• Published 19th Jun 2013
  • 3,850 Views, 86 Comments

Pony Express - ocalhoun



The Planet Express delivery company takes a delivery to a planet called 'Equestria'. This won't end well.

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Chapter 1

“Good news, everyone!”

A chorus of groans came from around the Planet Express break room in response to Professor Farnsworth's pronouncement.

“Uh oh. Here it comes.” Apparently, even Fry knew that the Professor's 'good news' was bad news. Leela steeled herself for the worst.

“You'll be delivering this mysterious package to a planet called 'Equestria', deep within the Sector of no Return.

Despite his upbeat voice, Leela could tell that this wasn't likely to be one of their safest missions. “And then we'll be returning, right?” she prodded.

“Oh my, yes. Of course...” He turned toward Hermes and whispered just a bit too loudly, “there's a first time for everything, right?”

“But what if we don't...” Fry gasped. “Planet Express would be doomed!”

“Doooooomed!” Bender added helpfully.

“Don't worry,” Hermes said, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his neck. “I've determined that it would be a tax-deductible business expense.”

The Professor clapped his hands together and smiled. “There, you see, perfectly safe! Now, off you go!”

Fry cringed down into the couch. “Aw, but I promised Bender we'd go to the Neil Diamond concert!”

“Hey!” Bender held his arms akimbo and scowled at Fry. “I thought you said we were going to steal diamonds! What's this crap about a concert?”

“That will have to wait until you get back,” the Professor said. “For now, you need to get going.”

Fine.” Bender grabbed the package from where it sat next to Farnsworth and stomped off toward the landing bay. “Beats some crummy concert, anyway.”

Dragging Fry along, Leela also made her way to the ship. “You can count on us to get the job done, Professor!”

“Eh, whaa?” The Professor peered at her with confusion in his eyes as she stepped past him. “What job? What are you people talking about?”

Paying him no mind, Leela continued on into the ship. Sector of return or sector of no return, they had a delivery to make. Next stop, Equestria!

* * *

There it was, the Equestria System, already visible in the front window, and not a single problem so far. This 'Sector of no Return' was turning out to be a lot tamer than Leela expected.
“Approaching destination!” she called out behind her. “Navcom status?”

“Online,” Bender replied.

“Wait...” She squinted her eye towards the rapidly approaching system. “Something's strange here...” She glanced over at the readouts on her console and gasped. “That sun is orbiting the planet!” She turned to her fellow crew members. “That's amazing! How is that even possible?”

“So?” Bender glared at Leela. “I orbited a planet that one time Fry shot me out of the airlock, and nobody thought that was amazing.”

“That's because you're not a sun.” Leela rolled her eye. “And because you totally deserved it.”

“Sheesh.” Bender swiveled his back to her and sulked. “Try to hijack the ship to wipe out the human race one time...”

Leela tuned out Benders mumbling; the planet was approaching fast. “Okay, Fry, touchdown in four minutes. Stand by on the zigzag plotter.”

“Aye, Captain!” Fry replied as the ship began to enter Equestria's atmosphere. The zigzag plotter didn't do anything, of course. Leela just knew from experience that it was best to have something to keep Fry occupied during takeoff and landing.

Seeing the ground approaching, Leela prepared the ship for landing.

* * *

“It's great that you girls could make it here for my first air show!” Rainbow gushed, “It's going to be awesome!” She glanced down again at the Wonderbolts uniform she was wearing. She could still barely believe she was finally about to fly with her life-long heroes. She looked out over the wide palace balcony, already daydreaming of–

“You bet it's gonna be awesome!” Scootaloo rushed back up to her side. The filly had been awfully hard to get away from today.

“Hey, Squirt,” Rainbow said, looking down at Scootaloo, “don't you have a Junior Speedsters sign-up to get to?”

