The planet Harkonnen was a dead husk of a once great world. Centuries ago this planet was teaming with resources and life, but the inhabitants of this orb mined these resources and expanded their reach until every inch of the planet had been turned into a sprawling metropolis as a shining beacon to their greatness. Now it was nothing more than a tomb, a planetwide grave marker floating about in the vast blackness. For a time this planet held the interests and curiosities of the archeological communities, but as time went on this broken world eventually gave up the last of its secrets.
The explorers of this world had long since left its shell behind as well as the space station they had studied their findings from before sending them out across the galaxy. For decades this former science vessel had changed hands with dozens of owners. Everyone from crime bosses, politicians, and even had even been used as a military outpost by the Galactic Alliance. Now it served as a something far simpler.
Being placed in a system on the intersection of both the Outer Rim, the Core Worlds, and Mandalorian Space, this space station had become a bit of a travel hub. Merchants from every corner of the galaxy and star jockeys from the fringes of society converged on the space station now known as Black Luster.
From the observation deck of a small transport vessel closing in on the station, several youthful eyes watched in awe as the station and multitudes of ships came into view. Sweetie Belle, Applebloom, and Scootaloo couldn’t quite put into words the sight they were beholding. A massive spinning top with long thick arms rising from a main disc at intervals, just sitting above a rust colored orb. Ships of all different shapes and sizes drifted to and from the massive platform that only got bigger and bigger as they got closer to it. How could they possibly explain this to their classmates back home?
This awestruck silence did not last as the three of them began to excitedly chatter away about all the possibilities this new location held for them. The things they might find there, the wonders it held and the multitudes of aliens no doubt calling it home, but most importantly was the fact that this, like all things, held the chance to gain their much desired cutie marks.
The excited chatter drifted out the doorway and into the ears of the passing mare levitating a mug of hot liquid. Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help but give the children an amused smile as she listened to them list off the multitudes of things they wanted to do. Shaking her head a bit at the wonders of the young mind and its imagination, the scholarly Unicorn made her way towards the cockpit.
It had only been a few hours since she and Shin’ima had both agreed to let the children go onboard the station when they stopped to fuel up. All four of them met the stipulation of completing their reports for Cheerilee. What’s more, they might even find a few more things to tell the other kids back home about.
Taking an absent minded sip of her beverage, the mage recoiled a bit in disgust as she glared down at the contents. Just as she feared, Kad was right. The more she drank this “caf” stuff, the more she hated it. Still, she couldn’t argue with its effectiveness.
Entering the cockpit, she found the mother/son team of Shin’ima and Casus Skirata making final preparations to land. Shin’ima had been doing the majority of the work while delegating a few minor but important tasks to her son. The boy happily complied as he followed his mother’s lead.
“Our VIPs are getting themselves all riled up for their next big adventure.” Twilight informed them as she settled into one of the empty seats.
Shin’ima didn’t have to look she could feel the pair of young eager eyes looking up at her. With a smile she ruffled Casus’ hair. “I’ll finish up here, why don’t you go see what your friends are up to.”
With a wide grin, Casus wasted no time in jumping away from the controls and darting off into the ship. Twilight watched the boy scurry off as quickly as his legs could carry him. It was admittedly very adorable how the young alien refused to be left out of the chaos that seemed to follow those three fillies. Those four certainly set a good example to other children about accepting somepony, alien or not.
Sipping on her cup of caf, Twilight watched as the looming station started to fill up the view from the cockpit, “Technological marvels, floating through the vastness of space with the size and scale of which nopony has ever dreamed possible. And yet this is probably an everyday thing for you.” She mused to the Pantoran woman beside her.
“Actually, I grew up at that temple back on Talgear and didn’t see space until I was a little older than the kids.” Shin’ima pointed out to Twilight before giving her a smile. “I’m still amazed at how easy it is to travel from one world to another. I hope I never lose that.”
