Chapter 2: The nowhere express.
"Doctor Fluttershy,” a chestnut earth mare whispered into the operating room, “the C.M.C. Regenbogen Flitzen has successfully docked with civilian bay two.”
“Oh, thank you,” Fluttershy responded, not taking any more attention away from her patient then absolutely necessary. “Um, give them a room to stay in. If they want one I mean.”
“Yes, ma'am.” As the mare turned she came face to chest with a burly palomino redhead with a big pink bow in her hair, and nearly fell on her rump.
“How's the operation' goin?” Apple Bloom asked, wide eyed with barely contained panic.
“Uh, I'm not sure,” the flustered secretary replied before recomposing herself, “but if she can be saved, Doctor Fluttershy can save her,” she finished with confidence. “And, please, keep your voice down.”
“Oh sorry, um, well, if ya don't mind, coulj'ya tell me the moment ah can see her? Uh, please?” Apple Bloom asked, looking around and rubbing her hind legs together nervously.
“Oh, of course, of course, and your name is..?” the comparatively meek pony queried.
“Oh, uh, sorry. Ah'm Apple Bloom. Ah'm one of the crew of the ship that there filly serves on,” Apple Bloom answered a bit nervously, glancing at the operating room door. “Um, is there someplace close by ah can stay at? Like if there’s an emergency or something.”
“Yes, of course, right this way.” The secretary led Apple Bloom to the nearest waiting room and gestured to a padded bench. “You can wait here for as long as you like, Miss Bloom. Doctor Fluttershy has asked me to offer you a room as well, if you would like one, but if you prefer to sleep on your own ship I completely understand.”
“Thank ya kindly, ma'am. Ah'll happily take the room,” Apple Bloom replied, sitting down on the bench. “But for now I'm gonna stay here. There’s something I have to tell that filly when she comes round.”
Ugh, why do I feel so heavy... and, wet? Pip opened his eyes but all he could see was swirls of lavender and pink. Oh, well, I guess that explains that.
Pip was still in the bath, embracing his first mate and favorite marshmallow, Sweetie Belle. Judging by the temperature of the water they had been there for about two hours. Well, I guess that was a good enough use of two hours, given the circumstances.
With a kick he dislodged the plug allowing the now rather cool, lavender tinted water to drain out of the tub. “Sweetie?” Pip whispered, gently jostling the unicorn lying on top of him. “Sweetie wake up.”
“Hmm?” Sweetie mumbled groggily. “Mm. Morning hot shot.” She said with sleepy eyes.
Pip yawned. “I think we're docked.”
“...With the Flattern Schüchtern,” Pip clarified flatly.
A moment of bewildered staring latter and her eyes widened. “Oh right!” she said and hopped out of the bath. “I remember why we're here. Come on Pip, we need to go find Fluttershy!”
“That we do,” Pip confirmed, stumbling out after her. “Can you get... what?”
Sweetie blushed. “Um, you should probably put your coat on, Captain.”
Pip blushed. “Oh, uh, thanks... I'll just, go... do that.”
With a flash of pink and a whiff of lavender they were dry, thanks to the 'instant fabulousity' spell Sweetie had learned from her sister.
Pip trotted out of his private quarters, pulled a split-s in the gravity lift and continued into the bridge with a spring in his step. He snatched his captain's coat off of his chair with his teeth, reared up and swung it around from one foreleg to the other in a precise maneuver he had perfected over his few months in captain school, rather than studying. Flipping his visor cap onto his head and buttoning his coat he completed the ensemble and proceeded back down the hall to the hangar exit and the waiting Sweetie Belle.
“Shall we go see the doctor now, Captain Pipsqueak?” Sweetie said playfully, seaming to imply something Pip completely missed.
“Wait, where's Apple Bloom?” Pip said stopping to look back into the hangar.
“Oh, I don’t know, Pip. Maybe she already left?” Sweetie suggested with a curious look around said hangar.
Pip turned back. “Well, we're going in. I'll leave a note for her in case she comes back.”
Sweetie giggled again.
“Miss Bloom,” the chestnut secretary called, “the doctor would like to speak with you.”
Apple Bloom sat up groggily. Apparently she had nodded off. “Ohhaaahh,” she yawned, stretching out on the bench like a cat. “Ah' guess ah'm a mite tired. What was that, miss?”
“The doctor will see you now.” the secretary repeated with a smile.
“Oh! thank ya', ma'am,” Apple Bloom chirped, hopping off the bench. “Should ah follow you, or just go right in?”
