Of Steam Gears and Wings

by RavensDagger

Bad Apples and Prison Ships

Scootaloo thumped her forehoof against the Expedite’s dashboard impatiently. Groaning, she lifted her head to look through the bustling skies of New Appleloosa at the taxi ahead, It inched forward as Its little tailpipe rumbled, spewing puffs of exhaust fumes into the collective cloud above the skyway.

Mr. Arnaquer -she still had a hard time understanding him through his accent-, said that she should come with him to meet the crew. Scootaloo still had her reservations about the whole situation, at least sitting alone in her ship gave her time to think about it.

On one hoof, she wanted to get revenge for the deaths and capture of her friends. On the other hoof, she wanted to go home. Sweetie Belle had her sister, so the Imps were probably just going to ship her back home with a slap on the wrist and a stern warning not to do it again. Apple Bloom’s family would be royally pissed, and the Empire would be tense for a while, but they would get over it.

Scootaloo shook her head to clear her thoughts, focusing her attention on the shifting skyroads around her.

Either way, having the Expedite meant that could run back home. Scootaloo kicked herself mentally as a wave of shame washed over her. There it was again, the word she loathed. Run. Always run. The childhood bullies were right. She was a chicken. 

Tightening her hold on the yoke, Scootaloo gave the Expedite more fuel, giving up on her anger as she rushed ahead of the taxi and weaved through the tightly-knit rows of vehicles. Arnaquer had told her where they were heading, so what if she got there before him? Scootaloo noticed the taxi lurch forward in an attempt to catch up. She smiled slowly at the challenge, almost unfamiliar with the gesture. She hadn't smiled in a week.

The Expedite weaved in and out of the traffic, narrowly avoiding many of the ships it flew by in reckless abandon. More than one horn was honked as she pressed harder and harder on the throttle, almost daring other pilots to overtake her. Arnaquer had told her to meet him at one of New Appaloosa's many airship docks. The tall abstract buildings loomed above her with their many walkways and corridors attached to various ships of every size and colour.

Scanning the faded name signs on the dilapidated buildings, Scootaloo quickly found the right building, a cheap hodgepodge of cement and old crane parts tied to over a dozen small transports. She wondered which belonged to Arnaquer. With her prop spinning wildly she banked her ship into the parking area, before deploying the landing gear and setting the Sparkle Generator on levitate. Turning on the spot, she kicked up a cloud of dust as the back end of the Expedite spun around, until it was placed evenly between the parking markings on the ground of the empty lot. With a light thump the ship landed just as she shut the main engine and waited for the prop to spin itself out.

The past few days had been difficult on her. Her entire world had shifted upon itself suddenly. The Crusader was gone, her friends were gone, and the Empire was still there, as strong and powerful as ever before. Scootaloo reached a hoof under her bench and pulled out the wanted poster. Her own huge and mischievous grin greeted her. They had taken the image from her pilot’s permit, she noticed. her face was slightly different, less tired, younger. The reward wasn’t large. Really, half the crimes labeled were false. Why did the Empire want her so badly? she wondered.  A loud tap on the cockpit window made her jump out of her reverie with a loud screech that made her mane stand on end.

Just outside the cockpit stood a tall, well-dressed brown pony, one hoof still raised as if to knock again. "Ouvre," Arnaquer mumbled, his voice muffled by the airtight seal of Expedite’s cockpit.

“What?” she asked. He sighed in frustration and made wild gestures indicating that she should open the cockpit. With a hiss and a small grunt Scootaloo opened the glass dome and stared at the fancy pony. “What?” she asked again.

“J’ai dit ouvre! Bah, never mind. Come, we will meet the crew of my ship!” He hopped down and started trotting through the parking lot, his coat flapping in the wind as his taxi took off in a whirl. He stopped and looked at her, tapping his hooves in frustration, “Come! I have not got all day!”

Scootaloo looked at the nearly empty parking lot, The pavement was cracked and covered in junk, the few other ships there were real wrecks, and the buildings nearby were covered in graffiti. She most certainly did not want to leave a Mosquito-class fighter here. It may not have been incredibly valuable, but the parts alone would make most thieves more then happy. She was not going to leave the last part of home she had to a bunch of scoundrels.

“I can’t, if I leave Expedite here...”

“Silly filly! No thief would be stupid enough to steal from me! Look, at those... C’est imbecile!” He pointed at a group of suspicious ponies sticking their heads out of an alley. The heads quickly popped back in as he pointed at them.

“Vient! J’ai pas tout la journée!” He started trotting again, his hooves making dainty clopping sounds against the paved ground.
“Dammit,” Scootaloo quickly shut and locked the cockpit and hopped down Expedite’s side. In only a few seconds she was running alongside the fancy pony. “So...” she started, “what language is that?”

He looked at her from the corner of his eye as they reached the threshold of the thin, gangly, building. It had no door, and no walls for that matter. It was simply a tall structure, exposed at every level. “It is French. The language of the educated!”

“Oh, so they speak that in Canterlot?” Scootaloo flapped ahead of him and landed inside a well-worn elevator. Arnaquer slowly followed her in, pressing one of the many buttons.

