Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger

by AdmiralTigerclaw

Archive Nine: Heroes

December 3rd, 2257

So far, Dash seems to be handling the Raven a lot better than before. I think she’s still nervous if I’m reading pony ear expressions correctly, but Twilight is doing her best to keep the pegasus distracted from the fact that this bird is rather cramped.

It’ll be at least another eighteen hours to reentry interface, so I’ve still got some time to kill before we have to strap in. I’ve spoken with Twilight, and she conceded that Rainbow Dash should get the copilot position during reentry. I need to make absolutely certain that Twilight lets Dash know that fire and flames are normal. We can’t have a repeat of the ascent incident while I’m trying to bring the Raven in on course.

Dash is looking out the viewports as I type this. The planet continues to grow in size as we drop from high orbit.

December 4th, 2257

I wish I’d gotten a picture of the look on Dash’s face when she woke up from a nap to find us skirting along in low orbit. I had the Raven rolled pro-grade with the planet to the left, and the clouds in the atmosphere were zipping past at incredible speed. I doubt in her previous state during the ascent that she really appreciated the Mach count Twilight had been translating to her.

As mentioned in the previous log entry, Twilight and I decided it was Dash’s ‘turn’ to take the front seat for reentry, maybe giving her a view out the main viewports during descent.

I think our decision ended up being the right one. Dash remained calm all the way in, though around Mach 18 or so as we hit the fifty kilometer mark, the glowing plasma coming off the hull caused her to look at me repeatedly. Thankfully, every time she turned her head, I think seeing me being so calm helped her realize things were normal. I’m very pleased to say that for doing something none of her kind ever even thought about before, she handled it like a champ. I say this even considering her panic-stricken nature during half the time we spent in orbit.

Now, aside from Rainbow’s expression during the remaining approach, I was quite surprised about what we discovered coming in.

It seems in that in the course of a single week, the princesses had arranged for the creation of a landing strip just outside of Ponyville. It has, or I should say had, to be about five kilometers long, solid white and was lit up with marker lights its entire length.

I said ‘had’ in the previous statement because at the time of writing this log, it’s long since ‘dissolved’. I’m not quite sure what it was. From altitude it looked like concrete, but it got laid down in less than a week so there’s no possible way. It was spongy, but firm, similar to cork… If one could imagine cork being as hard as stainless steel.

Twilight told me it was something called-roughly translated-‘Cloudcrete.’, a type of industrial cloud used for the pegasus cloud city structures. I recall seeing the city in brief but things were so busy this last week it almost slipped my mind. I don’t know what to say about this ‘Cloudcrete’. If what Sparkle is telling me is accurate, it pours and shapes easier than cement, and hardens as strong as steel while still retaining incredibly ‘soft’ properties and the ability to be dispersed as easy as a mist under certain conditions. Kind of fantastical if you ask me, but I just flew a unicorn and a pegasus into space for a week…

Cloudcrete’s also expensive from what I understand. Something about the magic cost of producing it being so high that it’s rarely ever used for anything other than supporting mounts for machines, and as counter tops in pegasus homes. Twilight didn’t want to go into details today, but she mentioned that it must have been the princesses themselves that provided the magic to ‘cure’ the amount used to create the strip.

As far as I can say in terms of opinion, the Raven behaved no differently than if I’d set her down on a regular Earth landing strip. Perhaps a little better, seeing as touchdown was so smooth I almost didn’t feel the bump. As a note for the future, if we can establish regular contact and travel between worlds, I know some materials engineers who would kill for this stuff.

I had better go now. There’s a massive party outside and I appear to be the guest of honor. That’s probably to be expected when you’re the first publicized beings to go into space. Check the next log entry for any additional details.

December 7th, 2257

Ugh… Finally.

Festivities, for lack of a better term, have been going almost non-stop for three days now. I feel like a museum piece from all the gawking and photos I’ve been in. Not to mention I've been all but force fed enough chocolate and sweets thanks to Pink that my dietitian back home would probably ban me from any and all substances containing sugar. I'm going to have to make sure I work off this excess weight to ensure I don't upset the Raven's center of mass.

