• Published 26th Apr 2015
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Wonderbolt Trials and Tribulations - White Comet



Rainbow Dash finally gets the opportunity of a lifetime; a chance to join the Wonderbolts and fulfill her lifelong dream. She presumes that from this point on, it'll be smooth sailing. She was wrong...

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Chapter 22

Dash followed her fellow trainees up the stairs. The crew seemed very well organised, considering how there were significantly more bodies on the ship than usual.

After being directed through all the twists and turns of the inner confines of the ship, they made it up a stairwell directly onto the main deck. Looking at pictures of them and seeing them from afar just didn’t do the vessel justice. Although the deck was a lot more cramped that Dash initially thought it would be. Nevertheless, there was easily enough room for everypony.

Dash found an empty space and sat down on the floor, eagerly awaiting instructions.

“What do you think they’ve got us doing this for?” Dahlia asked, sitting down next to Rainbow Dash. “They’re not gonna ask us to pilot these things are they?”

“I doubt it,” Dash replied, “These things probably cost more than a hundred million bits combined. What if we crashed them?”

“That’s true I guess,” Dahlia agreed.

As they were conversing, an abrupt buzz from the PA system caught everypony’s attention. “Good afternoon, Wonderbolt candidates. This is Admiral Swift Sprint. I’m addressing you from the bridge behind you.”

His directions immediately caused everypony to look behind them and up. They had been facing the wrong way this entire time? Sure enough, a pony was standing outside the bridge structure on a platform, holding an intercom device to his mouth.

“I’m sure you’re eager to learn why you’re all here. It’s actually fascinating what you’ll be getting involved with. You see, training for the Airship Force is also very intense, much like what you all are going through right now. However, we believe we have developed a method that will make training the next generation far quicker, to a higher standard, and giving them better experience that nopony will have even imagined from a fresh-faced airpony.”

Dash thought about his words. New training method? Is this something they had potentially already seen? Not by the sounds of it, since he didn’t mention it being used anywhere else yet…

“I’m sure you will have noticed the abundance of unicorn crew members as you came on board. Some even wearing uniforms relating to other branches of Equestria’s military.”

Dash only picked up on it now because he mentioned it. She turned her head to have a look around at some of the other ponies on the deck. She was some others doing the same. He was right, there was a lot of unicorns. From all sorts of branches.

“That’s because we’ve found a way to use unicorn magic to act to replicate the actions and damage of a live battle, without the implications. Basically a very realistic wargame. And you’re here today to take part in it.”

Dash felt her heart rate increase at the thought. A wargame? Against actually qualified members of the REAF? There was no way they could stand a chance against that.

“We’ve tested it on a small scale, and it works remarkably well. But this will be our first time testing it on a full-size mock battle. Once setup is complete, the Canterlot and Trottingham will engage in a mock battle. You will take stations on your assigned ships, and will be expected to work alongside other members of the crew. One of you will even be lucky enough to take up the role of Captain for this exercise. But that will be picked by me for the Canterlot, and Captain Breeze on the Trottingham. You will be briefed on the specifics as and when needed. In the meantime, we'll get underway to the location of the test. Good luck!” The PA clicked and crackled as he put down the receiver.

“You heard the stallion,” Spitfire's voice immediately sounded before anypony even had a chance to question what was being asked of them. “Those of you assigned to the Hoofington, make your way over there. Those of you assigned here, make your way up to the bridge of the Canterlot to see where you get assigned to.”

Dash stood up and started walking towards the stairs. “Who do you think will get to be the Captain?” Dahlia asked Dash as they walked up.

“I don’t know. It could almost be random if Swift Sprint gets to decide it. He doesn’t know any of us,” Dash answered back.

“Apart from you,” Dahlia motioned her hoof at Dash as she replied, “I think everypony knows you by now Dash.”

Dash rolled her eyes and smiled, “I guess.”

As they piled their way onto the bridge, they were directed where to stand by another pony already on there. They stood perfectly in line, awaiting additional instructions.

Dash’s ears twisted to the direction of certain hoofsteps that she heard walk alongside them. She looked with her eyes but didn’t move her head. Admiral Swift Sprint walked around and stood tall in front of them. He didn’t say anything for a while, he just took a good look at everypony.

So...this was Torque’s father. So far he had maintained a very professional stance, not really giving Dash to gauge his personality. But she was able to pick out some resemblance to Torque.
“Okay,” he suddenly broke the silence, “As I said, I have to choose somepony to take command of the ship during this exercise. So who would like the honour? Raise your hoof.”

Dash heard a few hooves being raised, but she didn’t dare raise her own. While she wouldn’t protest being put in command, this was way too much out of her comfort zone. Sure, proving she could take command of one of these behemoths probably showed a higher degree of competency to the Wonderbolts, but she wasn’t sure she could do that. As enticing as it sounded, the risk was just too high for the reward in Dash’s opinion.

“...Alright then,” Swift Sprint spoke, moving closer to the rows of trainees, then over to his left to look over everypony volunteering. He leant into a few that held their hooves high, getting a better look over them. “You, you, and you,” he pointed his hoof at each one of them, “Front and centre,” he quickly motioned with his hoof for them to stand behind him.

As the pegasi he selected made their way to the front of the bridge where he pointed, he continued examining the few remaining. Dash couldn’t help but notice that he seemed to have stopped at a certain point. She quickly glanced over to look where he was. He was standing over Bright Skies, giving her a good long stare. Dash cringed but looked away. She could only imagine how Bright Skies was feeling. Her confidence had grown significantly since they met, but she wasn’t sure she could handle somepony as intimidating as an admiral in the REAF.

“You,” Swift Sprint ordered, motioning to the others. Bright Skies gulped and made her way to the front. She wasn’t even holding her hoof up to volunteer, but he seemed to pick her anyway.

Dash heard him pick a few more pegasi out before reaching her. He seemed to be doing the same with her as he did with Bright Skies. Dash just looked him in the eye and held her nerve. She knew that he knew her. As Dahlia said earlier, everypony did by now.