        “Non,” he finally said.

        She looked at him, confusion plastered all over her face. “Then...”

“Oh never mind... Goodness, children these days!” He leaned his head against the elevator’s side and kept quiet for a while. Scootaloo fumbled around with the cuffs of her coat until she began to get bored.

        “So, this crew of yours... what do you do?”

“What!?” Arnaquer exploded, “You know not of us?” She shook her head. “Imbecile child. Do you not know that it is dangerous to just go with strangers? My goodness, you have not a drop of sense in your pretty little head, do you?”

“Um, sorry,” she cringed. She really didn’t know him, but she knew that he disliked the Imps and was probably the type to do something about it. That was enough for her to follow him, at least, for now.

        “We are smugglers, same as you and your friends. But we smuggle smartly. Unlike you.”

        Scootaloo huffed at the small insult. “It wasn’t our fault!”

“It never is,” he interrupted. He leaned over and put a hoof on her shoulder. “What I offer to you is simple. I need a good fighter pilot on my crew, we had some... difficulties with the last. I know you are good. In exchange, you help me smuggle for the rebellion and I pay you. I can even get you some information on your friends, I know ponies. We both get what we want.”

Scootaloo remained quiet for the remainder of the journey up the slow elevator as she mulled over the proposal. “I’ll think about it,” she said just as it bumped to a halt.

“Parfait!” Arnaquer walked out of the elevator and onto the cement floor of the thirty ninth level. Scootaloo followed him, slightly calmer then when she had entered the elevator. When she looked up a gasp escaped her.

        “That is le Furtif, our beautiful ship.” Arnaquer smiled proudly as he watched Scootaloo pick her jaw up from the ground. “It is the one and only model of its kind!”

        The Furtif was a long blue piece of undisguised flying piracy. It was a flat-headed ship. The top deck ran from the piloting station at the front to a small hangar like protrusion at the very back that gave way to the cargo hold just below it. “That is the cargo access.” he said. “And that is the landing area. Soon, your ship will be clamped there as well.”

“As you can see, we are well equipped when it comes to engine power.” Arnaquer pointed out two sleek engines held in their own compartments that stuck out from the middle of the main body and swept towards the back. They made the whole engine assembly look like two bulbous wings with large props sticking out.

The ship itself was attention-grabbing, with its navy blue paint and flowing golden scrollwork, but what surprised Scootaloo the most was its blatantly undisguised weaponry. Two long cannons stuck out from either side and ran the entire length of the ship, dwarfing the half dozen other cannons and turrets on its sides.

If The Crusader had had half of the weapons on the Furtif, that Imperial destroyer would not have been able to lay a hoof on them.

        “Oh stop drooling, somepony might slip!” Arnaquer huffed, hiding his smile with a brush of his curvy mustache. “Come, we will meet the crew.” Arnaquer smiled and gently pushed the still-stunned Scootaloo up to a big metallic ramp that led up and into the ship.

        A face popped out of the great metallic entrance and smiled at the pair. “Hi Arnaquer!” a bright yellow earth pony said as he hopped out and landed inches away from Scootaloo. One of his forelegs hissed mechanically as it compressed into itself, under the weight of his landing body before popping back into its normal length. He wasn’t fazed by it at all.

She slowed to a stop and stared at him. He stared back, his insane smile growing as he gave her a quick once over. “You really picked a nice one this time!” he said, to the French pony.

Scootaloo was befuddled. Who the hay did he think he was? Was he even part of the crew?

“What do you mean, this time!” yelled a voice from within the ship. The crazy earth pony gulped audibly and cringed, spinning on his mechanical hooves as he ran to hide behind Arnaquer. “When I find you, Kami, I am gonna gut you!”

Scootaloo looked at Arnaquer, confusion plastered all over her face. What the heck was up with his crew? Arnaquer simply gave her a shrug.

A light blue unicorn stomped out of the ship, her hooves banging and clanking on the metal grating, making everypony nearby bounce as the ramp took in her weight. She glared at the crazy three-legged pony, then lifted out a heavy brass wrench from her saddle bags before swinging it at him.

Scootaloo followed the heavy metal tool’s trajectory wide-eyed as it soared through the air and hit the equally wide-eyed face of the earth pony with a sickening crunch, sending his small frame tumbling down the ramp. Scootaloo gulped. These ponies were crazy.

Arnaquer sighed again and grabbed his head in a hoof, gently rubbing his temple like a father about to berate his children. With a look of infinite patience on his face, he pointed at the blue unicorn then at Scootaloo. “Scootaloo, voici Wrenches. Wrenches, Scootaloo.”

Scootaloo took the opportunity to have a good look at the crazy mare. She was now breathing through her snout, her face grease and oil covered face was an image of pure calm and tranquility as she gave Scootaloo a sweet smile.  Nothing of her previous outburst showed.

The blue unicorn was weighed down by three work belts, all filled to the brim with various tools—minus one wrench, which she was busy levitating away from the still inanimate frame of the yellow earth pony.

