• Published 12th Oct 2011
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The End - shalrath



A friendly stranger delivers some unsettling knowledge about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

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Chapter 16

* * *

It was a beautiful day in Ponyville.

It was a miserable afternoon for Twilight.

The sun lay waning, plump and shimmery in the pale blue sky. A milky white orb that cast crepuscular rays through the roiling cloud bank that soared across the western horizon.

The cool light warmed Twilight’s face, but could not match the inferno within her head. Where one might stare at the sun with a squint, Twilight simply scowled ahead.

She turned with a snort, stamping back to her bedroom. Books lay strewn in discarded heaps, arranged as sandbars within a flowing stream. Her mind raced as her hooves paced. The sum of written knowledge within her trust placed had failed to answer the questions she faced.

“Come on, Twilight. Think.”

She did, ever so painfully.

The sun was a star. Equestria orbited the sun. Gravity caused less massive objects to orbit around more massive objects.

Or so she was told, earlier that morning.

She tapped her hoof as she contemplated Trent’s matter-of-factly stated principles. It seemed so natural coming from him. No trace of smug condescension, or haughty declaration forged from fervent faith. He didn’t even believe in what he said. He didn’t have to! He simply knew it to be true beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt. Unmistakable unshakable confidence.

Just as she knew that Princess Celestia brought the light of the sun to Equestria, and Luna raised the veil of night’s starlit tapestry.

A chill ran down the length of her spine. One innocuous little thought that sent shudders down to the tips of her hooves.

She considered Trent’s explanations again. They made sense, even with her admittedly tenuous understanding. Had it been any other subject, she might accept it on face value, with the same trust she extended to the many authoritative reams of knowledge penned within many books of many libraries. Silent sanctuaries of immutable wisdom.

Yet, it tore at her. Knowledge was truth. Truth was inviolate. It was comfort and stability within a tumultuous existence. Contradictions were heresy.

The sun was a star. Stars were the same size as the sun, if not larger. Equestria orbited around the sun.

Sometimes, the most audacious thing you can do in life, is to question it.

Her thoughts turned briefly to Celestia. A mentor like none other. She respected her. She challenged her to excel. She trusted her, and Twilight drove herself to deserve it.

Equestria orbited the sun. Celestia raised the sun every morning.

Question everything, but believe in yourself.

It was treachery. Two-timing. Treason. And probably a whole lot of other words that began with the letter ‘T’. Her horn glowed as she absentmindedly pulled another book from the shelf.

She shook her head. The tome titled ‘Thesaurus’ tumbled to the trestled floor.

Celestia raised the sun every morning. Equestria orbited the sun.

A low whisper escaped through the hairline crack between her lips.

“Prove it.”

* * *

Into the black she arose. The dark chalky asteroid disappeared from her narrow band of vision, and she released her thumb from the throttle. The thrust from the pogo stick ceased, and she held tight to the handles as the stick began to pull down and away. The guide wheels raced along the braid of wire rope, sending an angry buzz through the palms of her clenched gloves. Several wraps of SuperTape held her boots fast against the stubby metal rods that served as footrests. She was losing speed slowly, but she could almost feel her ankles pressing into the collar of her boots, as if she was hanging upside down.

Three minutes, or thereabout. Counting down from five. Couldn’t be counted on, though. Longest recorded survival was shy of four minutes. And even then...

She shuddered.

Don’t hold your breath. Scream until you pass out. That’s the only hope you’ve got. Hope that someone’s there for you. Hope they get there in time. No good if your blood boils from the outgassing, and every vein ruptures in your body.

She squeezed her glove around the glowing symbol she drew. She hoped she would be there in time.

Through the narrow gap in the pitch black foil, she could see out. She watched fervently for movement, searching for a single speck among the backdrop of a spiral galaxy. A hunter was out there, stalking between stars as a lion would watch patiently behind stalks of amber grass.

The radio hissed softly, crackling with the faint afterglow from the dawn of creation. She could be seen if she wasn’t careful. The clockwork hum of a turret motor would be her death knell. Then the whistle. The screaming radio whistle of a hot slug trailing metallic plasma as it crossed the distance. The ship could be kilometers away. It would be all over in less than a second.

At this range, even a gas rifle would be point blank. You couldn’t hear those. Just a tiny flash. Easy to miss. Not for them.

She strained her eyes, peering through the gap in the foil that masked her telltale infrared signature.

A thin metal collar shot through the forward rollers of the wire guide, squeezing the brake calipers with a ratcheting click. The pogo stick jerked downwards in her hands, and she could almost feel her feet slipping from her oversized boots.

*Click* *Click* *Click*

The cable pulled taut behind her, whipping from side to side in a meandering metronomic fishtail. She gripped the pogo stick with all the force she could exert with her bony arms, crushing the bulky gloves around the handles with toothpick fingers.

It was starting to get rather warm inside the suit. Nowhere for the heat to go. Only two minutes, and it was starting to feel like an oven. Her gloved fingers could still move freely, but the joints in the suit were starting to swell from the pressure.

With a sickening lurch, the wire guide stopped. She could feel the cable behind her undulate and sway, as if standing atop the tallest rung of the narrowest ladder. The suit didn’t give her the mobility to look up, but she raised one arm tentatively, and felt something solid. It was the towing bar from the crotch rocket. Raising her other arm, she felt her way along the tail of the vehicle, reaching further towards where Jake would be sitting.

A jagged gap swallowed her probing glove. She pushed herself away to see.

The craft had been eviscerated, ruptured from the inside out where the lance of light speared through the pressurized reaction mass tanks. She unhooked herself from the pogo stick and pulled herself up smoothly, careful not to push away from the craft.

Jake was nowhere to be seen. Nearly blind, she reached forward and tugged on a white nylon strap concealed within the floating seaweed growth of shredded flex hose, ruptured brass pipe, and stripped copper wiring.

She tugged, and the strap went taut.

There was a soft steady hiss from the radio.

No time to think. The wire knife was trapped in her leg pocket, but the scalpel found it’s way into her hand readily. She pulled the nylon ribbon, and slashed through it with a flick of her wrist, pushing away from the craft with one panicked push from her long gangly legs.

The craft pushed back. For a split second, she could feel a rapid staccato of taps through the tips of her toes, and then the craft tumbled away from beneath her. She pulled firmly on the strap, turning her back as she climbed. Jake’s spacesuit nestled between her arms, now concealed by the foil cocoon wrapped around her suit.

Through the corner of her eye, she could see the craft gaining momentum, lurching away as a hailstorm of invisible slugs silently tore through it.

She shuddered silently, not daring to move a muscle. Her voice refused to betray her as well, even if she was the sole audience for one final shrill shriek.

It was nearly four minutes. The watch didn’t remind her. The severed hose dangling from Jake’s suit did.

As quickly as she could risk moving, she tore a hole through the inky black foil wrapped around her belly. She squeezed the release on the hook snap, and detached the life giving umbilical from her suit. She wedged her pinkie finger between the pair of hoses, holding it within reach as she deftly removed the coupling from the other suit, slapping hers in place with a quick fluid motion.

The suit inflated quickly, revealing a perforated line across the belly. Droplets of blood leaked through in some places, fizzing as the gas boiled away from the dull red plasma. She held her breath as she worked, shutting down any portion of her mind not responsible for guiding her hand. A small silvery tube was procured from her belly pocket, which sprayed a clear sticky sealant across the holes. A roll of inside-out tape stuck firmly to the side of his torso, and she pulled it quickly across the breach.

It was getting very hot inside the suit. Her faceplate began to fog up, cutting her off what narrow band of vision she had left. It was starting to get hazy, not just from the oppressively hot and humid air, but within her mind too. Slowly starved for oxygen. The tank strapped to her leg was their oasis in the void. She pulled the hook snap release and plugged it into her suit once more, feeling one last respite of cool air.

The hose returned to Jake’s suit. Her arms wrapped around his chest, and she squeezed as hard as she could, compressing his chest several times. She held him within her arms as the foggy dreamlike state returned. With one last motion, she reached around his helmet, and pressed her hand against the faceplate.

A blocky medical crossbar set within a squiggly drawn heart. It glowed in the palm of her glove.

It was getting too hot. Her lungs were burning from the lack of oxygen, but she was past caring. Pain slipped away beneath the encroaching comfort of sleep.

No! She couldn’t sleep. He needed to wake up. She needed to stay awake... Awake. The day would be over soon. Just need to stay awake. Her vision blurred.

She could still see everything, yet her eyelids had long since fluttered closed.

Please wake up.

* * *

It was a boring day in Ponyville.

It was an exciting afternoon for Applebloom.

The pen laid still for a moment, a slick black instrument that seemed out of place atop the cheery cherry red tabletop. It was a good pen, much better than those favored for the routine and mundane acts of jotting notes or scribbling shapes onto the backs of cocktail napkins.

It rolled smoothly beneath a small yellow hoof. A slow and methodical rhythm that passed the time as one’s limb would lazily dip in a fast moving stream, drawing ripples with the absence of effort. Each measured movement as the silent swing of a pendulum. An impatient ticking in the background of calm pensive contemplation.

This particular pen’s days of scribbling and jotting were long past. For some time, the pen had served as a keepsake rather than a writing utensil. Carried as a memento of many brief momentous moments, where the flourish of its tip would write history. A time when words shaped worlds, and a signature spoke for civilizations.

It rolled, and stopped. The hoof holding it against the table paused in anticipation.

The history of the pen would remain secret beneath the unassuming ebony finish. Were it to be properly appraised, one might expect a bidding war from collectors willing to hurl their fortunes with the same zeal that warring nations would hurl thermonuclear bombs, consumed by the glinting hope of a pyrrhic victory.

The red haired filly bit firmly on the pen, holding it between her tongue and cheek as the glistening black tip pressed tentatively against the coarse white paper. It nestled comfortably between the crowns of her molars, as the glossy synthetic hardwood gave with the firm pliancy of ballistic rubber.

The pen was not a toy. It was a gift. A tool brimming with potential and purpose.

Ideas swirled within her head. A roaring furnace of imagination that stoked the forge of creativity. Every idle thought built relentlessly upon a towering edifice of ideas. A tower that pierced the constant constraint of the pale blue sky, soaring higher than any pegasus, and seeing farther than any telescope. A perch of dizzying heights that revealed the full majesty of unseen lands, unparalleled in scope and scale.

Applebloom slashed the first sentence into the sheet of paper.

The pen once shaped the course of worlds.

Now it would build them from the ground up.

* * *

“Almost done, I guess,” Trent sighed.

They walked through the narrow aperture, back into the vestibule. Fluttershy trailed behind, not speaking a word.

“Look... I’m sorry about this. This probably isn’t my best idea, not by a long shot. We’ll be on our way out soon, unless you’d like to go right now.”

“It’s okay,” she whispered softly. “I mean, I really do appreciate what you’ve shown me. We can still see the ship. I don’t mind.”

“Okay,” he conceded.

The vestibule widened, revealing the circular stone mosaic set into the floor. A breaking wave driven by typhoon force winds blotted out the distant dry land. Just above the wave, a tiny gleaming gray glass shard soared above the battered harbor. A symbol for the ship itself, as a still bridge over turbulent waters.