The little filly straightened and her eyes widened in shock. She looked up at the clock tower visible from the huge balcony. “Oh my gosh, the sign-up! I'm late!” Impossibly, she whipped her scooter out from nowhere and began buzzing off. “See you guys later!” she called out as she puttered away.

“Are you certain she'll be all right all by herself in Canterlot?” Rarity asked. “She is rather young to be–”

“She'll be fine.” Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes. “I wandered all over Canterlot when I was her age, and besides, she doesn't even have to leave the castle. What could possibly go wrong?”

“I don't know...” Applejack looked around warily. “If Applebloom was here, I'd–”

Pinkie Pie cut her off with a sharp call of, “Twitchy tail!

Rainbow Dash – along with the rest of her friends – looked over at Pinkie, and again her pink tail twitched. Rainbow sprang into action. A call of, “everypony inside! Quick!” was enough to get all five of her friends off of the open balcony and safely inside the doorway leading to it. “What's falling, Pinkie?” Rainbow asked.

“I... I don't know,” Pinkie answered, “but it's something big!”

Nervously, all six ponies peeked out through the open archway. The sky was blue and clear – as anypony would expect on a day with a Wonderbolts air show scheduled. There didn't seem to be any threat of anything falling, but everypony present had learned to take Pinkie's prescient twitches very seriously. With a wince, Rainbow started to wonder if Pinkie might be predicting that something would fall during her air show. Oh please no! Whatever happened, Rainbow would be devastated if something caused her very first show to be a failure.

Suddenly, though, any doubt about the meaning of Pinkie's premonition could be put to rest. Something huge, green, and metallic came shooting down from the sky. It was completely impossible. Those things only existed in the science fiction adventure novels Twilight let Rainbow borrow sometimes... but there it was: a real, live spaceship! And it was coming in fast – too fast, if Rainbow knew anything about flying – and she certainly did. With a resounding crash that sent the ponies dashing for cover again, the ship smashed into the wide balcony in front of them nose first. Cracks radiated from the point of impact, but the balcony held together as the huge ship teetered there, balancing precariously on its nose. With another crunching slam, the ship slowly fell down onto its belly. Only after it came to a halt did landing gear and a ramp pop out, lifting it back up just a little.

As Rainbow and her friends looked on in awe, a strange creature came walking down the ship's ramp. It walked on its hind legs only, and seemed to be made of metal. Its head swiveled around entirely backwards and a voice came from it: “Nice flying there, captain depth perception!”

Another creature followed it, replying, “My flying was fine. It was Fry's fault for screwing up on the zigzag plotter.” This one also walked on two legs, and also was tailless, but there the similarities ended. This one did have a mane, though that seemed to be her only hair, the rest of her being bald... and she looked female... but her most striking feature was her one, enormous eye.

Rainbow watched in amazement as yet another of these strange creatures walked out. This one had an orange mane, and at least seemed to have a normal number of eyes. “Hey, I was busy!” he shouted back.

“Busy picking your nose!” the metal one jeered.

“Hey, that's important!” the orange-maned one insisted.

“But did you have to use both hands?” The one-eyed one sighed and rolled her enormous eye. “Anyway, bring the package, delivery boy.”

The orange-maned one returned to the ship, grumbling. Moments later, he reappeared, this time carrying a cardboard box. Only then did the strange bipedal being seem to notice the six ponies watching him from the doorway. “Oh, there they are now,” he said, walking over with the box. “Is one of you... um...” He looked closely at the box for a moment. “Princess Celestia?”

“Nopey Dopey!” Pinkie Pie blurted out from behind Rainbow.

Rainbow herself was far from sure about these creatures. “Who are you, anyway, and what are you?”

“Oh, I'm Fry, and I'm a delivery boy.”

That hardly satisfied Rainbow's suspicious curiosity, but the other two creatures were already approaching. Before Rainbow could interrogate further, the purple-maned one walked up and interrupted. “What are you waiting for, Fry? Just hand over the package and let's go.”

“But they're not 'Princess Celestia',” he replied.

