• Published 4th Mar 2012
  • 13,592 Views, 959 Comments

Of Steam Gears and Wings - RavensDagger

The CMC go against the Empire that is ruling over Equestria. A la Dieselpunk.

  • ...

Flight and Marriage


The blaring sound of a mare screaming boomed into Scootaloo’s cabin, shocking the young mare into consciousness. Her legs struck out blindly against the piled-on blankets, creating a knot that only unraveled itself when she tumbled out of the bed and crashed on the grated floor with a lung-emptying oomph.

Scootaloo took in a deep breath, expelling it with a sigh while her ears perked up and listened. A siren was blaring in the foreground, muffled by the sheer size of the ship. Its urgent wails were accompanied by the scurrying of feet on catwalks and the rapid, excited murmurs of ponies.

“Imps?” she repeated.

With an exaggerated slowness, the pegasus pushed herself to her hooves and climbed out of the tangled mess to head for the doorway. There, she stuck her head out into the corridor and stared down both ways, glaring with crusted eyes at the ponies from the New Lunar Republic that were running around the Furtif. “What’s going on?” she asked as she grabbed one of them.

The stallion—a young officer—glared at her, then went red to the face as he stared at her familiar visage. “Uh-um. There’s an Imperial patrol ship off our starboard. A battleship with escorts. They want to inspect us!”

She barked a laugh that held no humor. “I’ll show them an inspection. Go on, boy.” Letting the stallion go, she turned and trotted back into her room, adrenalin coursing through her veins, waking her up as she picked up her leather jacket and slipped it on.

Marching down the corridor, Scootaloo found herself jostled on both sides by rushing technicians and pilot ponies who were still trying to slip on their goggles and uniforms. The sea of grey carried her on, like flotsam in the waves, until it dropped her body in the hangar bay.

“You okay?” asked a mare to whom belonged a pair of white hooves; they were all Scootaloo could see from her low vantage point, face squished on the floor.

“No, I’m not. I’m actually rather pissed,” she said, once more forcing herself to all fours. “Oh. It’s you!”

Sweetie Belle beamed, blinking back as she gave her friend a crooked smile. “Yup. I picked up something on the scanners earlier while toying with the Thunderbolt’s mainframe. Turns out it was an Imperial patrol. Brings back memories.”

They both glanced away, finding things to stare at on the polished walls. “Yeah. So, what are we going to do about it?”

“Well, Arnaquer and I talked. Seems like he doesn’t want to destroy them. But they are Imperial, and in terms of sheer firepower we’re far ahead of them. He figures we can risk it and try to board them.”

“Board an Imp ship?” Scootaloo asked, her first smile of the day dazzling and cruel. “Ah, yeah, now that sounds like a plan I can get behind.”

“Nope,” Sweetie Belle said, crushing the pegasus’ hopes. “You’re going to be piloting today. We’ll need you and the Expedite to clear out whatever they can send at us. Right-Wing was talking over the comms, he thinks that the best way around our little issue would be to immobilize the Imperials and then try to maneuver around to take them.”

Scootaloo shrugged and looked past Sweetie Belle to the hangar. Dozens of fighters were lined up, waiting for launch in front of the still-closed bay doors. At the far end sat her red death-dealing machine. “Got it. Will you be on the comms?”

“Yeah. We’re not launching for another ten. Apple Bloom did something to your plane with Wrenches by the by, said it would make it faster. Oh, and they washed it out. I mean, seriously, I could smell the inside of the cockpit from here.” Sweetie’s nose wrinkled and she bit her tongue. “That’s nasty, Scootaloo.”

They shared a quick smile and the pegasus walked on, only faintly hearing Sweetie Belle’s murmur of “Be careful out there,” before she arrived at the Expedite.

The mechanics studiously ignored her or spared only sidelong glances before rushing back to work, all save one black and red pegasus.

“Hey, honey, how are you today? You look positively radiant!” Nitro claimed as he clamoured to her side, his smile brightening the room and knocking out a few mares.

“Oh. You.”