On the other hand, Rainbow Dash seems to have made a full rebound and has been all but devouring the attention sent her way. Twilight less so, but she seemed to enjoy the attention of Princess Heaven when she and her sister arrived. Both of the winged unicorns were extremely interested in their gifts. Luna in particular seemed to get completely lost in hers. Don’t worry guys, the world record score in Stardust* is still safe. She can’t get past level five for being too impatient to set up the advanced cascades.

I should also mention the odd pony I met during all this. It wouldn’t be anything worth mentioning, except there seemed to be something very… I don’t know ‘not pony’ about this particular one. I think it was the way it acted. The ponies seem to subconsciously follow their herd nature and tended to cluster during the parties. And while they were timid towards me at first, they had warmed up to the tall alien creature I am.

This one though, I’ve never seen it before, and it seemed almost unafraid of me at all. Actually, it, or should I say ‘she’ seemed to slip away whenever Twilight would talk to me. (Or whenever Dash dragged me off to have my eyesight ruined by ponies wielding old-style flash cameras.) I paid enough attention to notice that it didn’t really stick to any particular group and tended to regularly ‘scan’ the area as if looking for something… Or looking out for something. But the clincher in all this was the very real creepy crawly sensation I got whenever she got close enough. It’s like those skin-prickling chills I’ve been getting when Luna’s been watching, or when I was woken up in orbit. But far, far weaker. I keep forgetting to ask Twilight about her theory on that. Some thing's happening, but I’m not sure what. Whenever I’ve noticed it, that odd pony seemed to react as if she’d been slapped across the snout with a newspaper.

For the time being, I'll call her Shifty.

December 10th, 2257

Things have slowed down since our return, but I'm no less the center of attention I was before. Yesterday, the pink teacher from the school came by with the entire class as well as Twilight and Rainbow Dash in tow. With my permission (Twilight was very careful to ask me something like six times over, much to my satisfaction), I allowed the unicorn to take the young ones around the inside the Raven in groups of two while the teacher and Dash kept the others busy. Between the four of us, we managed to keep things amongst the children under control. I've been asked if I would like to come by in a week and explain with Twilight to the class how orbits work.

December 12th, 2257

It's late and I've been going over the solar data I collected for over a week. I still don't get this. The microwave pattern and its 24 hour cycle still elude explanation. I think tomorrow I'll go check some recording equipment and see if there are any similar cycles being experienced on the ground. If I can just find SOMETHING I might be able to crack this nut.

December 13th, 2257

I'm being stalked.

I collected data from several of the surface instruments located around town today. While I was doing so, I started noticing that prickling tingle that comes whenever I feel Shifty about. I didn't see the odd pony anywhere, but it's been getting to the point where I can almost identify the 'type' of tingle she causes. - Tops of the arms, back of the neck, and a shudder like it's getting cold. Kind of like those stories about people who say they've encountered ghosts. I've got this strangest feeling I should be wearing my sidearm. But I see no actual reason why I should.

December 15th, 2257

A quick observational report on Shifty thanks to some camera footage.

Standing Height (all fours): ~110 cm Length: ~164 cm (Including tail)
Weight: (Based on a hoof depression measurement) ~34 kg (!?)++

Behavioral Pattern: Shifty shows signs of wariness in the open but is oblivious to the camera as she approaches it. Like one would expect of a typical animal, she seems to sniff at the equipment and keep a few meters distance. She is also quite flighty. A shout (I assume from another pony to get away from the equipment) causes her to flee the scene. Of special note, unlike the ponies, who seem to rear in alarm, Shifty ducked more into a springing position typical of a cat or other large predator.

++ - I've not met a single pony that doesn't mass proportionally close to or above a typical human despite a smaller physical size.