“You,” he ordered like he did with everypony else. It didn’t take as long for him to decide on Dash like it did with Bright Skies though. “You, you....and you.” He made his final choices and then turned around.

He looked over the line of ponies that he had selected. He then walked up to the first pony in front on his right, standing beside him. “Name?”

“H-High Tide, sir,” The stallion in question answered.

“Why should I let you command my ship High Tide?” Swift Sprint asked directly and bluntly.

“W-well...you see...I’ve led my roommates in some of the tests here, and I think that gives me the experience necessary...to…take…” He slowly stopped talking as he noticed Swift Sprint was walking away.

He did the same again where he stopped right next to the next pony he wanted to ask. “Name?”

“Stinger, sir,” the stallion immediately replied.

“Why should I let you command my ship Stinger?” He asked again in the same blunt and direct manner.

“I can promise you that we won’t lose. With my skill and strategies, I’m sure we can beat them. And I’m really good at making predictions about what they might do which will help--” Swift Sprint placed a hoof over Stinger’s mouth to shut him up, then continued walking up to the next pony.

“Name?”

“U-u-umm--”

“Why should I let you command my ship, U-h-umm?” Swift Sprint was almost sarcastic in his mocking of the mare’s hesitance.

“Well...you see...I’m...good?”

Swift Sprint let her sentence sit for a few seconds to see if she would continue. But when it became apparent she wasn’t, he raised an eyebrow.

“Umm...yeah...very, very good…” She said with an awkward smile.

Swift Sprint said nothing else and just continued to walk up to Bright Skies. Dash looked over as he approached her. She was staring straight and looking like she was just trying to keep it together.

“Name?”

“Bright Skies, sir,” She spoke with confidence, but Dash could see her subtle trembling as he stood over her.

“Why should I let you command my ship Bright Skies?”

“Because I am a very quicker thinker, think on my hooves, and can always come up with a solution immediately sir.” She answered concisely.

Swift Sprint raised an eyebrow but then flattened it again. He stood there in silence for several moments, looking down at Bright Skies. Bright Skies maintained her composure and continued to stare straight ahead.

“So you can come up with solutions immediately huh? Let me rephrase my question then.” He craned his neck to lower his head down to meet her at eye level. “CAN you take command of my ship, Bright Skies?”

“Yes, sir!” Bright Skies answered almost instinctively, a voice filled with confidence. Ponies like Dash who had known her for a while could tell that it was fake confidence, but anypony that’s never met her before would have a hard time picking up on it otherwise.

Swift Sprint once again remained silent for several moments. Continuing to stare Bright Skies in the eyes. Bright Skies wasn’t sure how much more she could take. His intimidating glare was unbearable.

He suddenly blinked and smiled. “Well done,” he said, removing his cap and placing it on Bright Skies head. “Congratulations, Captain.”

Dash heard a big sigh of relief come from Bright Skies. Everypony immediately turned to look at Bright Skies. The cap was comically too big for her head, but she was sure the gesture from Swift Sprint had all the effect it needed regardless.

“So it looks like Bright Skies here will be taking command of the Canterlot. Is there anypony in particular that you would like to fill a role in your command Captain?”

Bright Skies couldn’t help but blush and suppress a goofy smile the best she could as he referred to her as ‘Captain’. She looked over to her right, leaning forward slightly to see Rainbow Dash. “Dash, I would like you to fly the ship.”

Dash blinked, “Wh-what?”

“Helm is over there, Rainbow Dash,” Swift Sprint added, pointing in the direction of the helm.

“And…” Bright Skies looked over the crowd, but it didn’t help that she was particularly shorter than everypony. “Where’s White Comet?”

A hoof raised itself from out of the crowd, helping Bright Skies pinpoint his location. Skies looked back up at Swift Sprint. “Comet’s good at making calculations on the fly. Do you have some sort of department for calculating the trajectory of the cannons?”

Swift Sprint nodded, then looked over at Comet. “White Comet, you’ll be in fire control. Head to the deck, we’ll direct you from there.”

The bridge remained quiet for a few seconds. Swift Sprint looked back at Bright Skies. “Anypony else?”

“No sir, that’s it.” Bright Skies confirmed.

“Alright then,” Swift Sprint looked back at the remaining ponies. “I will assign you various roles around the ship and how to get to them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to me or anypony else here. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. Dash, Comet, make your ways to your post.” He gave his final words before walking in front of the remaining crew. “Now let's see...where should I put all of you…”

As he continued with choosing various roles for everypony, Dash trotted over to the position the helmpony sat in. The most apparent indication was the wheel that stuck out in the middle. That naturally steered the ship. But what all the other levers and buttons did she had no idea.

She took a seat in the chair. Only as she sat in the position overlooking all the controls was she beginning to realise how underprepared she was for this. Luckily, as far as she was aware, nopony else had ever to operate a warship before. She was on an even level.

“Hope my seat is comfy for you.”

Dash turned her head to see a stallion in a REAF uniform standing beside her. An earth pony, with blonde fur and a brown mane. “You must be Rainbow Dash. I’m Ensign Tornado. The helmspony of the Canterlot.” He extended his hoof to greet her.

“Pleased to meet you,” Dash replied, returning his hoofshake.

“Guess you’re after a crash course in piloting an airship?” He quickly guessed.

“Well...sort of,” Dash reluctantly admitted.

“Daunting, I know,” Tornado replied. “I’ll see what I can do. So,” he reached in front of her and placed a hoof on the wheel, “You’ve probably seen this before if you’ve watched any old war movies…”

“Uhh…” Dash’s mind went blank, trying to recall some.

“The Mighty Four? Five Ponies Down? Iron Stallion? A Long Way To Griffinstone?” Tornado named a few.

“Yeah, yeah, I remember them,” Dash replied, certain scenes in the films coming back to her.