“Yup, it’s me, Hon. And I’m right here,” he said before approaching her to an uncomfortable distance. “And I can be anywhere you want. Ladies like the Nitro—”

The stallion finished his sentence with a baffled thud as he hit the ground, staring wide-eyed at a growing puddle of his own blood that was drizzling out of his muzzle.

“Get a life.”

Scootaloo spun around, ignoring the hundreds of stares directed her way and climbed into the Expedite. The cockpit hissed as it shut, locking out the sounds and smells of the world beyond behind a hoof-thick pane of bulletproof glass. She sank into her chair, the cool controls welcoming her with simple familiarity, like walking back home after a long vacation.

She breathed in slowly, trying to steady her nerves. Her solitary battle against the Empire was silly, she knew, but she had to go on. She had to keep pushing and prying until they were all gone, forever. They had dared to hurt her friends and there was no payment that could sate her.

Reaching out, she flicked on her comm unit and waited, a few seconds worth of static filled her cabin, droning on until it became a white noise only to be replaced by a pop and click. “Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle asked from all around her.

“Yeah, I’m here. Can I launch yet?”

“Not unless you want to hit the hangar door. I talked to Arnaqueur, and if I understood correctly, we’re moving around them. I’ve started to jam their radios on all frequencies, that means that soon all you’ll hear is a lot of static.” Sweetie Belle paused. “Can you fly like that?”

“I might do better if I don’t have to listen to anypony.”

Her friend laughed. “Figures. All right, they’re about to open up. It’s just going to be you and a few others. I think they have a dozen or two fliers out there, so be careful. You don’t have to take them all on your own, the Furtif has great point defence.”

With a grinding squeal, the door right in front of her began to wrestle its way open, allowing a wicked wind to whip into the hangar and grab at the mechanics that still ran about. A moment passed and it became stable, only the brilliant light of the sun beaming in. “I’m ready. Don’t worry about me, Sweetie.”

A few ponies pushed a metal rod ahead of her plane, a long piece of steel that formed a rail going from Expedite’s underside until it cut off in open sky. “What the?” Scootaloo said aloud as she bent forwards to see the end of the rail.

The ponies scurried away like mice seeing a cat, leaving Scootaloo alone to her wondering.

The ship turned, the lurch felt even within the Expedite as the Furtif spun around and showed its broadside to the Imperials.

Scootaloo suddenly had reservations.

Two Interdiction class patrol vessels, the same she had faced before losing the Crusader, were flanking an Obedience-class battleship. The vehicle was easily three times the size of the Furtif and had with twice as many guns bristling out of it. Along its flattened top was half a squadron—six planes—of new Imperial Vanquishers.

“Crap,” she swore, flicking her eyes to the twin Vanquishers parked on both Inquisitors. “Well, this is going to be fun.” The mare reached up and grabbed her seatbelt, bringing it closer to tie it. Something went clunk.

Scootaloo had little time to wonder before the Expedite was catapulted forwards, cramming her into her seat as her ship sliced through the air like a wayward bullet.

Her muscles fought against gravity to no use, and her entire seat creaked under the ever increasing pressure of her acceleration.

Ahead, the three Imperial ships grew incredibly large incredibly quickly, their forms blotting out everything the pegasus could see with a sea of grey tarp and metallic plates. The Expedite began to fall. Slowly she gained a downwards curve, the drone of wind subsiding and replaced by an eerie silence.

“Dammit! I’m going to kill you, Apple Bloom! I’m going to murder you! Why the hay didn’t you tell me about this!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, only vaguely aware that the pony in question couldn’t hear her.

With a huff, she clicked herself in place and reached out, slapping the ignition switch with an angry hoof before nestling herself into her padding.

The twin rear props of the Expedite burped, then began to spin in slow revolutions, gaining speed and prolonging the arc of her fall with every second. Scootaloo slapped on the airbrakes and shuddered along with her plane, watching as the front end caught wind and flipped over. She executed a full 180 degree spin while twisting the plane around, effectively making her face the direction from which she had come.

“All right, that’s it. I’m killing something.”

Pushing the throttle up, Scootaloo retraced her path, flying in and out of the vague vapour trail she had left behind as she came back to the airships.

