• Published 20th Feb 2015
  • 2,970 Views, 117 Comments

The Iridescent Iron Rat - horizon



Equestria's golden age of Harmony has virtually eliminated crime, but one of the few "rats" who can still slip through the cracks is planning a billion-bit heist. If only he hadn't made the mistake of stealing from a dragon …

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A Rat Reforged

I gradually stirred to consciousness, opening my eyes to the familiar dimness of my hideout and the decidedly less familiar form of a tall, pudgy white unicorn reclining on my sofa, humming to herself and cleaning a hoof-edge with one of my lockpicks.

As I sat up, wincing at the hopefully-metaphorical fire in my joints, she glanced up at me and set my pick down. "Good evening, darling," she said brightly.

Something about her appearance clicked — probably the curly mane. "You're the unicorn from the bus," I rasped accusingly through a throat that sounded less sandpaper than sand. "What are you doing here?"

"Next time, you really should set a thaum-surge feather on the control panel of the automaton, timed to detonate immediately after you leave. Wiping the settings might have delayed me enough for Spike to get here first, even considering his unnecessary stunt to clear the street and keep civilians out of the line of fire." She gave me a lopsided smile. "He's going to owe me dinner now, you know."

I let out a long breath, heart sinking.

"So you're Rainbow Corps," I said quietly. "Is this Harmonization?"

She stared at me for a few moments. "Come now, Jimmy, you're smarter than that," she said, then stood up to her full height. The pudge of her barrel shifted and deflated, and brilliant white wings unfolded from pouches of pelt and skin on her sides. Trait pouches.

It took several seconds to click.

My jaw dropped. "You're Inseam."

"Correct."

"You know, when they called you the 'Alicorn of Avarice' I thought that was just an honorific."

She winced. "I'm no fan of that title. I should hope, from our conversation, you understand why."

The question I'd wanted to ask all my life leapt to my lips. "So, all the charity work …? That's the one thing I never understood. Did you start that after the Rainbow Corps caught you and Harmonized you?"

She shook her head and clucked her tongue. "Jimmy, darling, I was never caught by the Corps. I became the Corps, when larceny no longer served the greater good. All my life, I've served Equestria … or did you somehow miss my face on the money?"

There's a point at which a pony's capacity for surprise simply gets overwhelmed. I'd reached mine. Standing in a room with one of the living, breathing First Five was just another tally on the day's list.

"You're Rarity," I said, then blinked. "Wait. What Spike said … you stole from your childhood friend?"

She chuckled, a hint of a blush on her cheeks. "That's our little in-joke. A century after we drifted apart, when the great thief Inseam sought him out for advice, and he helped me decide to found the Corps … he fell in love with me all over again, but as an adult, and with an adult mature enough to reciprocate. To this day he claims that Inseam's greatest heist was stealing his heart."

I struggled to my hooves and limped to the mirror. Pretty toasty, but any landing you could walk away from was a good one. "So why tell me all this? You know the life I chose. You know I wouldn't have it any other way. Why I turned down Spike's offer."

"That wasn't our job offer, darling," Rarity said. "That was our placement exam. Some ponies, by the time we catch up to them, are ready to grab the gold ring and settle down. You still have the fire for fieldwork. Indeed, I'm confident it's the only work you would be happy doing."

"If that's what you think," I said bitterly, "then Harmonize me now, because I know, like I know my name, that I could never be happy working for other ponies."

"That's nonsense," Rarity said with surprising gentleness. "You and I both know that A.K. Yearling took missions from the Crowns."

I froze. I turned slowly to her, fire in my eyes, a lump in my throat.

She was staring at me, the corners of her eyes downturned, a quiet mixture of sympathy and intent. "It runs in your family, doesn't it? Your father, and your father's mother, and your great-granddam before them, all settled down … but they were never happy, not like Daring was. A spark burns in you, Son of the Great Greymane, and you chose your name to keep that fire alive. Even your Mark is a relic of an age when the world still needed ponies like Daring Do, before all of the frontiers were conquered and the wilds were tamed." Rarity stepped forward and touched my shoulder with a hoof. "You're an adventurer, but you thought the only way to find adventure was to defy society and make your own."

