Rainbow stood in front of their captors, doing her best not to move or even breathe too hard. Spike slowly nervously lifted his claws in the air, showing he wasn't armed. He also refrained from moving. They did just invade their domicile, even if Spike had once called it home himself, and they didn't want to get killed.
"H-Hey guys. Hey Lockdown. Long time, no see," Spike joked with a gulp and a half grin.
"Knock off the pleasantries, you piece of shit. Why the hell are you here?" said the older, faint green stallion that Spike had addressed.
Rainbow scanned over the eight angry ponies in front of them. One rust-colored earth pony, in both his coat and mane, had a metal clamp of some sort wrapped around his waist, but unopened under his belly, and a dark grey unicorn with jet black hair had a rope coiled on his back. None of the others had anything terribly noticeable or unique about them, save for the weapons in their hooves. Rainbow didn't recognize any of them, but they sure recognized Spike. The glares they were throwing his way could have turned an Ursa Major into a cowering cub. Fluttershy would be proud.
"Is Commander Derpy still here?" he asked.
"You don't get to call her 'Commander', deserter," Lockdown said.
"I guess that'd be a 'yes'," Spike muttered to Rainbow.
"What was that?!"
"Nothing!" the dragon said with a jump. "Listen, I have a friend here who wants to help. I know she wouldn't be able to do much with just me, so I thought you could use her. Her name's Rainbow Dash. Derpy will know her."
The armed guards looked over Rainbow curiously. She waved at them nervously as two of the soldiers drew their weapons away from Spike and pointed them at her. Her hoof slowly returned to the dirt and she shrank into her shoulders, her eyes begging them not to shoot.
"Rainbow Dash, huh? Don't look like any mare I've ever seen," the stallion said, glancing over her. "And what's with your wings? Is this some kind of trick?"
"N-No, sir," she mumbled, barely audible. "I don't know what happened to them."
Lockdown lifted an eyebrow with curiosity. "How do you not know what.. You know what? Doesn't matter." He walked cautiously up to the frightened mare, looking at the saddlebags still around her waist.
"Down on your belly, now," he ordered.
Not wanting to anger any of the gun-wielding ponies, she did as she was told. While they were obviously extremely irritated with their intrusion, they so far had remained calm and relaxed, relatively speaking. The longer they stayed that way, the better. Out in the sky, they had all the open space to avoid getting hurt. Now, they were stuck in tight quarters with nowhere to go.
Lockdown threw open the bags and found the last remaining rocket, thanks to having lost her grip on the launcher while she and Spike fought against their would-be aerial killers.
"What do we have here?" the light green stallion said, eying the pair suspiciously.
"We were caught up in a dog fight on the way here," Spike explained. "She dropped the launcher during the fighting."
"Uh huh. Here, take this," Lockdown said, giving the explosive to a fellow soldier, "and send it on down to the weapons depot. Maybe we can use it." The soldier took the tail in his teeth, saluted and marched off to deposit the ammunition.
The group leader turned and nodded at the rust-colored stallion in the group who had the large clamp sitting around his waist. He had been instructed to bring it after the signal was given that they had intruders, one of which was a pegasus. They hadn't brought anything for Spike since they just didn't have anything big enough to contain him. However, if asked, most of the soldiers would have likely preferred to unload a few shots into his gut. Approaching Rainbow Dash, the soldier lifted the clamp off himself and readied it for their smaller, cyan prisoner.
"Stand back up," he commanded. The nervous mare obeyed, her heart rate speeding up as she looked at the device he had ready for her, unsure of its purpose. The guard laid the clamp on her back and Lockdown assisted him in locking it into place under her stomach, effectively preventing her wings from opening, even though she couldn't anyway. Although they put a slim amount of pressure on her feathered appendages, she winced in pain as the device pushed down.
Lockdown looked to a blue mare in the ranks, similar to Rainbow in color. If she had a bit short of a mane with rainbow colors, she could be the speed demon's spitting image. He nodded at his comrade and she reached into a saddlebag draped over her waist, pulling out a pair of black hoods with her teeth.
"Make this easy on yourself and don't move," the guardstallion suggested firmly. The mare with the masks took hold of one with her hooves and forced the hood onto Rainbow's head. She looked at Spike and back down to the remaining hood, unsure of how to hide the dragon's larger head under the small mask.
"Sir?" she asked, her superior understanding the single worded question.
