• Published 24th Feb 2012
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Ponies in Space - Saphroneth



A fusion fic with various space opera, mainly Honor Harrington.

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Chapter 5

“Cursed strange planet.”

Fido glanced to the speaker, his communication officer. They were supervising the unloading of 2/1st, one heavy Phreatic mech and two medium Pyroclastic mechs, from his ancillary command vehicle. The hundred-tonne command tank wasn’t in the same league as the gigantic heavy mechs, but it was also a lot more agile. When his command mech was unloaded he would simply transfer from one to the other. Until then, however, the ability to drive around their landing site at relative speed was useful.

Two other mech battalions were already out of the transport, their heavy plasma cannons sniffing the air near the ridges in case the ponies tried their luck. Otherwise this would have been too risky.

“I know what you mean.” The Brigadier-general replied with a harsh bark. “Nothing moving except plants. It’s not natural.”

He sobered. “Still, we’re not here for that. We have to take their research base, get the data downloaded. Or failing that, destroy it. Intel indicates that they have something revolutionary at work here.”

“You think we’ll manage it?”

“Of course!” Fido said, chuckling with a confidence he didn’t feel. “This is an entire planetary siege brigade! The most they could have to stop us is whatever marines those ships had, and that means no war machines at all.”

True, as far as it went. But the damnable ponies didn’t need war machines half the time. Not with their paradoxical magic.

At least the enormous hurricane developing offshore wouldn’t completely wreck their weaponry, unlike what would happen to an equivalent Gryphon Legion. The Gryphons used discrete bolt of copper plasma from guns with bores measured in 1cm for the handguns to almost 20cm for their big panzers, but they liberated their energy on the first thing they hit – including water droplets. The backflash from a Gryphon powergun firing in the rain could start fires – or worse.

Diamond Dogs went in for an entirely different scale. Their heavies’ 80cm plasma cannons fired fusing hydrogen in blasts most of a second long, and cleared their path with a laser pulse beforehand to ionize as much of the air as possible. There was still a bit of back-scatter, but the battle screen their mechs were big enough to project could handle it.

Their infantry, on the other hand, used rockets and single-shot fusion lances as heavy weapons, and simple ballistics as light equipment. Less destructive or versatile than a 1cm or 2cm powergun, and the ammunition was a lot heavier, but again unaffected by the weather. Had this been a Gryphon installation, in fact, the transport would have induced the hurricane deliberately simply to lock down their weapons.


“What’s the plan, then, sir?”

Fido’s viewpoint hovered over a virtual map of the area, the cyberspace avatars of his subordinates around him. “We send two companies of Caesar’s air cavalry around the western flank, and one to the east. That gives us the chance to envelop if they hold either of the potential choke points.” He turned to the company and battalion commanders for the air cavalry. “Infiltrate a platoon up to the lip of the gorge to check if they have any defensive positions prepared there, then make your way to the final confluences before the second choke point. That’s out of direct fire range. Keep your shuttles around in case you need to rapidly redeploy, and for air support if they leave small detachments in the valleys.”

“Your will.” They replied, bowing.

“First light battalion to sweep ahead to the gorge, then to the end of it as soon as it has been scouted. Skirmishes with what blocking positions exist only, and give us spotting information. Second to remain at the transport to guard it. Third in company with the mechs, which will be advancing in elongated wedge formation. All units, especially the Ignimbrite light mechs, to have weapons in air-defence mode unless otherwise necessary. And don’t take too many risks, the mech battalions are the real punch here.”

He grinned, showing a lot of teeth. “Hell or victory, pack brothers!”


“Well, they’re movin’ out.” Mac said, at his own map table. “Them air cavalry shuttles are stayin’ back further than I’d like.”

“Yes, but it does make sense.” Caramel said. “They can’t fight us alone, so they’re going to stay back as long as possible. Fighters can’t really support us until their units are at least into the foothills, which is several hours away for the main body. And that means their light unit is going to reach the gorge unopposed.”

