink, realizing the meaning behind her words. "That explosion down in the server room? That was... magic?"

"Yeah." She gives you a soft smile. "Okay, maybe I lied a little. My magic's only good for hurting ponies. Broken horn and all. But learning to harness it was calming. And a perfect bod can only get you so far." She lets out a mirthless chuckle, clearly still not filled with confidence.

Her eyes flick to the door as a series of heavy footfalls sound in the hall beyond. "We still have to get out of here with the Storm Core, you know. Do you think you can trust me?"


It's like waking from a dream, realizing you still have her at quivering gunpoint. You train your eyes on the blaster, as though that alone could will it out of existence. And that's when Tempest strides forward and places her hand on it.

You scream.

Your hands clench reflexively.

There is the sound of blaster fire.

And then Tempest is on the ground across the room from you.


Discarding the blaster, you rush to her side, eyes widening in horror at the hole burned into her shirt, just under her ribs on the right side. Someone somewhere is shouting "Oh no!" over and over again as you try in vain to wipe the hole away with your stupid, trembling hands. Something in the back of your head tells you the voice is yours.

"I'm okay," she gasps in a voice that suggests she's anything but. "I don't need that--nngh! That kidney..."

Numb, you press your hands to the sides of her face, chanting, "I killed you, I killed you, I killed you."

"Hey." She grabs your hands, both of them, in one of hers. Even though you're certain the life is currently ebbing out of her, her grip is as strong as it's ever been.

"Listen to me," she says in a tone that brooks no argument. "I'm not dead. I'm not dying. It's gonna take more than this to do me in."

She flashes you a winning, interrupted by another flash of pain across her face.

"Mmf... Grab a stim out of my pack."

You wrench your hands out of her grasp and lunge for her pack, ripping into it in a mad search for the hypo. There's a cache of three of them in one pocket, each with a faceted heart logo.

You raise one in your hands, pouring all your hopes and fears into the puny little thing. Rushing back to Tempest, you give it to her with the gravity of some ancient ceremony. She uncaps it with her teeth, jams it into her stomach next to the hole you'd burned into her, and lets out a long, rattling sigh.

"Okay," she says, staggering to her feet and discarding the hypo. "That should keep me up for an hour or so."

You stay crouched on the floor where you are, staring up at her, numbness flooding your nerves. At least she isn't dead. Thank the goddesses you're really a lousy shot.

Tempest reaches down and grasps your arms gently, pulling you to your feet.

"Listen to me," she says, "everything's okay now. I'm okay. You're okay. It's my fault for startling you, but... Well, that doesn't matter now. We just need to get out of here, all right? So I'll ask you again.

"Do you trust me?"

You have to. With every fiber of your being, you have got to trust her, because you almost killed her, and only by trusting her has she come back to life.

So in reply, you lift yourself up on tip-hooves, wrap your arms around her neck, and kiss her soundly on the lips.

She's startled at first. Truth be told, you are, too. But then you feel those strong arms wrap around your waist, and she returns the kiss with a fevered passion you never expected but know, absolutely know right here in this moment, has always existed within her strong heart, just waiting for the right moment to let itself be birthed into the world.

After a long moment, the two of you separate, and you pant, averting your eyes. "I'm sorry," you mutter. You aren't really sure why, but relief floods through you now, and your terrified heart calms.

"Hey," she says, with another of those smiling sounds, "don't be. Or better yet, apologize by getting us out of here in one piece with that Core."

There's a sharp smack and a sudden burst of pain through your left buttcheek. Blood rushes into your face as you realize what it means. But more than some brash romantic overture, it snaps you out of your stupor and back into thinking mode.

"Right," you say. "I got the Core loaded, just need to..." You move to the console you abandoned who-knows how long ago and seal the portable housing that now contains the crackling Core. With it in the Rebellion's hands, they'll be able to power superweapons for defeating the Empire, or keep their central operations running off the planetary grid practically indefinitely.

A surge of pride wells in your chest.

"I've got a question," Tempest says, and you're suddenly aware that she's right beside you. Her musk and heat surround you like that thermal blanket had earlier, warming and comforting you from the inside. "Do you think you could power down this base? Even just this sector."