With the ship landed and secured for refueling, Twilight and Shin’ima lead their young charges to the main elevator to see the promenade. As the metal double doors slid open the three young fillies stared out, eyes wide and mouths agape. At the Jedi Temple, they had seen a wide variety of the different species and races that populated the galaxy, even seen a number of different kinds walking around Ponyville as of late, but this was something on a far larger and less ordered scale.
Aliens of a wide array walked about the main floor of the station. Merchant stands and shops had been set up all along the walls of the wide circular room, just like the market place back home. Flashing brightly colored signs with colorful advertisements had been plastered across every empty spot on every wall with strange alien languages. The air was filled with the sounds of a thousand voices, some speaking Basic, the rest a plethora of unrecognizable words. The scent of foods and spices from other worlds filled the air and tantalized the senses and imaginations of the children.
The four children all shared an excited look before trying to bolt only to find themselves scooped up in a translucent purple aura. “Not so fast kids.” Twilight said as she floated them back to the ground between herself and Shin’ima. “Now, before we turn you four loose we have some ground rules this time.”
“Firstly, no crusading.” Shin’ima cautioned with a look in her eye that gave all four reason to pause and step back. “I don’t want you hurting yourselves or someone else while we’re here.”
“Secondly, all of you are going to stay within sight of either Shin’ima or myself.” The Unicorn added as she looked them over.
“And finally, we have one more project from Cheerilee for you all.” Shin’ima gave a pause to let them get their belly aching out of the way.
“This one I think you little ones are going to enjoy.” Twilight said with a smile as she levitated each of them a piece of currency they had come to know as credits. “Each of you are getting ten credits, you are to use this money to purchase something to remember this trip with. Just remember that when you get back to Ponyville, you’ll have to give a report to the class about what makes what you brought back so special and why it reminds you of the trip.”
“Really, that’s it?” Sweetie Belle asked as she looked over the metallic stick of gold in her hooves.
“That sounds easy!” Scootaloo happily declared.
“Least we don’t gotta write noth’in this time.” Casus stated in triumph.
“Now then,” Shin’ima continued, “hold onto those credits children and remember to spend them wisely. It has to be on something that actually holds some kind of meaning about this trip for you.”
“What was you said about this being easy?” Sweetie Belle grumbled as her eyes passed over yet another collection of trinkets and wears from worlds unknown.
“Stupid sentimental value clause…” The orange Pegasus hissed in response.
The four of them had entered this latest project with eager anticipation. The chance to bring something back to Ponyville from a whole other planet was a very exciting prospect. However, as time wore on, it was becoming clearer that this was not as simple as they’d thought it would be. It was the challenge of not only staying within their budgets, but also finding something that reminded them of this field trip that was proving to be their biggest hurdle.
They came to a stop at a food stand that was being manned by a creature of thick grayish scales and horns lining the sides of his face. What had caught their eyes were the strange looking tiny creatures that had been seared to an almost blackened crisp upon thin metal rods. The three young equestrians felt their stomachs lurch as they were quickly reminded that not every species eats strictly plants.
“Ah still can’t believe some’a ya’ll eat stuff like that.” Applebloom admitted to Casus.
“I wouldn’t recommend those without dip’in sauce.” The half-Human advised them casually as he tried to keep their column moving before one of his friends got sick.
As they started on their way, Sweetie Belle found herself bumping into something that sent her falling backwards onto her haunches. Shaking her head clear of the initial shock she found herself at eye level with a short stocky creature. Its face was flattened into a snout like appearance much like a pig, it even had tusks along the sides of his mouth and a pinkish hued skin and small beady eyes.
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to bump into you like that.” The filly quickly apologized.
With a wide grin the small creature offered her a hand up. “Not to worry ‘bout it miss, my fault completely.” He said in a friendly tone. “I’m guess’in this’s yer first time on the station young’in.”
With a wide smile she nodded happily. “Yep, me and my friends are on a really important field trip, we’re the first ponies to travel to a whole ‘nother planet.” Sweetie Belle stated with no shortage of pride.
“Sweetie Belle,” Shin’ima interrupted as she moved to stand behind the filly, “you shouldn’t stray too far from the rest of the group.”