“We don’t have a lot of options for that one.” Mac agreed amiably. “And that ain’t as much of a problem – I’d back our colts n’ fillies against twice their number of Dog infantry, and we got enough anti armour guns dug in to take out their Schnauzers easy. The heavies’re the problem.”

Trixie spoke up. “One of my corporals is a specialist with shields. I think if I can get thirty or forty unicorns behind his spell, we can cut open their battle screen for a fire mission.”

“What kind’ve repetition rate will that get us?”

“Category four spell… about two minutes to recover for the unicorns supplying the power. The corporal will be channelling it, so he might be a bit strained, but I think there’s a sergeant who specializes in that. Earth pony, actually – his special talent is magic, and it manifests as the ability to hold a spell structure.”

“These mechs are an important issue.” One of the other commanders said. “I think the weather support platoons could do something with that storm overhead and get a few big lightning bolts from it, would that help? The scale that they’d be able to damage Akitas.”

“Depends on the tactical situation as it evolves – have them build a charge up as much as they can without being obvious, though, that’s too useful a plan to ignore.” Caramel frowned for a moment. “Captain, how many times could you get this shield-breaker spell off in a row?”

“Three, four. Maybe five or six if some of them were Akitas and I put the reserve on it, but by that point Snips and Star Swirl are both going to be suffering mana burn.”

The unicorns around the table winced. Some of them had undergone that when young – pushing more magic through their horns than the circuit could normally hold created a killer migraine – but the capacity of a horn grew much faster than the user’s mana level, so the idea of overcoming it made them realize just how much strain they would be putting on the young corporal.

“The other useful talent is a lieutenant, Snails. He’s got time dilation, and it can be projected.”

“That means it’s like increasin’ the rate of fire?” Mac asked. “Veeery handy.”

“Yes. And I think it might be an unpleasant surprise for those light troops if they try to put pressure on. Dogs don’t really ‘get’ what magic can do sometimes.”

“And what about point defence?” Caramel asked. “We have a fairly good network, but I think your unicorns might need to supplement it.”

“There’s a few good enough at low level combat magic – blaster spells, that sort of thing – that with their armour boosting their aim they can slap down missiles. And shielding work is basic stuff, takes a lot of power to stop nukes but a missile running into a shield is just going to break and not detonate.”

“And if some of them do go off?”

“That’s what the shields and our armour and the luck of the draw are for.”

“Aaalright.” Mac said. “If there’s nothin’ else, then everyone git some sleep. Caramel, you have the watch – you got up only a few hours ago, right?”

“Yes, Brigadier.” Caramel replied. “I’ll let you know when the mechs reach the foothills or the air cavalry’s a quarter of an hour out.”


With a jerk, Dash pulled another wire out of her wings. This one had been in between the primaries, making it so that taking it out wrecked a good ten percent of her wing on its’ own.

That was the last one, though.

She looked at her ruffled feathers and bedraggled tail, tossed her mane out of her eyes again, and let out a long and heartfelt sigh.

Nothing for it. She started on the primaries, carefully realigning them one by one. The primaries and their converts were going to take about another hour, and then the secondaries and secondary converts almost as long.

At least this was out of the rain. She’d been right, there was a cave, and one benefit of a level-one biosphere like this one was that there were no animals able to live on land to occupy it.

She looked over at her little fire, and flared out her wings to it to pick up some warmth. There had been something approximating driftwood on the beach, and the air was humid enough for her to build a tiny little thundercloud and set light to it, then build the flame up to the size of a good campfire. She’d stopped shivering, which was an enormous relief.

“After this, I’m making sure to carry a vacuum tube radio.” She sneezed again. “And a blanket.”


“Hm.”

“Sir?”

Caesar checked the map in his command shuttle, cruising at about fifty kilometres per hour over the foothills, and confirmed that the valley he had spotted was not on it. “There’s a narrow defile, there. Is my guess correct that it’s topped by dense rocks?”

“Ah… yes, sir. We can’t scan through it.”