“Right,” Tornado continued, “So this controls the rudder. Left to turn left, right to go right. Simple. And that’s about as simple as it gets. Now, these levers down here to your right,” he looked down at them. Dash looked down with him, “these control the pitch of the of the ship. Push them forward, nose goes down. Pull them backwards, nose goes up. Now, that’s with all the levers together. You can do more advanced manoeuvres if you pull that line of levers to your left.”

Dash did as he instructed and pulled them hard to the left. They had a lot of resistance to them, but she heard a somewhat satisfying mechanical clunk when she managed it.

“What this does is allow you to change the pitch of each elevator, giving you more options on how you want to ascend or descend. But most of the time you’ll leave it locked together,” Tornado finished by pulling them back into the locked together position.

“Now, the fun stuff is down on your left. That’s the telegraphs that control the engines.”

Dash looked down to her left to see a similar arrangement of levers. “It’s the same concept. All normally locked together, but pull it up and towards you and you’ll be able to manage the power of each engine individually. The ship has six propellers, four on the back and two up front on the bow. Handy if you have any fancy aerobatics you want to do or need to avoid a shell on a certain part of the ship quickly.”

Dash smirked, “Hopefully just the latter, if I can do it.”

Tornado chuckled. “Push them forward to request more power, and pull them all the way back to you for idle and reverse. You can try it now if you like, the ponies down there know not to do anything yet.”

Dash gripped the combined levers and pushed it forward. As she did, she saw some red needles moving on the dials in front of her.

“Those dials just to the left of where the column of the rudder wheel sticks out indicate your engine power. The red needle indicates your requested power, and the white one indicates the actual power the engine is currently producing. The can take a little while to spool up so it can help you plan ahead. It also helps let you know if there’s anything wrong with the engines.”

“Good to know, good to know,” Dash commented, taking in all the instructions she was being given.

As she was looking over the controls, she suddenly heard a whistle from the other side of the bridge. “Prepare to launch. Set course for the designated mock combat zone.” Swift Sprint ordered.

“That’s our cue,” Tornado followed up. “I’ll get her started quickly.” He leant over Dash and started flicking switches and pressing buttons. Dash looked around at the other controls briefly while he sorted it out.

“Okay,” he stood back up, “slide the telegraph into the ahead one-third position and let's get started.”

Dash pushed the sticks forward until the needles pointed at the ‘one third’ position. She heard some faint whining from outside the cabin and felt the ship begin to accelerate slowly.

“Now pull back on the wheel, but not too much,” Tornado instructed, gently tapping his hoof on another one of the dials. “This indicates the pitch angle of the ship. You probably see a theme here. Red needle indicates your requested pitch, white indicates your actual. Try to keep it around five degrees while we’re picking up speed.”

“Right,” Dash nodded, pulling back gently on the wheel in front of her and bringing the red needle to around five on the pitch indicator.

The ship continued to pick up speed, but Dash knew they couldn’t keep going in a straight line forever. “Is there something I’m forgetting here?”

“Nope, I just haven’t told you this part yet.” Tornado replied, “Let me help you out.” He leant in and started rotating some knobs which changed some numbers on the panel in front of her. He changed the number to one thousand then pressed a red button. “This tells the ponies in the engine room what level of buoyancy they should be aiming for with the ballon. I’ve just told them to set it to one thousand feet.”

“Okay. So is there anything else I should do?” Dash asked.

“Nope. You’ll feel it in your butt when she wants to take off. When she does, gently pull back to around ten degrees.” Tornado instructed, tapping on the attitude indicator again for good measure.

“Right,” Dash replied, concentrating straight ahead. But as she looked out the window, she looked out of all the other ones around her and realised something. For a position that’s flying the entire airship, it’s not exactly in the best place. She couldn’t just about tell where the front of the ship was. As for the sides, no matter how much she leaned, she couldn’t see where the sides of the ship started. And there was no rear view from this cabin at all. A pony with even the most finely-tuned spatial awareness would have trouble with this. No wonder the training took so long.

Just as Tornado said, she was starting to feel her seat pushing up against her. Taking that as her cue, she pulled back gently, and to her surprise, she felt the ship bite immediately.

“Wasn’t expecting that huh?” Tornado asked with a chuckle, “It’s a rather unconventional method for taking off, considering we can hover up and down vertically, but I just thought it might feel more familiar to you and help you settle in.”

“It did. Thanks,” Dash replied, smiling.

“Helm, take us up to five thousand feet and set course zero-seven-zero.” Swift Sprint ordered.

“Aye Captain,” Tornado replied.

Dash quickly glanced back at Swift Sprint in the captain's chair with Bright Skies standing next to him, then back forward, looking down at the console.

“So if you look down by your right hind hoof, you’ll see a pedal.”

Dash quickly glanced down as she listened to Tornado’s instructions. “Got it,” she replied, placing her hoof over the pedal.

“If you press your hoof onto the pedal, that’ll hold the wheel in place.”

Dash pressed down on the pedal and felt it click under her hoof.

Tornado placed a hoof on the wheel. “Now this part is essential, don’t get these two confused. To turn the boat, you TURN the WHEEL.” He explained, beginning to turn the wheel to the right to put them on the required course. Dash copied his action, helping him turn the wheel. “The stick the wheel’s on does tilt left and right,” he gently nudged it to show her, “but that doesn’t steer the ship. That rolls it. And while rolling around in the sky must be easy for a pegasus like yourself, it ain’t easy for hundreds of tons of steel and iron.”

Dash smirked, “Noted. Should I adjust that altitude to say five thousand?”

Tornado nodded. Dash reached forward with her hoof and twisted the knobs until it said five thousand feet, then pressed the red button.

“While that number itself helps a lot to reach and maintain said altitudes, we have a lot of control over it regardless using this.” He tapped the wheel. “We’d be here forever if I were to explain the whole theory behind it and how it fits in to the laws of physics, but the short and simple is that air isn’t that dense, so buoyancy in air can be quite easily overcome by other forces, like with the propellers we control...if that makes sense…”

“I get it...well, enough anyway,” Dash admitted.

Tornado smiled, “It’ll be easier to understand once we start doing some manoeuvres. But it wouldn't be that simple if you were in a more dense medium. Say like a submarine submerged in water.”