"I'm a rat," I snarled. "And I'll never be anything but."

She smiled. "Then be a rainbow rat. The iridescent iron rat. And let us point you at the problems that only your skills can fix."

I stared at Rarity … at Inseam … and I felt the walls of my cage closing in. The scariest thing was that she wasn't wrong. It was humiliating to think that there was somepony who understood me even better than I did myself … and also strangely exciting.

I said the only thing I could.

"Oh yeah?" I leaned forward, a rakish smirk spreading across my muzzle, charred and plucked wings spreading out. "You really think so, huh? Fine. If you can tell me just one problem only I can fix … I'm in."

I expected Rarity to gloat as the trap sprung shut. She'd won, after all — I was just forcing her to play out the last few moves. But as my challenge sunk in, her expression became oddly subdued.

"Alright," she said quietly. "As you were teleporting here, three billion bits was also stolen from the accounting department of Harmonicorps' Friendshipping Division."

"Not seeing how that makes it my job."

She floated a photograph out of her saddlebags to me. It was of a small clockwork rat, which had been left in the Friendshipping office on an accounting table. "Whoever committed this crime seems to think it is."

I snatched the photo from her field and scrutinized it, then furrowed my brow in thought, pacing away. The timing of the heist, the target, the calling card … there was something she wasn't telling me, but nevertheless, she was right: this was a mystery that screamed my name.

"But it wasn't a copycat crime," I finally countered. "Friendshipping doesn't do automaton processing. It's all hoof-sorted. That's the exact reason I went to Honest Teas."

"Indeed … but Honest Teas was not as lucrative." Rarity's muzzle dropped into a frown. "Our mysterious thief took advantage of your chaos for a premeditated large-scale snatch-and-grab — approximately a thousand kilograms of small bills vanished with no teleport signal. In the process, they made an armed assault on a guard post, crippled three witnesses, and poisoned an entire roomful of accountants."

My jaw dropped. "What?"

Her voice went quiet and icy. "Twenty-seven ponies are in the hospital in critical condition. One, despite our best efforts, may be permanently blind."

I threw the photo to the floor and pointed an accusing hoof. "Then why did you waste your time coming after me, when a … when a thug in such desperate need of Harmonization is on the loose?"

"I wouldn't have, if I'd had any idea our criminal would stoop so low," Rarity said. "This wasn't the mission I'd intended to tempt you with, but it seems fate has other plans." A hint of a smile crept back onto her muzzle. "Though I must say, you certainly are taking to your new duties quickly."

I stared at Rarity for a moment, then threw back my head and laughed. She had me there.

I walked over to her and held out a leg with a lopsided grin. "You've got a point. After all, who better than a rat to catch a rat?"

We bumped hooftips, and the Iridescent Iron Rat was born.

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Comments ( 109 )

Thanks to Titanium Dragon for post-Writeoff editing assistance!

I'm tagging this Complete — it was written as a self-contained story — but feel free to fave or follow if you want more. I won't promise further updates, but it was fun to write, and I'm not even going to try to pretend that the ending's not a sequel hook.

Tracked this so hard I think it left a dent.

5648134
Don't worry, those hammer out. :raritywink:

This last writeoff produced a ton of really solid stories.

I wrote a review of this story; it can be found here.

Nicely done. I'll admit, it left me wondering who you had in mind as Angelina... :scootangel:

And adding into Tag-a-long's Book Club.

i.imgur.com/od0xMCF.png

--arcum42

5647006
Really excellent! Now I'm going to have to go and dig out my old Stainless Steel Rat paperbacks…

:moustache::moustache::moustache::moustache::moustache:

Well, I didn't expect something like this this morning! I like it!

Nice story. Only problem I see is that you are overdoing with the "magic(traits, and stuff)", that will likely cause plot holes later on.

I swear, you write purely to make me fangirl at you.:derpytongue2:

Flowed nicely. I really liked the start of it. The airbus ride. And the finale, while not a shocker due to all the well placed clues, still had a small surprise that got me to smile about Mr. Rat's origins. Loved it.

I recall the old books, having read them ages ago. I think i might have them somewhere, id have to dig them up.