The former Jedi’s gaze locked tightly on the small pig man causing him to shift uncomfortably away from them. “My apologies ma’am, was jus’ be’in courteous is all.” Before another word could be spoken the stocky alien scurried off to fade into the crowd.
Sweetie Belle looked from the crowd to her guardian with a look of confusion. “What was that for, he was just being nice?”
The Pantoran knelt down and placed a hand on the filly’s shoulder. “Sweetie Belle, you have to remember that this isn’t Ponyville. Not every person you meet is going to be your friend, and some of them might even try to hurt you. You need to be cautious around people you don’t know.”
All of this was clearly a lot for the young filly to process. She had been brought up around other ponies that were always friendly and ready to lend a helping hoof to one another. She knew first hoof about bullies and fully well that other cities in Equestria weren’t as nice as her little town, thanks to her father’s complaints over the morning paper. But now she was someplace where somepony might actually try to hurt her? A shiver went through her spine and her stomach turned to knots as an image of herself charred and lashed to a metal stick entered her mind.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Skirata, I promise I won’t talk to anymore strangers.” The Unicorn said in slightly shaken tone.
Her protector gave her mane a teasing muss and an approving smile. “It’s quite alright dear, just remember to stay on the side of caution when dealing with people you don’t know.”
As she rejoined the rest of her friends, she found them browsing a collection of model ships that Casus had clearly talked them into stopping for. The filly stifled a giggle as the young boy practically drooled over the wide variety of ships. Not a one of the Crusaders could understand the allure of tiny plastic spaceships that you had to put together.
Sweetie Belle noticed that in her absence Applebloom and Scootaloo had both completed the challenge. Applebloom had found a scarf that shifted colors between red, yellow and green. Scootaloo had found a rather nice looking bag that she had been promised could hold over a hundred kilos. The Equestrian turned Squire had no idea how much weight that really was, but it sounded like a lot to her.
The young Unicorn’s gaze moved over the surrounding shop stalls until she spotted something that more or less called to her from the next stand over. She trotted over to the stand to behold a dull red crystal beset by a ring of dark metallic material connected to a golden chain. Her eyes went wide as she realized that this was exactly what she needed. It represented the trip as a whole perfectly, the stone was the same dusty red as the planet below them, and the dark ring was just like the station’s hull.
Waving a hoof to get the shop keeper’s attention. “Excuse me sir, I was wondering how much this necklace cost?”
Stroking a pair of long strands of facial hair, the seemingly reptilian being looked the object over. “Hmmm, this old piece’a scrap? Tell you what small fry, ten credits and it’s yours.”
Sweetie Belle beamed excitedly as she reached a hoof into the pocket of her dress. Her excitement swiftly changed to confusion, and then that gave way to worry. She felt about the inside of her dress pocket, trying to locate the ten credits she had been given earlier. In a panic she checked the other pocket as well only to find nothing.
An icy ball formed in her stomach as something came to mind. That stocky pig man, when he helped her up, he dusted her off. She couldn’t believe it, that alien who seemed so friendly, he robbed her. Tears threatened to pour from the small Unicorn’s wide eyes as this fact pressed down on her.
“Hey Sweetie Belle, are you alright?” Scootaloo’s question dragged her back to the present.
Glancing around herself, Sweetie Belle found herself surrounded by her friends, all of whom carried looks of concern. Further study revealed that thankfully their guardians were taking a moment to look over some wears that had caught their eyes. Looking back to her friends, she struggled to put to words what had just happened, her face reddening and scrunching up in frustration. “I… I… I think I was just robbed…”
All three faces took on a look of shock as this information was given to them. “What, robbed, by who?” Casus snarled as his gaze shifted about the crowd.
“It… it had to be that little pig man that bumped into me.” Sweetie Belle said as she started to break free from her sense of shock. “I should let Twilight and Mrs. Skirata know about this.”
“Wait, I got a better idea.” Casus stated with a grin. “I say we find this thief an’ get your credits back.”
“How’re we supposed to do that?” Scootaloo asked with no shortage of skepticism.