“You study a lot of physics then?” Dash joked.

“It’s something we have to keep on top of to do the job we do. It helps when you know how to get the ship out of certain situations.” Tornado replied, smiling. “We’re approaching five thousand, start slowly levelling off.”

Dash nodded and released the pedal from under her right hind hoof. She held her hooves behind the wheel and let it fall down in a fast but controlled manner. But she quickly gripped it again when she felt herself being twisted back in her seat.

“Easy,” Tornado said, taking a step back to regain his footing. “She may not be as quick as your wings, but she still don’t like being handled roughly.”

“Sorry,” Dash replied, keeping an eye on the altimeter and pitch indicator, slowly bringing it down one degree at a time until she got it onto five thousand. “There.”

“Perfect. And we’re only forty degrees away from being on the correct course. When you get to about fifteen, ten degrees away, start doing the same thing you just did with the pitch, but with the rudder instead.”

Dash nodded and kept an eye on the course indicator. Once it was nearing the zero-seven-zero that Swift Sprint requested, she slowly started twisting the wheel to bring the rudder back to its centre. She used the same method, one degree at a time, nice and slow, so she didn’t jerk the ship again. As she reached zero-seven-zero, she quickly put the rudder back to its middle position. And the ship stayed on course. “Yeah!” She couldn’t help but praise herself for what probably seemed like a simple thing for Tornado, but a reasonably complicated learning experience for her.

“Congratulations, you can fly a REAF battle-airship. Something that normally takes three to five years of training to do.” Tornado replied sarcastically, then looked over his shoulder. “Steer course zero-seven-zero Captain.”

“Very good, all ahead standard,” Swift Sprint ordered.

“All ahead standard, aye Sir,” Tornado nodded, then looked over at Dash. “You heard him.”

Dash nodded and pushed the telegraph forward until the needles reached the ‘standard’ position for all engines. “I mean...the actual actions don’t seem that hard. It’s just remembering where everything is and the order to do stuff in all the time that’s the hard part.” She picked up what he was saying before they were given orders.

“That’s why it’s mostly theory for the start of training. Plus normally you get to personalise your controls a little once you’ve earned your wings. I’m a rather short stallion, so you probably noticed a lot of mine is bunched quite close together.”

“...Yeah…” Dash replied. She hadn’t actually noticed before, but now that he mentioned it...there did seem to be a lot of empty space on the furthest reaches of the panel.

“I feel sorry for whoever one of you is manning the helm of the Trottingham...if anypony…” He continued, pointing out the right window at the Trottingham. “The Ensign at the helm of the Trottingham is a unicorn. I imagine he’d have his controls scattered everywhere, not being limited by his hooves and able to use magic instead.”

Dash turned her head to look at the ship as well. She had seen a lot of rich ponies with their own private yachts and airships but had never fully visualised one being used as a weapon. And she never imagined it would be more like trying to sail a ship than flying. A skyship, sailing through the air. That’s what it was like. She’d never seen a battle-airship up close before today, but she remembered going on a school trip once to Baltimare, where her class were lucky enough to see a battleship in the port. These didn’t resemble much of sea-going battleships though. These battle-airships seemed more like something out of one of Discord’s dreams.

While the spherical balloon filled with gas was still fairly obvious in its presence, it was coated in armour, unlike a regular airship. And while a sea-going battleship could only have its cannons on its deck, for obvious reasons, these ships seemed to have them stuck on wherever there was room. Although that obviously served a tactical purpose rather than lazy design work. While a sea-going battleship’s target was on a flat plane on one dimension, a battle-airships target could also be above or below them. Making turrets with cannons at funny angles necessary.

Dash looked around the bridge, noting the unicorns around them that just appeared to be...waiting. There was one standing next to Swift Sprint. He was also the only unicorn she had noticed who was wearing a cap, indicating that he must be of a higher rank. He must be the chief of the whole operation.

“How do you think this will work?” Tornado asked Dash. “With this mock battle, I mean.”

Dash broke out of her thought and looked at him. “I’m not really sure. We weren’t even told about this ‘till lunch,” she replied with a chuckle. “But I’m guessing it’s got something to do with magic seeing as they’re all unicorns.”

“I’d presume so. I’m actually kinda excited. We rarely get to fire these cannons except on training balloons and empty ground. And since Equestria’s had no major conflict in hundreds of years, knowledge of these things could eventually dry up. Hell, the grandchildren of the last ponies to hear these cannons fire in a war are probably dead by now.”

Dash nodded, understanding what he was saying. “But isn’t that a good thing?”

Tornado paused for a moment, then shrugged. “I guess peace in the world is always a good thing. But that doesn’t mean peace will last forever. I just hope Equestria’s still up to the challenge when the peace is next disturbed. But I guess that’s why we’re recruiting you right?” He replied, winking.

“You bet,” Dash replied, smiling.

As the journey continued on, Tornado helped familiarise Dash with the remainder of the controls and what the other dials meant. Dash wasn’t sure she’d remember all of them, but she knew her brain had a knack for prioritising important information over the less useful stuff in front of her. But as much as she thought her job was tough, she spared a thought for some of the other posts her roommates were doing. It sounded like Comet would be doing some cannon calculations. Sure, he was quite good at stuff like that, but if she tried to do it, she wouldn’t stand a chance of hitting anything. And she still found it almost funny that Bright Skies was the one that ended up in command of it all. The timidest of all of them. Granted, her confidence had improved a lot since she first got to know her, but she was still the last pony she would’ve picked to be the Captain.

“Oh look, fog,” Tornado said and pointed out the forward window. Dash looked in the direction of his hoof to see a little bit of fog starting to form over the horizon. “That will take you on to the Crystal Mountains. A bit further east and we could fly to the Crystal Empire.”

“All stop.” Swift Sprint suddenly ordered.

“All stop, Helm-aye.”
“All stop, sir.”