Trent stared at the end of the vestibule. The far wall branched off into several corridors, each departing in their own direction. It somehow felt familiar, and at the same time, unsettling.

A strange noise crackled to life from recessed speakers. A whisper that seemed to reverberate from every compartment within the empty hull.

“What?” Fluttershy asked.

“What? Oh hey, did you hear that too?”

Fluttershy nodded slowly, still looking up at the ceiling.

“Sounded like gibberish to me. Ship must be having some problems. Have to look into that later, when there’s time...” Trent groaned.

The speakers spoke once again.

“Everything will be all right, Miss Flutter...”

“There,” Trent announced with a snap of his fingers. “Speakers muted.”

“Ohh. Okay,” she gulped nervously.

He sighed.

“Sure you want to see the ship?”

Her eyes shifted from side to side, unsure which answer to give.

“Well, you did say you wanted me to see it.”

“I know, I know. Just that, I’m not sure if it’s still such a good idea. I mean, teaching you to fly it as well. Even if that meant that you could help some.. people,” his voice trailed off.

“Um... Mr. Trent?”

“Yes?”

“You did say that a bad decision was better than no decision, right?”

He smiled weakly.

“Never can be sure, until you’ve tried it.”

“I think..” she paused for a moment. “That everything will be all right.”

Trent shuddered, ever so slightly.

“Which way do we go?” she gestured one hoof toward the array of passages.

He paused for a moment, before the flicker of a smile crossed his face.

“Oh? What do you mean by that? There’s only one way we can go."

“Where?”

“Forward!” he grinned.

“Oh,” the corners of her lips curled upward. “Um.. Mr. Trent? That joke wasn’t nearly as terrible as the other ones.”

“Pff. Tough crowd.”

“Lead the way, Mr. Trent. If that’s okay with you, I mean.”

There were many passages leading to many tram stations. One would take them to the ship, and one would take them home. A simple decision with any number of outcomes.

Don’t look back.

Trent shivered.

“Second passage on the right. That will take us to bay Four Bravo.”

“Okay,” she trotted across the tile mosaic.

“Ah, Fluttershy? I’m sorry if the tram frightened you earlier. We can take a detour and walk the rest of the way, if you’d rather.”

“Oh. No. I think it will be fine,” she said nervously.

He shrugged, and waved his fingertips in the air. The tram doors opened, and she darted inside. She was already seated when he entered, her hooves hooked over the back of the seat, and her wingtips nearly brushed the roof of the cabin.

An unmistakable smile radiated through the nervous facade. One that Trent returned as he sat down in the seat behind from her, their eyes locked together for a brief tender moment.

“Fluttershy?”

“Yes?”

“You’re facing the wrong way.”

“What?”

The tram departed with the speed of a bullet, and a high pitched squeal.

Trams do not usually squeal.

* * *

It was a slow day in Ponyville.

It couldn’t be fast enough for Scootaloo.

The wind whipped through her fuschia mane as the grass receded behind each sharp stamp of her hooves. Her short wings buzzed as they bit into the air, pushing herself with every erg of energy she could muster.

Tap tap tap.

The brass watch rode high on her foreleg, nearly up to her shoulder. It threw off her balance when it had been fastened near her hoof.

Tap tap tap.

Her sight blurred as she forced herself forward, speeding past her own persistence of vision. A small hill was fast approaching, followed by a dip that curved down into a wide open meadow.

Time it just right...

TAP.

She leapt into the afternoon sky. Her wings spread further, slowing their rhythm but pushing harder with each swoop. The ground fell away as she drove onwards and upwards with exhilarated determination.

Tap tap tap.

Scootaloo’s wings were undeveloped for a pegasus of her age. Not to say they were small or stunted, because that would be a very insensitive thing to say to a nervous young filly. Even if it was true. Undeveloped was the preferred choice of words, as most doctors would agree. It pointed out the obvious, while offering some meager measure of hope that the wings might someday develop normally, while retaining plausible deniability in the case that they most likely would not.

Tap tap tap.

It was a difficult subject to broach. Pegasi were born to fly, much like giraffes were born to reach the leaves from the high branches of tall trees. Not to say that a giraffe was born with a long neck to reach those leaves, as that’s not quite how nature works. Rather, the giraffes that could not reach the tall branches simply ceased being giraffes after repeated and sustained bouts of malnourishment.

Nature is so fascinating.

Fortunately for short giraffes, people with glasses, and pegasi with underdeveloped wings, there was little pressure for selection on these traits. The same could certainly not be said for their ancestors, whereby natural selection honed such features to a needle-like point. A sharpening of the species paid through the whittled sacrifices of the many undeveloped individuals that ended up on the wrong side of the cut.

Tap tap tap.

Pegasi of yore were a fierce and proud race. Warriors and poets, one and the same. They wore their emotions on their shoulders, and their personalities were often as fiery as the brilliant colors of their manes.

While nearly all animals are subject to the “Four F’s”, that genetically hardcoded programming of fight and flight, feeding and.. well.. fucking, pegasi bore the notable distinction of taking ‘flight’ a bit too literally.

They had asked for it, after all.

If one were to pick a specimen to personify the valiant spirit of the pegasi, you would be hard pressed to find one more fitting than Athon. A thoroughbred brute with a heart of gold and a vocabulary that could tarnish steel. Her coat was a deep cobalt blue, a luscious hue, as if stolen from the very depths of dawn. Her mane and tail bore the brilliant fury of a sunrise, a sight oft seen streaking across the morning sky, as night was routed before the break of day.

She stood nearly shoulder to shoulder with Princess Luna, and could match her bellowing timbre with ease. Yet where a Princess was the very model of calm reserve, Athon remained proudly bereft of this concept.

Patron saint of awesomeness, if such a word existed in her day. If not, she would be the one to invent it. There was little doubt to her physical prowess, though it remains in question as to whether the word ‘athlete’ was named after Athon, or if it were the other way around.

Tap tap tap.

Scootaloo may be a far cry from Athon physically, but if the Iron Mare herself happened to be watching from beyond the veil on that particular day, seeing that tiny orange pegasus putting forth every effort to defy the towering edifice of low expectations that had been built up over her entire life; brick by brick, every condescendingly hopeful prognosis, every sympathetic shake of the head, every eschewed pick for the hoofball team; she would have bared her teeth and grinned.

There was more to being a pegasus than just having wings. There was a spirit to it. A spirit of moving forward. Charging forth into the unknown. Treating every challenge as a juicy morsel to appease an insatiable hunger. To define predator and prey with the same blind distinction as ‘me’ and ‘everything else’.

This particular sense of spirit was not well remembered by the pegasi of today - some particularly more than others. The doldrums of peace and harmony afflicting Equestria had left that sense to atrophy over the ticking centuries.

Tap tap tap.

Athon was a rather notable pegasus, alas one lost to history. Few remained to recall her exploits, but for those few, they are remembered vividly. She was a champion to the royal court, long before the first stones of Canterlot Castle were set to mortar. A confidante to the Princesses themselves, and ambassador to the kingdoms of Dragons and Gryphons in the days when such alliances were raw and tenuous.

While it is unknown whether she bore a foal to carry on her genetic jackpot, she was certainly responsible for birthing numerous stories and legends. Yet, even the most outrageous embellishments of these tales often suffered from an imagination that was far too modest. As they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

She had never slowed down to consider the placid pace of family life, and spent many years living outside of the loosely drawn borders of Ponykind. Indeed, she had drawn many of these borders in the first place, along with the maps to keep track of them. However, if one were to place a wager, it would be safe to bet that one or more descendents of Athon lived on within modern day Equestria.

Athon was a mare who took her “four F’s” very seriously.

Tap tap tap.

Her renown was not limited to the Royal Court, nor even the surrounding nations. Her importance extended far beyond any distant horizon, or any line drawn on a map. She bore an Element of Equestria. One of six.

The Element of Sacrifice.

While there are few who remember Athon, and even fewer that remember her personal brand of vitriolic vibrance for squeezing the most out of every moment of every day, there is just one that remembers her final minutes. Her final words. Her last blood choked whisper.

“A pillar of light strikes the East, and moves to consume us!”

Few words. She had made them count.

Tap tap tap.

Despite Scootaloo’s best efforts, her flight was looking more like a parabolic trajectory. She strained and struggled, but the apex was behind her, and the ground was coming to meet her. It was a fight that she would not win, but one she would not concede.

The nature of a pegasus was not simply to fight. Anypony could play that game. Any pony that was certain of victory, would play to win.

Cowards.

It took a special sort of derangement to fight against hopeless odds. An honor of acquired taste. One did not simply wrestle a full grown dragon, lash a sinking ship to an enemy vessel, or challenge a Type III galactic civilization, and then scream in defiance as claws pinned your chest to a cavern wall, or as your ship sank beneath your boots, or as planets burned under the onslaught of an interstellar armada; “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Tap tap tap.

In a roundabout way, Athon was the inventor of penmanship. Not as a champion of succinct legibility, but rather that her infrequent illiterate illegible drunken scrawlings left such a blighted besmirchment upon the heart of wordcrafting that entire generations of scribes and schoolteachers were united in their cries of ‘Never again!’

Yet, she did leave one lasting written legacy. A short and lucid treatise of her reflections on a life of adventure and turmoil. One clear message hidden amidst the charcoal chicken-scratching that occupied the careers of a small legion of historians and graphologists to decipher.

“The measure of a mare (or a stallion (and I do not mean *that* kind of measure (though I shall admit freely to receiving the measure of a great many))) lies not upon such tally of bygone victories, but rather the hunger for challenge (and stallions) and resolve to carry on through defeat. Those who play to win shall never prevail against those who play to lose.”

Scootaloo was playing to lose.

Yet it was not gravity that Scootaloo fought, despite all appearances to the contrary. She had challenged a far more insidious beast. One that drove the engines of the cosmos. One that laid eternal siege to the bounds of mortal existence. One which ground away the traces of kingdoms and empires with inexorable impassive aplomb. A vulture that patiently awaited the demise of the stars themselves. A beast that eternally laughed with shrill mindless prejudice as it delivered the one rule of its game; that one must run as fast as they can to simply stay in place.

She was fighting time. And she was determined to prevail.

She could hear it.

Tap tap tap.

The brass watch ticked against her foreleg. The heartbeat of the invisible demon that spanned every measure of the universe.

Tears streamed from her eyes and her wings burned from exertion. The ground was approaching quickly, and she raised her hooves to forestall the inevitable.

Her wings were noticeably undeveloped. In fact, they would certainly stay that way if she never learned to flap them properly. Buzzing along like an overgrown hummingbird does not properly stimulate the full range of muscles needed for flying, and she would certainly not be flying if she never flapped her wings properly. And why would she? The official prognosis was always to wait for her wings to develop.

Waiting. Indecision. Inaction. The demon laughed.

Ha ha ha.

Tap tap tap.

Scootaloo landed fast, the tips of her hooves tearing through the soft grass as she skidded to a gallop. She slowed to a trot, and finally stopped, panting for breath. Her heart pounded with a tempo that outpaced the methodical ticking of the brass watch by three to one.

Her flight was finished, but she was not. A manic grin spread across her sweat drenched face as she craned her neck around to look at the glass faceplate. Thirty-one seconds! She had stayed aloft for thirty-one seconds!