Hearing that, the one-eyed one finally seemed to take notice of the ponies in front of her. “Oh my gosh!” She gasped. “They're adorable!”

“Neat!” the metal one said, pulling a bright-colored camera out of his chest and taking a quick picture of the ponies. After putting it back, he looked around. “So if none of you jerkwads is this Princess Celestia, then who is? Where is she?”

“Oh, the Princess is in another–”

Rainbow shut Twilight up with a hoof shoved into her mouth. “Don't tell them!” She glanced back at the intruders suspiciously. “We don't know who they are, or why they're here!”

As usual, Pinkie butted right into the conversation. “They don't look so dangerous to me.”

“Well, they sure must look scary to Fluttershy.” Applejack pointed over to where the pegasus cowered behind Rarity. “And I ain't too sure myself about that metal feller.”

Rarity herself grimaced at the three creatures. “And do you see the boots that one is wearing? It's atrocious!”

The purple-maned creature narrowed her one eye and glared at Rarity. “Look. Just tell us where we can find this princess so we can deliver our package and get out of here, okay?”

“Oh, you're just delivering the Princess a package?” Twilight said, extricating Rainbow's hoof from her mouth. “She's just–”

Twilight!” Rainbow stopped her friend again, this time with a rough shake. “We don't even know who they are! There's no way we can trust them.”

Twilight rolled her eyes and fluffed out her wings. “Fine.” Turning back to the intruders, she asked, “So, who are you anyway?”

“Oh, this is Fry–”

The one-eyed one's introduction was cut off by Fry's, “I already told them.”

Ignoring him, she continued, “and this is Bender–”

“Wooo!” the metal one shouted, “that guy's the greatest!”

“And I'm Leela. We're from the Planet Express delivery company.” She gave an exasperated sounding sigh and asked, “Can we please move along now?”

“Sure,” Twilight chimed in, “The Princess is–”

Twilight!” Rainbow still wasn't ready to trust these things, names or no names.

“I'm sure the Princess can take care of herself, Rainbow.” Twilight laughed. “But we can escort them there personally if it makes you feel better.”

Somehow, Rainbow just knew these bizarre things weren't to be trusted. She just knew this wouldn't turn out well. But what could she do but go along with it and keep a close eye on them?

* * *

“I still don't know about these aliens. I don't like the way they're looking at me.” Bender swiveled his head around to glare back again at the ponies following them.

“They look pretty harmless to me.” Fry shrugged – as well as he could while lugging the box.

Too harmless.” With a mechanical whir, Bender's eyes narrowed.

“Give it a rest, Bender.” Leela herself found these little aliens too cute for words. “Just look how adorable they are.”

Bender's arms crossed. “Too adorable. I don't trust 'em.”

“Hey, I am not adorable!” The rainbow-haired one flew up in front of Leela with a scowl on her face. “I am awesome!”

“Awesomely fruity, maybe.” Bender chuckled at his own joke.

“Hey!” The pony flew up to Bender now. “I am not going to be talked to like that by a big walking lunchbox!” The pony's glaring expression wasn't to be trifled with. Even the usually indomitable Bender was given pause by it.

The robot glanced left and right, looking for an escape. After a moment, he suddenly straightened in shock, and he pointed at something behind the pony accosting him. “Oh my gosh! Look! It's a giant yellow space vampire!”

Everyone, even Leela herself, turned to look, only to see nothing. She should have known better. Yellow space vampires had gone extinct decades ago. As she turned back, she only caught the slightest glimpse of the robot disappearing down a side passage.

“Hey, where'd he go?” the rainbow one asked, looking around suspiciously.

The ponies all looked at each other blankly, apparently at a loss.

Shrugging it off, Leela resumed walking along the corridor as if nothing had happened.

“Hey!” The rainbow pony zoomed in front of her again. “Where do you think you're going?”

Leela froze; she hated it when she had to take the flak for Bender's misdeeds. “I'm going to deliver the package.” Playing it off as no big deal might just do the trick.