“C’mon Scootaloo, you an’ me are supposed to be Knights someday.” The young man reminded her. “Stop’in some petty thief who went an’ picked our friend’s pocket’ll be par for the course for us.”
“Well… I guess you’ve got a point there.” Scootaloo admitted.
“That’s all well an’ good,” Applebloom chimed in, “but how we gonna do that with yer ma an’ Twilight watch’in us?”
“By be’in tactical.” Casus said with a devious grin as slipped an arm around the Earth pony’s shoulder then motioned for the others to huddle up. “Okay, so here’s the plan…”
“It looks nice, but I doubt Kad’d ever wear it without a lot of browbeating.” Shin’ima commented on the jacket in front of them.
Glancing back to their young charges, Twilight found only two of the four children trying rather hard to appear casual. “Applebloom, Scootaloo, where are Sweetie Belle and Casus?”
The pair shared a look before Scootaloo spoke up. “She had to use the bathroom.”
“And why did she need my son to go with her?” Shin’ima questioned the fillies.
“She needed somepony what could read alien talk.” Applebloom quickly replied.
“That and we wanted to give you two some time to enjoy all the neat shops and stuff.” Scootaloo added with a wide smile and hopeful eyes.
Far removed from the main group, Casus and Sweetie Belle made their way through the crowds of aliens and travelers. The little Unicorn trotted close beside her humanoid counterpart as her young mind continued to make sense of all of this. How could somepony just take something that isn’t theirs?
Her parents and even her sister had always told her about how it was wrong to take other pony’s things. Stealing was wrong. She didn’t know everything about alien races and cultures, but she knew even they didn’t think taking what isn't theirs was right. Didn’t anypony ever teach that pig thing the difference between what was right and what was wrong?
Her companion however was more focused on their current mission. His eyes scanned the crowds around them over and over again as he ran Sweetie Belle’s description through his head. According to her, he was a short creature with pink skin, beady eyes, and a flat upturned nose. Casus was not about to let this guy hurt one of his friends and get away with it, not when he was on their trail.
His friend, however, was less than hopeful. “Casus, I don’t think we’re gonna find him. He’s probably long gone by now…” Sweetie Belle moaned pitifully.
Turning on his heels, the young humanoid was eye to eye with the Unicorn. His stare filled with unyielding determination. “Don’t you go an’ talk like that, Sweetie Belle. We’re gonna find that Ugnaught that went an’ robbed ya, as a Squire I’m give’in you my word on that.”
Sweetie Belle could feel a touch of red starting to push into her cheeks as the boy spoke directly to her. Finally feeling a touch of confidence as well she nodded in agreement. “Right, let’s go find that Ug-whatever!”
Their confidence bolstered and their mission resumed, Casus and Sweetie Belle both went about scanning the crowd for any signs of this Ugnaught. As time passed by in relative silence, Casus couldn’t help but try to incite some conversation. “So, what were ya gonna buy to show off for the class?”
“It was this really simple looking necklace,” Sweetie Belle replied. “It had a rusty looking crystal in the center with this dull looking border around it.”
“Huh, so what makes it so special to ya?” Casus asked with a glance over his shoulder to her.
“Oh, well, you see the gem is all rusty looking like the planet and the pendant it’s faceted to is just like the outside of this place.” Sweetie Belle happily said with a smile. “What about you?”
Casus chuckled at her question. “I was just gonna buy some new model, make up’a story ‘bout why it reminds me of the trip.”
Sweetie Belle took a moment to pick this plan apart before trotting up alongside him. “That seems a little underhoofed don’t you think? Not to mention lazy.”
Just as the young man was about to give a retort to his companion’s critique, his eye caught a glimpse of someone familiar. “Oi, Belle, that the guy ya were talk’in ‘bout?”
Casting her gaze in the direction Casus was pointing, her eyes went wide with realization. Sitting off to the side of the promenade upon an overturned crate was a small human like creature. It was short and stocky with pinkish skin, beady eyes, a pair of tusks on either side of his mouth, and a flat upturned nose like a pig. The filly could feel the urge to make a mad dash at the little pigman, to scream her head off at him for his foul actions. Biting down hard, she suppressed these urges as anger quickly moved to replace shock and dismay.