He smirked, glaring at the purple monster. "Well, it's not like he doesn't know this place. Don't worry about it. Let's just escort them to the holding cells and we'll decide what to do with them. I warn you right now, Spike. You make any sudden moves and you won't walk out of here."
"I gotcha," the dragon said softly, looking away. The idea of being anywhere by his love's side if he were to die was enough to turn the fierce combatant into a fragile kitten.
"Spike, what's going on? Why am I wearing this?" Rainbow said, mildly panicked. In her state, it was getting a little hard to breathe through the thick black fabric.
"Relax, Rainbow. Just do what they say and we won't get hurt."
"Sound advice," Lockdown quipped. "I suggest you keep quiet until we get to the cells. Get the rope on her and let's get going."
The dark grey unicorn stepped forward and magically lifted the rope from off his back, tying it firmly around Rainbow's neck. The increasingly terrified mare was grateful that it wasn't tight. That would have been all she needed to happen, to suddenly be completely unable to breathe with her head caught in a mask that was already difficult to breathe through as it was.
With a gentle tug at the floating rope, glowing with the unicorn's almost white-colored magic, Rainbow was led deeper into the base toward the holding cells with Spike following right behind her. The guards surrounded them on all sides, including above, as two pegasi were among the welcoming party.
The dragon looked around at the other ponies he passed by as he was taken to the prison area and embarrassingly hung his head. As he walked by, all operations seemed to come to a sudden halt as the soldiers doing their work took notice of the pair being taken away. He could hear the murmurs and angry questions and comments his former teammates were saying under their breath, obviously disgusted by his presence. Rainbow heard a few of the harsh words, but couldn't hear everything thanks to the mask muffling most of the sound as well as the clicks and beeps of the numerous electronics they passed.
After several minutes of being led around, the pair had arrived in front of the cell. Spike searched for Commander Derpy as they went, but was unable to spot her. Rainbow heard a loud clanging noise and the squeak of a hinge before being gently pushed into the small, barred room. Spike was nudged in with a poke by Lockdown's assault rifle and they closed the door behind them. The unicorn guard that put the rope around Rainbow's neck removed it and the mask with his magic and pulled them through the bars. He left the wing clamp on in case she happened to escape somehow. Being unable to fly away would have made her easier to catch. The sudden bright light from overhead made the pegasus slam her eyes shut and yank her head down.
Lockdown and the grey unicorn stood there eying their prisoners with mild contempt. How dare they just barge in uninvited in perilous times like this, especially Spike! Not being on a battlefield in four years didn't mean he was going to forget about potentially giving away your position, right? And he brings a friend that nopony seemed to recognize! Has he lost his mind? She could be a spy or an assassin for all they know!
When Rainbow's vision cleared, she was surprised about the cell she and Spike were sharing. It was roomier than she would have ever expected a prison cell to be. There were two beds in the corner, though they didn't look terribly comfortable, and a relatively clean bathroom area hidden behind a half wall. She figured the plumbing ran underground and emptied far away into the river in the canyon, but it was still unusual. She would have assumed they just tell her to go in the corner and leave it at that, and forget about the possibility of brushing your teeth. She had to ask the guards about it all.
"Not that I'm complaining, but how come this cell seems so.. accomodating? I'd think you'd want us to lay around in our own filth or something."
"Even though we're on opposite sides of the war, we treat our prisoners decently, unlike her. Though she doesn't exactly take prisoners anyway," Lockdown explained.
The mare said with a growl, "I'm not on anypony's side! I don't even know what's going on, other than somepony's at war with somepony else."
Lockdown smirked disbelievingly, "I didn't say you were, but we still have to take intruders seriously. Besides, what, have you been under a rock for like, thirty-five years?" The two guards shared a chuckle.
Spike stood up and held onto the bars of the cell, "Listen, Lockdown, I know this won't make any sense, but if you get Commander Derpy," the guard glared at the dragon when he said his commanding officer's name, "I'm telling you she'll know who Rainbow Dash here is. They knew each other a long time ago."
"Yeah! I used to bump into her in Cloudsdale sometimes, she'll tell you!"
Lockdown and the unicorn looked at each other, getting a little annoyed at what they thought were merely some ridiculously convoluted plot. After Spike left, anything he said and anypony who hung out with him were considered rather dubious at best, so there was no reason for them to take what they said seriously.