“You may go yourself if you remember the way, Miss Bloom.” The secretary gestured down the hall.
“'Preciate it, ma'am.” Apple Bloom was at the door in seconds, seaming almost to sidestep half of the space between her and the emergency room. “Fluttershy,” she whispered threw the door, “you wanted to see me?”
“Yes, yes,” Fluttershy replied from the other side of the door, “please, come in.” She opened the door with a hoof and Apple Bloom cautiously stepped in.
Scootaloo was on her back on the operating table, a tube and a number of intravenous lines leading to various parts of her body. The steady beep of a heart monitor kept time and Scootaloo's chest rose and fell with her breathing.
Her face was pink, all raw flesh, save for an orange band where her goggles had blocked the flames, and she shimmered with a sterility spell being maintained by a nearby unicorn. Her body was covered with burns and bandages extending all the way to her croup. She still had her tail and some fur on her rump and hind legs, but little else.
A tear came to Apple Bloom's eye and it took all she had to stop herself from leaping across the room and embracing the unconscious filly. “Is she gonna be okay?” Apple Bloom choked out.
“Yes,” Fluttershy confirmed with an intense look, “but I want to know what happened.” It wasn't the legendary 'stare' but it was still a very persuasive look.
“Well,” Apple Bloom began waveringly, “we were floating round the mountains and we stumbled on Blue Blood's ship...” She retold the story as best she could. It was difficult considering she had been in engineering at the time and was currently in mild shock, but she managed.
“So, Blue Blood and his entire crew are... dead?” Fluttershy asked with a grimace, pained by the thought of so many dead.
“Eyup,” Apple Bloom replied, hanging her head apologetically. “Sorry, Fluttershy. That's just how it happened.”
“I see. Well I guess nothi-” Fluttershy was cut off by a groan from the table.
“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom was at her side before Fluttershy even turned around, forehooves on the bed. “Oh ma gosh, ah'm so glad to see ya movin'”
“A-Apple Bloom?” Scootaloo said weakly, her voice raspy and dry, reaching a hoof up at the indistinct figure. “S'at you?”
“Ah'm here, sugar. Don't you worry,” Apple Bloom answered, taking Scootaloo's hoof in both of hers.
“Apple Bloom,” Scootaloo mumbled, pulling the blur a bit closer, “why am I on my back? Are we in the Valley?”
“Do you remember the fight with Blue Blood, Darlin?” Apple Bloom asked, fearing a concussion.
“Uh, kinda. Did we win?” Scootaloo asked, trying to focus her eyes.
“We sure did sugar, we sure did. But he had hydrogen instead of helium so your rocket did a bit more than we wanted.” Apple Bloom wanted so badly to do more then just hold Scootaloo's hoof but she knew, better than she would have liked, how burns worked.
“Cool.” Scootaloo relaxed a bit, resting her head back on the pillow and closing her eyes. “Hey, Apple Bloom?”
“Ya, Sugar?” Apple Bloom leaned in closer to be sure she could hear clearly.
“Can I tell you something?” Scootaloo asked.
“Hmm?” If Apple Bloom was hooked up to the heart monitor it probably would have exploded.
“Even if I don’t make it, I'm glad you were the first thing I saw when I woke up.”
Apple bloom looked over at the heart monitor, slow and steady, like waves on a beach.
“Scoots,” Apple Bloom began hesitantly, “if ya' like, ah'd be happy to be the first thing ya' see every time ya' wake up from now on.”
There was a pause. The heart monitor sped up slightly. “Really? You mean it?”
Apple Bloom choked back a wave of tears and embarrassment. It didn’t matter that they weren’t alone, some things just need saying. “Scootaloo, ah love you.” The heart monitor sped up more. “Ah always have an ah always will. You're the only pony for me. Just stay with me, please.”
Another pause, long and painful, until the response came. A blissful smile and a happy sigh. The heart monitor returned to normal. Scootaloo had fallen asleep.
“That was beautiful, Apple Bloom,” Fluttershy began as Scootaloo drifted off to sleep. “I hope you two live long, happy lives together.”
“Thank you, Fluttershy. Ah hope so too,” Apple Bloom said wistfully, carefully putting Scootaloo's hoof down on the bed. “So, how long till she's all healed up do ya reckon?”
“Well, at least a month for all her burns to be healed,” Fluttershy replied hesitantly. “I'm not sure how long it will take for her eyes to return to normal but they should be fine; I'm glad she was wearing goggles. I'm most worried about her wings; they suffered severe nerve damage from the flight armatures. I'm so sorry, Apple Bloom.”