“Peel off a platoon of assault shuttles and send them into there to await an opportune moment. This storm’s going to block just about every kind of scan by the time it’s in full roar, and it looks like that defile will lead down to the coast by a different route to the main river. They might be able to achieve a coup de main by flying under the storm along the coast and capturing the target installation.” Caesar began marking the map with icons. “Make sure the platoon commander knows to wait until the heavies can provide some cover before he seizes the installation, but also to move early and infiltrate the last few kilometres on foot.”

“Your will, sir.”


Trixie blinked, and came awake in seconds. She’d learned that skill back in Marine basic.

“Morning.”

“Mornin’.” Mac replied pleasantly over her mastoid com. “Caramel tells me the air cav is getting close.”

She left her field shelter – not much, just a fox-hole dug to be inside the area of influence of a gravity umbrella – and winced as she re-entered the open. By now the hurricane had struck land, and the winds were gusting at well over ninety.
It was actually bad enough she paused and set her short-range leg implants to tractor. Set like that they pulled her down unless she was actively taking a step, stopping her from being blown over by the wind.

It was easier for the pegasi and earth ponies. The former could shape the wind, the latter were naturally steady and stable.
I’m woolgathering. Maybe she was less awake than she thought. “Okay, Brigadier. How far are they?”

“They ain’t over the first high ridge, yet. Neither group.”

She cued her displays, and checked the positions of the enemy ground units. Those were known a lot more precisely thanks to ground shocks – at least, the locations of the mechs were easy, and the APCs were doable. Infantry didn’t show up at any great range.

“I recommend we ask for a fighter squadron to try and hit each group as they overtop the ridge.”

“Already done. What I want you to be doin’ for now is coordinating the artillery and shields.”

“On it.” Trixie was used to acting as her commander’s tactical deputy, and had good relations with the other detachments.
She switched channels to the artillery commander. “Trixie here. How’s your firepower compared to their air defence?”

“If they had stayed concentrated, there wouldn’t have been much we could do.” The pony in charge replied – he was from Caramel’s battalion and had taken over brigade operations in addition to his own battery. “But with how they’re moving that light unit ahead to the gorge, I think I could get a few bursting cruisers through.”

Bursting charges on cruise missiles were intended for this kind of broken terrain. They used the missile as a carrier to get within range and on profile, then released dozens of submunitions – the split was what let them get through the close interception zone more easily than a heavier antitank round. No submunition could hope to damage a light mech – which mounted battle screen – but much of the first Dog column’s air defences were provided by their APCs. At three point defence guns per each of the ten APC and five for each of the four Schnauzer, the best approach here was to strip away the APCs and then destroy the mechs.

“Fire some light antiarmour as soon as the predicted burst point is no longer line of sight to their main body. How many tubes do you have?”

“Four per battalion. Most of our kit is line of sight.” Heavy lasers, railguns, that sort of thing.

“That’s thirty-two total, then. Right, fire three salvoes of light antiarmour and then two antitank. If that doesn’t break through their defences at least a little we’ll leave it to the line of sight weapons.”

“You got it. Alright, lads…”

She changed channels again to the magic support ‘push’, or general channel. “All magic detachments, make sure you have your armour on and staffs ready. And sidearms as well, come to that.”

Marine body armour was almost proof against small arms at ranges of more than a kilometre or so. Personal shields that many unicorns could manage exceeded that degree of protection, but she was going to be demanding their every erg to deal with the heavy mechs.

The order also helped drive home the seriousness of what was about to happen, of course. The ‘side arms’ were what most other races would have called heavy weapons, hooked onto a harness over the armour’s flanks. Normal marines had two, but one of the harness slots on a mage was occupied by their lighter staff. And under most circumstances they rarely bothered putting the other on.

At that moment, two squadrons of fighters came up the broad valley at ground-hopping height. They split into their separate detachments as they went overhead with the thunder of twenty-four overlapping sonic booms, and screamed up the side valleys towards their objectives.


“Watch that turn!” Surprise warned as her fighters approached the turn into the next river valley. “You skyline on this one and those heavies’ll get a line on you!”

“Aye, ma’am,” came back, by the sound of it from Mist Born. He’d had trouble with that before when flying in atmosphere.

“Okay, everyone. In fast, out fast, and don’t linger!”