“Oh no you're not, not until you tell us where that metal guy went.” The pony wasn't backing down. “Right, Twilight?”

“I guess so,” one of the ponies behind Leela answered.

“Uh...” Leela didn't know what to do. They were a long way from the ship already. This wouldn't be a good time to go picking fights. Suddenly, though, an idea came to her. “Is that Princess Celestia!?” she said, pointing off into the distance. Again, everyone looked. Leela couldn't believe that trick worked twice in a row. Hurriedly, she slipped down a different side passage. From here, she could make her way safely back to the ship.

* * *

Rainbow Dash seethed in frustration as yet another one of these strange beings vanished. She turned to the remaining one, determined not to let all of them slip away. She stared him down, glowering right into his face.

Moments of tense silence followed... and then still more moments of silence. Then, finally, this one seemed to have an idea as well. “Oh my gosh! Look! It's a pink magical unicorn!” The creature pointed away down the corridor – as well as it could point at anything while holding the box in its hands, anyway.

Rainbow just kept staring at him. She was not about to fall for that again. Nopony else seemed distracted either, not even Pinkie.

The look on the creature's face grew pained. “Aw, come on. That worked for everybody else. No fair.”

* * *

Leela slinked around another corner, wary of the two armored guards trotting by. Luckily, they didn't seem to notice her. She rushed down the hallway as soon as it was clear. She was sure that it led in the right direction to get back to the ship. She must be only minutes away now. At the next intersection she stopped, peeking carefully around each corner. Assured that this hallway was clear as well, she shot out again – only to trip and fall horribly as something smacked into her shins.

“Ouch! Hey, watch where you're going!” a small voice cried out from the floor behind her.

Leela turned around to look in disgust and annoyance, but these emotions instantly faded when she saw what – or who, rather – she had tripped over. If she had thought the adult aliens were cute, this little orange and purple one was on a whole new level of adorability.

“Oh no!” Her escape was momentarily forgotten in a briefly irresistible nurturing urge to help this cute little thing. “Are you okay?” She looked around. No other aliens were in view. “Where's your mommy and daddy?”

“I'm fine. I've had worse crashes,” the little one said, picking herself up, “and I don't have any parents.”

That wrenched Leela's heartstrings. “You're... you're an orphan?”

“Well, yeah, I guess...”

“What's your name, little one?” Leela struggled to restrain herself from running over and scooping the little thing up into a hug right away.

“Name's Scootaloo!” the little filly volunteered proudly.

“Do you want a mommy?” Leela asked, her heart in her throat. This helpless little orphan alien was just irresistible.

* * *

“And you should be sure to address her as 'your royal highness', dear.” The white and purple alien was by far the most annoying of the bunch, Fry decided. “And do remember to bow... however it is your species does that.”

Fry rolled his eyes. Here he was – again – stranded on an alien world while his friends abandon him to do the real delivery work. And this was definitely one of the stranger planets where it had happened to him.

Off to the side of the passageway, a light green alien nudged the one next to her, whispering loudly, “See, Bon Bon! I told you they exist!” The other one in the alcove just stood and gaped at him.

Finally, he approached a huge golden set of doors. Hopefully this would be it, and he could finally be done with this delivery and get back to someplace normal.

Two big white ponies in golden armor stood at either side of the door. As Fry walked up, they spread their wings across, blocking his path. A nod from the purple pony following him, though, got them to fold back their wings and resume their silent watch. Fry looked back at her, a little grateful for her help. She smiled back, and as Fry turned back towards the doors, they began to glow purple and open.

Fry just shrugged and walked on through. He had seen plenty of stranger things here in the future. Inside was a huge, ornate room, and on the other side of it was a white pony much bigger than the others, sitting on top of some kind of throne, with two more gold-armored ponies on either side. “Uh, which one of you is Princess Celestia?” he asked.