This was not a record that most pegasi her age would be particularly proud of. Yet, she was.

It was four seconds longer than the last time.

For one brief moment, time was given pause. A respectful nod to a worthy opponent. This little orange pegasus wielded one of the few weapons that could pierce its Achilles heel.

Impatience.

A small tremor ran through the ground, a vibration in the very firmament of bedrock that could be felt from Ponyville all the way to the outskirts of Canterlot. It briefly captured the attention of those who felt the tremble through their hooves, as a moment of mild interest in an otherwise ordinary day. Such trifling events could be readily explained by recent theories of geology, whereupon tectonic activity was actually caused by great slabs of underlying rock grinding against each other, powered by the millennia long nocturnal stirring of great and terrible elder leviathans entombed many score of miles beneath the upthrust rise of mountains and plateaus. It certainly was not caused by the long dead spirit of a long forgotten mythical pegasus stomping her hooves in exhilaration as she whooped and cheered for those few and far between who let their actions speak for their convictions.

Scootaloo bit the lever on the side of the brass watch, and the gears whirled inside, resetting the countdown. She twisted the bezel by five clicks. Four to cool down, and one to fly like her life depended upon it.

Five minutes.

TAP, tap, tap, tap.

* * *

TAP, tap, tap, tap.

Five minutes.

The parabolic radiator faced the distant sun. A glowing marble that grappled all within its reach. Bodies of gas, rock, and flesh swung round in their eternal ballet, guided by gravity’s indiscriminate precision.

The polarizing cap floated against the face of the rock, falling in the slowest of motions. In it’s place, a sheet of foil that absorbed everything yet emitted nothing, save for frequencies that could not be easily perceived.

A hole was torn in the center of the gossamer metallic sheet. A hole covered by one large glove, belonging to one even larger person.

He waved.

Dot dash. Dash dash. Dash dot dot dot. Dot dot dash. Dot dot dot. Dot dot dot dot.

* * *

“Pelorus, bridge.”

“Pelorus. Go ahead bridge.”

“Interrogative, ready status.”

“Pelorus manned. Chain locker tapped for thermal dump. Negative sixty and sitting pretty.”

“Good. Standby. I want you to bring me that floating fat man.”

“Hah. Load called at one-four-eight-zero kilos. That’s Terry plus the singleship, and the kids are a rounding error.”

There was a loud snorting symphony of laughter over the intercom, echoing from many different compartments at once.

“Okay. Very good. Frame offset two-two dot three meps, bearing one-eight-zero, relevant ten minutes.”

“Shite! Bleedin arseholes. Ya could’na just said about fifty miles inna hour. Or is ye too busy playin pirates up there? Swabbin each ya other’s pretty little poopdecks?”

“Never knew you were so fond of the English system, O’Dwyer.”

“Oh feck off!”

“No love for the NATO phonetic standard these days. Damn shame.”

“Think they’re still using that?”

“Eh, probably.”

“No, I mean, do you think NATO still exists down there?”

There was a pause. A weary collective sigh.

“Don’t think that really matters much anymore.”

“Okay, okay, kill the chatter. Day will be over soon. Just a pickup and a frame change. Naught seven degrees off axial. Next hop is about seventy-six hours.”

“Hey!”

“...is for horses.”

“Line discipline on the net, please.”

“Bridge, Comms. EM return on forward element.”

“Whoa.. okay. Um.. Comms, Bridge. What sort...”

“Bridge! This is Dorsal lookout.”

“Dorsal, stand by. Comms, Bridge. Report.”

“Weak signal in the S-band. Peak at two dot four-four-three-seven. No sideband data. I’m guessing it’s voice. Terry’s group is using channel eight, right?”

“Ahh... Confirmed, channel eight. Could you hear what they said?”

“Negative. Signal’s too weak. Only lasted a few seconds. Someone might’ve keyed their mic on accident.”

“Roger that. We’re still about twelve miles out. Can you calculate the driving power from isotropic falloff? Make sure the range matches up.”

“Guessing about ten to fifteen milliwatts from the source. And, um.. twelve miles out. Yeah, looks about right.”

“Bridge! Dorsal! Flash spotted!”

“Dorsal, Bridge. When you’re giving a report, you need to tell me properly. Like, IR return, bearing such and such. I’m assuming that’s what you’re seeing, right?”

“It’s IR and visual! I mean, it was.”

“Right... Now, where exactly did you see it.”

“About three arc degrees above the asteroid.”

“Dorsal, that’s the rendezvous point. You’re looking at the tail end of a crotch rocket.”

“Um.. Bridge, I don’t think so.”

The mute button flickered red with a quick jab from Jones’s finger.

“Someone needs to relieve that kid...”

“Bridge, Dorsal. There were two flashes. IR return was...”

“Och.. I’m bettin thas me boy showin off for the lassies. I’ll be havin a talk with ‘im, believe you me.”

Jones tapped the mute button.

“Understood. Thanks O’Dwyer.”

“Bridge, Dorsal..”

“Dorsal, standby! All hands, can we get any cateyes up to Dorsal and verify what he’s seeing?”

There was a momentary lull on the bridge, save for the soft static hiss of the ventilation.

“I’m on the way, Jones. Gimme a minute to get up there. Still in my rack with the blackout goggles on.”

“Load Toad here. I’ll take Hobgoblin up to Dorsal.”

“What.. and sacrifice your precious beauty sleep, mon ami?”

“C’est bien. J’ai besoin de regarder le RCB, bientot.”

“A watched kettle that never boils.”

“Ha ha, oui.”

“Okay. Dorsal, bridge. Report on IR return.”

“Nothing hotter than a spacesuit. I don’t see any exhaust plume.”

“Dorsal, I want you to check the calibration indicator. Has it popped up?”

“No.”

“Is the scanner set to ‘static’ or ‘pan and scan’?”

“Static.”

“Hmm. Okay. Go to pan and scan. Widen the FOV until you’ve got it trained on target.”

“Bridge, the second flash was really bright, but it’s gone now. I’ve got no visual, and just a weak IR return at the rendezvous. I do have normal IR return on the rest of the group though.”

“Well, sit tight. Hobgoblin is on the way up to lend a pair of eyes. Do you have magnification on visual, by chance?”

“I don’t have access to the big scope. Just a pair of binocs. Can’t make anything out clearly.”

“Acknowledged.”

Jones sighed. The forward telescope was stowed. A short squat cannister with a big wide shiny lens. A telltale twinkle in the starlit sky.

Couldn’t risk that.

The monitor showed the same unfocused patch of pitch black plate. The same image for the last three weeks. A high precision piece of Earth engineered optics, staring at it’s own servo mount. A dangerous liability, if pointed elsewhere.

His fingers drummed the console. If there was some cock-up with the rendezvous, it would be worth knowing now. Worth the risk. Jones reached towards the small black box mounted above the console. It would be quick. A flip of a switch would let him know everything.

“Do you think you’re being a bit hard on him?”

Jones paused, his fingertips hovering over the camera’s servo control. He turned to look back at Trent.

“Well, he’s a good kid. But he’s gotta learn a few things. Comms protocol for starters.”

Trent leaned back in the padded chair, idly swatting at the floating straps of the restraint harness.

“They grow up fast, out here,” he mused, staring ahead at the whitewashed wall.

“Pff. Literally. They’re taller than us before they hit puberty. First humans born off Earth.”

Trent sighed. “You know what I mean.”

“They’re tough. They’ll adapt. Hell, they’re doing things that we wouldn’t have dreamed of back at their age! Like how O’Dwyer’s boy built a working railgun a few weeks ago when nobody was looking, or Saeed’s girl managed to fabricate a bipropellant actuator with better flow control than the standard Energia kit. And your girl just piloted a four frame course by instrument, dead reckoning, and a pocket watch. I know you’ve gotta be proud of her for that.”

“I am. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just..” Trent sighed.

“They’re gonna make it,” Jones declared. “We’re gonna make it.”

“I hope.”

“Trent, we all hope for the same thing. That’s what got us into this mess, and that’s what’s gonna get us out. I know you like to wax poetic sometimes, even when nobody is actually listening. And I know you can be a moody sonofabitch when you stop and think about what’s been riding on your shoulders. But you need to get over it, and start looking forward again. The ship’s set sail, and you need to remember that everyone out here still thinks you’re in charge.”

“I never said I was in charge.”

“I didn’t say you were in charge. I said everyone thinks you’re in charge. I’m the captain of the Hornet here,” he slapped his hand against the command console, “And I still think you’re in charge.”

Trent sighed, staring blankly at the confines of the steel bunker.

“Sometimes, I wonder why.”

“Because I’ve got a nuclear starship, and you’ve got a way with words. Odds go to you.”

“Some starship. I hear it’s a long way to Alpha Centauri.”

“Gah. You and Terry are the king and queen of stupid jokes.”

Trent cleared his throat, speaking with a solemn and steady measure.

“..And here we are, past the familiar blue horizon of starless skies, looking forth upon the interminably vast cosmos. Leaving one home to seek another..”

“Oh fuck me, he’s going to give a speech, ladies and gentlemen!”

“Ah, no. I’ve spewed out enough hope and promises already. I’d rather not start another civil war before this one’s finished.”

Jones snorted in amusement.

“It’s been months since the last major raid. We’ve got some agriculturals back in operation, and the capacity to manufacture new ones. Give it another three months and we can go back to rationing instead of just plain starving.”

“Please stop talking about food.”

“The point is,” Jones continued, “That war is over. They’re hurting for resources more than we are, despite what they’ve managed to pilfer from us. But it won’t be long before Earth gets its shit together and tries to colonize in force what we’ve built out here. And when that happens, they’re not going to dole out any favors to those Benedict Arnold scumbags. It’s going to be quick and indiscriminate. There will be kangaroo courts and lynchings for us, and everything and everybody else is going to be divided up between the highest bidding Transnationals and continental Protectorates. That’s where we’d be right now, if it wasn’t for you. And if our former compatriots have any brains, they’ll get with the program and realize that.”

“I wouldn’t put it past them to try and hang us in zero gravity.”

“Never underestimate incompetence combined with imagined authority. Anyways, we can be ready for them. We’re rebuilding, we’re training, and we’ve stopped fighting. Well, mostly. And do you know why? Because we’ve got hope. We’ve got a future. When we meet up with Earth again, it’s going to be on our terms. I know it’s been tough on you, and I don’t blame you for staring out the window sometimes. But, we need you. There’s a whole lotta people out here that look up to you, because they’re hoping for a future without food shortages, kinetic jousts, supply raids, or having their livelihood auctioned off by the Powers That Used To Be. Trent, I can tell people what to do, but you’re the one that makes them want to do it in the first place. So for everybodys’ fucking sake, we need you to put on a big smile, lend a guiding hand, and keep all of us looking forward to that day where we get to choose how we’re going to live the rest of our lives.”

Trent plastered both hands over his face and groaned.

“I thought I was the only one that loved to hear myself talk.”

“Touche. Anyways, back to work. I’m starting to wonder if Terry’s got a problem getting the rendezvous set up. I’m thinking about deploying the 280mm scope to see what’s going on.”

“Would they call us if there was a problem?”