The last of the air cavalry had just cleared one of the highest ridges in the terrain. From now on, they were effectively out of the fire arc of their bigger brothers in the mechanized units.

They had had air breathing spy drones ranging ahead of them for some time, to pick up any potential anti-air ambush. The fighters, however, had approached from well out to sea at high mach numbers, avoiding detection for as long as possible.

Caesar didn’t waste time when the alert appeared. “Emergency drop! Everyone out!”

He put action to words by taking up his weapon – a three-shot fusion lance – and jumping out of the opening back of his command shuttle. The rest of his Dogs followed, but only eight of them made it out.

The last was killed instantly in a ball of fire as a flechette fifty centimetres long and travelling at several times the speed of sound went straight through it.

The explosion wasn’t dangerous to him. In emergency drop mode, his gravity harness slammed him down to the ground several times faster than gravity would normally permit and then braked at the end.

Mostly braked. He hit at thirty miles an hour, rolled once with a curse, and straightened to begin firing at the fighters.

He was an expert, using a weapon with holographic sights, as were the entire air cavalry unit. They managed to cause hull damage to two fighters, and the last to leave the valley lost shields as a barrage of missiles homed in on it.

The small nuclear warheads bracketed the fighter as it tried to dodge behind the lip of the gully connecting the valleys, then one detonated within ten metres and destroyed the right side of its’ target. The overpressure threw off the pilot and slammed their fighter into the rock, producing a crash and fireball.

“Cease fire. Red and Green platoons on overwatch – I want any other fighters that try to get at us painted the moment they hit line of sight! How many of the heavy weapons made it out?”

He could already see that only two shuttles had survived intact. In the circumstances, putting them up against any kind of fortified position was pointless.

“Shuttle nineteen has a load of jeeps, sir. And two of the ones that crashed had loads of reloads for fusion lances and rocket launchers – so we have a lot of those.”

“Good.” Not perhaps his first choice, since there was only so much you could do with lots of ammo and only a small number of heavy weapons, but definitely better than nothing. And the jeeps were great news. They were skimmer vehicles mounting a single plasma tribarrel, all of them captured from Gryphons, and highly effective line-of-sight weapons. With the long lines of vision in the river valleys heading down to their objective, and combining the tribarrels with the fifty or so heavy weapons in the force, they would be able to keep the enemy fighters at arm’s length.

“Casualties?”

“Maybe eighty dead, thirty wounded.”

“Spirit.” He said quietly. His entire command was only 480 troops, and with the size of the detachments he’d made there were only two hundred and eighty or so troops in this unit. Well, two hundred now, or as few as one hundred and seventy depending on how bad “wounded” was.

“Any news of the other unit?”

By way of answer his aide pointed east. There were a series of mushroom clouds climbing into the cloud layer around where the equivalent side valley to this would be on the other side of the gorge.

The meaning hit him like a punch to the gut. “Damnation. What happened?”

“They didn’t get out of the shuttles in time. Gun packs ripped right through them, and then the fighters salvoed missiles on the way out.”

The sound and concussion of the weapons must have been immense, but he hadn’t noticed it.

“It keeps getting worse. Tell me there’s good news.”

“Well, there is one thing. A Phreatic found a higher vantage point at the time of the attack, and one of their fighters skylined itself. The heavy commander managed to hit it, so that fighter’s completely destroyed.”

Caesar bared his teeth. “Cold comfort. Right, get those jeeps and weapons distributed. And a squad sent up to the lip of the gorge so they can give the all-clear to the first light battalion.”


“Captain, the remaining scanners in that side valley show that their air cavalry is regrouping. It looks like their unit commander survived.”

Rarity was impressed – her tactical officer had managed to collate that information and analyze it with considerable speed. “Thank you, Cloud Dancer. I’ll pass that on to the Admiral and the ground forces.”

Cloud Dancer – another of the occasional tactical-track pegasi, and an unusually tall one – replied in her cool soprano. “No problem, Captain.” As she continued tapping away at her tac board, the sidebars became more and more detailed.

“Admiral,” Rarity began straight away, “My tactical officer has made a few deductions on the air cavalry that survived that fighter strike. I’m transferring it over now.”