Tornado and Dash spoke at the same time. Dash looked up at him and smiled as she pulled back on the telegraph. Tornado smiled back, “The lingo doesn’t matter for you I guess. But it’s something drilled into us religiously during training.”

Dash felt the ship slowly continue to glide forward, gradually losing speed. It was surprising how long it took the ship to slow down though. Further proving just how much of a hoof-full flying something of this size and weight could be.

As the ship eventually slowed to a walking pace, Dash looked out the window to her right to see the Trottingham alongside them, also stopping.

“It’s time. Get yourself set up,” Swift Sprint’s voice came from behind her, causing Dash to look over her shoulder at him. He was offering the mouthpiece for the intercom system to the unicorn standing beside him.

The unicorn took the mouthpiece with his magic and held it to his mouth, clicking the button in to speak. “All MAS team unicorns, stand by to synchronise.” He addressed the ship over the PA and gave the mouthpiece back to Swift Sprint.

He closed his eyes, and his horn slowly lit up in the green aurora of his magic. It got brighter and brighter until a small green ball encompassed the tip of his horn.

Suddenly, a beam of magic shot towards another unicorn at the front of the bridge. It got instantly absorbed into the horn of the unicorn, and the same orb appeared on her horn tip, but in her own blue aura. And again without warning, a beam of magic shot out of her horn and headed somewhere to the decks below, passing through the floors and walls as if they weren’t there.

Dash looked over at the Trottingham and saw a similar thing happening over there. Beams of magic shooting all over the place, with the purpose of reaching the horn of another unicorn. This must be part of the process.

She sat and watched for a few more minutes before the activity seemed to subside, leaving the ships with small glows from the horns of the unicorns. She didn’t say anything. She just waited patiently for orders.

“Synchronisation complete Admiral. Ready when you are.” The chief unicorn said to Swift Sprint.

“Before we start, let's do a test to make sure it’s working as expected.” Swift Sprint instructed, collecting the intercom again and pressing a few buttons above his head. “Trottingham this is Canterlot. We have confirmation that we’re ready to rumble, we’re just gonna fire a test shot as you to confirm it works as expected.”

“Understood Canterlot. I’ll have all unnecessary crew clear the port side just in case. Out.” The Captain of the Trottingham replied through a crackly radio signal, then a buzz signalled the connection cut out.

Swift Sprint flicked another switch on the intercom’s control panel above his head then spoke into it again. “Fire control, this is the bridge. Fire a test round at the Trottingham using one of the twelve’s.”

“Right away Sir.” A voice came from the other end of the radio.

Dash heard some mechanical noises coming from in front of her. She looked straight ahead to see the furthest turret, the only turret she could see, turning towards the Trottingham.

“This is where it gets interesting…” Tornado commented beside her, “All three of the turrets on the main deck have three twelve inch cannons attached to them. They can do some damage.”

Dash raised her eyebrow, then looked over at the Trottingham out the window. It had the same turret layout, two at the front, one at the back behind the structure, three in total. However, they only had two cannons each. “Is the Trottingham a different ship? It’s got different cannons…”

Tornado nodded, “The Trottingham is a Stunner Class battleship. While it has three fewer cannons than us, its cannons are fourteen inches instead of twelve. And it trades armour for speed and agility. If it wants to beat is, it’ll probably use some unconventional tactics. But considering the CO’s have both never commanded an airship, I can see both of them using pretty…’unconventional’ tactics to say the least.”

Dash looked back at the turret turning, then back at the Trottingham again. She saw Swift Sprint and the chief unicorn walking towards the window.

She heard the mechanical noises stop. She looked back at the turret, which was now pointing towards the Trottingham. But it didn’t seem to be doing anything.

Without warning, a loud bang came from the cannon, followed quickly by another explosion sound from outside. The sound of the turret shook the whole ship. If anypony was asleep, they definitely weren’t now. Dash gripped the sides of her chair as she looked over at the Trottingham. A shot from the cannon at almost point-blank range definitely showed the damage it was capable of. The front left of the ship had almost completely gone. However, things weren’t all as it seemed. There were faint multi-coloured lines around the contours of where the ship was before it was shot. And she could see a few ponies still standing or floating in what looked like empty space now.

“Everything looks good to me. How about your end?” Swift Sprint asked, tapping his forehead where a horn would be if he were a unicorn.

“I see no problems either.” The unicorn replied.

“Perfect. Reset and get ready for real combat.” He looked over at another crew pony standing by some other controls. “Send a message to the Trottingham, tell them to proceed to the starting position.”

The crew pony nodded and picked up a mouthpiece like Swift Sprint was using.

Dash heard and saw the Trottingham beginning to pick up steam and move forward. But as it was moving, she also noticed that the damage was beginning to be repaired. It was fading back to what it was before it was shot. As if by...magic.

“So that’s what they can do.” Tornado started speaking to her, “I knew it would be using their magic to simulate damage or conditions, but I didn’t know they were able to do it that well or repair it that seamlessly.”

“It’s amazing if it works,” Dash agreed. “And nopony gets hurt either.”

Swift Sprint turned back to his chair and looked at Bright Skies, still standing by his chair. He motioned for her to take a seat. “The bridge is yours, young lady. I’m simply an advisor for you now. Once both ships reach twenty-eight thousand feet, a flare from us will signal the start of the wargame. The loser is the first one to fall beneath five thousand feet. Now let's get up there and get this underway.”

Bright Skies nodded, then looked over at the helm. “Dash, take us up to twenty-eight thousand feet.”

“Twenty-eight thousand…” she twisted the controls until the numbers read twenty-eight thousand, then pressed the red button. “Yes, Captain.” She struggled to say that to Bright Skies with a straight face.

Tornado pressed another button, “This’ll help speed things up a bit. You can read what they all do there.”

Dash had a brief look over at the buttons. She saw that they were a quick set of options for immediate orders, such as ‘emergency dive’, ‘emergency rise’, ‘stationary rise/descend’ and a few other options to help them out.