The Furtif was still swelling in the air, deftly avoiding the warning shots fired by the Imperial gunners and firing back with precise and deadly counter-fire. Still, both sides were only testing each other, teasing with little pinpricks.

The Vanquishers were launching, one plane after the next taking to the air and flying in tight, arrowhead formations of three as they circled up.

Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed and she aimed at the leftmost plane of the group, the image of the sleek aircraft imprinting itself in her mind as she pushed the Expedite even more and cut the distance.

Cannons on the Imperial ships boomed and lines of anti-aircraft fire cut through the air like barbed wire, criss-crossing everywhere that Scootaloo looked and burning the blue ocean of sky into a treacherous storm.

She weaved, flying like a needle to avoid the threads that would mean her death as she aimed up to the three planes flying away from her and towards the Furtif. “Don’t have time for this,” she muttered and aimed down the reticule. “Eight,” she said, beginning the countdown while pulling on the trigger.

Twin rows of bullets splashed out of the Expedite, arcing through the sky and narrowly missing the enemy Vanquisher. “What the! Where are my lazers? What did Apple Bloom do?” Searching for anything different, Scootaloo found a box with four switches jutting out of the cabin’s corner, held together with hasty welds and bubble gum. She read the switches aloud: “Projectile fire, Shield, light burst beam, Uber Laser Cannon?”

Blinking at the board, she flicked off the projectile and turned on the light burst option, prompting the display on her dash to light up and show a pair of fluctuating bars.

Again she pulled the trigger, gingerly tilting her plane to aim at the lead Vanquisher which was beginning to maneuver into a tight roll.

Twin lightning-like beams of red energy arced out of the Expedite, coming from the tips of her wings and slicing through the air. They impacted the Vanquisher, cutting gouges into the thin metallic plating and leaving scalding marks across the enemy plane’s fuselage.

The enemy pilot, thinking fast, twisted around and out of the beam’s way, avoiding her imminent death.

“All right, so these aren’t as strong as the big beam, but faster. Got it.” Scootaloo grinned and gunned her engine, pressing on her rudder pedals to realign herself with the damaged Vanquisher.

Another burst of red hot power and the plane was no more. Both wings tore off in mid-flight, turning the craft into a dead weight that spun out of control before bursting to flames.

With timid detachment, Scootaloo watched the Vanquisher plunge to the forests far below. “One down, nine to go.”

A string of bullets zipped by her cockpit, some furrowing into the cabin’s unexpectedly thick armour or pinging off and back into the sky. She twisted around, staring over her seat and at the two planes that were forming up behind her. For a brief moment, she could see the determined glares of the pilots.

The Expedite arced up, skimming under the Furtif’s belly and weaving around the comm towers and gun placements jutting out of the airship until she had gone full circle, coming around the top upside down. One of the planes had slowed down, wary of following her hair-raising turns. It was its demise.

Closing one eye, Scootaloo aimed down the reticule and took a deep breath of the exhaust tinted air. She fired, pressing down on the yoke’s secondary trigger while jamming it to the side and sending her into a spin.

The two beams fired out, but rather than piercing a straight line through the sky, they spun around each other, forming a massive, tunneling helix that grew ever longer until it crashed with the unwary Vanquisher and ripped two perfect holes into its hull.

Plumes of smoke escaped the plane and it slowly began gliding down, its motor no longer turning.

She completed her turn and positioned herself behind the injured plane, a hawk swooping in to kill an injured fitch. “See ya.”

A second burst ripped out of the Expedite, cleanly slicing the Vanquisher down the centre but only cutting a few centimetres into the metal. The rear prop blew apart, wood and tin shrapnel flying everywhere.

The Expedite shook violently, sparks snapping out of the dashboard and holes poking through the would-be bullet-proof glass.

At her side was the second Vanquisher, riding in like a flaming valkyrie with all of its guns blazing.

She shoved the yoke forwards and the Expedite dipped, avoiding the hailstorm of bullets that followed her tail. Scootaloo spun, sending her craft flying in wide circles and twisting through the sky in a dizzying array of loops and turns, but still the Vanquisher held to her tail.

“Gah! Let go of me!” she screamed before searching once more for an escape.

More bullets pinged against her hull.