“If there was a problem, yeah. If it was serious enough. I’m not too worried about using the radio here. Million to one odds that anyone’s going to listen, and a billion to one that anybody’s in range to take a pot shot. Terry would radio us if there was some sort of cock-up.”

“Suppose so.”

“Hey, Trent. You remember that one thing you said a while back?”

“Mikey, I’m a thirty-eight year old senior citizen. I don’t remember shit anymore.”

“And I’m a forty-four year old Lieutenant Commander in the old Wet Navy. Now you’re making me feel old. Anyways, that thing you said.. something about ‘hammering our names into the history books’ or words to that effect.”

“Oh, that. Back before we even got the Public Space Infrastructure Group off the ground. Something like ‘Space is not a spectator sport’. ‘Get there first’... And..”

“Don’t look back,” Jones finished.

“Don’t look back. Yeah,” Trent sighed wistfully. “For a second, I thought you were going to ask about that other speech.”

“Well, you managed to take ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ and turn it into a five minute dissertation, but it got the job done.”

Trent grunted. “Dirty bomb diplomacy.”

“Without any casualties either. I’ll take Cold War part Two in Space for eight hundred, Alex.”

“..What?”

“Oh. Yeah. I think Jeopardy was before your time.”

Trent shrugged.

“Anyways, what about this?” he gestured at the telescope console.

“Right..”

The intercom crackled to life as Jones reached for the controls.

“Bridge, Dorsal lookout. IR return forward. Repeating flashes. On the face of the rock.”

“What?” Jones and Trent whispered in unison.

“Ah, Dorsal, Bridge. Say again your last. Repeating flashes?” Jones’s fingertips rested on the telescope servo joystick.

“I think it’s Morse code, Bridge.”

“What does it say?”

“Um. Bridge, Dorsal. I don’t know Morse code.”

“Ahhh. Shit. Okay, I think we have a codebook up on the real bridge. The one with all the painted windows. Can someone traverse there and grab it?”

“Bridge, Hobgoblin. I’m at Dorsal lookout now. Don’t worry about the code book, I still remember it. Used to operate shortwave sets back on Earth. I’m looking at the scope now. Yeah, definitely reads as Morse. Stand by.”

“Is this part of the exercise?” Trent whispered to Jones.

“No. Shut up for a minute.”

They waited. A minute passed.

“Bridge, Dorsal.”

“Bridge. Go ahead, Captain Greybeard.”

“Jones, You need to set Ship Condition One, and Suit Condition Two.”

“Whoa, what?”

“Just do it, Mikey.”

“What the hell is going on? What do you see?”

There was a brief pause. A slow raspy intake of breath.

“O’Dwyer, are you on the net? Trent, you too?”

“Aye.”

“Listening.”

“All stations this net, Dorsal lookout. Message received as follows: ‘Ambush. Ambush. Laser. Jake hit. Rescue underway. Make ready to return fire’.”

* * *

It was a tranquil day in Ponyville.

It was a waking nightmare for Sweetie Belle.

A scenic trail meandered along the shore of a shallow pond. Through a break in the vegetation, a brown muddy beach claimed ground between the placid water and the thick burl of grass that marked the edge of the meadow.

Sweetie Belle drew her breath as she stepped past the thin green line, her hooves sinking softly into the smooth brown sand. Her hind legs followed numbly in turn, pushing forward despite her silent screaming protest.

She was alone. She was scared.

A gentle breeze wafted across the meadow, rustling the leaves of the bushes surrounding the pond. It was a soft innocuous sound, amid the chirping of larks and warbling calls of unseen insects. Just like what she heard only two days before; a rustling of branches followed by the rhythmic stamp of so many black bristling legs.

She shivered.

The beast haunted her through dreams and waking hours. A segmented chitinous carapace that silently stalked the spaces out of sight, but not out of reach. In lieu of a head, dozens of gibbering tooth rimmed tendrils flailed blindly with violent vile ambition. She could see them still, no matter how far she fled from that afternoon in the Everfree.

Such a creature was seldom seen by ponies. Just as ponies were seldom to never return from the lush labyrinthine jungle. Fortunately such meetings were rare, in spite of how unfortunate they were.

The meadow near the pond was a well trodden playground for Sweetie Belle and her filly friends. A sanctum of innocence and laughter, mirth and play. But those feelings were behind her now, beyond the green line of the meadow’s edge, and a distant memory of recent days.

Against all rational compunction, she felt compelled to step to the very edge of the pond. The mirrored surface shimmered and sparkled, a wavy reflection of the far bank. The gaping maw of the Everfree Forest spread far and beyond the distal shore, a fortress of hidden terrors near the place she used to play.

She was scared. But it was not the forest, nor it’s quick quiet denizens that caused her heart to race. It was a something small and innocuous. Something carried with her, and something carried within her.

A candle to light the darkness.

She could faintly feel the small object tucked away within a cloth purse, and braided securely within the base of her mane. A little secret that she could not reveal to her older sister, nor even her closest friends.

A spark to ignite the flame.

It was a strange gift. Hers to use, provided that she did not. Not without reason, anyways. The cloth purse was tied tightly within her mane, and sewn shut with sturdy thread. Retrieving it would be either painstakingly slow, or painfully quick.

A path to true purpose, and a promise to be met half-way.

It was not the small silvery object that had brought her here, to the edge of the pond, within a stone’s throw of the forest; but it had helped.

“Being brave only happens when you aren’t, but you do it anyways,” she whispered.

Her flank still stung from the paralytic venom, and the tiny sutures that pulled the skin tightly back together. Despite the tiny scar, it was still white as eggshell, and blank as a newborn foal’s.

She sighed. The last few years had been a fruitless struggle to find her cutie mark, but that felt pointless now. Not that she didn’t want to keep trying, if only for the fun she had with her friends in the frequently disastrous process.

There were many things that she dreamed about doing someday, and a great many more that had been unceremoniously crossed off that list with a vow never to attempt again. On the other hoof, singing seemed to come naturally, and she was quite good at it. She actually enjoyed singing from time to time. It was a nice hobby, but to define herself by that single talent, it suddenly seemed a little underwhelming.

Sweetie Belle sighed as she tapped her hoof at the water’s edge. She spied a small branch that had fallen from the far forest and beached itself upon the near sandy shore. Long lapping waves gently nudged the piece of wood, beckoning her attention.

It was about the right size.

Living under the shadow of her older sister had instilled a fair amount of awe and envy for her talent and fame. Though she gagged inwardly at the thought of being so fussy in exchange for such fabulousness. She gagged again at that last word too.

Her horn glowed weakly as she attempted to lift the stick from the sandy shore, but it scarcely budged.

Rarity’s command of magical telekinesis was quite exceptional among unicorns. Elegant efficiency and delicate control that even Twilight couldn’t pretend to match. Sweetie Belle wished for a mere fraction of her sister’s ability. Yet, while Rarity was busy summoning a hurricane of strange shiny fabrics and assorted metallic implements within her workshop, Sweetie Belle was exerting the very limits of her concentration to pick up a stick from the mud.

At least it had kept Rarity preoccupied enough for her to sneak out.

She tried again, focusing her ethereal sense upon the waterlogged branch. It felt much different than it looked. Had she picked it up, it would have felt grainy and solid, albeit rather damp. Through her magic though, it felt like bundles of tightly woven fibers composed of impossibly small membranes packed together like a foam of tiny bubbles, each filled with graveyards of inert chemical machinery, adrift listlessly within a sea of derelict protein chains. Not that she knew what those were, or why it felt that way.

It probably just meant that she wasn’t focusing properly.

Her eyes squeezed shut and she concentrated; attempting to focus on the stick, rather than its innumerable components. A glowing corona surrounded her horn as the stick began to stir.

A gentle breeze washed across the pond.

There was a rustle in the bushes.

There was a sharp stabbing sensation on Sweetie Belle’s flank.

She bolted away with one panicked heave of her legs. The stick shot into the air, and slashed viciously across the space where she once stood. A prickly bush exploded in a shower of pointed leaves, leaving stripped bare branches waving in their wake.

The waterlogged stick remained firmly fixed in the air, enveloped by a bright green magical haze. Jets of steam whistled from both ends of the stick, crushed tightly within her telekinetic grip.

After several long laborious seconds, she remembered to breathe again. The stick dropped to the ground as she forcibly exhaled, gasping for air to appease the ravenous hunger in her chest.

What if somepony had been next to her?

What if she was holding something other than a wet stick?

The thought sent shivers down her spine.

A cutie mark in singing would be okay. It would be nice and safe. And she did like to sing. She really did.

What if that hadn’t been a bush full of prickly leaves?

It wasn’t a desire to sing that brought her out here today, near the edge of the forest. She tentatively lifted the stick again, somewhat more easily this time, but she didn’t imagine it as a microphone before a captive audience.

She could be anything she wanted, so she was told. And it could be whatever she wanted, rather than something specific or predetermined. Or safe.

The stick hovered unsteadily before her, and she closed her eyes once again. She would need to practice, if this was what she wanted.

There were monsters in this world. And maybe even beyond this world as well.

The stick speared through the remains of the brush, straight and true.

She was scared. But it was not the forest, nor its skittering abominations that terrified her.

It was her.

* * *

The tram hummed to a halt.

Trent spat out a delicate tuft of pink hair.

Fluttershy was no longer kneeling on her seat, which was absolutely the wrong way to ride the tram. It even said so on a series of glossy white public service placards on the wall, describing the several ways to properly ride the high speed eMag, and the several other ways explicitly depicted under a big red slashed circle. No loose objects, no weapon discharges, no unrestrained children or wild animals, and no sitting backwards on the benches.

Failing to heed these warnings, she was splattered across Trent’s lap like one big yellow feathery snowball.

“Um, Fluttershy? I’m sorry. That was probably my fault.”

A low growl issued forth in response.

“Anyways, you’ll be glad to know that we’re finally here! We can see the ship, and then go back home, if you like. Whenever you’re ready.”

She shook her head the way someone might slap the side of an old television, attempting to merge several blurry images into one clear signal.

“Again, sorry about that. But I will have you know that these trams are perfectly safe. Er, as safe as they can be while still doing their job. I mean, this isn’t exactly a civilian ship, so it doesn’t have all the safety protocols you’d expect. They go really fast for a good reason, because you don’t want to skimp on acceleration when you’re trying to send firefighters to fires, technicians to hull breaches, or just trying to outrun.. um.. really bad things.”

Fluttershy rolled off of Trent’s lap, and looked up with a forced smile, taking deep breaths through clenched teeth.

“They’re actually vacuum rated with self-contained life support systems. In case.. you know, one gets stranded, or ejected from the ship. The odds of that happening are pretty rare, but they’re built for contingencies like that. They also provide quick egress to the Torpedo, which is kind of like a giant escape pod, except it..”

Fluttershy smiled a little wider, bearing a grin that could be best described as ‘mostly herbivorous’.

“..Right. Ah, follow me please. This way.”

Trent strode briskly out of the tram. Fluttershy followed moments later, after successfully resisting the urge to hurl herself upright on two legs and wring Trent’s neck as best as she could without the benefit of opposable thumbs.

“Miss Fluttershy?”

She halted, just inches from the tram door.