The Canterlot rose vertically until they reached their desired height. Dash overheard Swift Sprint going through some strategic advantages and disadvantages with Bright Skies as they were ascending. As much as this height was probably quite something for the unicorns and earth ponies on the ship, Dash just felt like she was sitting at home...except on a more uncomfortable chair, and an unshiftable oily-metallic smell.

A red flare suddenly shot off the bow of the Canterlot, marking the beginning of the wargame.

“Dash, all ahead flank,” Bright Skies ordered confidently.

“Got it,” Dash replied, not really thinking about what she was saying, just doing what she was told. She pushed the telegraph all the way forward and felt the ship begin to accelerate. The smokestacks were behind her, but she was sure they were producing a lot for this rate of acceleration.

There was a lot more noise both mechanical and general chatter around the ship. Dash didn’t pay much attention to what was being said unless it was directed at her. She had a job to do and needed to concentrate.

“Rudder full to starboard, steer course one-six-zero.”

“Aye,” Dash replied, twisting the wheel to turn the ship.

Tornado quickly butted in, pulling the stick towards him. “At this speed, the ships gonna wanna roll. You’ll need to balance it.”

Dash nodded in acknowledgement, putting some pressure behind the stick to show that she had it. After feeling it, Tornado let go and let Dash manage it.

Even for a manoeuvre that seemed as simple as that, there was a lot to keep an eye on. Dash glanced out the window a few times to watch the turret traversing, but she kept her eyes on the gauges and dials more than anything else.

“Steady course one-six-zero,” Dash said, levelling off the course. Although she overshot it slightly and had to correct.

Her attention was drawn when she heard cannon shots from the Trottingham. She looked out her left window at the Trottingham steaming towards them straight on. It took every ounce of her strength not to extend her wings and smack Tornado in the chest doing so. She knew that this wasn’t real, but if this were a real battle, there’s a lot of unicorns and earth ponies on the ship that didn’t have the option she and other pegasi have of just jumping off and flying away. Even when they were being chased down by another ship with relentless cannons and devastating firepower...the thought was slightly terrifying.

Breaking her out of her thoughts, the Canterlot immediately returned fire from one of its forward turrets. Dash thought it was loud when it was miles away, but it rattled her brain inside her skull when they fired from this close.

The whistle of a shell flying past the Canterlot a few seconds later was enough to send a shiver down her spine. Again, if it were a real battle, that would’ve just served as a reminder of how close they came to potentially death…

She continued keeping an eye on her own role, but she kept finding herself getting distracted. But this time, it was for a good reason,. She heard the cheers of some of the crew on the bridge. She looked again to see that they had managed to score a hit on the Trottingham. Although structurally the Trottingham seemed unaffected, there was plenty of black smoke, and a few fires Dash could see on the deck. It must’ve hit a more armoured section of the ship. She couldn’t tell if those were real fires or magic ones like the way the damage was simulated.

“Already scored a hit? That pony you put in fire control has good judgement...or he’s very good at math.” Swift Sprint commented.

“Fire control, have all cannons fire one more shot each then hold fire. Await my instructions.” Bright Skies spoke into the intercom, then looked at Dash. “Dash, on my mark, I want you to bank the ship to port, about twenty degrees.”

Dash blinked at what she was being asked to do. “W-what? I-uh...got it.” She was confused by the move but trusted Bright Skies nonetheless. She evidently had a plan in mind.

She hit the back of her head on her chair at the same time she heard an explosion from behind her.

“We’re hit!” Tornado cried, picking himself up off the floor. “Check the gauges. Make sure the engines are fine.”

Dash looked down at the gauges. “They’re all still reading the same.” She replied.

“Good, let’s hope they stay that way.” Tornado commented, looking back out the window again.

They continued to hold their course, but their cannons went quiet as per Bright Skies ordered. All the while the Trottingham continued to close in, still firing volleys of shots.

“Shouldn’t we fire back Si--...ma’am?” A crew pony asked on the bridge.

“Not yet.” Bright Skies replied, the determined look on her face indicating that she had a plan in mind. Dash could tell from her expressions and voice that she was really getting into this.

The Trottingham was starting to get very close, too close for comfort as it made avoiding action difficult for the Canterlot. The Trottingham fired some more shots at them, one of them managing to hit the aft port side of the Canterlot.

“Now?” The crew pony asked again.

“No…” Bright Skies answered, but then a thought crossed her mind. She picked up the intercom. “Fire rear turret cannons only.”

Dash saw a shot from the rear of the Canterlot fly past her window towards the Trottingham. It failed to hit, overshooting slightly. The next one hit the top of the gas balloon but hit at such a shallow angle it just bounced off.

“Point all fore turrets to starboard,” Bright Skies bellowed over the intercom, then looked at Dash. “Steer us twenty degrees to starboard, drop five hundred feet.”

Dash nodded and turned the wheel, not too sharply as they weren’t turning far, and pushed it down. Also descending at a shallow angle.

The Trottingham took one more shot at the Canterlot before it was beginning to get too close for the turrets to track. It looked like it was going to fly over the top of the Canterlot.

Dash watched as the Trottingham steamed towards up, looking like it was making the appropriate adjustments to sail over them.

“Dash, roll us twenty degrees to port now!” Bright Skies suddenly ordered.

Dash didn’t even acknowledge, but somehow instinctively grabbed the stick and yanked it to the left. The roll wasn’t immediately apparent, but she could tell that the ship was tilting.

She watched out the right window as the Trottingham passed over the top of them and out over their starboard side…

...Where Bright Skies had ordered the gunners to train their cannons too!

“All turrets fire on the target!” Bright Skies yelled over the intercom, jumping out of her seat to see the effect.

Dash’s roll had lined the cannons up almost perfectly, little adjustment was needed to get them on course. However, what she wasn’t expecting was the force when all six guns were fired at once. The noise made her ears ring as she grabbed the wheel, trying to work out what was going on. The force had made the nose of the ship point a few degrees in the opposite direction, which she was trying to correct.

When her hearing did come back a few seconds later, her ears were immediately overpowered by the sounds of cheering.