The Vanquishers are faster than Expedite, but not as quick to move. But this pilot’s good. She’s not letting go. All right, let’s try something different....

Scootaloo reached out, the very tip of her hoof whisking by two switches on her jury-rigged command board. The guns shut down with a whisper while an ominous hum filled the stifling air of her cabin.

Two concave forms appeared around the Expedite, both shimmering with a magical hue that bore every colour of the rainbow in a translucent, glass-like sphere. The shield solidified with a crackling pop.

Scootaloo pulled the throttle down, slowing the Expedite to a crawl even as she pulled up and almost froze in mid air, the nose of her plane pointing to the sky above. She looked up, out of the top of her cockpit and right at the surprised mare piloting the Vanquisher. They stared into each others eyes for a moment.

The Vanquisher hit her.

The warbird valiantly tried to pull out of the way, but it was far too late. The entire side-fuselage crashed into the shimmering shield like a train running into a rock-mass. Both planes veered off in wild directions, leaving behind a panoply of parts that littered the air and sparkled with a mischievous glee in the sunlight. Like shooting stars the bits of metal came tumbling down, splattered with oils and the lifeblood of the pilot.

The Expedite fell out of control, twisting from side to side in mid-air while sirens blared and a pair of red lights glowed, turning her cockpit into a circus of panic. “Shut up, will you!” she screamed before hitting the command console. With a wild wave of her arm she shut down the shield and watched as the lights turned off and the encircling protector faded from view. “Oh.”

She straightened out her plane and began climbing once more, studiously ignoring the faint smells of burning plastic emanating from under the hood. “Right, so that’s three down,” she muttered.

Above her, the Furtif was sliding along the side of one of the Imperial ships, not a single gun firing into the behemoth as grappling wires anchored the two together and pegasi in Republic garb hopped onto the enemy vessel. Meanwhile, the Furtif’s point defence guns were barking constantly, like a dog trying to scare off a stray cat as they fired upon the Imperial fighters that came too close. One of them was ripped to shreds by a heavy cannon, detonating in mid-air like a firework.

She zoomed after one of the three remaining ships, one that was wheeling around and avoiding the worst of the firepower directed her way. “Got skills, eh?” Scootaloo wondered aloud as she raced to her new objective.

The enemy pilot saw her coming and split from her companions, gently coasting through the air as she fell away from the Furtif in a backwards arc.

Gently playing with her yoke, Scootaloo brought the Expedite around and began following the Vanquisher into a massive white cloud. As the whiteness enveloped her she lost sight of the plane. “Right-o, let’s dance,” she whispered before toggling on her machine guns.

The clouds parted, giving the young mare a stunning view of land and sky and sea. Equestria stretched on, a patchwork of fields and forests that grew thinner as they reached the horizon and finally spilled out into the surging ocean. Waves as tall and as wide as the biggest of airships tumbled over and crashed into the beaches and rocky shores, tiny from afar.

But no Vanquisher.

A resonating hum sounded out behind her and Scootaloo twisted around to stare right down the encroaching barrel of the enemy plane.

Jamming a hoof on her yoke and rudders at the same time, the mare brought her plane around, narrowly avoiding the first booming shots that flew by. “Oh, it is on!”

“All right, puppies! It’s time to kick some Imp-flank!” Mira screamed at the top of her lungs. The two dozen strong-willed and tough-as-nails Republic fighters flinched.

“I want to see each and every one of you pansies run in there screaming, I want you to tear those bastards apart from mane to hoof and I want to see you tearing their eyes out of their weakling faces with your teeth. Their intestines I want you to wrap around your heads like the trophies of war! The horns of unicorn and the wings of pegasi will hang over our mantelpieces this night as we feast on their raw hearts!”

One of the soldiers excused himself and went to vomit in one corner of the hangar as every mechanic stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the mare.

Okay, maybe now’s a good time for me ta step in? Apple Bloom slid up to Mira’s side and smiled at the assembled soldiers; instinctively she narrowed on Pipsqueak’s visage. “Right, what Mira meant to say, is that that’s what were going to do to you, if y’all don’t go in there and do a good job. See, Arnaquer really wants you guys off his boat, and that Imp ship looks like a good place to put you all. So there’s your choices. Either you take that there plane, or you go nowhere. But nowhere is out of the nearest hatch.” Her smile grew as the soldiers fidgeted uneasily.