“We are so glad to see you again, Miss Fluttershy.”

“Oh..” she looked up to the speakers set in the tram’s ceiling.

“We are so glad that you made it, Miss Fluttershy.”

“Um. Thank you,” she said nervously.

“You’re welcome,” Trent called from the platform outside.

“We never forgot about you, Miss Fluttershy.”

“Okay..”

“You don’t need to be scared. Just step onto the platform. Mind the gap though. We’re almost there.”

Fluttershy poked her head out of the tram, setting one hoof on the suspended steel grate.

“Miss Fluttershy?”

“Yes?” she asked softly, turning her head to look behind her.

“What time is it?”

“Um..”

“What time is it?”

“I.. I’m not sure..”

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” Trent coaxed.

“WHAT TIME IS IT!”

Fluttershy dashed out onto the platform and huddled behind Trent, looking back at the open doors of the tram. Her wings folded tightly against her sides.

“WHAT TIME IS IT!” the voice thundered throughout the station.

“Ow!” Trent clapped his hands over his ears. “Noise, noise, noise... Mute! Hah!”

Fluttershy watched the tram doors close and seal with a soft hiss, before it sped away.

“What the hell was that all about?”

“I.. um,” Fluttershy gulped. “It was nothing.”

“Huh? No, I was talking about that noise we just heard. You heard it too, right?”

She nodded slowly.

“Weird. Oh well. Are we ready to go?”

“Um.. Mr. Trent?”

“Yes?”

“What time is it?”

“Ahh.. it’s the year Sixty-Seven thousand, Nine hundred B.C., give or take. I was wondering why I felt so jet-lagged.”

“That was a joke, right?”

“Yes. Mostly.”

“What do you mean by ‘mostly’?”

“Okay, we didn’t magically travel into the past just now. And I’m using magic as a metaphor for anything completely inexplicable here. Not your kind of magic. Anyways, the year is.. um.. what did I say earlier... Ah, yes. It’s the year Two Thousand One Hundred and Twelve, minus about one hundred and fifteen million.”

Fluttershy blinked.

“Remember how I said that this ship is one hundred and fifteen million light years from where it departed? That, then, and there was the year Twenty-one Twelve. But from here, what we see is one hundred and fifteen million years old! That’s how a light-year works. It takes one year for light to travel one light-year. But the ship travels faster than light! So we’ve arrived at a place that’s a hundred million years in the future, relative to where we left, which is now a hundred million years in the past, relative to us right now. Mind you, this is the incredibly simplified version, and I don’t have a differential chronometer to give me an exact answer. If you want me to get any more specific, I’d say it’s probably Tuesday.”

Trent crossed his arms, rubbing one thumb pensively against his chin, oblivious to the pounding magical migraine that Fluttershy suffered from his helpful explanation.

“Now, the ship thinks it’s still seventy thousand years before it was invented. I don’t know why, and I really don’t have the time to fix every starship with a clock blinking twelve. I can’t! That’s a really complicated job on something like this! It’s not supposed to happen in the first place! I mean, seriously! If the clock was off, the hyperdrive wouldn’t work, the AI systems would fence off into a split-brain condition.. not much of anything would actually work. Ohh. Oooh, wait a second...”

“What?”

“The hyperdrive!” he waved his hands excitedly. “It’s what makes the ship move! If it wouldn’t work then.. then they’d be stuck here! I mean the big ship would be stuck here, so they would have probably left on the smaller ship. But the other smaller ship is still here! So that means they could be back already!”

Trent’s fingers flipped open, showing a patch of glowing green symbols on his palm. He tapped at one, and curled his fist in front of his face.

“Any station this net, any station this net. Please respond. This is Trent. I say again, this is Trent. Please respond. Wilber, Branson, Richards.. you guys there? Jones? Terry? Anybody?”

Trent’s voice boomed from the overhead speakers, yet to Fluttershy, the words sounded like gibberish, and the names foreign.

He tapped his foot, waiting expectantly. After a minute though, he shrugged and sighed.

“They’re probably out there somewhere..”

“Why do you think they’re here? Didn’t the ship..” Fluttershy glanced upward nervously. “I mean, didn’t the ship say they were gone?”

“Yes it did. But can we trust it?”

Fluttershy’s eyes grew wide.

“I mean, we’ve got complete database corruption, a minor case of clock skew, the entire crew is MIA, hyperdrive probably doesn’t work, and we’re literally the farthest away you can get from any star system in the whole local group. Fat chance of getting towed home. Anyways, when I said we can’t trust it, that’s because it could be wrong, rather than, well, being malicious or deceitful. Computer’s don’t do that, so there’s no need to worry. Well, not unless you explicitly program them to do that, but that’s also unlikely. Then again, it’s pretty unlikely to be wrong too. Hmm.”

Trent blew a raspberry with his lips as he swung his arms back and forth, lost deep in thought.

“What about the ship? I mean, the one you wanted to show me?”

“Huh? Oh.. yeah. Yeah. It’s right this way.”

He pointed his finger at the wall, as if he were firing an imaginary gun. A light blinked red, and a metal cage descended.

“No ordinance, no unsecured objects, and no gravity. Hang on to the rails, please,” he gestured at the sign on the wall.

Trent stepped past the green line on the floor, and drifted weightlessly into the white wire cage. Fluttershy followed, flapping her wings as she slowed to a stop in the center. The feeling of falling gripped her like a python’s embrace, but she took a deep breath and exhaled calmly.

“I mean, about the ship, are we just going to take it?”

The wire cage moved, and so did they.

“I don’t see why not.”

“Doesn’t it belong to somebody? Will they need it?”

“It was registered to a Mr. Simon Hadley,” he said with a smirk. “Knowing that, where it came from, and where it is now, I can safely say that it’s sitting there waiting for nobody but me.”

An airlock slipped open as the lift cage zipped through.

“But what about Mr. Hadley?”

He chuckled.

“I wrote a silly little story once, a long while ago. Mr. Hadley happened to be in it. However, he is fictional, along with any claims to who owns that little ship. So I probably left it there for me to find.”

The wire cage started to coast, and Trent flipped his feet toward what used to be the ceiling. Fluttershy followed, flapping one wing as the world rotated around.

“Probably? Do you mean you can’t remember?” she furrowed her brow. It didn’t sound like a joke.

The cage started to slow, and they fell to the ceiling.

“Eh, sometimes I forget where I put things. Keys. Wallet. Atmospheric dropships,” he counted on his fingers with a wry grin. “Anyways, that ship is there for me to use however I want, as long I want, and I have all the time in the world to figure out why.”

Fluttershy decided not to ask any more questions, as it only made more of them. Trent continued, blithely disregarding any such plea.

“Anyways, if the crew of this ship needed to get away, they could have borrowed it. But since it’s here, then they would be back. On the other hand, they could have left on their own ship, or had the AutoFab build them one. But then they’d be gone, and I’m fairly sure they need to be here. Hmm. At least they’d be safe..”

In Fluttershy’s mind, the word ‘safe’ didn’t sound the same as it meant.

“Will they come back?”

The cage rattled to a stop, and they were flung back to the free float void.

“They would be back,” he stated flatly.

“But...”

“It’s complicated.”

Trent kicked away from the cage, rolling his feet towards the deck as he flew into the field of false gravity. He resumed walking without breaking stride, flinging aside a solid steel door with a flick of his fingertips. Lights flickered in the compartment beyond, revealing a bathroom and a break room, a table and a television.

There was a small glass window set into one wall, black as obsidian and as reflective as the depths of a well. He sauntered up to it, and raised two fingers in a vee shape.

“Two, please.”

Fluttershy stepped over the groove in the doorway, listening as it scraped shut behind her. The room was dingy, but not dirty. A vacuum cleaner was clamped to the wall, just inches above the threadbare green carpet. Rows of lockers stood as silent sentinels across the far wall, each concealing a pile of dust where a space suit once stood.

She lofted into the air, traversing the dimly lit room. A solid door occupied the far corner, with a window inset in the upper half. Light flickered in the far room, revealing a vault of machinations standing as hollow men, a tomb of steel sarcophagi awaiting their occupants.

“That’s the armory,” Trent spoke nonchalantly, as he pulled two plastic cards on lanyards from a receptacle on the wall.

Fluttershy hovered in front of the door, still peering through the window.

“You know how most of the guard ponies wear suits of armor, right? Same goes for the people that would work here.”

“What do they need it for?”

“For whatever awaits beyond this wall.”

Fluttershy frowned.

“You don’t really mean it like that. There’s no monsters. Or things that would try to hurt people. Are there?”

Trent smiled.

“No.. no monsters. No storybook ones, anyways. But it’s always good to be prepared.”

The door near Trent opened.

“Come on, this way.” He jingled the lanyard, and tossed the access card into Fluttershy’s waiting forehooves.

Fluttershy followed Trent into a small vestibule. To one side, there was a wide door emblazoned with the red cross that she had seen earlier in the medical bay. Straight ahead, there was another door, slick with condensation and cool to the touch.

Trent slid his hand across the door, flicking the water droplets from his fingers. He tapped at a round gage, noticing the needle was slightly off center.

“Hmm. A little pressure differential. This will probably feel funny.”

Trent twisted a handle on the wall, and the air rushed out with a whistling wail. The needle slowly returned to vertical as the pressure equalized.

To Fluttershy, the sudden drop in pressure felt like a quick trip up a tall mountain, but it didn’t feel terribly odd otherwise. On the other hand, Trent winced as he alternated between puffing his cheeks and opening his jaw as wide as he could.

“You okay?” he asked, while pressing his palm against his ear.

Fluttershy nodded.

Trent turned his attention to a long metal handle set into the door, throwing his weight against it. There was a squeal as spring-loaded catches ground against well worn metal ramps, and a small sudden whoosh of air as the door was pried away from the frame. He finished rotating the lever until it pointed down and away, and then pushed with a labored grunt as the door slid sideways along slick steel rails.

The room was black as pitch, save for a small square of illumination that spilled from the vestibule. Two silhouettes stretched into the interminable abyss, huddled upon an island of light within the empty gulf; standing at the threshold of what was, and what may become.

Fluttershy shivered. The air was chilled, teeming with fine dust that swirled within the plumes of steam from her nose. A blackened veil encroached from all sides, offering no hint of what lay beyond. Yet, even in the absence of sight, her ears perked forward at every creak and groan of the ship’s labyrinthine structure. The very whisper of her breath could be heard from the depths of the void, a soft siren’s call that echoed in vast distant chorus.

“After you, Miss Fluttershy,” he beckoned.

Her wings folded tightly against her sides, as surely as her hooves remained rooted to the deck. Trent crossed his arms, waiting patiently.

“You’re still curious to see it.”

She nodded. It had not been a question.

“And you know there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“It’s just another dark room,” she nervously asserted.

Trent tapped his foot, toeing the line where the door once stood.

“Just another dark room,” Trent mused. “One that could contain anything. Anything and everything, or exactly nothing at all. Adventure and excitement, romance and fulfillment, or despair and anguish. Any of these. An infinite number of paths leading out from the crossroads beneath your very hooves. The paths are meant to be taken, Fluttershy, and you will travel them, no matter how still you stand. We have no say against the cadence of time. You will march to the drumbeat that drives the universe.”