You frown. "It'd make great cover for our retreat, but--"

You're cut off by the sound of a cutting torch at the door. "Not again!" you groan. "I guess our time is limited now, and I don't know that I could hack the whole base that fast."

"What about magic?" Tempest leans down close to you, her eyes the most intense shade of turquoise you have ever seen. "You're a unicorn. Does magic flow in you like it does in me?"

No one used magic these days. Sometimes unicorn foals would have spark surges, sure, but those sorts of things are damped down, discarded in favor of learning science and technology. The Old Ways are called that for a reason; galactic pony civilization has progressed beyond the need for such things.


"I don't think so," you say. Worry tinges your voice; are you letting her down?

She snorts and steps behind you. "Bullshit. Give me your hands."

She doesn't wait for an answer and envelops your hands in her own. They're warm now, and surprisingly soft. Her fingers trace down the backs of your hands to your wrists, which she grips lightly.

"Close your eyes. Think of a happy thought. Something that you keep inside you, to bring out when you're feeling low."

You do as asked. You think about your home, which just reminds you of your bullies. Friends you've made in the Rebellion? Images of Rusty Pipe dance in your mind, and your face contracts as those images turn bloody and lifeless.

"I'll give you just a little of my magic," Tempest continues, rubbing your wrists in small circles. "It might hurt at first, but you can use your emotions to shape it."

A sharp, electrical tingle runs up and down your arms, and you gasp in response. Your fingers spasm involuntarily, and your breath comes in short rasps.

"Easy! It won't hurt you if you command it. Find that happy thought!"

It almost seems ridiculous. How are you supposed to think something happy when you're in this much pain? But then it hits you.

Tempest is right there. She's all you need. With her, you're safe, warm, and above all else, happy. You two will have to talk about that kiss later on, but who knows? She was receptive to it. Maybe that safety and happiness could bloom into something lasting.

And just like that, the pain stops. Your eyes snap open to behold a crackling amber ball, smaller than the Storm Core but no less chaotic, hovering between your hands.

"There you go!" Tempest whispers, excited. "Now shape it! You can do this, I know you can! Your name is Fried Circuit!"

The ball of sparkling magic grows and grows until it's the size of your head. Then, with a cry of furious self-discovery, you thrust it into the console before you.

"It damn well is!"

And you live up to your name.

The lights immediately go out as the console crackles and sparks. Relays pop and sizzle all across the room as lightning arcs and dances across the panels. The cutting torch at the door stops cold; the security drones must have been caught in the backfire.

The whole time, a sense of wonder and proud exhilaration fills your heart. You did it! You used magic, real magic! And boy howdy, have you done a number on this base!

You race for the housing and stuff it into your pack. "We need to get out of here, now, while we've got the element of surprise!"

"On it." Green light flares in the center of the room as Tempest charges up her own magic. When it's ready, she tosses the ball toward the wall opposite you and turns away from it. "Shield your eyes!"

You have just enough time to comply before an explosion shakes the ground under your feet and leaves your ears ringing.

Tempest grabs her pack in one hand and your arm in the other, tugging you toward the hole she just blew through the bulkhead.

"Right behind you!" you cry as you race after her through sparking wires and broken metal jags.

The short tunnel needs a little extra blasting to open the far end. As Tempest clears it, you turn and shoot at the ceiling, bringing debris down to cover your retreat.

Pouring out of the end of the hole in the wall, the two of you find yourselves in the clear for an all-too-brief moment. The only lights are red emergency beacons, which provide a dim view of the hallway passing to both sides of you.

"Signal our ride," she says, taking the moment to just breathe. "I'm making a way out."

You key your handheld emergency communicator to send the evac signal, detonating it after. But before Tempest can start to gather her magic, stomping feet approach from either end of the hallway. You clutch your blaster tight to your chest. Tempest grimaces. It's now or never, and there's no way you can both cover the hall and make an exit. You're trapped.

Blaster fire heralds the Storm Troopers. Tempest switches to her two-handed blaster rifle, tossing you her signature sidearm, and begins mowing them down two and three at a time as they dare show themselves.