“Now, I don’t want y’all to be nervous. This should be easy. Them Imps aren’t expecting us, and we should outnumber them. We also outgun the bunch of them so let’s go over there and clobber those idiots, all right?”

They snapped-to, all of them becoming rigid and saluting with practiced precision. “Yes ma’am.”

She sighed but kept her smile plastered onto her features. “All right. This is gonna be rather simple. We’re going to pop open the main door then, using the harpoon guns you’ll be given, you’ll jump into the empty space between ship and fire away. Now, don’t worry, y’all have tow-lines, just in case.”

Mira giggled and lifted her hoof like a school filly. “But only half of them are actually anchored to anything, so try not to mess up!”

“Um, right. So, then you guys will get into the Obedience class ship and start clearing out the area. The second wave’s going to be made up of more soldiers and some mechanics. The third will be all civilian. That means that before the third wave arrives, you’ve got to have secured that bit of the ship” Apple Bloom huffed. I really don’t envy people that have to lead, it’s not easy getting the point across.

“For every scratch on the mechanics and pilot ponies, intentional or accidental, we’ll cut off a limb!” Mira announced. Then, the mare skipped over to a box of ordnance and picked up half a dozen rifles, each tipped with a wicked barb-like bullet and a reel of metallic cabling on their sides.

Apple Bloom trotted out of the centre of attention at the fore and around the congregated soldiers. Pipsqueak joined her, a blush marring his grin. “You did great,” he said before placing himself at her side and walking along with her.

“Aww, that’s not true at all. And Ah don’t know why they asked me to help with that.”

He shrugged. “You do have good connections. Scootaloo’s a star and Sweetie Belle’s looked up to. And you’re not that bad yourself—” Pipsqueak froze upon feeling the heart-ripping glare that Apple Bloom directed his way. “Hey, hey, I was joking. Please don’t kill me?”

“Hmph, well, then Ah’ll have to do something crazy and impressive to get their attention, right? Then I’m sure all the stallions will be running after me.” Apple Bloom pretended to swoon. “Can you imagine? All those studly, powerful stallions, giving way to my feminine wiles? Oh, with their big, muscular bodies.” From the corner of her eyes, she saw Pipsqueak turn a horrible shade of red while beads of sweat poured out of his hair line.

“Okay, you can kill me now,” he whimpered.

Reaching out, she thumped him on the shoulder and nudged him along. “Get over it, Pipsqueak. I’ve got my fill of stallions chasing after me. Although, something could be done for the strong and muscular bit....”

“W-well, I’ll work on it then,” he blurted. Some of the soldier who had been eavesdropping on the conversation chuckled.

She grabbed at the tiny colt, pulling the lapels of his uniform until they smashed into each other. “Stop being so silly, Pip,” she said before roughing up his mane. “You’ll get the hang of it, eventually... maybe.”

“I sure hope so. I wouldn’t want to hurt you in a few years by being less than what you want,” he said, turning away from her and looking across the hangar bay.

In a few years? she thought.

The speakers whined, then the voice of a stallion filled the room. “This is the captain speaking. Preparez vous. We will start boarding maneuvers presently. I do not want things to go badly so do not mess up. You have ten minutes to deploy all crew members.”

The bay doors cracked open, revealing more and more of the grey wall of iron and tarp that made up the enemy vessel. As they watched a huge cannon flew by them, its bore bigger than a full-grown pony. Then there was nothing but grey walls with the occasional port holes oozing light and darkness.

Slowing down, the Furtif approached the Imperial vessel until their sides were only whispering by each other. “Ten seconds until hangar!” a mechanic screamed just as the door thumped fully open.

Grey turned to steel and Apple Bloom stared at the open maw of the ship’s cargo-bay, a massive anti-aerial gun was placed in the centre of the space, gouts of flame and smoke pouring out of it while ponies in dark uniforms milled about trying in vain to extinguish the flames. Others were pushing around carts of munitions or trying to wade through the panic of battle.