I'll have to bring this information to Twilight tomorrow. Perhaps she knows what this odd behavior represents in a pony.

December 16th, 2257

I visited Twilight at the Library today and presented her with the information I've collected on Shifty. She acted confused at first, but then broke out into a broad grin before saying not to worry too much and just keep watching 'Shifty' and reporting how she behaves. When I asked if she knew something, Twilight just said that if she told me, it might skew the results. I let it drop at that point. I've come to to recognize that look. It tends to be one of her 'ask forgiveness rather than permission' looks. I won't get anything out of her until she's ready.

The rest of today was spent preparing our presentation and lesson for the children tomorrow. Twilight mentioned that Rarity was going to show up, but hadn't been informed as to why.

December 17th, 2257

Of all the things I've been given... I think this I'll treasure most.

This badge was given to, Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and myself by the class just before our presentation. It represents the experiences we shared during our week in space. I bet all the guys back home will be jealous after this. Well, all you have to do is be the last man standing in a political elimination match you didn't even know you were playing.

But I digress. These badges were hoof-made by Rarity. (It seems awkward to say 'hand made' when they don't actually have hands.) I thought the ones made for the suits were good, but this is so much more. If you look at it in the light just right, you can even see how she managed to get some crushed gemstone mixed in. It's obvious she's been preparing these for weeks. I know I had some headaches dealing with the liberties Twilight's been taking with GSA property, but I guess in the end, provided I can keep myself between her and anything truly sensitive, like a hydrazine valve, things will be okay.

The children (foals?) seemed to enjoy our presentation as well. With Twilight acting as translator, we essentially spent about half the day teaching basic orbital mechanics and Kepler's laws of planetary motion. They enjoyed it quite a bit right up until one child wearing a cute silver tiara fielded a question asking why, if physics made planets and moons move the way they did, did their rulers Princess Heaven and Princess Luna have to control them.

I don't need to know how to speak 'pony' to know a loaded question when I hear it. Even before Twilight had translated for me, I knew she'd stopped dialogue with the sudden, absolute silence that followed.

Having grown up and gone through childhood myself, I recognized a child that was being contrary for the sake of being contrary. And 'Little Princess' was certainly doing her best attempt to undermine me. However, it was still a valid question. And with Twilight there to translate for me, I told her the truth.

Truth is: That is the entire reason I'm here.

The follow up was like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. There was silence for several seconds before the children began to stomp their hooves on the floor. I was confused for a moment until I realized it was an applause. Imagine if you would, half a dozen small ponies drumming their front hooves on the ground. I could feel the floor shaking from just a small group of children.

Later this evening, Twilight told me she was genuinely surprised how elegantly I'd handled it. 'Little Princess' was well known in town as what we would recognize as a 'spoiled rich kid'. And I had managed to, not so much as take her down a peg as rather to awe her into silence.

But I'm still bothered by that question. I've solved what's making the sun of this world revolve around the planet... But in doing so, I've unearthed deeper questions. How? And more importantly... Why?

December 18th, 2257

An overnight weather change caught me off guard today. When I woke up, it was pouring down rain and the sky was ablaze with lightning. Don't ask me why creatures that have complete control of the weather saw fit to include full on thunderstorms with their work, but I'm sure they have a reason for it.

I was just settling in to spend another day reviewing the same data I've gone over half a dozen times with no luck when I noticed movement on a camera I'd placed in one of the wheel wells.

At first I thought it was wind, but then a particularly loud crack of thunder caused a pony I had not noticed previously to practically jump out of its skin... or fur.

Shifty, trying to take shelter from the storm by the aft gear.

We have an old saying. 'It ain't a fit night out for man or beast.' And I'm sure this applied even here... Even if it was day time. It certainly wasn't weather I would call 'fit' for a man, or a beast. So I decided to play good Samaritan and risked the electric madness of a pegasus thunderstorm to open the hatch on the Raven.