“That’s him…” She snarled out.
“Ya sure ‘bout that?” Casus asked as he looked between her and the Ugnaught down the way. “Lotta Ugnaughts work in places like this an’ I don’t wanna start a scene over the wrong guy.”
Sweetie Belle carefully picked everything about this alien’s appearance as she replayed the scene in her head over and over again. Then something in her replay rushed to the forefront of her mind. It was something she’d missed the first time she met him, only glancing over it, but it certainly set him apart from everypony else. “If it’s him, he’ll have a scar on his chin.”
With a smirk the humanoid child began the stroll through the crowds towards the stocky alien. This was something he could use to nail this guy with for sure. As he and his companion made a direct path towards their target, he slowly became aware of a number of eyes not watching him and Sweetie Belle. Through the Force he could feel their presence moving in around them as they drew closer to the Ugnaught. What’s more, as the alien’s features came fully into view, Casus caught sight of a scar right where Sweetie Belle said it would be.
The stocky porcine finally took notice as the half human and his companion approached, “Eh, what’s with this ‘ere? What d’ya kids want?”
Sweetie Belle’s heart began to race as she suddenly became very well aware of how quickly this situation was escalating. She glanced around at the quickly encroaching aliens that had them more or less surrounded. They all looked rough and ragged, like bandits from one of her story books, each one fairly well armed and dropping glares down upon her and Casus.
Her hoof tugged at Casus’ arm as she whispered to him. “Cas, I don’t think this is such a good idea anymore…”
“Relax, I can handle these guys.” He whispered back to try and calm her down. Narrowing his gaze on their target he spoke with as much authority as his small body could afford him. “Oi, I think ya might’ve picked up somethin’ that belongs to my friend, give it back.”
With a squealing chuckle the stocky pigman burst into a boisterous laughter over the bold accusations. “Hah, you call’in me’a thief boy?”
Sweetie Belle glanced around as the glares of their no doubt soon to be attackers started to deepen. Some of them even resting hands and other various appendages on their weapons. Fear snaked its way through the small filly’s body as she looked all around at the impossible odds.
Using her grip on his sleeve she continued to try and retake his attention with a growing panic as she whispered. “Casus, I really don’t think this is a good idea. Let’s just go back, please.”
Her pleas fell on deaf ears as his attention stayed riveted on the pigman. His young mind was already trying to predict everything about how this fight will go, always ending with him standing in triumph with his friend’s lost credits in hand. Granted, all of them were older, and bigger, and had more muscle mass than him. It also didn’t help that he was unarmed and all of these guys clearly were anything but. Still, he had all the skills and Force techniques he’d learned from his parents first hand, these guys didn’t stand a chance.
Not wanting to back down from a brawl, no matter the odds, Casus brought an accusing finger level with the alien. “Ya got my friend’s credits, now hand’em over an’ we’ll be on our way.”
“Casus, please, let’s just forget about it and go.” Sweetie Belle begged in a shaky tone as she latched herself tightly to the boy’s arm.
“You should listen ta yer girlfriend there, sonny.” The Ugnaught snorted at him.
Casus’ face shifted from his trademark pale to a bright crimson with this teasing remark. “S-shut up, she’s just my friend an’ ya stole somethin’ from ‘er. Now hand it over right now!”
The sounds of all the thugs laughing at the boy’s response only served to deepen his embarrassment. It was made even worse as several of them started making comments and poking fun at him about “his choice in women.” He could’ve sworn one of them even proclaimed that he thought they looked cute together. Casus tightened his firsts till the knuckles became bone white, every muscle in his body tensed as he readied himself to charge forward into the fray.
As he tried to take that first step, Sweetie Belle suddenly blocked his path. Her eyes were wide and filled with fear, and what looked to be tears started to form in the corners of her eyes. She shook slightly as her gaze begged and pleaded with him not to do this. Looking into those eyes, all the fight that had been built up inside his tiny body vanished like mist.