“Prepare to fire!” Mira ordered at the top of her lungs just before grabbing a harpoon gun of her own. Slung over her back, and that of every soldier, was a saddle holding a rifle and the pulleys needed to connect to the wired bridge they were going to create. “Fire!”

Two dozen pops sounded out, echoing in the two hollow cavities while an equal amount of sharp barbs zipped through the air, carrying with them metallic cords. The harpoons pierced into the ship’s hull, anchoring themselves above the hold while the cords wound up and became taut. “Go, go, go!”

Like an unkindness of ravens the Republic soldiers crossed the trench between ships, every last one of them landing with a resonating boom on the interior deck of the enemy ship and priming their arms in a single, fluid motion. “Hooves down and sprawled out!” they began to scream and order as they charged across the deck, roughhousing mechanics and soldiers alike onto the ground.

Mira, who became the defacto leader, bounced forwards with untamed glee, expertly knocking out any that posed a threat and pinning them to the ground. “All right, pansies, spread out! I want this entire ship secured right now! Group one, follow me, we’re going to meet the captain!”

In the Furtif, ponies used the fixed cords and long slats of wood to create a bridge between the two ships, one that was promptly used by a second wave of heavily armed and armoured soldiers.

Pipsqueak licked his lips, then looked at the soldiers. “I-I should be with them,” he said.

“Don’t be an idiot. You’re a pilot, not a fighter. Stay with me.”

“B-but how am I ever going to look good to you if I’m not out there with them?”

She smacked him behind the head, taking something she had learnt from a wise mare long ago. “Idiot. You’re really terrible with mares, you know that?” He nodded but she ignored him. “That’s not exactly what I want. I don’t want to go around picking bits and pieces of your flank from the floor with a shovel. That’s not romantic at all. If you’re going over there, then I’m going with you.”

“No! You’re not.” Pipsqueak said as he sidestepped and blocked her way. The ponies around them stared again, this time in awe at the colt’s actions.

Apple Bloom blinked at him. “Pip, if ya can’t woo me then ya can’t boss me ‘round neither.” They stared at each other, the colt unwavering even as soldiers and mechanics and pilots continued to board the Imperial ship and prisoners were dragged into the Furtif by the dozen.

“I-I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“And I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

They glared at one another, creating a circle around themselves that nopony dared to entre. Finally, Pipsqueak sighed. “All right, fine. But no going out on the front lines, you stay behind with the rest of the mechanics.”

“And you stay in sight. I don’t want to see you wandering off like some clown just to get shot down.”

They both nodded, spun around, and began to make their way towards the bridge, crossing it at the same time to enter the Imperial ship. As they did so, Apple Bloom flagged down one of the Republic officers. “How’re things goin’ ‘round here?”

The officer saluted her, then Pip. “Things are well, Ma’am. We’ve secured this area and are pushing them up to the command area. The fore of the ship we’ve yet to touch, we suspect little resistance from there.”

“What’s at the fore?” Pipsqueak asked, staring past the uniformed pony and at the back end of the airship’s hangar.

“A few guns, some ammunition and storage,” Apple Bloom said. “I looked over the schematics for this type of ship when we saw them coming, I think I memorized the gist of it. The fore’s not a problem, but the main sparkle generator’s there. If we control that....”

“Then we control the ship,” the officer finished. “Indeed, Miss Bloom. We will be heading there once control of the ship is established.”

“Shouldn’t you top it a little higher on the list of priorities? If some crazy Imp goes and busts it up, we'll be heading down right quick. A ship of this size weights way too much to float in the sky and the secondaries really suck.”

The officer blinked, then looked over his shoulder at the soldiers rushing into every other corridor with their weapons blazing. Meanwhile, mechanics and pilots were moving about the hangar and disassembling the vessel and preemptively preparing it for Republic control.

“All right. can you two and maybe a soldier or three handle that? The brute resistance was at the front of the vessel, so you shouldn’t have much to worry about.”

Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom traded a look. “Yeah, we can take care of it,” she said, winking at the officer while Pipsqueak blushed in indignation.

“Figured the power duo could handle it. I’ll get you folks some support,” he said before twisting around and galloping off.