“Fluttershy? How good does this look?”

“Er… It seems to hold… that makes sense… oh, that’s interesting… it looks fine, Admiral. The new data coming in just confirms what the early analysis says.”

Twilight winced slightly at the sight of the jeeps. “I suppose those mean we can’t send in fighters on that target. Right, one more fighter strike today and then it’s in the hooves of the marines.”

“Against who?” Scootaloo asked, curious.

“Well, it won’t be for a while, but attacking the main body of the enemy with shipkillers. If we’re lucky we might manage to achieve destruction of some of those mediums and their missile pods.”

“That sounds like work for a full deck strike, Admiral.” The ensign said. “And that will remove the combat air patrol.”

“If the missiles salvo while our strike is going in, we can just launch the shipkillers into that and be done with it.” The sheer number of airbursting nuclear weapons would probably have knock-on effects on the planet’s habitability down the line, even with “clean” hydrogen gravity pinch weapons instead of “dirty” uranium bomb compression ones. But that was something to consider if the mechs didn’t manage to grind through the Marine blocking position and wipe out the remaining ponies on the planet.

“True…”

“Scootaloo. Please start preparations for a full strike on the main body of the enemy. Weapons as heavy as you can. Fluttershy, any support we can give with our main missile batteries would be much appreciated.”

“Okay, ma’am. If we wait an hour or so, Cavalcade will be back with the fighter pilots shot out in the first engagement – transferring them to crated fighters and getting them configured should take about as long as that again, and then I’d have three extra fighters.”

“Is that particularly useful?”

“We’re right at the point in the curve where they could shoot down all the missiles if everything goes perfectly for them.” Scootaloo answered. “If I had those extra platforms, it would mean all their missiles or an equal number would get through.”

“Very well. But ask Ruby to send the pilots ahead in a pinnace – we need them as soon as possible. Those medium mechs will be approaching their optimum firing range by then.”


The battle started quietly.

The first sign anything was different from the long hours of waiting was a series of hisses that were barely audible over the hurricane, as twenty-four artillery tubes fired their first rounds. Six seconds later, another flight of missiles sped forward, then a third.


The light battalion advancing up the gorge was having to replace recon drones regularly as they were dashed against the walls by the hurricane. The wind was less than outside, but there were more things to run into – and occasionally the gorge’s narrower sections and esoterically shaped walls channelled them to cause unpredictable gusts beyond the ability of the counter-grav drive to compensate.

Shep frowned as his newest forward scout drone detected something, then cursed and slapped the unit push channel open. “All Sierra units, air defence mode!”

Barely two seconds after he’d shouted, while some of his task force were still reacting, the two dozen cruise missiles came around the last bend. They were moving at well above the speed of sound as they came onto the final attack, and their much more powerful drives let them bull through the moving air.

They had to swing wide to reach their targets, and many of the Dog air defence guns were ready even if others were not. Laser and plasma fire crackled its’ way through the missile flight, methodically destroying them as they fought to change their vectors.

One of them happened to be hit by a particularly strong gust of wind as it made the turn, and its’ simpleminded computer determined that the fall of its’ submunitions was satisfactory. It burst just before the air defence guns could get around to it and spilled out a dozen small antiarmour explosives, along with a larger number of electronic dazzlers.

More plasma and laser bolts flared, the Dog column eliminating all the potential threat sources one by one. Shep sighed in relief as the last source was destroyed what had to be only a few tens of metres short of detonation.

Then he realized that, in shooting down the cargo of one bursting charge, the defence guns had all pointed far back and up, at the falling munitions. Too far back for them to fully cover the next missile flight, that came around the corner at that moment moving even faster than the first – and with more up to date targeting information.


As the submunitions from the second salvo spilled out and reached their optimal ranges, small counter-grav units stabilized them and their fuses tripped.

Lances of molten metal, self-forging projectiles, ripped downwards into the vulnerable top armour of the Dog APCs. Smashing armour, destroying electronics. Killing.