“Hi,” she said sweetly, “I just know we’re going to be great friends!” Wrenches grabbed the wrench in her mouth, grinned at Scootaloo, then skipped back into the airship, making the ramp reverberate after every bounce.

Arnaquer looked at her. “She is... different, but also the best mechanic I’ve ever seen, if you can keep her busy that is...” He turned and looked down at the three legged mound of yellow fur. “That’s Kami Kaze. He is our other pilot. Very competent, if a little overzealous.”

“What’s up with his leg?”

Kami Kaze suddenly snapped upright. “Oh, I know that one!” he piped up, turned to Scootaloo with a gigantic smile plastered on his bleeding face. “I lost it!”

Scootaloo wasn’t sure how to react, wasn’t he lying unconscious just a few seconds ago? He reminded her a little of Miss Pie, a thought disturbed her deeply. “Um, I’m not a medical pony or anything but... can you really just lose a leg like that?”

“Nope, a mecha took it!” He waved the metallic prosthetic around in front of his face, looking positively proud of having lost his leg to a mecha.

Before anymore weird things could happen, Arnaquer stepped in between the two and placed a hoof on Kami Kaze’s shoulder. “Je veux que tu aille chercher l'avion de Scootaloo, compris?”

The yellow pony shook his head up and down violently before addressing her again. “So, what kinda plane is it?”

The sudden switch from one language to another and the seemingly random question threw Scootaloo off. What did he ask? Something about planes? “It’s a red Mosquito?” she answered, uncertain.

“Really?! I had one of those!” he exclaimed cheerfully, “but I crashed it into an airship...” His ears drooped suddenly as he became sad. Then he perked up again just as suddenly. “Well, I’ll go fetch your plane.” he said while galloping off of the ramp, mid-way to the elevators he turned and screamed enthusiastically. “Maybe I won’t crash this time!”

Scootaloo waved back, repressing the urge to fly after him to ensure the safety of her ship. “Don’t worry, for all his oddity, he is a caring pony.” Arnaquer turned back towards the ship, then added in an undertone  “Juste un peu trop stupid pour son propre bien.”


“Come, I’ll find you some place in the ship, then you can trot around and familiarize yourself with it.” Arnaquer started to walk away, “Oh, and welcome to the crew.”

Sweetie Belle gulped as the gigantic shape of the Adamant Fury loomed ahead of her. The double line of guards on each side of her only added to her stress and worry. After having spent a few hours in a holding cell, the Imperials had told her that she was going to be brought to the ship.

She didn’t  protested at first, following their lead. But now, as, she saw the enormous green ship looming ahead, she started to have doubts. Was this really okay? That trial was evidently biased, but what could she do against so many armed ponies?

Sweetie Belle slowing down, only to have the butt of a gun slam against her flank. Near the boarding ramp of the ship a long snaking line of dejected-looking ponies wearing clothing similar to her own was being formed by the ruthless guards, the guards that accompanied her approached the line then rudely shoved her into it, causing her to bump into an impressively large earth pony.

From the ground Sweetie Belle looked up and into the eyes of the huge pony. “Get up lil’ one,” he said. “If you stay, guards will be mad.” With a quick twist of his hoof he lifted her up and placed her upright.

“Thanks,” she whispered. “I am Sweetie Belle.”

“Best not give names.”

Sweetie Belle stayed at his side, glancing behind and ahead of her at the hundreds of ponies being funneled into the ship by the wall of guards. At the front, an officer at a desk was quickly scribbling information about each pony before giving them a number. Behind them, desolate-looking inmates were being escorted into the ship by even more guards.

        “Hurry up!” yelled one of the prisoners a distance away from them. The guards around him prodded him with their long lances, making the pony yelp and holler in pain.

        “Their spears are magic, they’ll shock you real bad if they touch you. Better watch out.” advised the earth pony.

Sweetie Belle nodded firmly. She began to wonder about the other things she would have to learn, in this whole new world around her. Would she be okay? she wondered. Looking at the ever growing form of the Adamantium Fury she felt herself being dwarfed by the ships oppressive air. She felt so small.

“Next!” ordered one of the grey guards. Sweetie Belle looked around, to her dismay she found herself at the head of the line already. The big earth pony nodded at her.

Taking in a big breath of air to calm her fraying nerves, Sweetie Belle trudged forward to the desk.

“Name?” asked the officer, he sighed and looked at her through glazed eyes.

“Sweetie Belle.”

He furrowed his brow at her then referred to one the sheets that was splayed across the surface of his table. “Number, rank and designation?”

Sweetie Belle just stared at him. What did he mean? She hadn't been given a number yet...

“Five, zero, one. Threat high and designation maximum,” said a smooth voice from behind the desk. Both Sweetie Belle and the officer jumped and looked at the pony who spoke.

A white and red unicorn smiled at the pair. He was wearing what was obviously very expensive clothes and was flanked by two armed ponies in red garments. “I am Bunnyhelm. I was sent by his majesty to make sure the... transaction went on without a hitch.”

The officer immediately stood from his desk to give a salut. Bunnyhelm waved it off. “Just make sure the pretty young Miss makes it to the right cell,” he said.