"Considering how young you are, kid, I highly doubt it," the unicorn said.
"Cloudsdale was destroyed soon after the planes first arrived, Rainbow. I'm sorry," Spike whispered.
The words pierced straight into her heart. She slowly looked to her large purple friend, her mouth hanging open and her eyes tearing up. How else could she react? He softly laid a claw on her shoulder, and she lowered her gaze to the ground, utterly devastated. There was no reason for her to act tough or brave in her prison anymore. In the last twenty-four hours, she learned that forty years had suddenly vanished from her life, Ponyville was a shell of its former self, Twilight was in a coma, Spike finally grew his wings only to lose them to some mechanical monsters, and now Cloudsdale was a memory. She couldn't keep her grief bottled in anymore and fell hard to the ground, sobbing into her legs.
"Why's this all happened? Somepony tell me why this all happened.. " she cried to herself.
Spike caressed her head gently, himself tearing up at Rainbow's hopelessness. He felt similarly when they lost Twilight to unconsciousness. Even Lockdown and his comrade started feeling bad for her, even though they were puzzled as to how she didn't know about Cloudsdale. Surely she knew somepony who had seen what happened or heard about it from one of the numerous pegasi in Equestria. It wasn't exactly a secret.
"Lockdown," Spike spoke up, "I know you probably hate me, and you have every right to. But I'm asking for her, please, get Derpy. I know it sounds impossible, but they know each other. If I'm lying," he thought for a moment, "then you can kill me. I won't try and stop you. I've caused you all enough grief as it is. It'd only be fair."
The light green stallion observed the distraught pegasus and the sorrowful drake in front of him. They had dealt with plenty of prisoners in the past who shed crocodile tears trying to get some leniency. But, this was different. Lockdown didn't know exactly why, but he started to believe this mystery pegasus was sincere.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot," Spike added, "you can ask the Element of Honesty too, if she's still around. Why would I lie about her of all ponies?"
Rainbow looked up at the mention of an Element with a sniffle. Her cheeks were already matted to her skin. "Applejack's here too?"
Lockdown blinked in surprise. How would this pony know Applejack by name if nopony recognized her as they brought her through the compound? "You know her? How?"
"I know her from.. " Rainbow paused, remembering what Rarity said: Forty years, "..she was a friend of mine. A really long time ago." Her empty, miserable gaze returned to the floor.
The two guards turned and walked a few steps away, mumbling to each other, trying to decide their course of action. Finally, after a moment, Lockdown returned to the cell door. He looked sideways and sighed, almost annoyed with their decision.
"Alright, I'll go see if Derpy is available. But, I'm not going to hold you to what you offered, Spike. You know we don't do that to our prisoners except under extreme circumstances. Even if most of the base wants to punch you in the gut," Lockdown stated as he turned to leave. "You stay here and keep an eye on them."
"Lockdown?" Spike said quickly, getting the stallion's attention as he headed out. "Thanks."
He nodded and left the room, shutting the door behind him. The unicorn saluted as Lockdown left.
The pegasus was still laying on the ground when the door to the room opened. Spike heard the loud squeak the prison door made right away and glanced over. His eyes lit up when he saw the face everypony in the rebellion knew. Rainbow had yet to even bother to look up at their visitor: A grey pegasus with a greying blonde mane and a pair of familiar, googly yellow eyes. The unicorn standing guard quickly saluted his superior.
"At ease, soldier," Derpy said warmly, but with a hint of authority. Rainbow attention was instantly grabbed when she heard her voice. "Thank you, Lockdown. Stay here if you would."
They stared at each for a moment before Derpy smiled faintly, "Been a long time, Rainbow Dash. You're looking.." she glanced up and down her form, "..young."
The crossed-eyed pegasus looked at the ground in thought, smiling to herself, 'Hmph. You were right one last time, Doctor. Don't know why I ever doubted you.'
"Derpy, it's really you!" Rainbow exclaimed, standing against the bars on the door. "Please, you gotta help- "
The Commander raised a hoof to calm the frantic prisoner. "It's OK. You'll understand everything in time. Hopefully. It's kind of complicated."
She glanced at the unicorn guard, "Release her. She's no threat. Remove the harness too."
"Ma'am," he nodded, magicking the door open and the clamp off. He started to close the door on Spike when Rainbow laid a hoof on Derpy's shoulder, much to the chagrin of the guards.
"You will address her as Commander Derpy!" Lockdown almost yelled.