Seven APCs died to the second salvo. The third only spent part of its’ fury on the – now far fewer – light armoured vehicles, with the remainder of them unable or unwilling to target them past the light mechs and aiming at them instead. The projectiles were unable to pierce the battle screen, but they certainly tried, and Shep’s command mech nearly lost screen integrity as dozens of molten copper spears pecked away at it.

Then the antitank rounds arrived. These were far more powerful. They were effectively a single-shot light shipboard energy weapon, in fact, consisting of a capacitor and a projector. Against dense antiair they were not much use, since they needed to orient properly before firing. But their lighter cousins had stripped away most of the battalion’s point defence, and they tore into the Schnauzer/Ignimbrites.

Shep’s crews were very good. They stopped nineteen of the first antitank salvo, which meant that one of the mechs survived long enough to draw all the fire of the second salvo.


“Ground shocks have ceased. The light battalion’s been finished off.”

“Good.” Mac said. “Now, how long until that air cavalry unit’s survivors reach us?”

“Not long.” Caramel said grimly. “I’ve already got the unit from Pinion on full alert.”

“It’s part of the reason I asked them to fire now.” Trixie said. “If they’d been able to pinpoint the launchers – or even just fire on the cruise missiles as they headed for the canyon – they might have caused havoc.”

“Speakin’ of, you moved them as soon as the fire mission was over, right?”

“Yes. They’re under their number two positions.” She confirmed. “But I don’t think we’ll get that much more use out of the missile tubes today.”

There was a cyan flicker over to their left, then the pulse of a number of heavy lasers firing followed by an explosion.

“That looked like one of their jeeps got cocky.”

“Well, they’ll respect us more now.” Caramel said grimly.

Muzzle flashes appeared on the slope, and rail rifles began to answer. Mac assessed for a moment, and nodded to himself.

“Send the unit from Mystery to the same flank. We’ve pretty much confirmed no survivors from the other half of the air cavalry.”

Caramel relayed the order, and ponies began trotting briskly over to the left flank in ones and twos, taking care not to silhouette themselves.


Dash brushed her wings one more time, and looked them over with satisfaction. Finally, she was finished. Now all she needed to do was work out which way it was to the base, and go ask for a snack as coolly as possible.

Then she heard something over the roaring of the waves and the wind. To be audible through that it had to be either very loud, or very close by…

She almost ran out to see what it was – she almost flew – but caution dictated she be as careful as possible, and she peered around the corner of her little cave out towards the ocean.

There were three heavy lift shuttles flying only a little higher than the huge waves, on their air-breathing turbines.

Dash’s mind raced. This was the shoreline, it was easily in reach of space-based interdiction fire from the fleet. Why weren’t they destroying the shuttles?

Right. They can’t see the shuttles. This is an enormous hurricane, it’s at least category four, the intensity is enough to block out most EM wave sensors – whether by radio interference or straight up blocking of line of sight. Gravity sensors can’t do anything because they’re not using counter gravity. And the remaining methods can be taken care of by a low power stealth field – not to mention how the hurricane must be generating hundreds of false positives anyway.

What do I do?

She took stock. She was feeling a little hungry, but she’d eaten shortly before her last sortie and she’d warmed up enough to stop herself getting hypothermia. Her wings were back together again, which meant she could keep the wind from getting to her – the wings were the focus of much of a pegasus’ magic – and…

She gave a grin.

Got it.

With one last check to make sure the shuttles were out of sight, she took a brief run-up and launched herself into the air. Flapping hard, trying to avoid being seen should one of them double back, she rose into the cloud layer and was safe. The hurricane’s masking effect would work both ways, after all.

But she wasn’t after safety.

Higher and higher. The storm buffeted at her, but she didn’t care. She was moving, and she was going up. Along didn’t matter now, up did.

Barely three minutes after takeoff, she broke through the top of the cloud layers. A single blue speck above an expanse of white, easily five hundred kilometres across.

Higher. The air was becoming thinner, harder to breathe. That was a good sign. It meant she was nearly high enough.
The air was also harder for her wings to push against. Okay, she was nearly there…

Now.

She levelled out briefly, then tucked in a wingtip and flipped over into a dive.