“The Trottingham has taken serious engine damage. She’s almost adrift in the sky.” The chief unicorn in charge of the training exercise said.

Swift Sprint looked at Bright Skies and raised an eyebrow. “I suppose you could almost consider that a victory, Captain Skies,” he commented, winking. “But you might need to finish them off.”

Just as he was speaking, a shot fired from one of the rear turrets on the Trottingham and hit them straight amidships. Dash cringed as the ear-piercing sound of metal crushing metal met her ears as she was rocked around by the ship.

“Match our altitude, but keep our distance. Keep firing.” Bright Skies continued to order.

Dash smirked as she started to slowly raise them up. She wasn’t expecting Bright Skies to sound so confident in the orders she was issuing, but it was a pleasant surprise.

The Canterlot’s cannons continued raining down on the Trottingham. Dash was starting to understand the firing pattern. Instead of firing all nine guns at once, the cannons would fire one at a time. By the time the ninth cannon had fired, the first had finished reloading. This allowed for a consistent stream of shells to be shot instead of leaving them unable to shoot back for at least thirty seconds.

A loud explosion (or at least louder than she was getting used to,) almost made her jump out of her seat. She craned her neck over to her right, looking up to try and get her best view from out the window without leaving the controls.

A visible tear had formed at the back of the Trottingham that was only getting bigger. The big fire coming from the back implied that the balloon was spilling gas. The armoured section surrounding the balloon was slowly becoming detached from the rest of the ship.

Dash watched as the Trottingham begun slowly losing altitude. Her thoughts were lost amidst the cheers of all the ponies on the bridge with her celebrating.

Suddenly, the ship started to glow and return to normal. Like it did earlier after the test fire.

“Trottingham confirmed shot down.” The chief unicorn spoke to Swift Sprint.

Swift Sprint nodded, then looked over at Bright Skies sitting in his chair. “Well done Bright Skies. The way you predicted the movements of the Trottingham and aligned the turrets accordingly is nothing short of something I’d expect an actual commander to be able to do.”

Bright Skies smiled sheepishly, trying her best to suppress blushing. She forgot her dark fur did an excellent job at that from time to time. “T-Thank you, sir!” She chirped, saluting him and holding the pose. Only for the cap to fall down in front of her head and cover her eyes.

Swift Sprint chuffed, then looked over at Dash. “Return to starting positions. Let's go again.”

“Yes, sir!” Dash replied, commanding the controls to steer the ship in the right direction.

“You’re starting to get the hang of this,” Tornado commented, looking down at the controls to confirm Dash was still firmly in control.

“Well, a few cannon shots helps put the pressure on I guess,” Dash chuckled and shrugged.

“Always helps,” Tornado continued the sarcasm.

The ships returned back to their starting positions opposite each other, getting ready for another matchup. Bright Skies looked up at Swift Sprint, who looked back at her at the same time.

“Now while that was a perfect move you made last time, your opponent won’t be naive enough to fall for that twice if they’ve made it this close to being a Wonderbolt. Don’t ever lose respect for your opponent, because that’s when you end up losing.” He preached to Bright Skies.

“I understand,” Bright Skies replied, nodding and taking in the words of advice he was giving her. She had no doubt in her mind whoever was commanding the Trottingham was getting some advice as well, so she knew she would have to keep her wits about her and figure out some strategies of her own.

Dash waited patiently, but readily. Her hooves where she needed them to be should she need to make a sudden move. And rightly so, as once again, a red flare popped into her vision off the bow of the Canterlot. Every instinct she had told her to smash the controls like her life depended on it, but she held herself back, knowing that she would need to wait for orders.

“All ahead flank, keep heading towards the Trottingham.” Bright Skies finally ordered after what felt like an eternity to Rainbow Dash. In reality, it was almost instantaneous though.

“Yes, ma’am,” Dash answered back with a nod, pushing the telegraph forward and feeling the ship begin to move. It still felt bizarre to be replying back to Bright Skies as if she was actually a commanding officer, but given how realistic their wargame was, it only made it all the more fitting.

She continued on their course, all the while hearing Bright Skies issue orders to the gunners to start firing. Dash saw a few shots fly from the forward turrets, and the Trottingham replied with its own.

“Maintain this distance, steer to port.” Bright Skies ordered to Dash.

“Steering to port,” Dash acknowledged, rotating the wheel.

“Now that can get a bit complicated,” Tornado replied, leaning into the control panel. “One of the spotters from either there,” he pointed at some of the ponies holding binoculars on the bridge, “or outside will start yelling angle on the bow readings at you.”

“AOB, zero degrees,” a voice came from a speaker built into the control panel behind the wheel.

“Like that,” Tornado added. “What you do with that is twist this compass,” he pointed to the compass in question then twisted it to the zero degrees position, “then press this buttooof--”

Dash reached her hoof out to stop him falling over at the Canterlot took shell fire from the Trottingham. He was almost instantly back up unassisted though. “Press the red button, and that puts a red line on your normal compass.”

Dash nodded and pushed the red button, seeing a red arrow show on her compass alongside the black one that showed the direction she was currently steering in.

“The red arrow on the compass slowly moves over time to show where you should be trying to steer to maintain a good broadside shooting angle. But it’s not a hundred percent accurate, so keep your head on a swivel and listen to what the spotters tell you.”

“Got it,” Dash replied, correcting her course.

She kept looking to her right, checking her position knowing the machinery wasn’t entirely accurate as Tornado said. The Trottingham appeared to be turning to its starboard side, away from the Canterlot.

“AOB starboard one-O-five,” another voice from one of the spotters on the bridge advised Dash.

Dash plugged in the information, slowly watching the red line begin to guide her. Although she wasn’t sure if she would put her entire faith in it. Tornado said that the Trottingham was more agile than the Canterlot, and he wasn’t kidding. If it closed in, it could probably run rings around them if it wanted to. However, with weaker armour, it probably wouldn’t last long. There was a lot to consider before blindly making a move…

The seat didn’t do a very good job of holding her in during the explosions. It had no support in it at all. She found her wings doing a better job of helping her keep her balance. The last blast gave her more to think about than getting rocked about though, as she noticed one of the engine power output dials begin to drop. And she felt different subtle hints through the wheel.