"It's alright, soldier. She doesn't know," Derpy said.
"Sorry, Commander," the cyan mare said, embarrassed. "Please let Spike out too. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here, in more ways than one. Not only that, well.. we ended up fighting a few of those plane things on our way and his wing was injured. Can you fix it? Please? His tail is wounded too," Rainbow begged.
The poor pegasus looked at the Commander as a sad puppy would look upon its owner.
"Commander, you know how the base feels about Spike," Lockdown mentioned, subtly hinting at the implications of his release.
Derpy glanced over the glum dragon and then to Rainbow several times. "It's OK, Lockdown, they'll get over it," she finally said. "He's not a threat either. If he wanted to kill us, he would have burnt us all alive by now through those bars. Escort him to the medical ward and have his tail looked at. Once they're done with his tail, bring him to the engineering area and have them fix him up. Spike, once you're done, you can say goodbye to Rainbow and then I want you gone. I don't care what hole you crawled out of, but I want you out of here."
He nodded with a heavy feeling in his chest, "Thank you, Commander."
Lockdown did as he was instructed, despite being visibly irritated by the drake's presence and his Commander's orders. But he knew better than to disobey her. Besides, she was keeping them in this fight and was holding her own quite well. Spike warmly smiled his thanks at his friend, a tear in his eye forming, as they headed for the door.
Once the pair was away, Derpy turned to Rainbow, "You're the only reason I allowed him to leave that cell. If you were just about anypony else, he'd still be sitting in there. I hope he's grateful for what you did for him."
"Thanks, Derpy. It means a lot to me."
She nodded at her old friend, happy to be of help. "I can imagine you have a lot of questions about what's going on." Rainbow smirked as if to say 'You're not kidding.'
"What I'd like to know first is why you weren't shocked to see me. Rarity told me it's been forty years or so since anypony's seen me," Rainbow said.
"So you did see her. It only makes sense since Spike brought you here. Anyway, I wasn't surprised to see you because I was expecting you," the Commander explained.
Rainbow's eyes grew to dinner plate size. "Wha.. how?"
"Come with me to my chambers. There's something I was told to give to you a long time ago," she paused and looked down unhappily, "by a good friend."
She and the guard exchanged salutes as the two mares left the room and headed through the base. As Derpy passed more soldiers, they saluted as well. It was quickly becoming obvious to Rainbow as they walked through the compound that Spike was telling the truth and that the mare she thought was a clumsy and goofy was in fact incredibly powerful. Not only that, she had shown absolutely no sign of being a little on the dumb side.
"I'll show you around a little more in a while. We'll get something to eat first after I've given you this thing."
"What is it?"
Once they reached Derpy's chambers, the Commander closed the door for privacy. Derpy moved effortlessly through the dark, finding the soft light hanging over her bed. Rainbow sat near the bed and looked around the quarters. There wasn't much to it, not that there really needed to be. To her left was a large desk with paperwork strewn all over it, on the other side of the bed was a set of hangers on a rack with a few sets of camouflage clothes, and on the wall by the door was several hoofheld guns. Below the guns were a couple locked trunks, assumed by Rainbow to have some ammunition or medicine inside, similarly to what Rarity had shown her in that bunker.
What caught Rainbow's eye above all things was what Derpy was standing by. A small safe was wedged into the dirt wall in plain sight. Why she didn't bother to conceal it was indeed an oddity to the time-lost mare. Derpy spun the combination wheel back and forth until the lock gave way and she popped the handle, opening the safe with her mouth.
She reached inside and pulled out the only thing that had taken up residence in the safe for many years, giving it to the light blue pegasus. It looked to be a simple, aged envelope with a pair of dates written on it and something almost pencil shaped inside. However, Rainbow did a double take when she saw her own name on it.
"I.. I don't understand."
"I remember sitting down and helping the Doctor write that many years ago. I honestly hoped we'd never have to give that to you, but.. things have gone on longer than we expected," Derpy said listlessly. "Inside that envelope has the answers to the important questions you undoubtedly have. And something else that hopefully we'll be able to use sooner rather than later."
Rainbow carefully opened the envelope, trying not to tear it too much. The paper looked flimsy and worn, and if Derpy had been keeping this thing for as long as it looks like she had been, it must be important. She slid out several faded but legible sheets of parchment and a strange cylindrical device with what looked to be a light on one end.