With a defeated sigh the boy looked past Sweetie Belle towards the Ugnaught. “My mistake sir, got ya mixed up with someone else.”
As the children turned to leave their exit was quickly shut. “You brats’ve got a lotta nerve, think ya can jus’ come’ere an’ accuse me’a steal’in like that then walk away?” The pigman bellowed from his crate. “Oh no, you younglings’re gonna pay fer this insult.”
“Excuse us gentlecolts,” a firm feminine voice spoke from beyond the crowd, “but don’t you think it’s a bit excessive to push a pair of children around like that?”
All eyes quickly fell upon the Pantoran woman and lavender Unicorn now standing behind the crowd. Casus and Sweetie Belle felt their hearts leap in joy at the sight of their guardians. Shin’ima’s hand rested upon the hilt hanging from her belt, fingers dangerously close to wrapping around the weapon and activating it. Her icy glare fixated upon the assumed leader of these misfits. Twilight’s horn glowed dangerously bright as she readied one of the many powerful spells at her disposal. She scanned the crowd over and over with a fierce glare as she watched for any kind of movement against them or the children.
The trip back to the ship had been one of lectures and browbeating as both Twilight and Shin’ima took turns pointing out what the children did and why it was wrong. Neither Casus nor Sweetie Belle uttered a single word as they took wave after wave of disappointed finger wagging.
Upon reaching the ship, Sweetie Belle sadly slinked off to the observation deck. She curled herself up upon the cushioned dais at the center of the room. Scootaloo and Applebloom had already been sent to the ship and been waiting for their fellow Crusader to return.
“Sweetie Belle,” Scootaloo eagerly called to her as she closed the distance, “so did you find him, did you make that jerk pay?”
“No,” Sweetie Belle grumbled in retort as she avoided eye contact with her friends. “He managed to get away AND get me and Casus in trouble.”
“What, but that ain’t fair.” Applebloom protested. “He can’t jus’ take some’in from somepony an’ walk away like that!”
“It doesn’t matter.” She sighed as her hoof pushed into the cushiony fabric. “We’re about to leave the station and there’s no way Twilight or Mrs. Skirata are gonna let me go back to the promenade.”
Her depressing thoughts came to a swift stop as she felt something slip around her neck from above. With a thud, a dull looking pendant bearing a rusted red gem stone at its center plopped down in front of her. Sweetie Belle quickly looked over her shoulder just in time to see Casus’ back as he walked away from the fillies and deeper into the ship without a word.
Shocked by this random act of kindness she looked between the doorway and the necklace now hanging from around her neck. She could barely hear Scootaloo or Applebloom trying to make sense of the seemingly random act of kindness. A touch of red once again started to fill Sweetie Belle’s cheeks as a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Smiling from ear to ear, the filly held the pendant tightly between her hooves, pressing it to her cheek blushing profusely.
Casus didn’t make it far in his trek away from his friends when he felt a pair of eyes suddenly resting on him. Glancing over his shoulder he found Twilight in the hallway leaning up against a wall, a fresh cup of caf levitating beside her. She gave the young humanoid a knowing smile as she watched him.
“I’m gonna go catch some sleep in the bunk room.” He informed her. “Lemme know when we’re home please.”
There was no response from the Unicorn, just that stare and that smile. Casus could feel himself losing the fight to keep his cheeks free and clear of the ever encroaching touch of red.
“W-what’s with the look huh?” Casus asked defensively. “She said she wanted to make to show off the necklace to our class so I thought I’d get it for’er.”
His face was starting to turn beet red as he kept fishing around for excuses. “All I did was a favor for a pal. Honestly, you ponies read way too much emotion into junk.”
In a fit of frustration and an annoyed growl the younger humanoid quickly made for the bunks as he grumbled about how stupid the whole thing was. Twilight couldn’t help but giggle at the young boy’s antics and flustered condition as he sped away from her. Taking another long sip of the hot bitter drink she made her way back to the cockpit as she decided whether or not to hand this embarrassing information over to Rainbow Dash or not. After all, she’d told her that she and the boy had a bit of a score to settle.