But, as fail worthy as memory can be, this tries, to recreate that feeling. I think it does, in part, yet also has some of the charm that writers like laumer grabbed, but was true to harrison.

You can expand on this, you've set the bar to the level of doing so.

Nicely done. I'm glad to see that you backed off of the vaguely dystopian feel. The Harmonization process still has some creepy connotations, but now it feels like the Rainbow of Damocles wasn't the principal force in making society stable. Definitely looking forward to however you may choose to continue this.

Oh dang, this was one of my favorite book series ever, and definitely one of the best crossovers I've ever seen of it. Well done!

5647006
This is more like a prologue than a complete story. Really interesting too.

And now I'll go read those steel rat books. Sounds interesting.

5649479 Thats very true to the older steel rat books, the process was very horror inducing in what it was implied to happen.

Between this and "Space Princess Luna" you guys are just spoiling me with classic scifi lately.

The first thing I though of was the Stainless Steel Rat. Glad to see that someone still remembers ...

Will be following this story and you as well...

I loved Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books, in particular the first trio. While it's been a number of years since I last read them, you've quite solidly captured the feel of the first and Jimmy is very much in line with Jim. Top notch world building, absolutely and totally loved what you did with the place. Certainly did feel like Equestria, just given a few generations of smoothing over and technical updates. It does work well to mirror the galactic civilization in the original books, too.

5647006
Oh, I do so hope that the Complete label is just perfunctory. After all, you've only covered the first section of original novel and done a truly marvelous job of it. I really, really want to see more of this world and its protagonist. Further cameos for the mane six I expect will prove interesting. And I want to see who winds up playing his Angela most of all.

Thank you for the fantastic read! Have a truly well earned like and favorite.

My lord, that title alone is a kick in the reminiscence. I am looking forward to this in ways that can only be quantified in "Squee" code.

I slap my seal of aproval on this story so hard, it becomes the walrus crushing the robot officer through the floor.

Well, that makes his radio, safe. :trollestia:

Whooo Hooo, we got Crusader, now we got The Rat. the Golden Age is Back. :pinkiecrazy:

Favorited right away and hoping for more! Loved the Stainless Steel Rat books, and a pony version of the series would be awesome. Please give us more!

All of the science-fiction fans (and authors) I've talked to hate The Stainless Steel Rat. This story is probably *better* without knowledge of that series.

See i would think that a career criminal woulntd simply agree to work for the government that easily.

5651557
Dunno, I love that series. It's silly, yes, but still quite amusing.

Well that was an adventure. Nicely done.

Wow! A Stainless Steel Rat homage. I'm adding this to my faves.

And if you like that sort of thing, I have a Retief/MLP mashup I'm working through.

What made you think of this?

5648612
It's true to the source material! Slippery Jim usually has an improbable array of sleep-gas capsules, smoke bombs, micro-explosives, adrenaline pills, &c up his proverbial sleeve.

yeah I normally don't do this but the internet does have meme's for a reason



MORE PLZ


dang was this good

Lemme just say that I LOVE stories that blend the fantastical with the scientific in the way that you have with this thing. The whole "traits" thing reminds me an awful lot of the Gene Tonics of the Bioshock series (although I assume you're just using a magical equivalent of something in these "Steel Rat" books) and many of the other things you've described (Cloudstone and whatnot) giving me some interesting world-building ideas. Also, I like how you implied that the rest of the Elements of Harmony became alicorns rather than dying or whatever. I look forward to seeing whether or not you continue this series.

And now, I'm off to look up these "Stainless Steel Rat" books (and see if they're worth buying on my Kindle).

Man, I'm just on a roll with your stories today. Certainly a deserving win in the Writeoff. Kind of glad I didn't enter this one :)

Next month's coming up soon, though. Another minific contest, which is inherently unpredictable, but still fun. Sharpen your knives!

It's been a long time since I read the Stainless Steel Rat stories (the old story - the original stories were very good, but he went off in the last few). This was a nice take on the style.

If you do decide to write more, I'll read it.

Gotta catch up on comments ...

5648306 5649197 5649569 5650098 5650148 5650630 5651065 5651137 5652150 5654217
It's really heartening to see so many people recognizing the crossover going in! AugieDog was the only one to recognize the source material in the Writeoffs. I didn't think it was that obscure, but these days it's definitely filed with the classics.