He drew his breath, kneeling down to stare directly into Fluttershy’s eyes.

“But you do have a choice. Any path to choose from. All depending on where you step. Standing still will not lead you to what you desire, nor will it delay that which you fear. You will find both in many forms, just as it will find you. The path is not clear, and the choices are not always safe or easy. But you can still decide. You have that freedom to choose, Fluttershy. Curiosity is your candle to light the darkness. Courage will be the spark that ignites that flame. All that remains is the conviction to take that first step, and you will meet your destiny half-way.”

They shared a short silence, a quiet lull suspended within the very center of the vast eternal nothingness that dwarfed the galaxies surrounding it.

“Mr. Trent?”

“Yes?”

“You really do like to talk a lot.”

Trent erupted with a loud bellowing laugh that reverberated from the far end of the maintenance bay.

“Onward then! To the unknown!” Trent thrust his arm into the dark room, his fingertips crossing through shadow and disappearing from sight.

Fluttershy gulped, uneasily raising one hoof over the threshold.

“To the future,” she whispered.

Hoof and boot stepped across together, plowing forth into the cold still air. They marched side by side, stepping off the island of light and plunging into the sea of shade.

Trent waved his hand, and light flooded the bay. It burned bright and brilliant, as expected from the Kreshtahl - Phillips halide arc array.

The bay stretched tall and wide, stopped short by an immense door. Cranes dangled from the ceiling and towering cages rose from the gritty gray floor. Tools lined laden chests, slick with grease and arranged neatly within their metallic nests. A broad boulevard through the city of steel offered passage for two long awaited guests.

Hangars stacked along the walls in sweeping expanse, an empty hive where hulking spacecraft once moved and danced. The scope and scale hinted at the bustling activity that took place in the brightly lit room. Now quiet, save for their footsteps. Silent as a tomb.

Red lights spun and green lights flashed. A klaxon blared with shrill warning as Trent waved the mountainous door aside with a deafening crash. Onward they strode with purposeful gait.

Onward toward their prize.

Onward to their fate.

* * *

Author's Note:

Here we go, sorry about the delay.

To everyone who poked, prodded, posted, and otherwise encouraged me to "bloody well get on with it!", you have my deepest thanks.

This was a 20K word chapter, which I've decided to split in half. The other half should be posted sometime in the next few days.

Merry Christmas.

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Comments ( 59 )

Two...Years...Later...

AWESOME!

5422471
I blame the kids. And buying a house. And being involved in contracts for clients who's names begin with "The Department Of.."

That shit just devours your free time.

What kind of Christmas miracle is this?!? An update!

Wow, awesome to see this update.

Gonna have to restart from the beginning because I've completely forgotten what happens.

I just came gallons

Best christmas gift ever

Now to read the whole thing again so I can remember what the heck is going on.

5422670

Fluttershy is about to do something brave.

Huh. I have forgotten what this story is even about... Oops.

or challenge a Type III galactic civilization

Now that would be a 'miracle' for any Civ not already a Type III as well. Fighting a losing battle indeed.

Holy crap, you're not dead!

Hah, fantastic

Best Christmas present

I've read 100's of HiE stories, which one was this again?

5422506

Justice? Homeland Security? Defense? The Interior? Veterans Affairs? Education? The Treasury? State? Commerce? Energy? Health and Human Services? Economic Security? Corrections? Motor Vehicles? Labor?

I gotta know.

5423354

This would be the good one.

Had to reread the last chapter, I remember now :)

5423476
They're all good :twilightsmile:

5423476

Two of those. They've been in the news a bit over the last few years, and our work is relevant as to why.


5423354

One of the older ones, if the story ID is anything to go by.

And now, for a non-sequiter recap:

So one day, two idiot humans go to Equestria..

No, that doesn't sound right.

Two mutually exclusive humans wind up in the Everfree Forest, and cause a significant turmoil that challenges the Royal Diarchy, as well as their circle of champions.

Well, that happens anyways - but it's not really what the story is about. It's just more of a catalyst for the inevitable collapse.

Perhaps we should rewind a bit.

One day, two sisters are taking a bath. It's a rather nice bath; a wide copper tub the size of a dinner table, perched atop a grassy windswept knoll overlooking a small pony village. An odd sight, to be sure. Not a problem for one who's magical talents allow such a thing to appear with the snap of it's clawed fingers. To be honest though, conjuring this copper basin was far easier than persuading the petulant pair of prepubescent proto-princesses to plant their posteriors within it.

One horn periscopes through the pile of prismatic bubbles, while one set of eyes peer plaintively down the hill. The embers from the village have cooled, yet the ashes from the inhabitants still swirl above the valley. The scrubbing behind her ears will have to wait for a moment, as she waits for an answer from her simple question.

"Why do ponies fight?"

A simple question without a simple answer.

That such a question cannot be easily answered by the physical manifestation of chaos is not a strike against Discord himself, but rather illustrates the subjective complexity of the question. For such a trifling issue to defy an easy explanation suggests something more about the mortals it affects than something lesser of those beyond such influence.

Ironically, the answer to this question is sitting right before him. Staring up with teal and magenta eyes, wide and imploring. But it wouldn't be nice to tell them. Not now. Not yet. To understand the answer, they first need to understand the question - and that will come in good time.

But, it wouldn't hurt to give them a little hint. A little bathtime story.

A long long time ago, life took a more natural course. It was brutal, short, and very often just not fair. Yet, it was a free life. One that did not hold high hopes for the continued existence of the equine race. Beset upon by ravenous beasts, and struggling to survive in an otherwise indifferent world, they would not last as such.

So, they asked for a reprieve. A gift. And thus it was given.

The ponies were granted strength and attunement with nature. Such that their kind could defend against the beasts of the jungles, and coax their crops from unforgiving soil.

A time later, they came again to ask for their boon. They wished to take to the skies, to fight their enemies upon equal footing. And it was given. The pegasi flew to fight, wrenching glory from an unyielding sky.

And yet again, they sought mastery of the arcane and hidden secrets of nature itself. The unicorn came to be.

Yet - these gifts bore a hidden cost. One of responsibility. The phrase "just enough rope to hang yourself with" would be applicable here, though those familiar with such a phrase had long since lived out their lives a long time ago in a galaxy that was rather far away.

The results were terribly amusing.

Though empowered by their gifts, they envied and despised each other for their differences. Four tribes of ponies increasingly becoming three. Against an ever-present encroachment of opportunistic races and unforgiving lands, the ponies faced extinction - and were completely convinced that this was entirely somepony else's fault.

One final day, one final pony approached Discord. Her belly was swollen, and her time was short. Her vocal cords did not let her speak properly like the other races of ponies, nor was she smart enough to understand the words they used so frequently. But she was a clever pony, and it was a trivial act for Discord to understand what she could not so easily articulate.

She was the last of her kind, save for the two foals she carried. And not surprisingly, she came to ask for a favor.

Though Discord often found it amusing to grant wishes with their unforeseen consequences, he was kind enough to state these most horrific of terms directly up front. Not to dissuade her, but to test her. To see just how fully she would commit to this Faustian bargain.

He was patient and she was sincere. Her concern extended to all ponies, even those that regarded her stock as inferior and obsolete. She was the last of her kind, but she did not see it as such. Though her life’s journey may have been short and insignificant, it may yet carry on the journey of life itself.

Though other ponies were swayed by tribal prejudice, racial discrimination, and selfish ambition, she could accept those failings as a mere shortfall of their potential, rather than a final condemnation of all ponykind. Were it so easy to cast out the sinners for the saints, she would have fallen for the same short-sighted hubris.

She had one simple request.

“To see an Equestria without end. Where lands torn fallow by strife, sown by those lain bloody and broken, shall flourish with the fruits of eternal hope, in the days past our own.”

It was a simple request without a simple solution. She was a clever pony, after all.

But it was not beyond Discord to grant it.

For a price.

The cumulation of self serving wishes had left the Equine races embroiled in conflict, yet saved them from a quiet premature ending. Yet left unchecked, this too would only lead to their spiraling demise.

The trembling mare had but one selfless request. Though whether she chose her words carefully enough, she would never know.

It bore profound implications, and a certain manner of sacrifice was demanded in return. An Equestria without end, and a fair chance in life for her unborn foals.

The hidden meaning was not lost upon Discord. To grant her request in ‘days past our own’ would have meant something entirely and hilariously different, had she been referring to all ponies, rather than herself and him.

And Discord knew full well what an eternity could feel like.

What was said between the two in that damp dreary forest on the last day of her kind would be forever lost, carried only by the haunted whispers of the ancient trees. What was said would not be known, save for the very end. Her last sobbing whisper.

Yes.

It would be no magical panacea to save the ponies of Equestria. It would require a certain commitment. A granting of power, and a delegation of responsibility. A pact that would endure till the end of time itself.

Time.. time is an interesting thing. All paths lead forward, but only one path leads back. The manifold alternative realities could always trace their roots to a given region of spacetime. A common unique state of entropy at the very center of the universe. And where is the very center of the universe, you might ask? Everywhere and everywhen. A virtual point bound by the furthest reach of light in every direction. No two points are alike, and your chances of seeing one from another depend upon the infinitesimally accidental happenstance of a lazy universe.

Discord would send her backwards in time.

Not back in time, much like the catchy theme song of a similarly named motion picture. This was a bit more perverse.

She would see an Equestria without end, cursed forever to stare back upon the path that lead to its beginning. All paths branched out in innumerable fractal lines, and all paths lead to her - incorporeal and helpless but to watch the fate of those who traveled them. Though many would stray upon their untimely end, few.. such precious few.. would find the right path.

Discord would not save Equestria.

It was up to the ponies themselves to do so - but they could not while blindly marching to their own unseen demise.

She could not intervene directly. She couldn’t even reveal herself to a living soul - as the land of the living was full of things that emitted and absorbed photons, yet she did quite the opposite, which is to say that the opposite doesn’t quite ring true. Those familiar with the workings of the bi-directional clocks and reverse emission sensors used by the Hyperdrive might have a more lucid, if not aspirin-inducing explanation - but suffice to say, she could not help.

Not directly.

Magic, as she now knew it, held less constraints. A certain loophole left wide open.

A candle to light the darkness.

A spark to ignite the flame.

A calling to true purpose, and a promise to be met halfway.

Throughout Equestria’s future history, magical artifacts would come to be, selecting those worthy to wield them. These ‘Elements’ helped to guide Equestria through troubled and uncertain times. But they could only help.

It was the ponies themselves who bore that power, an untapped potential that existed within all, yet rarely called upon. Many bearers of Elements lived out their lives without so much the knowledge of their significance.

Those chosen by the Elements were not selected on a whim. Actions spoke louder than words, and the Elements were keen to listen. All that was asked, was the unwavering commitment to do what must be done, exactly when it mattered the most. And they knew who would rise to that calling, long before they even realized it.

A life’s journey, in exchange for the journey of life.

The two ponies sitting in the bath had stopped paying attention some time ago, as they were easily distracted and Discord was rambling off on tangents of things that would not yet happen for some time to come. It was just as well, as they weren’t quite ready to hear the rest of the story.

You see, those two foals borne by the last pony had their own special calling in life. A little verbal contract between their natural, and now adoptive respective parents.