* * *

Twilight Sparkle stared at the alien creature in front of her, dumbfounded. Sure, he didn't know anything about pony society, but there was Princess Celestia, crown and throne and everything, and this 'Fry' creature couldn't tell if she was the princess or if it was one of the not-crowned, not-throned, male guards on either side? Just how dense was this Fry thing?

Still, it would be best not to make a scene, she supposed. “The one in the middle,” she whispered.

“Oh, thanks!” he said, much too loudly. Walking up to the dais – without bowing, of course – he called out, “I've got a package here for Princess Celestia.”

Celestia just smiled. She didn't seem to be bothered in the slightest by Fry's lack of etiquette. “That would be me.”

“Oh, good.” He tore a sheet of paper from the box. “Sign here, please.”

Celestia's horn glowed, and a quill shot out from behind her throne. As it flew over to sign the paper, Fry stared at it with a look of intense fascination on his face. What was wrong with this creature? Had he never seen a quill before? After Celestia signed the paper, Fry set down the box at her feet and held out his hand expectantly. What was he doing now?

Celestia just stared down at him and raised her eyebrow. She pointed a hoof at the writing on one side of the box. It read, 'do not tip delivery boy.'

Fry stuck his hands into his pockets and stared down at the floor. “Aw, that never works,” he mumbled dejectedly. “Oh well, at least I finally get to find out what's in the box.”

Celestia levitated the box with her magic, bringing it up next to her on the throne. She set it down there and looked at it closely. She then looked back towards Fry, Twilight, and her friends.

Everyone looked up to her, even Twilight herself, expectancy all over their faces.

Celestia did nothing.

Twilight kept staring at Celestia and her mysterious box and ruffled her feathers impatiently. The suspense was killing her.

“Well, my little ponies,” Celestia said, “I think I will retire from audience hours early today. It has been so lovely to see you all.” She began to get up. “Oh, and good luck at the air show this evening, Rainbow Dash.” With that, she rose from her throne and quickly left through the door to her private quarters behind it, taking the box with her.

“Well, that was disappointing,” the Fry creature commented.

Twilight shook her head. She shouldn't let not knowing what was in the box bother her so much. “Ugh. Come on girls, let's get back to getting ready for the air show.”

“I could be ready no time!” Rainbow boasted.

“We know, dear, but some of us do take just a little longer.” Twilight rolled her eyes, knowing that Rarity would be taking hours to dress for the occasion.

“Okay. You guys go. I've got to go look for my friends anyway. I'll find my own way out.” Fry was already heading for the door.

Rainbow made a move to intercept, but Twilight stopped her with a magical grip on her tail. “Let him go, Rainbow. He seems mostly harmless.”

* * *

Princess Celestia sighed in pleasant anticipation as she simultaneously locked the door of her private bathroom, started some almost-too-hot water in the bath, and set the box down beside it. The exotic bubble bath that made her mane glow and wave so magnificently was not easy to come by, but the luxurious feel of it made the difficultly so worthwhile. Once Luna had come back from the moon, though, her supply of the precious bubbly liquid had been running perilously low – low enough for her to resort to ordering it from an off-world source.

She began stripping off her ceremonial ornaments; the bath was already nearly full. As much as she might regret exposing her innocent little ponies to the outside universe, she was glad that she had made this order. Her royal vestments removed, she opened the box and poured a little of one of the bottles into the bath. Immediately, the sweet, heavenly smell of it permeated the room. As the bubbles reached the rim, she used her magic to shut the water off. This was going to be so lovely. Why, she didn't even have anything scheduled until the air show... She might even be able to allow herself to doze off a little. How decadent, she thought with a dreamy smile growing on her face.

* * *

Bender crept through the room as quietly as he could with a chest compartment full of loot. His first impulse was to be disappointed with the lack of steal-able items inside; distracting the two guards at the door had taken a lot of effort. Sadly, that effort had landed him inside some kind of bedroom, not a treasure room. His eyes fixed on something else though – a locked door at the back of the room. A locked room inside a guarded room? Maybe that would be where all the valuables were stashed! Softly chuckling with maniacal glee, he slipped a lock picking attachment onto his fingers.