The first bit was the time critical bit. She had to flap as hard as she could, build up speed as fast as she could. This was the bit where she could accelerate easily, and every wingbeat sped her on her way downwards.

One. Two. One, two. Wings forward at a dead angle to minimize air resistance, then flip them perpendicular to her direction of travel and push, then repeat.

The forward phase of one wingbeat eventually slowed her almost as much as the backward phase accelerated her.

No more flapping. This was the posture critical bit. The phase in which she couldn’t accelerate herself at all, but she had to let gravity do it for her.

She fell, felt her bones flex as she stooped downwards. Wings out behind and as streamlined as possible, front hooves forward and with as little wind resistance as possible. She punched into the hurricane once more, but she was already going fast enough that the effects of the wind meant little to her.

The feel of the air on her flight surfaces was like a speedometer. She was nearly to the third phase…

At nearly seven hundred kilometres per hour, and well into the hurricane, she reached out to the wind with her pegasus magic and pulled. For most it was instinctual, but she’d refined it. She’d had to.

The air shaped around her, streamlining her drop to minimize resistance. As it passed her rear hooves, the air shield dropped back in to nothing, and the turbulent air she was passing through slammed into the back of her “cone” of air. She was pushing herself forward with nothing but weather magic.

This was the distance critical section. At her current speed, she could make it through the entire eight-kilometre cloud layer in barely thirty seconds. Piling into the ocean at this kind of speed would be unpleasantly fatal.

But she’d done this before. She could do this. She was Rainbow Dash.

It was on her cutie mark, after all.

Boom.


“Twilight!” Scootaloo shouted, disbelief and joy mingled in her voice. “Look! I’m bringing it up on the main screen!”

An image of the hurricane came up… but there was something else, something knifing through it and dispelling it in an expanding radius as if it had never existed.

“Is that-“

“Yes!” Fluttershy, Fluttershy, shouted. “Yes! That’s a Sonic Rainboom! She’s alive!”


Pinkie began cheering. “Knew you were too tough to stay down, Dashie!”


AJ grinned quietly. “No plasma cannon’s gonna stop you, eh, RD?”


Rarity smiled with quiet dignity. “Ah, dear me, but it’s good to know she’s back.”

“Alert!” Cloud Dancer said suddenly. “The clearing of the hurricane has revealed three assault shuttles closing in on the installation on a sea level profile!”

“Fire forward chasers at them.” Rarity ordered, watching the tac display as it careted the new threats – and confirmed that the rainbow streak of light that was the Colonel was out of the threat zone, headed for the installation itself at mach one.

“And organize a pinnace to go and pick up Colonel Dash.” She added, as Harmony swung to point her bows at the planet. “I’m sure she’s anxious for a towel, if nothing else.”


Dash flew onward in the coruscating corona of her Sonic Rainboom, that strange boundary condition of speed and weather magic and the sound barrier that supercharged any pegasus that could reach it – which, nowadays, more or less meant her. She’d managed to turn from vertical to horizontal inside a five-meter turning radius utterly effortlessly, which would normally be over sixteen hundred g and crush her instantly.

And, of course, she no longer needed to even maintain effort to keep her speed up. It was sort of like surfing.

She made a quick loop in mid air to check on how things were behind her. There was a front of expanding clear sky-

A flash-

And three slagged heavy lift shuttles falling in pieces into the water. Nice to know that her plan had worked.

Now, where’s the installation again? Western end of the river delta, right?

She spotted it as she remembered, and with a conscious effort broke out of her Rainboom. Air resistance abruptly had meaning again, and she tumbled for a second before regaining smooth and level flight at an easy couple of hundred miles an hour.

Alighting on the cleared area and cantering in under the blue dome of the battle screen – this jury-rigged version had nearly two metres ground clearance – she went up to the door and knocked.

After a few seconds, a suspicious looking unicorn opened the door with a laser rifle levelled at her, enveloped in the glow of his horn.

Dash grinned at him. “Hi, my fighter broke down. Can I use your phone?”


Fido watched in disbelief as the hurricane vanished like a dream, accompanied by a rainbow ring of fire and a rumbling shockwave that shook the ground.