“Since when are we a power duo?” Apple Bloom asked before she began trotting to the far end of the hangar.

Pipsqueak hummed an off-note. “Um, they’re just rumours and all that. You know how they get when there’s nothing else to talk about.”

“Oh, and what do them rumours say about me, exactly?” she inquired, pressing closer to him with every step.

“W-well, I-I guess they find you weird. But not in a bad way! It’s just that... well, you knew Scootaloo and Sweetie before all of this, and me and you we’re a... um... yeah. And you’re a member of the Apple family too, so there’s that. Basically, everypony thinks that you’re really special and well-connected and the mechanic ponies respect you too cause you’re really good with that stuff.” Pipsqueak’s walking became stiff and bullets of sweat poured down his forehead. “Let’s walk faster?”

“Heh, sure thing, Pip.”

Three ponies ran up after them, a young pegasi that hardly fit in her armour, an older stallion that seemed to have worn his for too long and a scowling earth pony whose face seemed to be chiseled out of bedrock. “Ma’am,” the stone-faced unicorn said, “We’re your escort team. The mechanical groups will follow shortly, but the officer in charge does not think that their attention is needed unless there is actually a problem.”

Apple Bloom scowled at them, then sighed. “Al’right, that’s fair ‘nough. How ‘bout you fellows lead the way?”

The three nodded and then, all of them serious-faced and ready for action, trotted by her and headed to the back of the hangar, Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom on their tails. A thick steel door jutted out of the far wall between a pair of support struts, closed until the three soldiers placed themselves around it and the young pegasi mare opened it from above.

They stared down a long, upwards sloped corridor that lead on into darkness. Neon lights flickered at regular intervals, casting a dull glow on the grey walls. “Come on,” the stone-faced soldier said before galloping in, his rifle floating by his side.

Apple Bloom charged in after him, keeping her head low as the two others flanked her on both sides, while an excited Pipsqueak followed behind. The group climbed up along the bottom spine of the ship, finally reaching a landing that was taken up mainly by a pair of anti-aerial guns, both of which pointed out the back end of the ship and into the open sky, where trails of smoke cut through the clouds and led down to the mangled forms of enemy aircraft.

The tips of the gun still glowed a faint red and trailed smoky whiffs into the empty room. The three soldiers ran ahead, swinging around the room until they reached the other end’s only exit. “It’s clear!” the young pegasi called.

“They were here just a bit ago, where’d they head off to?” Apple Bloom asked as she approached the gun and touched its side with a gentle hoof. This ain’t normal, unless they were called back to help out front.

“Let’s keep moving,” Pipsqueak suggested. “If we can get to that generator we’ll be done, mostly.”

“Uh-huh. Get a move on folks.”

Apple Bloom ran up just as the soldier opened the next door and began navigating the winding staircase found within. From there, they could see clear across the ship and through the maze of struts and supports. Afar, ponies were running and battling on the myriad of catwalks that criss-crossed in the centre of the vessel, the sounds of their movements carrying over as distant echoes.

“It’s right over here,” the officer said, pointing at the gigantic round structure that the staircase lead into.

“No duh,” the pegasi muttered before zipping by them and slipping into the room. A moment later she stuck her head out and smiled. “It’s all clear guys.”

As they trotted in, Apple Bloom giggled in awe at the gigantic sparkle generator and the machine hummed back in kind as it reached the peak of its rotation. The entire room was vibrating with its gentle drone of magic and technology while hundreds of lights and dials flickered on the complex panels that barely hinted at the machine’s functionality. “Y’all go on. I’ll, uh, stay here and make sure it all works, alright?”

The soldiers nodded and found the next door up. “Are you coming, Sir Pipsqueak?” the oldest asked.

“Oh? No, I’ll stay here and guard the young miss. Thank you and be safe,” Pipsqueak replied. They traded deep, knowing nods and the soldiers disappeared.

“Since when are you a sir?” Apple asked before trotting a quick circuit around the generator.

“I’m not. But I guess it comes with the rank and all that.” Reaching up, Pipsqueak rubbed at his foreleg then wiped away some sweat from his brow. “After the medal giving thing, I sorta got a raise and all that....”