Why do ponies fight, you may ask?

A simple question, with a subtle hidden meaning. Rephrased perhaps, it might ask “In the face of hardship, why is it that the only ponies that survive and endure are the ones who fight.”

Life is not necessarily kind, and these two would face no exception. A united Equestria, without strife or prejudice, was not a gift to the alicorn sisters, but a task. One made entertaining by Discord’s solution. The differences that drove jealousy and envious rage among the three tribes could be overcome by the gifts that these two sisters possessed.

If only it did not cause them to be universally despised by those they sought to help.

Everybody loves a good joke.

Great stuff!

Best DAY ever!!!

5423730

Oh my god, did you make PRISM? You bastard.

Best. Christmas present. Ever.

U da best, Shal :rainbowkiss:

5424356

True story. I tried to get my kids to repeat "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD". Then I hear them running downstairs shouting "BUTTS FOR THE BUTT GOD". Wife was not amused. I spent the rest of the night talking like an Ork to get them to stop repeating what I can only assume is the motto of Slaanesh.

5423730 I, huh. Well.
I am struck dumb by your tale.

Deeper though, more than anything, from this chapter reminding me of this story and your short tale, you make me sad.

Merry Christmas

5425323

We haven't even got to the sad part(s) yet. What do you find to be the most emotionally engaging out of this chapter, if I might ask?

"playing to lose"... I honestly don't know if this is supposed to be taken seriously or it's mocking the idea. The examples you put were pretty much of catastrophic beatdown that they could be examples of the Darwin awards and they really didn't won or fulfill any sort of goal or lofty ideal except of stubborn (idiotic) refusal until the end. Yes, they made for quite a spiffy quote and inspirational idea that you can get for over a minute of your day or a nice hallmark card, but in the end they were killed and with a lost civilization for eternity in the last one. .

A little confused in this part of Ice cream konan you got. Here I have another one, of my favorites:

“That is because you don't yet know how to deal with time," said Wen. "But I will teach you to deal with time as you would deal with a coat, to be worn when necessary and discarded when not."
"Will I have to wash it?" said Clodpool.
Wen gave him a long, slow look.
"That was either a very complex piece of thinking on your part, Clodpool, or you were just trying to overextend a metaphor in a rather stupid way. Which, do you think, it was?"
Clodpool looked at his feet. Then he looked at the sky. Then he looked at Wen.
"I think I am stupid, master."
"Good," said Wen. "It is fortuitous that you are my apprentice at this time, because if I can teach you, Clodpool, I can teach anyone.”
― Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

Nice to see you around by the way.

Weird chapter and a little over the place, but good nonetheless.

See ya.

5425527

I'd say it's played straight in this context. The prime example would be from John Paul Jones against the British frigate Serapis. The second example would be Athon again - a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus / Brock Sampson / Jame Retief (The galaxy's only two-fisted diplomat - as per Keith Laumer) trapped in the body of a blue pegasus mare. As for the third example.. there may be a two year gap since my last update, but that's not stopped me from thinking about how it could be done. (Not necessarily against a full blown Type III, but more of a Type 2 and a quarter that's been expanding a lot more aggressively than their eventual counterparts.)

Athon's distilled take on the matter is that one must always challenge themselves, rather than rest on their laurels. Ie, playing to lose, but fighting to win.

Trent, and his associated compatriots from earlier days, have a nearly religious devotion to the line of reasoning that a bad idea is better than no idea at all. This may sound a bit stupid, but bad ideas can be good in hindsight (and vice versa), and any survivable bad idea is still a valuable learning experience - and he with the most 'learning experiences' will usually end up being the victor/survivor of a confrontation. The real reason for this though, is that time waits for no man - not even Trent. The dreams that he has of a long corridor with fractal hallways leading off are a manifestation of choice, sacrifice, and opportunity cost. This gets demonstrated in a fight between two spaceships, where some of the actions that decide the outcome were blindly made tens of minutes beforehand.

Another Trent-ism:

“I’m not going to lie. If you want to go through with this, it will be difficult, and it will be dangerous. You see this?” he gestured at the derelict craft. “Whoever brought this thing back was damned good, damned brave, and damned lucky.”

Her head sank, hanging like a wilted rose.

“I’m not any of that.”

“You don’t know that yet. Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you are. But, do you know how to find out?”

She turned her head to look at Trent, and gave a small shake.

“First.. you get to where you want to be. Then you look back and see how you got there.”

He grinned. She facehoofed.

“That wasn’t even funny.”

The impetus to drive forward will become Scootaloo's raison d'etre. Fighting back against the lost years of waiting for her wings to develop is one application of this. Convincing others to go forward when the future is unclear will be another.

A life’s journey, in exchange for the journey of life.


Also, I loved Thief of Time.

You know, this was the first Fimfic I ever read.

Glad to see it up and about again, it's been far too long!

Also, as far as I understand, working with the Government is a exercise in paperwork of the highest magnitude. You have my sympathy.

5430814

Sweetie Belle was referring to Raine's comment about the monster that Trent destroyed - when there was supposedly nobody else around to see it.

Likewise, Applejack was wondering how Raines knew anything about how she and Trent met in the woods, though she didn't catch on immediately.

Not to mention how Trent knew where to find her..

5425497 I'm fairly confident in several things now, mostly that the clocks are very right, and all of Trent's friends are dead, and it seems to be his fault too. Also, with Sweetie having the magical artifact from the last true pony (and this is all speculation mind you), and being afraid of herself but still wanting to be a soldier? That doesn't speak of a slippery slope or corruption, nope.

Overall, if I'm reading the foreshadowing correctly, this is not going to have an ending of all sunshine and rainbows.

5431808

The clocks are right, they've just spun all the way around on the dial. (a 64-bit signed int should be good enough for everybody, right?)

As for Trent's friends, he'll get to find out when the database finishes reconstructing itself.

As for Sweetie Belle's object, that's a gift from Trent - which we haven't seen take place yet. There were three things in his pockets. A pen, a knife, and a watch. All of which were once held by the girl in the spacesuit.

Speaking of the last pony, I'm busy writing up a set of pony/gryphon/zebra/dragon myths that happen to be rather similar to Pandora's Box, and/or the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. These are interspersed into Fluttershy's narration as she gets to watch another box open up.

Fluttershy was frozen in place. Her eyes focused on the door beneath the precipice.

“Come on,” Trent offered his hand toward her.

Through what compulsion she could not comprehend, her hoof found it’s way into Trent’s open palm. A firm grasp and a soft pull prodded her from her stasis, and she found herself galloping to keep pace with Trent’s childlike vigor.

They stopped short of the edge. The door lay several yards beneath the lip of the chasm, giving the impression of an empty swimming pool for a race of titanic beasts, mercifully nonexistent.

Fluttershy shook her head, letting a shudder trickle down her spine. She shouldn’t be afraid. What lay below was just another door. Another dark empty room. Just another box.

Just another box.

Legend spoke of a pony in the days before ponies, who opened a box, and unleashed every measure of evil upon the world.

Trent waved his arm. A door that lay closed longer than the sum of Equestria’s history began to rumble open.

As for the ending, I will say that it's not grimdark. A bit bittersweet, perhaps. Maybe even a bit humorous.

It will be all the happier, for the despair the characters are put through.

5432070 well, this is what happens when I read the chapter after so long without re-reading the previous ones to catch up.

So, I remember not liking this story, for how know-it-all the human character was, and how he almost condescendingly explained to Twilight (and possibly others, can't remember) how her understanding of how the world works is wrong. And other things that irk me about him, but mostly that. But after coming back to it after all this time, I've made the conscious decision to not care about that anymore. That me not liking the idea of an Equestria in which Celestia and Luna do not actually control the sun and moon, when everyone believes they do, will not make me dislike your story for positing such; even if it turns out true (as true as a fictional situation can be). I will still likely be irked by your human character's sheer confidence that his knowledge of how their world works is less questionable than theirs, but I'm going to make an effort to keep that irk aimed at your character, and not whatever story you're taking a made-up number of years to maybe, eventually start telling.

I enjoyed this chapter more than I think I would have, otherwise.

5440290
I wouldn't say that he's a know-it-all. However he does come from the future, he does have access to the interstellar neural-matrix equivalent of wikipaedia, and he has a fair amount of actual experience in spaceships, space engineering, space combat, space drugs, and brokering first-contact scenarios with intelligent species. I mean, if you travelled back to Bletchley Park in the 1940's, and started telling the allied codebreakers how fast ENIGMA could be bruteforced on a consumer cell phone, you might seem like a bit of a know-it-all without even trying.

He's still not quite sure how he got here, though. He can't math hard enough to interpret why his ship arrived where it did, and _where_ that is in the first place.

I think you might be referring to the annoyance he expressed at Twilight's casual dismissal of wasting time exploring the ends of the great oceans. He watched Earth basically lose interest in space after the first human colonies started getting built, so it does incite a bit of uncontrollable disappointment when someone decides to write off the whole raison d'etre for exploration and curiosity.

As for Celestia and Luna - I would not say that they explicitly "control" the sun and the moon - but they are magically attuned to their respective celestial bodies, and they do make tangible use of it at times.

If not for the wife haranguing me to go to bed, i'd explain a bit more. I'll try to whip up a little teaser tomorrow.

It'll only take 8 minutes.

This is one of the first HiE fics I ever read. I was convinced for two years that it was dead and defunct, and I was happy to have enjoyed it while it lasted.

But now it's FUCKING RESURRECTED and I'm psyched! Nice to have you back, shally!

5440290

June 16. Everfree Forest

Eight minutes.

That's how long it took to boil an egg to a chalky sulfurous lump. The only way you'd expect to have it in the battalion mess. Nevermind giving the job to someone who knew a damnable thing about cooking, the army wisdom favored consistency above quality. And woe betide the sad sorry sod who challenges the teacup sized world of the cook, what with his boxes of eggs, that damnable eight-minute timer of falling sand, and the other assortment of sweetgrass, dried meats, and milled oat that should be by all accounts, impossible to defile into such unrecognizable unpalatable paste.

The cook was akin to some mythic beast, squashed down into the vague shape of a pony. Legs the size of tree trunks, and a barrel of ribs roughly the size and shape of the water cistern that takes four pony team to drag by sledge. Everypony loved his cooking. Nopony was stupid enough to say otherwise.

Haven't seen him since yesterday. Poor dumb bastard.

It's dark today, but the fires of felled trees cast their wavering light. Just enough to see the pages of my journal. Just enough to write. We may dwell within the heart of the forest, yet I know not how long the trees will last before we are consumed by the night.

It hurts to write. Hurts to move. My captor has seen to watch over me amidst the chaos of moving bodies and aimless errands. He has my blades tucked away within his satchel. A trophy of war, were it still so. He keeps my journal when my eyes are to weak to stay open. I have seen him reading and re-reading it when he has the chance. Always the same page.

There is a hole in my armor, so I am told. One that lines up neatly with the puncture in my chest. Bronze plate peeled into flower petals. The work of the shaftless arrow they dug out of me. That She dug out of me.