“Yes sir, of course, sir!” The officer snapped another salute before quickly scribbled a note on his documents. He turned to the pair of guards designated to carry her and whispered loudly, before ushering her forward.

As she passed by him she received a hard slap on the flank. With a small squeak she twisted around to look at it. Where her cutie mark would have been was now a tag bearing her number.  As the pain slowly faded away the realization that this was real dawned on her. She was a prisoner. A number in the system. With tears in her eyes Sweetie Belle followed the two guards into the ship, catching one last glance of Bunnyhelm’s smiling face before she disappeared around the bend.

The guards led her deeper and deeper into the huge ship, eventually bringing her to a room filled with four long rows of boxy cells. “Welcome home,” said one of the guards with a sly grin. Sweetie Belle whimpered at the slight.

They marched her to a cell in the middle of the very last row towards the front of the ship, and stopped. The cells were about seven hoof lengths deep by six wide, they had only a small cot and a simple plastic bucket to take care of business. Sweetie Belle looked at the thing in dread until a simple question escaped her mouth.

“Where are the bars?” 

“Just get in, you’ll see.” One of the guards absently shoved her into the cell where she tumbled and fell, scraping her torso against the ground. Something within her jumpsuit poked at her ribs. The guard trotted to the side and, pulling out an odd triangular bar, inserted it into the wall nearest her cell. With a loud whoosh a green wall of energy descended between her and the corridor.

Sweetie Belle gulped. She recognized this wall. Each and every Sparkle Generator had one protecting their fragile inner workings. They were almost impenetrable shields created out of pure energy. One touch of the shiny material and it would be over for her.

“You’re lucky aren’t you, only the highest level prisoners get one of these babies. I’d love to find out who a wimp like you pissed off to land yourself one.” The guard leered,  trotting away with his cohort.

Sweetie Belle slowly lifted herself off of the ground as the guards hoofsteps faded. This was horrible. Within a few hours she went from being hopeful to being completely crushed. She didn’t know much about this Alcatrotz place, other than the fact that it was the worst know prison in Equestria. Sweetie Belle rested her head against one of the cold walls.

Moving, she felt something poke at her chest. Unconsciously she rubbed against the hard object. That wasn’t part of the suit? Gingerly, she used her magic to pull the weird object from out of within her suit and into her hooves. It was a small thick triangular bar. Along its side the name and rank of Captain Darius was printed in neat, tidy letters.

“Is that what I think it is?” said a voice from beyond the wall.

Sweetie Belle jerked up and stared out of the green shield. “Hello?”

“Hi, I am over here. You see?” A light red pony from the cell across Sweetie Belle’s waved excitedly. “My name is Mira. Nice to meet you!”

Sweetie Belle was uncertain as to whether or not she should talk to the strange pony. Most of the ponies in here were criminals after all... “Um, hi? My name is Sweetie Belle,” she said finally.

“Pleased to meet you! So, that thing you’re holding... Is it a uni-key?” Mira pointed to the odd triangular object Sweetie Belle held.

“I don’t know, I found it in my pocket. Why, what is it?”

Mira smiled broadly. “That, my little filly, is our way out!”


“Yup,” said the pony as she nodded. “That’s one of those shmancy keys they give to high-ranking officers. They can open up just about anything...”

“Question is, how did she get one, and how did she sneak it in here?” said a much calmer, more mature voice. Sweetie Belle approached the edge of her cell and looked into the one next to Mira’s. An old grey stallion nodded to her.

“That’s Preacher. Or at least, that’s what we call ‘im.” Mira smiled through her cell wall at Preacher. He just grunted.

        Sweetie Belle looked at the little object and felt tears well up in her eyes. Darius must have been looking out for her. She had to use it. “How did you say we could use it to get out?” she asked.

        “Simple!” giggled Mira. “You just need to put it in the slot!” She pointed at the wall near her cell, right where the guard had turned on the shield.

        Preacher looked at Mira then at Sweetie Belle and sighed. “You two are perfect, one is bubbly and stupid, the other is slow and stupid. Great.” He sighed again, then addressed Sweetie Belle. “Look kid, do you know what the biggest weakness in these shields is? No? I’ll tell you: there are none. But the thing that powers them...” His sentence was cut short as the ship rocked from side to side.

Sweetie Belle cringed and hung onto the cot until the ship steadied itself.

“What the hay is going on!” screamed a voice from further within the prison.

“Oh, calm down, Spray, these old ships are horrible during take off, just hang on for a while,” said Preacher, who hadn't moved while the ship lurched,  he sighed again. “This ship was around when most of you were still in diapers. You ought to respect it a bit more, all right?”

“You’re a boring old fart,” said Mira.

“Watch your tongue!” Preacher growled back. Mira blew a raspberry at him.

Sweetie Belle looked at the odd exchange with a mix of humour and horror. Those ponies might be the only ones to be able to save her. “Um, Mira, about that escape thing?”

The red pony jumped to the edge of the cell. “Oh yeah! You see these wall, shield things? They’re powered by the ship’s Sparkle Generators. Because this is an old ship, it uses the pulse models. No continuous power, just a bunch of small strong bursts. Just look at it and you’ll see.”