There was a shuffling in the hallway. “Right this way sir,” came the muffled voice of the secretary, “and please keep your voices down.”
“I appreciate it, Miss Oak n' hammer,” Pip replied courteously, “and thank you for the room.”
“Oh its no problem, Captain Pipsqueak, and please, just call me Thistle,” the secretary countered flirtatiously.
Pip stepped into the room, a look of mixed hope and terror on his face. “Hi, Apple Bloom. I thought I might find you here,” he said, trying to think more about the fact that Scootaloo had a pulse and less about the fact that she looked absolutely terrible. “How is she, doc?”
“Well, we were just about to move her to the mid term care ward,” Fluttershy explained with practiced care. “She should stay here for at least two weeks to be safe. Otherwise her wounds could still get infected. Though she won't be fully healed for at least a month.”
“Thank you, Doctor Fluttershy. I can't tell you what this means to me,” Pip said, grateful and relieved just to see his friend breathing.
Sweetie Belle said nothing. Her friend was on a table in an operating room, smiling but silent. All she could do was be ready if somepony needed her. Until then she would silently pray to Celestia and Luna, over and over, until Scootaloo was up and walking and making friendly jabs about her cooking again.
“Are you sure its okay to be carrying that around, Muffin?” Ditzy whispered nervously to her daughter as they walked down a potted plant and park bench lined hallway in the residential block of the R.A.N. Flattern Schüchtern. “I mean, this is a medical facility.”
“I'm just taking it to our room, Mom; I need to clean it,” Dinky replied, hefting her comically oversized gun over one shoulder as she strode along on her hind legs, “and if they don’t like it, wouldn’t they just say so?”
Ditzy and Dinky made a peculiar scene no matter where they went. An older, friendly looking pegasus mare and a short, stocky unicorn filly, (measuring in at just under nine hooves at the head when standing on all fours) walking on two legs, carrying a gun nearly as long as she was and sporting a shower of bullet casings cascading from the point of her hip all the way to her gaskin as a cutie mark.
They strode down the park like halls chatting idly about how acceptable a giant gun was on a medical vessel as the ammo belt clattered against the housing. All the while their guide, a white pegasus stallion wearing the patches of a royal guard candidate, was sweating rather more metaphorical bullets.
“Um, here's your room,” their escort said with an incredibly forced smile, his voice cracking slightly as he gestured towards the door. “I-Is there anything else you need?” He put on the best smile he could muster while staring at Dinky's abnormally intimidating weapon.
“That's fine, sir,” Ditzy assured him with a smile. “Thank you for the room.”
“Ya, thanks, mister guard candidate,” Dinky said with a grin. Nervous colts are so cute. She used the slight height advantage of her bipedal stance to plant a kiss on the top of his muzzle. “Don't faint on your way back to your post,” she mocked as she closed the door.
“Dinky, why do you like scaring colts so much?” Ditzy inquired with an edge of motherly scolding.
“Its funny,” Dinky answered simply. “Beside,” she continued, setting her gun down on a desk with a thunk, “I like to show them that fillies can be tough, too.”
“I understand, Muffin,” Ditzy said as she took a spot on the couch, “but it's still not very nice.”
“Ya, you're right,” Dinky relented, jumping onto the bed and splaying her legs out like a wagon wheel, “sorry, mommy.”
A few minutes later the door opened and Sweetie Belle stepped in. “Oh... hi Ditzy, hi Dinky. Sorry, I sorta forgot you were with us.”
“Oh, it's fine, Sweetie,” Ditzy replied, “you’ve had a really bad day.”
“Ya, I really have,” Sweetie agreed breathlessly. “At least Scootaloo is gonna be ok.”
“Oh?” Ditzy inquired, tilting her head, “what did Fluttershy have to say?”
“A month at least, but she'll make a full recovery if she takes it easy and eats well,” Sweetie Belle explained, hope in her voice. “Um, Ditzy, do you mind if I ask you an unusual question?”
“Ask away,” Ditzy invited, sitting up to look more approachable.
“Why do pegasi need to eat so much?” Sweetie asked, telekinetically taking a cushion from the closet to sit on.
“Well,” Ditzy began with a tone only mothers and teachers can pull off, “you know how unicorn ponies get magic from love and friendship?”
“Ya,” Sweetie replied, becoming quite interested.
“And how earth ponies get their magic from plants and from the ground?”
“Wait, what?” Sweetie Belle had never gone to an academy so she often felt undereducated.