The left side of the hall is handled, the Troopers retreating. Unfortunately, even with two blasters, you can't keep the right side at bay by yourself, and little by little, the two of you are being pushed to the left. This isn't an immediate problem, but a Rebellion Skimmer will be by any second, and if you aren't ready, you won't get another chance to leave.

"Shit!" Tempest yells. "They're not just running, they're falling back." She turns and fires a few shots at your half of the Troopers, her face locked in a frown. "That means backup's coming."

Just as she says that, more marching feet sound to your left, along with the clanking of something bulky and mechanical. Tempest's eyes widen and your heart drops in your chest as a row of Storm Empire Shock Troops lead a Mech Walker into view.

The Walker is maybe a head taller than Tempest, but given that it's fully mechanical, it has a significant advantage in bulk over both of you. The pilot, head poking out an aperture near the ceiling, is heavily shielded, and even the suppressive fire of Tempest's rifle couldn't penetrate the plated armor.

"Hold them for three seconds!" Tempest shouts, slinging the blaster rifle back over her shoulder. "I'm making that exit!" She doesn't wait for a response before she starts charging her horn.

You don't wait either, opening two-fisted fire on the Walker and its Shock Troop front guard. The Shockers are armed only with lightning lances, but their massive shields meant they don't have to worry about closing to melee range with you. That, and the Walker trains its massive dual plasma cannons on you and powers them up as blaster fire from the approaching rear guard races over your head.

Luckily, you hold the line for just long enough. There's an explosion, a sudden rush of air being sucked out of the base, and Tempest shouting your name. You turn your head to start running to her when one of the approaching Storm Troopers gets a lucky shot in.

Tempest goes down without so much as a scream.

"No!" The word tears itself out of your throat as you watch her collapse in a heap, smoke pouring up from the black wound in her back.

Something inside you snaps.

Before you know what's happening, you're on top of a Shock Trooper, its lance gripped in your hands, the sparking end driven into its skull. The others rush you, but it doesn't matter. The Walker's cannons thunder over your head as you bat them away with both ends of the lance, your voice tearing through your throat and something hot building above your head.

The last thing you're aware of is jamming the lance into one of the Walker's arm joints, following it with a huge glowing amber ball, and then an immense pressure over your entire body. Next thing you know, Tempest is roughly patting your face, her lips moving in the shape of your name.

Dazed, you smile and reach a shaky hand up to caress her cheek. "Thought you was dead." You suppose that's what you said.

She lets out a laugh that's half sob. "What'd I tell you, kid? It's gonna take more than that to do me in."

Then she's pressing an oxygen mask over your mouth. Your eyes widen as the pure O2 brings you quickly to panicked sensation. Tempest is framed by the hole in the base's outer wall, a bright light from the space beyond heading straight for it.

"Don't you need one?"

"No," she says quickly, and unhooks her grapnel line.

Charging her horn, she tosses a sparking green globe into the base, then fires the grapnel out the hole. It latches on to something as she wraps a strong arm around your waist and kicks off from the ground, then both of you are flying out of the hole and away from enemy lines. Blaster fire pours out of the hole, but it's too late; they can't hit you at this range.

The base explodes.

You breathe a sigh of relief, turning your eyes up to gaze at Tempest. She's clearly in pain, and who can blame her? She's taken at least three blaster hits, on top of who knows what else, and she's swinging through low atmo on a zipline attached to the bottom of a Skimmer. None of that stops her from being able to carry you in her strong, firm arms.

The Skimmer's crew begins reeling you in, and part of you wishes they'd knock it off. Here, speeding above the surface of this forsaken planet, you tuck yourself into the crook of Tempest's arm, smell her sweat, feel the heat of her body and the surge of power through her tense, protective muscles. Here, you're safe, and as long as you stay with her, you know you always will be.

A chuckle reverberates through her chest, drawing your attention to her cocky grin. "Careful," she says with mock seriousness, "or you might get used to this."

You return the grin. "I can get used to it if you could."

She coughs, and a light blush spreads across her cheeks. She turns her head away from you and the explosion.

You turn as well. You don't need to look at the base to see how much damage it had taken. All you care about is what lies ahead: the glorious horizon and two suns rising on a future where you, at long last, finally feel worthy.