Sweetie Belle decided to play along. Leaning in towards the shield, she stared at it intently. To her surprise every dozen or so seconds it would fade away then disappear only to reappear even brighter until it faded to nothing again. “It’s... pulsing?”

“Exactly,” answered Preacher. “Only for half a second, not long enough for anypony to jump out of the cell without being cut in half, but maybe long enough for you to get that key out...”

“I could open it up!”

“Yup! Then you can let us out!” exclaimed Mira. Sweetie Belle didn’t smile or cheer as she debated whether or not to let them out.

“Oh, come on!” said Spray from afar. “Don’t tell me she won’t let us out! This boat is full of Imps!”

“It is her key, it is her choice.” said Preacher in a deep voice that conveyed wisdom. “Get to sleep everypony, we can work out our differences in the morning. Anyway, it wouldn’t be very bright of us to steal a ship in the middle of Canterlot: the whole city is crawling with Imps. Best we wait for later, when we will be far enough away to escape.”

Sweetie Belle had to agree with him. When he mentioned sleep the entirety of the day’s ordeals fell upon her shoulders. She was tired. With heavy hooves, she trotted over to the cot and laid down, closing her eyes to the gentle humming of the ship. From her cot, she heard Mira and Preacher do the same. The entire cell block became quiet.

*        *        *

“Wakie, wakie!” said a sweet yet oddly masculine voice.

Sweetie Belle twisted on the hard cot. Her aching body told her that it was far from the time she should be waking up at. With a groan, she rose her head up and looked at the dark cell wall.

“Come on, little pony, time to pay up.”

Sweetie Belle furrowed her brows. Pay up? To whom? She twisted off the cot and fell onto the ground on all fours. Looking at the entrance she could barely discern the shape of a pegasus distorted beyond the green shield.

“Who is it?” she groaned.

“It’s me!” The face of corporal Green Lance lit up in the sheen of her cell’s shield. He gave her a slow sardonic smile. “Time to pay.”

Sweetie Belle let out a loud squeak and backed away from the cruel pony. Her mind raced crazily as she tried to discern how the pegasus had found his way to her cell. “How did you get here?”

“Well, you see, our little escapade on board the Conformity earned me quite a bit of trouble, something about not assaulting a prisoner. But once I got to court a certain influential pony heard of what I tried to do to you and he was very much pleased about it. And he actually promoted me. Now I’m a Sergeant Green Lance.” He licked his lips.

Sweetie Belle did what her sister had always told her to do in this sort of situation. Taking in a deep breath of air she filled her lungs, “HEEEEEELPPP! helphelphelphelp!” she screamed, making every wall within the metallic cell ring.

Green Lance cringed slightly then began laughing. “Oh please. Don’t bother. The guards are ordered to ignore every sound that comes out of here. We’re all alone.”

“Really? I always had the faint sentiment that I counted as somepony...” said Preacher from his cell.

“Hey look Preachy, he’s all ready for action!” Mira laughed and pointed in between Green Lance’s legs.

“Shut up you idiots! You’ll be next.” Green Lance turned back to Sweetie Belle, grinning as he looked into her tear-filled eyes. “Okay then, guess I’ll have to be extra good; can’t disappoint my crowd.” Unfazed, he trotted out of sight as he headed over to the cell’s locking mechanism.

Droplets of cool sweat began to roll down her coat. This couldn’t be happening! What was she going to do? Fight back? No, he was stronger. Run? This was a prison filled with armed guards. She looked around her at everything she had. Nothing, just the clothes on her back and Captain Darius’ key. The key! Swallowing, Sweetie Belle came up with a plan.

The shield dissipated with a quiet whoosh just as Green Lance reappeared. She noticed that his lance wasn’t very lance-like. Weren’t they supposed to be bigger? The corporal strutted into the room with a grim smile, eager to get to work.

Sweetie Belle, playing her role, slid back towards the back wall of her cell and began whimpering. “Aww, don’t worry, I’ll make it good.” he said.

“I hope they make you dead,” she countered. While Green Lance furrowed his brow at her questioningly, she used her magic to shoot the Captain’s key towards the locking mechanism of the cell across from hers.

The shield over Mira’s cell vanished, revealing the overly happy mare. Gently she trotted out wearing an insane smile “Fun, fun, fun! Thanks for the help, lil’ one.” The red mare turned and simply walked away, her hooves ringing off of the steel floor as she disappeared deeper into the prison.

“Huh?” Green Lance looked between the now-open cell and Sweetie Belle. “How the hay did you do that?” Shaking his head he continued, “Crazy-ass mares, where the hay did she go to? Bah, who gives a buck; I’ve got business to attend to.”

Sweetie Belle recoiled: Mira had abandoned her! Real tears stung her eyes as she tried to grasp at the situation. Almost calmly, Green Lance moved towards Sweetie Belle, his smile growing after each step.

“Hey stud!” Both Sweetie Belle and Green Lance turned to the entrance. Mira, holding a long baton with a hoof, was smiling at the corporal. “How’d you like to have a lance in ya?”