As the door opened under his expert touch, the view on the other side once again disappointed him. There was nothing but a fancy bathroom and a big white pony sleeping in a tub full of bubbles in the center. He hung his head low in exasperation at the frustrating lack of reward for all his efforts... until he saw what was laying on the floor. Four golden horseshoes, a golden crown, and a huge golden collar with a nice, big violet gemstone set in it. With a whir, his eyes popped out in amazement. Now this was loot!

He wasted no time in ratcheting out his arms to grab the shining plunder. The shoes and crown fit into his chest compartment with ease, though it was starting to get full now. The collar, though, that was never going to fit inside. With a shrug, he tossed it onto his own neck. If anybody could pull off a fashion accessory like that, he could.

The clank of gold against his steel body seemed to have roused the big white pony in the tub. As she began to stir, Bender made a hasty exit. Time to get back to the ship; getting all this loot would be meaningless if he got caught before making it home.

* * *

Fry stumbled up the ramp back into the ship. He had looked everywhere, but he hadn't found the slightest trace of his friends. He was exhausted and his feet hurt. He was ready to be done with this planet.

“Hey, Fry, where've you been?” Leela sat happily in the pilot's chair, with a little orange pony in her lap.

Fry just groaned. Leela had been on the ship the whole time?

“Oh, and meet the newest member of our family, Scootaloo.” She patted the little pony on her lap.

“Hi, Fry,” the pony said.

Another one?” Fry shook his head. “Isn't one weird alien pet enough? Now you need Nibbler and this thing?”

“Hey, I'm nobody's pet!” the little pony shouted out, jumping to the floor. “I'm a pegasus and Leela's going to be my new mommy. She's going to take me up in a rocket and I'm going to get my cutie mark in space flying!”

Fry just stared at Leela in stunned disbelief. She at least had the decency to blush about it a little. “But she just seemed so lonely there,” Leela whined, “almost as lonely as Zoidberg.”

“But less likely to end up living in a dumpster!” Bender chose that moment to barge in, running onto the bridge. “Okay, party's over. Let's go!” He seemed to be really in a rush to leave, but when he spotted Scootaloo, he paused. “What's that?”

“Leela stole a baby pony,” Fry informed him, looking sternly at Leela.

“Stealing?” Bender put on his best look of outraged shock. He leaned forward to thrust and accusing finger at her. “I'm very disappointed in you, Leela.” As he leaned forward, the door to his chest compartment sprung open, sending an impressive pile of gold and jewels sprawling across the ship's floor.

For a moment, everyone just froze. Leela stared at Bender in accusatory disapproval. Bender stared at this pile of loot on the floor with his closest approximation of embarrassment. Fry continued to stare at Leela in disapproval. And Scootaloo stared at everybody in utter confusion.

The moment of silence was broken by hooves pounding on the ship's door. “Open up!” a gruff voice shouted from outside, “You're wanted for questioning regarding the kidnapping of Scootaloo Songwing and the theft of the royal regalia.”

“Cheese it!” Bender yelled out.

Leela needed no encouragement. She fired up the ship and blasted away within seconds, leaving the pony planet far behind.

* * *

“I want to thank all of you for responding to my summons so quickly,” Princess Celestia said from the dais in her throne room. “Especially you, Rainbow Dash. I know how hard it must be for you to miss your very first air show.”

Before anypony else could reply, Pinkie Pie blurted out, “Princess, why are you naked?”

Rainbow shook her head. Pinkie could be a lot of fun sometimes, but she just had no idea of when it wasn't appropriate. “It's no problem, Princess. Spitfire said she'd substitute me into the next air show as soon as I get back... and I'm not going to let down my princess or my friends!” As Rainbow dropped back to the floor after her outburst, she noticed Twilight blushing and trying very hard to hide a rising tail. Rainbow rolled her eyes. She should have known the effect that seeing Celestia in the nude would have on Twilight.