Shifty seemed almost as scared of me suddenly appearing and whistling at her as she was of the cracks of thunder around us. It was like trying to coax a dog that wouldn't listen inside. Only after a lightning bolt took out a tree fifty meters away (and about caused me to tumble right off the Raven), did she finally decide to heed my rather absurd 'come on!' gestures.

I don't know how long she was out in that storm, but by the time we'd gotten back into the ship and secured the hatch, we were both soaked to the bone and freezing our collective rears off.

The strange thing however, was that while I had to towel off and wipe up the deck, Shifty was practically dry in spite of being covered in fur.

That would have added something else for me to ponder about her for days if she hadn't sneezed right about that moment.

And spontaneously combusted.

I panicked and dove for the cabin fire suppression system. I was sure she'd touched off an electrical fire some how when she went. The tell-tale green of burning copper was the only thing on my mind for a few seconds.

I'm rather glad I missed the extinguishing button on my first lunge. Even though my mind was already imagining a hydro-lox fireball reducing the Raven to a smoldering crater a hundred meters wide, the flames were already subsiding by the time I was making my second.

More importantly however, Shifty wasn't incinerated. At least, at the time I didn't think she was. Charred, maybe, but not incinerated. It took me a few moments to identify the creature I had formerly recognized.

My first thought to type for a description is 'giant insect'. However, insects are defined strictly as having six legs. 'Shifty' was still a quadruped, and still seemed to sport the equine features of the pony races. I would say she or it more resembled some mad wizard's attempt to create Man-Fly... but with a pony mare. (Mare-fly?) Compound eyes but not compound eyes, wings, an exoskeleton-like skin, and fangs (3 cm or better, can't tell, don't want to find out the hard way).

Although I find the concept a bit shocking to encounter the way I did, I can't help but almost feel sorry for the poor thing. Her body shows numerous signs of grievous past injuries. The exoskeleton is covered in lacerations and holes as big around as golf balls, and her wings are all but half-gone with what little remains tattered and damaged significantly.

When I'd recovered from my surprise she was cowering in the corner like a beaten puppy. Any attempt I made to approach was met with a nasty hiss that would make a cobra proud. I wasn't about to test the effectiveness of those fangs either. Without knowledge of the creature, she could have anything up to and including natural neurotoxins. After my encounter with the formerly mythical cockatrice a few months back, I'm not about to push my luck with strange natural defenses.

However, something did/does appear to be rather odd. Much like her behavior a few days back, this creature, which I'm assuming is still Shifty, seems to flinch horribly any time we lock eyes. It's that same flinch too. Like I'd physically reached out and struck her on the nose.

At the moment, I'm not quite sure what to do. I'd like to get Twilight to find out what she really is, but I'm afraid the moment I leave, Shifty will run for it. All I know at the moment is that until a few hours ago, she looked like a normal pony. Now she's some kind of 'Mare-fly' that looks like she's been dashed on the jagged rocks of life and traumatized into fearing anything that so much as looks at her sternly.

I could say I know one pony with similar behavior, but even she seems to open up once she starts to relax around you. At the moment Shifty's still tucked in a corner. She may or may not be asleep, but I'm not going to push it. I'll let her get used to being around me and see if she can realize that I'm not going to hurt her.

I am going to lock the CHM when I go to sleep though.

December 19th, 2257 [AM]

Append at least two new pony breeds to the list.

One: Bat-winged pegasi.
Two: Polymorphic insectoidal pegasus/unicorn hybrids.

When I awoke this morning, I found the Raven surrounded in the former. Judging by their gear, they were some kind of special guard unit. I feel they may be reacting to Shifty's presence, though I'm not sure how they knew she was here.

Shifty herself seems to have calmed down and seems to recognize that I have no plans to cause her harm. I am hissed at if I approach looking as if I wish to touch her, but otherwise she no longer cringes in the corner.

Shifty appears to be some kind of magic-based, chameleon-like equinoid. Like the princesses, she appears to possess hybrid traits of both wings and a horn, though in this case I'm willing to hypothesize that these features aren't related, and shows competency in utilizing both to a certain level.