“Wha-?” he began but was cut short when the crazed mare hopped forward and swung the long black bar at him. Green Lance rolled to one side, narrowly avoiding the baton that crashed against the ground with a resounding crack.

“Not bad, stud-muffin; try dodging this one!” Tossing the baton in the air Mira hopped up and caught it in her muzzle. She tilted her head to one side, closed her eyes then gave the corporal a cute smile before charging at him.

Green Lance ran out of the cell and into the corridor, his hooves screeching against the metallic surface. “Help!” he screamed.

“They can’t hear you in here! You ordered them off, remember?” answered Mira through clenched teeth.

The stallion gulped as Mira stalked out of the cell, her face contorted in an evil, saliva-spewing grin. Gulping one last time Green Lance twisted around and ran away as fast as he could. Then, just as he passed in front of Preacher’s cell a grey hoof struck out, catching the green pegasus on the snout and sending him tumbling across the ground in a fury of jumbled hooves and wings.

With a joyful squeal Mira hopped over to the groaning stallion and raised the baton high above her head.

At the sight of the mare, Green Lance twisted around in an attempt to rise. When he noticed the red legs next to him, his head moved up, taking in the crazy mare and her stick. “No, no, please you don’t understand I was just kidd-” the rest of his words were cut off as the baton swung through the air and smashed against his head with a hollow thud.

        Sweetie Belle inched out of the cell, looking everywhere at once, expecting an entire army of guards to appear at any moment. “Hey, kid, will you open my cell, or what?” Sweetie turned to Preacher who was massaging his hoof gently. “Come on, hurry up.” Nodding, she removed the key from its slot and carried it over to Preacher’s cell.

        A buzz rose up throughout the cells as one question after another was fired off from the inmates.

        “Hey, is that cute lil’ mare free?”

        “What's going on?”

        “Is that guard dead?”

        One by one the other inmates awakened, many with a good idea of what had happened. They smelt freedom in the air and they wanted some.

        “Shut up!” Preacher screamed. The stream of questions quickly stopped and it was quiet in the prison. With a humph and a sigh the old stallion turned to Sweetie Belle. “You and Mira go around freeing the ponies; only the ones Mira wants, though.” Sweetie Belle however stayed where she was until the stallion sighed. “What?”

        “Why only some of them? Couldn’t I free all of them?”

        “Silly child: some of these prisoners are murderers and killers; they deserve to be put in jail, especially those in this row.” He indicated the line of cells where they were. “These ponies are the ones the Empire really dislikes.”

        “Then I should have left you in there too...” she said. Preacher started laughing loudly.

        “Quite right. You see, Mira and I are members of the rebellion. The Empire doesn’t like us much. Whether you want us to leave or not, we will.”

        “But... no, everypony here will be freed. I don’t want to leave them here...” Sweetie Belle looked away from Preacher’s piercing blue eyes.
        “Humph, fine, but later. First we get the members of the rebellion out; you can use the master controls to open all the cells at once when we are all out, all right? Mira, come help her.”
        “No problem Preachy!” The red mare popped up beside Sweetie Belle, her fur covered in small red stains, courtesy of Green Lance. “Come on Sweetie, let’s free us some ponies!”

        The two left Preacher where he was and began heading towards the other cells. Sweetie gingerly avoided the bloody green mess that was the Sergeant, taking her time to circumvent the stinking pile as she went about opening the cells that Mira indicated with glee.

        Eventually, the pair went around the entire prison, returning to corridor where their cells were. While they were doing this Preacher had been gathering a large group of now-freed ponies around him. Upon spotting them, he waved with a forehoof for them to approach. Sweetie Belle just looked at Mira and started trotting over.

From the corner of her eye a sad face she recognized caught her attention: it was the big earth pony that has helped her in the lines the previous day. Sweetie Belle naturally headed towards his cell with the goal of opening it on her mind.

Mira skipped around her and landed in between her and the cell. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“I was going to free him...”

“He’s a criminal!”

“So are you!”

“And you!” Sweetie Belle flinched. Mira continued, “This guy is the real deal. He killed plenty of innocent ponies for no reason. You must not let him go.”

Sweetie Belle was still uncertain. After all, why should she trust Mira to begin with?

“She’s right: you shouldn’t let me out. Go along, lil’ one.” he said.

        Sweetie Belle looked at him with sad eyes. “All right then...”

        “Just remember me as Freeze Charge,” said the earth pony before backing away into the dark recesses of his cell.

        Mira patted Sweetie Belle on the shoulder and led her over to the group of rebels congregated around Preacher.

        “Folks, this is Sweetie Belle, and she is the one that freed your sorry flanks.” Some of the ponies trotted over to her, patting her on the back or giving her their thanks. “Sweetie Belle, this is the Echo division of the rebellion.”

        Sweetie Belle gulped when all the faces in the crowd became serious at once.

        “Mira, would you mind keeping an eye on her?” asked Preacher. Mira nodded happily. “Go with Spray to the main transport hold and fire up their engines. When we get there, we won’t want to stick around.”