“Thank you, Rainbow,” Celestia said quietly. She stood up and addressed everypony in the room. “And thank you Pinkie Pie, for asking the question that everypony else is too polite to utter.” She sighed and looked off to the side. “I'm without my regalia because it has been stolen.”

A chorus of gasps echoed back after her pronouncement.

“And,” she continued, “a young filly has been abducted as well. I believe you know her: Scootaloo Songwing.”

“They took Scoots!?” Rainbow stomped her hoof down, furious. Now it was personal. “Where are they, Princess? I'm going after 'em!”

Celestia nodded softly. “Yes, you all are. I've called you all here to request that you track down these thieves and kidnappers, and bring back what – and whom – they took. It won't be easy. They have fled very far away, but if the six of you work together, I'm certain you can do it.”

“You can count on us, Princess!” Rainbow shouted out, shooting up into the air.

“Is it those strange creatures from the sky who are responsible?” Twilight asked.

“The very same, Twilight Sparkle.”

“But they flew off, back into the sky... how can we possibly track them down?”

“My regalia emits a magical energy that can be traced. You will be able to find them.” A coy grin blossomed onto Celestia's face. “But to be able to follow them where they've gone, you'll need just a little help.” She began walking away, down a side passage splitting from her audience chamber. “Follow me, please.”

* * *

For the second time in one day, Rainbow Dash stepped out onto Canterlot Castle's largest balcony. It still showed the cracks from the earlier impact it had suffered. Just on the edge of it, the Princess stopped, prompting Rainbow and her friends to stop as well.

“What kinda help are we gonna find out here?” Applejack asked. “I don't see anypony.”

Celestia's knowing grin just grew a little wider. Rather than responding to Applejack's question, she stepped over to a set of decorative jewels set into the railing and began tapping them with her hoof in a strange pattern. Each one made a small chiming sound as her hoof struck its facets. After a dozen or so taps, the final gemstone emitted a pure, pleasing note rather than the small tinks of the others, and Celestia lowered her hoof back to the ground. She then just looked out towards the center of the balcony expectantly.

Following her lead, Rainbow looked out onto the balcony as well... just in time to hear a loud cracking sound. As soon as the sound died down, a fissure began opening in the balcony's floor, quickly widening with the sound of stone grinding against stone.

Before long the entire floor of the balcony had disappeared into the castle, forcing Rainbow and her friends to huddle against the railing to avoid falling into the enormous chasm now opening beneath them. As the sound of grinding stone died off, it was replaced by another sound, a quieter mechanical whirring. Slowly, something began to rise from below.

The first parts to become visible were two back-swept tail fins, pure white and each adorned with a blazing sun emblem matching Celestia's cutie mark. After those rose the body, long and sleek, with a few windows at the front and gleaming golden stripes running down each side. The body widened towards the rear, extending out to each side. The front of each extension on the side bristled with things Rainbow didn't recognize, but they all looked dangerous. The whole contraption, she could see now, rested on three struts extending down onto the platform rising from below. As the platform became level with the balcony floor, it stopped moving with a clank, and a ramp descended from the closer side of the shining white-and-gold monstrosity.

“What in tarnation is that?” Applejack blurted out. Everypony listened in intently, the same question – if worded rather differently – burning in their own curiosities.

That, my little ponies,” the princess responded, pride obvious in her voice, “is my personal intergalactic starship, the Solar Flair.”

“Um, Princess?”

Celestia smiled down warmly. “Yes, Pinkie Pie?”

“What's an intergalactic starship?”

“A very good question, my little pony.” Rainbow automatically tuned out as soon as a lecturing tone crept into Celestia's voice. “A starship is a vehicle that can be used to travel to distant planets and stars. It has all the amenities of a sailing ship, and more. In particular–”

“Ooh! Can it be used for parties?” Pinkie's eyes grew wide as she awaited the answer.