5651557
I can certainly understand mixed feelings about Harrison -- he was something of a pulp author. Personally, I cut my teeth on the Rat books and loved them (and reread one before I wrote this; it has largely aged well, but you can definitely see the social attitudes of its era), but I was never able to get into any of his other series. 5652067 clearly isn't alone, though.

5648281
You probably have enough information from these three chapters to guess at where I would go with Angelina ... and you'd be mostly right, but it wouldn't be a horizon story if it didn't subvert your expectations somehow. :duck:

5650357
Thank you! It was neat seeing how easily the galactic civilization became future Equestria; I walked back the ubiquitous surveillance some, but the quasi-utopia (with the unfortunate implications 5649479 and 5649784 mention) seemed rather show-tone to begin with. As for Mane Six cameos, I hadn't specifically planned any, but given that Rarity is still around, it stands to reason that the Rainbow Corps might stand for friendship in more than just name ...

I'd have to diverge some from the source material to give them roles (unless I did something really weird like making Applejack the Morality Corps and Pinkie Pie the Time Corps), but there's certainly room for Jimmy to work not-quite-alone with a lot of background support. And of course I could always do the Saves the World thing and send Jimmy back to the days of the show and/or the Celestial War.

5654297 You carry the spirit of the books well. I hope that muse continues to inspire in this regard.

You got the Rat down pat! More, pretty please! :raritywink:

5654297

And of course I could always do the Saves the World thing and send Jimmy back to the days of the show and/or the Celestial War.

During any point of the show, could be interesting, especially if you attack it from an unalterable-timeline POV. Sending Jimmy back far enough to mess with a younger Celestia, before she became the experienced princess we all know? With pre-Nightmare Luna running around?

Oh, that sounds far too fun! I could see him jumping at the opportunity to take a shot at Celestia before she hit her prime, when the world was much, much more rough and tumble.

5654297

I know it would be difficult to really equate, what with the huge change in actual technology between the series, but how would jim deGriz do against, Special Circumstances? :trollestia:

Or any other company or group, that had access, use of full and proper working atomic von neuman machines? and quantum linked to a Mind?

Got around to listening to this while I was out on a run earlier today, and it ended up being exactly what I was hoping for. It's been a good few weeks for sci-fi ponies.

5647006 Congratulations! Tagging this story "complete" qualifies you for admittance into the Evil League of Evil.

IMHO if you have Rainbow Corps, you can make someone introduce Crime.net as a counter. If there are crime fighters spec ops(CRIME FIGHTER CUTIE MARK YAY) the criminals have to evolve as well, get ORGANIZED. And the best thing about people like Bain is that he actually can be a law-obiding little clerc during the day ... and the biggest crime boss all around with First Five on his tail at night. And an armed assault is a trademark of PAYDAY crew.

I tend to avoid crossovers, it just seems that most of them are video games I'm to old to recognise or other material I have no interest in.

But a Stainless Steel Rat pony crossover? That's something to sink my teeth into.

I'm looking forward to future Slippery Jim diGriz The Grey stories.

Wow. I wasn't paying attention when I clicked through to this story, and I had no idea that it was a crossover until I re-read the full summary. God, I wish there was more just so I could soak in more of your words, but the way it just wryly powers through to the end without losing steam is satisfying in its own way. :raritystarry: This is easily the best thing I've read on this site so far.

I have never read the books this was based off of, but reading this has piqued my interest.
This was very well made.
I can't really say much more than that.

5655697 The problem for me is different, sure I might have been old enough to play but I never did. I wasn't allowed to have many video games growing up. But now I can go and find and play the really old games just for the heck of it! And to understand the crossover I guess. That's a bonus too. Now time to find out about this Stainless Steel Rat. To Wikipedia!

A bunch of you (5648306 5649579 5653751 5658403) mention being interested in the Stainless Steel Rat books. For the record, you can read an online copy of the original short story that started the series — here's a link. :twilightsmile:

(That's what I started from to get this story. You might find it an interesting contrast, because you can see the parts which I adapted and the parts which I created from whole cloth.)

A Stainless Steel Rat reference?! I have not seen one in years!!

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