“Oh, well, an earth pony can draw magic from living things and invisible magical rivers in the ground called ley lines,” Ditzy began, going into full teacher mode. “That’s why they're so good at farming and metallurgy and other such earth related things. Some earth ponies can even tap into these energies directly, like my friend Pinkie Pie. You know Pinkie, right?”
“Is that why she has so much energy all the time?” Sweetie inquired, absolutely fascinated by a corner of magic she knew so little about.
“Yes, Pinkie is what some ponies call a thaumaturge, and an exceptionally good one at that. She can manipulate the lay energies at will to accomplish things that many ponies don’t even understand.” Ditzy continued, excited to get a chance to flex her 'teacher muscles', as she liked to call it.
“I've heard of thaumaturgy but I never really understood what that was,” Sweetie commented. “So its like earth pony magic? Is that how Apple Bloom can move around the lower decks so fast?” she asked, encouraging Ditzy to continue.
“Yes,” Ditzy confirmed, “that's called 'chasing the lay' or 'line hopping'. They partially convert themselves into lay energy allowing themselves to move at the speed of thought along the ley lines, but only to places they know or can see.”
“Wow. I wish I could do that,” Sweetie half joked.
“He he, me too,” Ditzy agreed.
“Wait, why haven’t I ever heard about this?” Sweetie inquired, puzzled.
“Well, nopony teaches these things in schools,” Ditzy explained with a twinge of disappointment. “It's taught by a pony's parents, or discovered for themselves. Very few ponies know enough to teach it, so most have to learn on their own, and more often than not they don’t even realize what they're doing.”
“So where did you learn about all this, Ditzy?”
“Well, when I was attending university in Canterlot, I did my thesis on ambient magic theory,” Ditzy explained proudly. “While I was doing my research it occurred to me that my wings, and in fact all pegasus pony's wings, are too small to actually provide the lift we need to fly. I learned that in physics. I asked around and others had noticed it as well but evidently no magic researchers did. So I did the research myself, and when I showed my findings to my professor she decided to give me a grant to investigate it further. After that I spent a few years flying around Equestria asking questions. Once I had enough information I presented my theory on shared magical radiance to the assembled Arcane Science Committee.”
“Wow, that's amazing, Ditzy!” Sweetie marveled. “Wait, why did you use to carry the mail if you're so smart?”
“Oh, that's my sister, Derpy,” Ditzy corrected. “We're twins. I don’t really have a job.”
“Why not? You're brilliant, you could probably have any job you wanted!” Sweetie Belle complemented excitedly.
“Well,” Ditzy began, blushing and bringing a hoof to her face, “after I presented my theory to the Arcane Science Committee, Princess Celestia gave me the Silver Bell Award for Scientific Excellence and a royal stipend, so I never really needed one.”
It was then that they noticed Pip standing in the doorway, mouth agape. “W-Why is it you have a royal stipend?” he stuttered.
“Well, um, like I said, I received the Silver Belle for my research.” Ditzy never did too well with the idea of fame or prestige. She just liked to have fun, and just happened to have an unusual definition of exactly what 'fun' was.
“So let me get this straight. You're filthy rich, and a genius, but you prefer to flit around the everfree mountains and assassinate poncey unicorns because... why?” Pip asked, genuinely flabbergasted.
“Oh, I'm not that rich,” Ditzy said abashedly, “and Blue Blood wasn't just some random meany aristocrat. He, um... he did a lot of bad things... to me and my friends,” Ditzy finished, clearly hurt by the memories Blue Blood's name brought up.
“Sorry Ditzy,” Pip apologized, concern in his eyes, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Its okay Pip, I'm having a rough day too,” Ditzy said as she lay back down on the couch.
Sweetie Belle never got the answer she was looking for, but she learned a lot and she could use this knowledge. One last thing remained. “Captain, if I may?”
“Yes, Sweetie?” Pip acknowledged as he closed the door and flopped onto the floor.
“Where's Apple Bloom?” Sweetie turned to face him.
“Back in Scootaloo's room.” Pip replied wearily. “She said she'd volunteer for knight watch. We're gonna need a temp until Scoot gets better, it seems.”
“Night watch?” Dinky inquired from the bed. “You mean, like, just watching her all night?”
“Knight watch,” Pip enunciated. “Back before the founding of Equestria there were elite soldiers called knights. They often took on assistants, called squires. When a knight was wounded in battle their squire would stay by their side until they were healed, or dead.” Pip shuddered slightly. “So, basically, Apple Bloom is staying with Scootaloo until she's healed.”
“Wow...” Dinky replied, a bit stunned. “They must be really good friends.”
“You could say that, Dinky. You could say that.”