“What just happened?”

“It must have been some kind of magic effect – we can’t analyze it.”

“Spirit of the stars. And we’ve lost fully a third of our light component, our entire air mobility section and most of their soldiers.”

“Caesar’s last report was that their positions are mainly dug in on the hilltops. They were putting in something like four times his numbers into the battle when he reported in, and we detected seismic shocks consistent with three hundred-ton fusion mortar rounds on his position shortly afterwards. Our best guess is that they finally got his last or second-to-last point-defence jeep, and then just poured the firepower on until his cover collapsed. And their cruise missiles were better than anticipated in the gorge as well. Shep’s telemetry shows they have light antiarmour rounds possibly copied from current-model Gryphon Legion artillery in their cruise missiles, and their heavy antiarmour is powerful enough to strip off the shields of an Ignimbrite in a single square hit.”

“Risk to the heavy units?”

“Low. They were firing salvoes of twenty-four, and given how narrowly the first penetrations of the air defence net came in I doubt they have more tubes than that. And it would take at least five or six hits to overwhelm the screen of a Pyroclastic with those lasers – I doubt enough would survive from a salvo to do that, even if they did make it through our point defence umbrella.”

“Right. Well, let’s see how they like saturation missile fire. Time to optimal range?”

“Twenty minutes. The closer we get, the less tracking time they have – I’m balancing that with the lower speed the projectiles will have. But, of course, the slower they are the less they have to pop-up for ridges.” Pop-up was the effect of rounding a corner or ridgeline with a fast missile or aircraft – it overshot, and made a good target.

The aide checked a screen, stumbling slightly as the Phreatic heavy mech ground a terrace to ruin under its’ tracks. “We have enough topographic data to plot a flight path, at least.”

The missiles from a Pyroclastic’s pods were about as dumb as a guided missile could conceivably be. Intended as a counter to more sophisticated electronics, they flew precisely the programmed path – with no deviation possible after the flight plan was locked in. This made them more or less immune to electronic countermeasures – they didn’t “listen” to anything, so they couldn’t be fooled.

“Hold fire until then, then, but keep a constantly updated firing solution plotted. If they decide to try a launcher kill with those fighters of theirs, I’d rather use them than lose them.”

“By your order.”

“I’m almost hoping they do come in, actually. It takes long enough to re-equip fighters that they can only hit us once before the gorge – and after that the sight lines are clear and we’re home free.”

The aide looked dubious.

“Alright, as home free as we can be when there’s a brigade in a good blocking position right ahead, anyway.”


AN: Cloud Dancer is a fun little reference. She’ll go far. Mist Born, meanwhile, checks off a reference to yet another one of the David Weber series, being named for one of the supernatural Courser horses.

And the Sonic Rainboom scene was so much fun to write, it’s amazing. I've been waiting two chapters to write it.

And Snips and Snails being Marines for even longer. I also think that power Star Swirl has in this is a fairly reasonable "Earth Pony Element of Magic" ability.


As an aside, anyone know if there's a PMV of Dash with either "Higher" or "It's my time to fly", from Titan AE? It strikes me that they're both fairly appropriate for her in one way or another.


Useful Notes:

Carrier rounds.

Carrier rounds are one of the solutions adopted by some armies to the problem of enemy task force point defence.
While simple saturation is always a possibility, this can be prohibitively expensive in ammunition if one is to try and have enough rockets or artillery rounds make it through to do damage – and this also necessitates having enough launch platforms.

The carrier round aims to increase damage potential against relatively light units by carrying many rounds per shot. These split when they have the right trajectory to reach the enemy, which can be many kilometres away with high angle artillery, and multiplying many times the number of threat sources from a single launcher.

Some Gryphon Legions, notably the Firelords, take this to the extreme by using heavy bombardment rockets like these in single-shot Multiple Rocket Launch Systems. The resultant rain of antiarmour charges is capable of scouring any threat from the face of the planet in spite of heavy point defence – but at the cost of losing much of their striking power until they spend around an hour reloading, and of course a substantial ammunition requirement.