They won’t let me see it, but they still talk about it. The warhead lodged in my chest must have been impelled by incredible speed to make the small circular shape as it did. My armor lay in a heap, covered by a cloth sack, and stalwartly guarded by my captors. The gryphon and unicorn that.. survived the previous night. Two of the six I encountered, before we were encountered ourselves.

In my moments of fleeting clarity, I ask if they have seen Rising Dawn. What a cruel choice of name at a time like this. A ripe opening for the sort of gallows humor we easily partake. There is no mirth when they answer though. She has not yet been found. Also, I am told that I ask the same question every time I am awake, as if I had no recollection of asking earlier. They are patient when they answer for the unknoweth time. I may not remember asking, but I remember what she looked like. Yellowish pegasus mare with three warbling sparrows upon her haunches. Tufty curls of underbelly fur. One wing dragging limply, and a bloodsoaked sash tied tightly around the socket. I still feel the sting where she tried to stab me. I hope she is okay.

I cannot see my armor. It still lays where they left it, a pile of bronze plates covered in cloth. I am told that when I would get close to it, my curiosity would lend my hoof to the hole in the breastplate. And then I would scream.

I remember nothing of the sort. Only being held down amidst the panicked faces of my captors as I awoke from a sleepless dream.

After the third time, they denied my proximity to it.

There is a stir in the camp. A patrol has returned. It is not the same group that left earlier.

The camp grows as the bulk of the legion wanders in, drawn like moths to the crackling bonfires in the clearing. Altars to heat and light. Laden with fresh sacrifices as ponies tirelessly swing the few axes they can find.

The Legion and the Queen’s forces share an uneasy armistice as they gather. Some caked with dirt, some bloodied. All shivering from the encroaching cold. They stumble and meander forth, drawn to the fires.

The patrol have returned at a dead run, heedless of such comforts.

I have awoken again. Glaivius tells me it is still the same night. No less than an hour since I nodded off.

A patrol had set out in the daylight to see the remains of the Sentinel. The flying iron bar held aloft by roiling loops of arcane fire. Before the Herald summoned a brilliant blinding bolt of light from high in the heavens, searing dawn into day and cleaving the Sentinel in twain.

The patrol did not make it back.

According to the second patrol, they had found some of them on a meandering course back to the camp. Those they found alive had been brought back to the camp at a hurried pace, bound over the backs of ponies, or slung beneath the claws of gryphons. Some died en route. The remainder that reached camp, a mere fraction of the proud group that set out earlier, were attended to by the nurses and field surgeons of both the Legion and the Queen’s guard. They could find no wounds to cause the listless disposition, the reddened skin, nor the hair falling out in clumps. They could find no cure.

Seven mounds covered in cloth dotted the dim treeline at the edge of the encampment. The fire at the center still burned bright, but the treeline was steadily retreating. The bodies would need to be moved again.

Another mound of cloth lay in the treeline some distant degree around the encirclement. This one still alive. For now. Glavius has been showing my journal to others. The knives would be out soon.

The Herald of Legions lay shivering upon the barren wasteland of glorious conquest.

The sash of 5th battalion, tattered and stained, draped from her ivory horn. A silent requiem for those lives lost and memories defiled. Every traitorous state and cowardly unit that joined her rebellion bore their banners within the Legion’s ranks. Every flag that opposed her, became another patchwork swatch in the suit that covered her body.

The Patchwork Princess.

The one who pulled the fragment of metal from my chest.

I can see her sobbing from across the distance. Her body is wracked with shudders, and her horn lies just inches above the ground.

My Queen is gone. Only the Herald remains. She asked me, what became of Luna.

For this, I had no answer.

Hide a pebble under the sand. A memory within my incomplete mind. I have tilled all the sand of all the beaches trying to find it, yet I am still empty-hooved. This was all I could feel when she asked me of her sister. Towering above me as I wracked my mind, searching for the answer that may well not exist. I feel that closure will forever elude us.

She.. seemed sympathetic to me. Not the tyrant I expected.

Eight minutes. That’s how we slice up the time. Eight minutes of waiting at attention, slaves to that damnable sand timepiece of our former battalion cook.

That’s more or less how we timed it.

It was eight minutes from the time when the triumphant Herald dropped to her knees and let out a blood curdling scream. Eight minutes of confusion and panic as the Herald shouted and shrieked that the sun was gone.

Eight minutes later, the morning sun winked out of existence.

I can still see her shivering.

The treeline is getting wider. The great fires have become sullen mounds of orange coal as smaller fires are built within the migrating morose masses of those who survived the night of silent screaming machinations and the green sheets of fire from the Sentinel.

I feel this night will last forever..

... my memories of this story are crashing back, and with it, my consistant background hum of annoyance with it.

It just... it bugs me that you've decided that the ponies are all stupid. I mean really, the book with the causes of fire? nevermind that implying that Celestia and Luna don't control the sun and moon means implying that what we saw in the show is just straight up wrong(IE the sun not coming up in the pilot, the disappearance of major crater markings, and the sudden, rapid rise of the sun following NMM's defeat), and that Equestria is anachronistic with technology all over the place- they have electricity, for heaven's sake! I dunno, if you're going to try to write an even semi-serious story in the world of the show, you have to accept that our physics don't work properly there, and that, despite looking childish and often behaving such in the show, they are still intelligent adults. So when I read Twilight writing such simplistic research notes on her fire research(seriously? the OCD book worm didn't note time of day for experiment, duration of experiment, transitionary phases the substances went through with the experiment... any of that?), I can maybe chuckle, but then I look at it again and I see yet another writer who claims to love the show condescending to the characters.

On top of that, despite how much I do enjoy his character, Trent remains stupidly, ridiculously 'powerful'. He talks with Derpy and, in a single conversation, determines the fact of her intelligence when noone else ever has(I assume this is intended to be in the vein of things like 'einstein failed math because he was thinking so far ahead' and that kind of thing, but the fact of the matter is that Einstein never failed a math class in his life, and this idea is stupid, so I don't like it anyways), he always seems to be in the right place at the right time to influence people, and I mean, there's that whole thing with Twilight asking 'who he was' at the start and king of a thousand stars or whatever it was, which... augh. I'm tempted to call him a mary sue- a well written one, perhaps, but all the same...

Basically, I guess the problem is a simply one- Trent keeps coming off as condescendingly better than the ponies, even if that isn't how he's trying to behave, and your writing of the ponies seems to imply that he's right, which leaves me constantly annoyed. I love much of your work, and your writing style is fantastic- I just wish you'd let Twilight out of kindergarten, and admit that just because a society has different technology doesn't mean they're stupid.

causes of fire indeed.

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they have electricity, for heaven's sake!

If you mean that in the story they said that they have Electricity, I haven't read the story in a while and haven't caught up either so I wouldn't know, but if you mean in the show for all we know it's not electricity but instead Magic.

On the raising the Sun & Moon part, this is just my opinion/idea's for if this was real: the planet would have to be artificial being made by an advanced group of aliens as an experiment(Thus a fake Sun & Moon which is why they're able to change the cycles since if they always made them Rise or Lower then they wouldn't have been able to evolve in the first place), Celestia and Luna only rotate the Planet due to the rotation stopping/slowing to the point of burning one side and freezing the other side of the planet, for some reason the Planet stopped it's rotation and the Unicorns decided it's easier to find a way to force the Sun and Moon to move than it is to try to start the Rotation again in a matter of a couple days, that or somehow they do need to raise/lower the Moon but they just kinda slingshot the Planet everyday to get it to move around the sun. These are just my idea's I honestly have no idea why I put them here other than that they popped into my head while typing.
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they have a hydroelectric dam, and we've seen what magical devices look like(tank's helicopter-thing, anyone?), which things like their gramophones and sowing machines visibly don't have.

I'm gonna have to try this one again next time I have free time and no stories to read. It took too long to update, or the site was bugged and didn't tell me until now...

Downloaded the story. Started reading.
I have one question to ask.

Is this a crack fic?

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Knowledge and skills are one thing, but the infrastructure of precision engineering and mass production is another beast altogether. The skills and knowledge needed to understand the design and production of any moderately complicated consumer good is getting to the point where no one person can be expected to know it all. From Trent's, and people of his timeframe's perspective, "things that make things" comes more readily to mind.


New chapter needs to get posted..


Light blazed at the behest of Trent’s fingertips, illuminating the cavernous bay within the belly of the ship. It loomed before them; the very measure of its dimension roaring impudent arrogance at the two tiny figures intruding upon the vast grey gullet. Most of Ponyville would have nestled neatly within the industrial acreage, overshadowed by walls that could contemptuously swallow the Manehatten skyline.

A small canyon cleaved the compartment’s centerline, with smooth steel doors inlaid beneath the lip of the precipice. A well of souls stirred in eternal slumber. Doors forged of dead stars sealed the final reliquary of Man.

Fluttershy found herself glancing aside as she walked. Curious at first, but with a growing sense of nervous urgency as she kept looking to the vault that bisected the sterile synthetic landscape.

The compartment was empty.

She felt tiny. Miniscule. An insignificant mote of dust shuffling along the floor of the iron cathedral.

The ship was not far now, according to Trent. The journey of a thousand metaphoric miles was nearing its end, and she hurried herself to keep pace. It helped to take her mind off the feeling that lingered within her mind.

The compartment was empty. She was being watched.

She looked around again, ears twisted and strained to catch the subtle murmur beneath the distant echo of her hoofsteps. Whispers without voices. Emotion entombed within silicon and steel. An ocean of rapt attention.

The Coward and the Deceiver strode upon the stage.

The audience had been waiting.

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I've always thought this to be a bit humorous.

Dornier struggled under the weight of the Gryphon's thick meaty paws. He looked up and snarled in response.

“Faithfully following a faithless lady. I chose my words without hesitation, brigand. The lot of you blindly follow the Whore of the Legion!”

“Thou will not blaspheme the Herald!” the alabaster pegasus kicked hard against the bronze greaves of Dornier’s flank.

“Had she been born a stallion, I expect you would greedily lap up more than just her lies.”

damn hope this still continues its really great! :twilightsmile:
i really loved the fact that derpy seemed out of there but in reality she's a genius underneath!:yay:
buck yeah! SCIENCE!!!!:trollestia:
eat your heart out twilight derpy's much smarter!:rainbowlaugh:
pls pls pls pls pls pls pls pls pls dont let it end like this!:raritycry:
:raritydespair::fluttercry::applecry::pinkiesad2:

Just saw the story in the related bar. Wow has it really been another two years since the last update? It's at least nice to see you've logged in recently.

Definitely good to see you've log in recently because I've just been going through my favorites folder and it's depressing as fuck.

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Looking at my gdocs folder can be depressing as fuck too.

I'm still lurking around, occasionally writing up future scenes or trying to catch up on some of my reading list. Seems like free time is hard to find when you've got a few server racks worth more than my mortgage and a two month target to spin up a high performance computing cluster environment. Interesting work, but makes it hard to find time for pone, vidya gaming, or sleep.

I did start writing something recently though, in the same (or prior) universe as The End. Not much so far, but I've got to prime the pump for serious writing somehow.

Thanks for checking in on me :twilightblush:

7993305 And thank you for replying. Also, you write HFY? Fucking score!

awesome story!, is there more chapters??, looking forward to more chapters!, i wonder if applejack confesses her feeling to trent at the party?.

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