        “What about the rest of you?” asked Sweetie Belle.

        “We are going to raid the armoury then cripple the ship’s engines. After that, we will meet up with you in the hanger. We won’t leave a single ship here.”

        “Don’t! I mean... don’t break the ship: the other prisoners might want to use it...” said Sweetie Belle.

        Preacher furrowed his brow, then grabbed his chin with a forehoof. “Hmmm. They might become an asset: the Empire is more likely to chase after them if they have an entire warship than us with our few transports.... all right then. I must say, for one so young, you have some decent ideas.”

        With a sigh, Preacher and all the ponies ran out of the prison, leaving Mira, Spray and Sweetie Belle alone but for the company of the still-imprisoned ponies.

“Come on fillies, let’s go,” said Spray as he began trotting after the rest of the rebels. As they neared the exit, Sweetie Belle heard a single strangled shout that was quickly cut off. She looked towards where the cry had originated, and saw the shape of a single slumped pony in Imperial garb, blood flowing out of an open wound.

“Sweeeeetie, it’s over here,” whispered Mira, stretching her name in what would have been an almost comical fashion, were it not for the situation they were in. The red mare was pointing at a control panel dotted with dozens of buttons and small screens. When Sweetie Belle approached, she figured out what it was: the master control to the prison area.

Gulping, she levitated Darius’ key and slid it into a slot on the control’s face. With a small click, the machine accepted the device. Sweetie Belle quickly typed in the necessary prompts to open every cell at once. It was easy: after all, the prison ship was equipped with ludicrously old tech.

A few minutes of illegal tampering later, and all the cells began to grind open at once. Sweetie grabbed the key between her teeth just in time as Spray yanked her tail and began dragging her towards the entrance. “Whhath hare yeush dohing!?” she screamed through her filled mouth.

“Yoush wan to be lefft ina room phull of reeally anwry and reshently phreed criminalsh, yer choish, but Phreachher fold me ta get you to tha shipsh, and I don’ phink he eant in multiphle pharts.” Spray said through her tail, soaking the end of it in saliva as he passed the threshold of the exit. Dumping Sweetie Belle on the ground, he turned around and bucked the heavy doors closed with a loud thump. 

“Hmmm, not enough.”

 Spray turned around and noticed Mira, who was bouncing up and down, baton still in her mouth. “Ahh, that’ll do.” Running over, he ripped the stick out of the mare's mouth and shoved it in between the door handles, locking them from the outside. “Brilliant!” he exclaimed just as something -or somepony- slammed into the heavy door from the other side.

“I’m going to eat you!” screamed a voice from the other side.

“Oh, piss off.”

        “That’s not very nice,” chastised Mira. Spray ignored her, and helped Sweetie Belle back onto her hooves.

        “Come on, the hangar isn’t very far away.”

        “Um, alright.” Sweetie Belle stepped around the two nearly-dead guards and trotted after Spray, quickly followed by the ever-enthusiastic Mira.

        The three escapees ran through the straight, narrow corridors of the ship as Spray guided them expertly from the brig to the hangar, avoiding the corridors and passageways where heaps of Imperial guards and soldiers lay unconscious.

After over a dozen minutes of dodging through the grimy hallways filled with flickering, badly-maintained lights, the three arrived in the huge hangar. Spray poked his head out of the entrance and then turned back to the two mares behind him. “All clear, get those ships up and running: the others should be here soon.”

With a quick nod, Sweetie Belle followed Mira around the stallion and into the cavernous hold.
        One wall was made up entirely of two huge doors that split in the middle. When opened, they allowed the half-dozen fighter planes that were still on long launch ramps prepared to take off at a moments notice. The most eye-catching thing  stood in the middle of the room, A large grey gunship. Freshly painted and bristling with new equipment.  It stood out starkly in the old, run-down, hangar of the airship.

        “Are those Vanquishers?” exclaimed Mira as she approached one of the bat-like ships. slowly, and with wide eyes, the mare reared up onto her hind legs and gently rstroked one of the fighter plane’s stubby wings. Turning back to Sweetie Belle she grin, hugely. “I love it!” Then the mare`s attention was grabbed by the gunship. With a loud gasp she charged to it. Abandoning the Vanquisher for the much shinier ship.

        Sweetie Belle, a little more cautious, approached the ship as well. She noted the name etched into its side: Thunderbolt Mark One, Model Eight. As she read the nameplate, Mira opened the sliding side door and hopped in. Seconds later she popped her head out and smiled sheepishly at Sweetie Belle. “Um, how do you turn this on?”

        Sighing, Sweetie Belle joined Mira in the tight cabin and surveyed it. At the front were the pilot’s and co-pilots seats, as well as the body of the main controls. Within the main cockpit were two sliding doors on either end, beside each, a pair of machine guns mounted on swivels was bolted to the hull. The back of the ship ended in an upwards sweeping mound where the cabin was attached to the ship’s small balloon. The floor was flat but for two great bumps that housed the Sparkle Generators.