However, the dominant feature appears to be a sufficiently effective polymorphic disguise ability. Under normal physical laws, I would have called the feat impossible, but the existence of magic can easily cover this.

Unfortunately, I have yet to document anything on this ability as her 'spontaneous combustion' yesterday was my only clue. However, I can make a few assumptions.

Based on the condition of her current body, I surmise this is her true form. Logic would dictate that any new form she took would be made to blend in, and look like it was in good condition. Second, even if she were attempting to use a 'hurt' appearance for sympathy or as a means of predation, it would likely utilize more recent and/or pressing injuries that would garner immediate attention. With the number, severity, and apparent age of her wounds, I would assume them to be the real deal. Third, I doubt she would attempt the disguise after-the-fact, or even allow me to witness the disguising process.

Because of this, I can only assume she suffered a failure of her abilities when she sneezed.

A second assumption that I can make is that conservation of mass is followed. Records indicated Shifty was exceptionally light for a pony of the species she was disguised as. Her current form explains much of that. Unlike ponies, her limbs are smaller and more wiry, and her body much more lean. I would say even bordering on anorexic if I'm to assume that her body mass is supposed to even remotely approach the others. Without a wider pool of subjects to examine, I can make no conclusions.

As for dietary habits, I cannot give any conclusions there either. I offered food of both stuff I know the ponies will eat, as well as meat given the presence of her fangs. All options were ignored. I might note that it was not with a vicious hiss either. Shifty seemed to at least recognize my intent.

I'll finish this log later. Someone's knocking on the cockpit windows.

December 19th, 2257 [PM]

At approximately noon, local time, Shifty was taken into custody by what is apparently the night division of the royal guard. Interesting that bat-winged pegasi exist. I guess it makes sense that they're nocturnal, but it just comes across as some kind of children's logic.

Anyway, according to Twilight Sparkle, Shifty is a member of an extremely hostile species of sapient, shape-shifting parasitic lifeforms. She called them 'changers' for a lack of a better translation.

Apparently, Changers recently launched an attack on the capital, which did significant damage, but failed spectacularly after their queen made a critical military blunder. Twilight failed to elaborate on that. I can only assume the queen underestimated the power of a creature like Princess Heaven, who can move stars around.

Twilight did however elaborate on some of the nature of a changer.

Parasite seems to be a pretty accurate term for what it does. According to Twilight, a changer does not consume organic matter to sustain itself in the conventional sense. Instead, it is apparently a creature that uses emotional attachment to siphon magic from a host. Most commonly, it seems to go after love. This, along with its clever disguising ability allows it to blend in and feed off a host, or multiple hosts, not only sustaining it, but increasing its strength.

Twilight referred to the entire concept as feeding on love, but after a brief discussion we both agreed that love itself is little more than a mental construct and not a tangible energy. More likely, and I feel so silly taking this seriously, the changer utilizes the emotional, and possibly psychic vulnerability introduced by love and similar emotions to more easily approach and siphon magical energy from the host.

When I asked Twilight if she knew about the changer, she mentioned that she started suspecting it when I gave her the data on Shifty's peculiar behavior and physical characteristics. Plus, apparently Pink Pie had mentioned something about not recognizing Shifty. Ah, good ol' small-town dynamics. Everyone knows everyone. And if they don't, good luck hiding.

So anyway, from what I gather, Shifty has been taken into custody, but should not be harmed. Twilight mentioned being a bit curious about the whole event and wanted the changer around once it was proven safe. By her understanding, I'm completely immune to a large number of magical effects ranging from the cockatrice attack on through to Princess Luna's 'dream viewing'.

The moment she said that, I should note she stuck both hooves over her mouth and made a squeak more at home coming from Dormouse.

When I pressed the issue, Twilight quickly excused herself, saying she'd already skewed the results enough just saying that.

Now I know that girl's up to something.