She huffed yet again. “And you didn’t tell me? Well, what’s yer rank then?”

A thump sounded out behind them, coming from the entrance to the room from which they had come. Apple Bloom saw them first, three pegasi in the grey Imperial garb, staring back at them with furrowed brows and wicked grins.

Apple Bloom shrieked. The wail travelled across the room in a thousandth of a second and made the sudden intruder wince.

Grabbing her with a forehoof, Pipsqueak pushed Apple Bloom aside and screamed, “Get behind the generator, now!” before reaching around and tugging at the single, tiny knife tucked in the leg of his uniform.

He turned, facing the three imperial ponies while keeping his head low. The blade he held sparkled in the dim light of the dust-filled room, casting a reflected glare across the vaulted ceiling. “Back off,” he growled.

One of the enemies, the biggest of them and the one who held himself at the fore, grunted in laughter before slinging a pistol from over his shoulder. “Shut up, grunt,” he barked.

Three popping echoes exploded through the room.

A slice of blood and skin and cloth appeared along the edge of Pipsqueak’s shoulder while two holes were punched into the thick plating of the generator behind him.

With a wordless gasp the colt fell forwards, blood seeping out of him and imbuing his uniform as he tried unsuccessfully to move away from his predators.

“Ah, crap, I missed,” the brute said, smirking at the earth pony as he began to advance.

Apple Bloom snuck her head out from behind the machine and stared at Pipsqueak, her jaw dropping as she swallowed hard. Tears poured out of her glaring eyes as she looked up and to the brute that had assaulted Pipsqueak.

“You bastard!” she screamed as she shot around the generator and ran full-tilt at the soldier.

Pipsqueak twisted around, wincing as his shoulder touched the ground, and shot out with a sudden spurt of speed and agility to ram right into Apple Bloom. He and the mare went skidding sidelong across the metallic floor while bullets zipped through the spot where Apple Bloom had been.

“Need to reload!” the pony screamed as he turned to his companions.

As he did so, the three soldiers that had accompanied Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom charged into the room.

The pegasi flipped through the air and delivered a shattering buck to the face of the rear-most imperial, sending the pony flying while her companions slid to the ground and aimed down the length of their rifles, both screaming “Freeze” at the same time.

The Imperials dropped their handguns and ground their teeth while the Republic soldier came down on them and wrestled them to the ground. Finally, they looked at the pile made by Apple Bloom and Pipsqueak.

“Pip? Pip, are you okay?” Apple Bloom asked, a forehoof touching the colt on his good shoulder and rocking him gently.

He groaned and shifted around, legs splayed out in every direction. Opening his mouth wide, he let go of the blade and let it clatter uselessly on the ground between himself and Apple Bloom before looking right at her. “You okay?” he asked.

“Stop being so stupid! Answer my question first, idiot!”

“Well, if you can manage to be that rude then you must be okay. That’s good, don’t think I could stand to lose you.” He smiled up at her, ignoring the sweat beading on his forehead.

She sniffled and looked away, rubbing a hoof over her eyes to dab away at any tears before he’d notice. “Stop trying to be so romantic. Those scenes always suck, and you know it.”

“So is now a good time to tell you that I love you?” he smiled at her, not bitterly, but kindly.

“Idiot,” she huffed, jabbing the sharp point of a hoof into his ribs. “You,” she rounded on the nearest soldier. “Check on the generator, make sure everything’s green. And you,” she turned to the light young pegasi. “Get me a doctor over here as quick as ya can.”

“I won’t let you die, Pip.”

Pipsqueak reached up, touching her on the cheek. “You can be an idiot too, sometimes. I’ll be fine.”

“No! You won’t! You could have died! You could still die! What if you get infected? What if it hit an artery? I don’t want to lose you.”

“Well, then, marry me,” Pipsqueak said, flushing red as he turned and stared diligently at the floor.

Apple Bloom blinked, the world going out of focus as her blood rushed to her face. “Wha-what... what sorta stupid thing to say is that?”

“Was that a no?” he asked, silent, calm and sad.

She hugged him, her orange fur tarnishing itself in his blood as the two ponies came closer. “Of course Ah will," she whispered.

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