        Mira hopped over the consoles and sat in the pilot's seat, and then looked at Sweetie Belle for a clue on how to start the ship. With a sigh, Sweetie Belle indicated for Mira to move over, taking over the pilot’s seat. The sounds of hooves climbing into the ship made Sweetie Belle twist around. Spray nodded to her before speaking. “The Vanquishers are all on standby. Honestly I don’t know what to do about this ship. The Sparkle Generators on these models are notoriously hard to deal with.”

“I think I might be able start it...”

Spray scoffed at her. “Yeah, right. The little filly, hardly big enough to be called a mare and knows how to reprogram a Sparkle Generator.”

Sweetie Belle reddened as her abilities were laughed at., but she wasn't about to give up yet. After a few seconds of working out the mechanics of the complicated set of dials and meters, Sweetie Belle got to work. Buttons flashed, machines started up, and the entire rig rumbled to life as Sweetie Belle’s magic and hooves danced across the controls. This type of Sparkle Generator was new, she noted duly, but not nearly as hard to work with as those back home.  

“All done,” she chimed. Spray and Mira both stared at her, completely awed. Sweetie Belle’s blush returned in force. “What? Miss Sparkle taught me a lot about Sparkle Generators in Ponyville... I mean, I wanted to learn, and she needed somepony to test them...” The uncomfortable silence grew.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

Spray shook his head. “No, no. You’re just full of surprises that`s all.”

        The sounds of a dozen ponies screaming and hollering cut their discussion short. Some of the rebels that had accompanied Preacher burst into the room, many of them immediately headed right for the nearest fighter planes they could find and hopped in, closing the cabin behind them, one approached the Thunderbolt and hopped in.

        “Trouble: the remainder of the guard didn’t take it kindly that we stole from their armoury; they followed us over. We’ve got to take off. Now!”

        Preacher and a few others appeared at the entrance, the small remnants of the group were walking backwards, explosions sounded from the exit as they fired at the unseen enemy with their newly-obtained weapons.  “Get to the ship, I’ll hold them off!” ordered Preacher as he dove for cover behind some crates and returned fire to the Imperials rounding the corner.

        The last of the rebels ran to do as he told and either hopped into the Thunderbolt or took over the last of the Vanquisher’s.

        “Go!” yelled one of the ponies in the ship to Sweetie Belle.

        “I don’t know much about flying!” she yelled back. Every one of the passengers groaned. “Shouldn't the gates be opened first?” Everypony in the ship looked out the front viewport and to the massive steel doors still tightly shut.

        “Crap.” Spray opened the gunship’s door and yelled at Preacher who was still hiding behind cover. “Boss, the doors!” He waved at the door control panel near the main exit.

        Nodding once, Preacher took a running start towards the controls, firing the last of his rounds blindly as he ran. Jamming a hoof unto the panel the entire gateway began to vibrate and shiver, and then open with loud metallic grunts.

        The sun’s light blinded Sweetie Belle as it peeked through the ever-growing maw of the opening doors. She was suddenly distracted by the unfamiliar sound of gunfire. The guards were swarming into the room, firing at anything that moved.

        “Get in the ship!” yelled Spray from the still-open door of the gunship. Preacher turned to him and, with a sad shake of his head, remained where he was, guarding the control panel.

        “Shit, shit, shit.” Spray punched the ships walls, making the entire cabin reverberate. “Gun it, Sweetie!”

“Al-all right then.” Sweetie pushed down on the throttle, and the Thunderbolt slowly lifted up from the ground, sending clouds of wind towards the guards as their gunfire became more erratic.

“Should we use the machineguns, Sir?” asked on of the rebels. Spray took a while to realize that they were addressing him.

“No, you might hit the wrong target—” the rest of his words were drowned out as, one after another, the Vanquishers took off in a fury of sparks and exhaust. Spray leaned forward at tapped on Sweetie Belle’s shoulder. Nodding, she added more fuel and the Thunderbolt began moving forward. Mira leaned over and flicked on the radio, and small chatter from the other pilots in the Vanquishers filled the cabin.

As they pulled out of the Adamant Fury’s hangar the full brightness of the sun blinded her. The mid day sun beamed into the ship, warming the skin of ponies who had spent too long in cold, confining, cells. With a small smile, Sweetie Belle contemplated her newfound freedom. Still, it saddened her that Preacher was left behind. At least the other prisoners would be able to help them out, right?

“Watch out!” screamed a voice over the radio, breaking into Sweetie Belle’s thoughts and forcing her to look ahead.

        Not a hundred hoof-lengths away the form of a giant Interdiction-Class destroyer loomed, all of its barrels aimed straight at them.

        “Move, Sweetie Belle!” yelled Mira before covering her face from the incoming wall of flame that engulfed their ship. 

Sweetie Belle’s eyes widened as she realized there was no escape.

First things first. A HUGE thank-you to CheezeSauce, that magnificent fellow spent all day working on this chapter to make it decent for public consumption, please give that brony a pat on the back and a twenty dollar bill! Without him this wouldn't be here.

Also, I extend my thanks to TheWattsMan, who as usual did an excellent job of picking away at my mistakes. And to Eruedraith, who helped a ton with the proofreading!

Chapter seven... Eventually!