“Well, yes, I suppose...”

“Yes! I'm going to start one right away!” Without another word, she became a pink blur and disappeared up the starship's ramp.

“So, this ship can travel to other stars?” Twilight asked. With her wings spread and her eyes bright, she looked nearly as eager as Pinkie had. “But wouldn't that take forever, given how distant they are?”

“Not at all, dear. You see, it's just a matter of reaching a high enough speed.” At the word 'speed', Rainbow's ears perked up and her attention was restored. “This ship is capable of achieving ninety-nine percent light speed – and that's before you engage the hyperdrive.” Rainbow's mouth gaped. She might not care much for science and stuff, but she did know about speed... and going that fast was beyond even her wildest dreams.

“Sweet! Let's take it for a spin!” Rainbow blurted out before she even realized it.

“Indeed, you should all get going as soon as possible, to minimize the thieves' head start.”

Twilight Sparkle snapped to attention at that. “We won't let you down, Princess.”

“I know you won't, my little ponies.”

“Time's a wastin'!” Applejack was already halfway to the ramp as she shouted back. “Let's get a move on!”

Rainbow needed no further encouragement. She shot off toward the ramp, her strong wings letting her beat Applejack inside – if only just barely.

* * *

“Come on, Rarity, we need to get to the bridge!” Twilight sighed in exasperation yet again.

“But did you see the gold inlay on that table? It was magnificent! And the–”

Rarity! We're on a mission here!” Getting to the bridge was taking far longer than it should have, with Rarity obsessing about every detail of the ship's craftsmanship. “You can explore the ship during the flight, but right now, we need to get to bridge and take off.”

“Oh, very well.” Rarity pouted. “But I am ever so disappointed that the Princess herself couldn't come along.”

Twilight growled in frustration as she walked down the ship's central corridor. “You know she has to stay in Equestria and raise the sun.” Finally, the doorway to the bridge became visible. “If she doesn't, who's going to step in and do it for her?”

“Well, Princess Luna, perhaps?”

“Luna? Really?” Twilight favored her friend with a witheringly skeptical glare. “Do you remember what happened the last time Luna tried to raise the sun?”

“Well... No.”

Did anypony else read the history books, ever? “The last time Luna tried to do Celestia's job for her, she almost dropped the sun right onto Canterlot!”

“Oh, but that must have been thousands of years ago, Twilight, darling. Surely she's improved since then... And Celestia was able to bring out the moon and stars well enough during the banishment times.”

“Well enough?” Twilight covered her face with a hoof. She never expected ignorance like this from Rarity of all ponies. She had always thought of Rarity as the most educated of her friends. “Celestia trying to do Luna's job is the reason why we have things like ursa majors walking around on the ground rather than in the night sky where they belong.”

“Oh dear... I see.”

Thank you.” Twilight shook her head. At least they had finally made it to the bridge. She tapped the big crystal in the middle of the door to open it as she had the others.

Inside, of course, her four friends were already waiting for her. “Finally!” Rainbow Dash cried out, “Can we go now?”

“Ah, sure,” Twilight replied, though, actually she was far from sure about all of this. She looked around from the pilot's seat. When she spotted it, she was less than enthusiastic to see Pinkie Pie filling it. “Do you even know how to fly this thing, Pinkie?”

“Nopey Dopey!” the pink mare said gleefully. She then grabbed a big red lever and pulled it all the way back, bringing a roaring sound from the rear of the ship.

Pinkie!” was all Twilight could shout as she was pinned back against the bridge's door.

* * *

Celestia watched as her starship blasted its way into the sky for the first time in thousands of years. Should she have given the ponies more instruction on how to operate it? Perhaps... but the autopilot was very good, and she had programmed it for this mission herself. She was certain they would be fine.

So why did she have this nagging feeling that she had forgotten something?