“Looks like that last hit damaged an engine,” Dash commented, tapping on the dial on the console.

“Yeah,” Tornado agreed, “It’ll cause the ship to naturally want to turn starboard unless they can get it fixed. You’re gonna need to steer away from it to compensate. Or change the power for each individual engine on the port side.”

Dash nodded and immediately put her options into action. She didn’t need any further explanation, she was confident she knew what to do. She tried to collate the two possibilities together but didn’t anticipate controlling each engine individually being so complicated.

She kept an eye out the windows on her right to try and keep an eye on the Trottingham, but it was slowly fading out of view from where the window ended.

“AH!” Dash yelped as she was all but a leg thrown out to the left of her seat as an explosion ignited right below them. She turned her head in the faint whistling of the wind and saw a smashed window with shards of glass littering the floor, slowly dissolving as the unicorn magic no longer had an effect on them.

“Two bridge spotters injured.” One of the unicorns parts of the illusion set up by the en-masse magic blurted out, pointing at two ponies standing at the very front of the bridge.

One of them shrugged, “Oh no, I’ve been injured,” he spoke in a sarcastic tone, pretending to fall to the floor dramatically.

“I think I see the light,” his shipmate followed on, clutching his head. The two of them couldn’t help but exchange chuckles at their top-notch acting.

“Guess somepony has to take those two boneheads to sickbay,” Tornado said, looking over at Dash. “I’ll leave her in your capable hooves, good luck Rainbow Dash.” He didn’t wait for a response form Dash before running over to his ‘injured’ shipmates.

Dash blinked and gulped. Was she really trusted with this? Granted, Tornado probably wasn’t the only pony who could take control if things got out of hoof. But she wasn’t expected to be left alone. She looked over at Tornado with a concerned look as he pulled one of his ‘injured’ shipmates over his shoulders to carry them.

“Just remember what I taught you and trust your instincts. You’ll do fine.” Tornado encouraged her as he walked past, winking.

“Dash, can we expedite the turn? Our forward turrets can’t aim at those angles.” Bright Skies’ request drew Rainbow Dash’s attention.

“On it!” Dash replied, adjusting her controls. She didn’t have time to watch Tornado leave the bridge as he left his prize seat in her command.

Dash steered tighter to the right to help the forward turrets hit their mark. She kept occasionally glancing over out the windows to see the Trottingham’s position relative to theirs. But she had so much more to concentrate on.

“The Trottingham’s going into a climb.” Dash heard one of the outer spotters announce over the radio.

“Should I follow?” Dash asked Bright Skies without hesitation. Something she probably shouldn’t have done, but it just came naturally to her.

“Yes Dash, bring the nose up and climb. Try and keep the forward guns within a firing arc.” Bright Skies ordered in response.

“Got it!” Dash nodded, adjusting the controls.

Once she finished her adjustments, she looked out the window again to see the Trottingham climbing. Dash was trying her best to bring the Canterlot around, but as Tornado had told her before, the Trottingham was a different class of ship that her much better manoeuvrability than them.

Dash felt herself being pulled down by gravity into the back of her chair as the ship angled upwards. She heard the hums of the various ponies around her as they had to readjust their footing. The seat itself wasn’t the comfiest thing in the world, to begin with, but being forced into it was even worse. The ship was also being continuously shaken from cannon fire landing on their hull. Dash wasn’t sure of the damage she couldn’t see, but she knew the fire landing in front of them was mostly bouncing off.

“Fire control, Bridge, why aren’t we firing back?” Bright Skies asked over the radio.

“We can’t get the turrets at a perfect angle because of our own and the targets relative positions. Do you want us to take luck shots Si--...ma’am?”

“Do it!” Bright Skies replied, slamming the radio down.

The loud bursts of the guns firing was a noise Dash was getting accustomed to as she watched the shells fly towards the Trottingham. While there was one that almost hit its mark, the others were miles apart.

Another volley of shots fired upwards towards them, but the results were the same. They all missed.

“Dash, level off.” Bright Skies ordered.

“What?” Dash replied in shock, looking back at her. “But I thought we needed to catch them.”

“We won’t. Just level out. Once we’re level, change speed and horizontal direction as much as possible.” Bright Skies instructed.

“...Right!” Dash nodded, a smile crossing her face as she started to understand what Bright Skies was getting at. She remembered that the Canterlot was slower than the Trottingham, and climbed slower. Dash realised that the Trottingham deliberately tried to get them to follow them, to make them slow to a crawling speed and run rings around them with their superior agility.

Dash couldn’t help but let out a chuff under her breath. She had to admit, if she was commanding, there was no way she would’ve saw that coming. Only once Bright Skies had pointed it out to her did she realise that was the Trottingham’s game plan. Bright Skies was probably the only pony in the Wonderbolts trainees that could’ve worked that one out.

Once Dash levelled the ship out, she started doing erratic movements as instructed. She kept changing the vessels speed and heading, along with how sharp it was turning. She couldn’t directly see what was happening above them, but she was getting constant updates from the spotters to their relative position.

“The Trottingham has levelled off above us. They’re out of range for our turrets.” Dash heard a spotter direct over the radio.

Dash glanced up above her only to cast her eyes on the metal plating that made up the ceiling above her head. Part of her wanted to jump out to see for herself, but she also knew that wouldn’t go down too well with those examining her.

She continued to hear the shell fire fall around them. None of the shells hit their marks, but it was evident that range wasn’t an issue for the Trottingham. That and it had the advantage of gravity being on its side.

“Rudder amidships Dash,” Bright Skies suddenly ordered. “And reduce speed down one notch.”

“...Got it,” Dash hesitated before answering. She had no idea where Bright Skies was going with this, but she also knew that Bright Skies was too smart to fall for their tricks. She apparently had something in mind.

Dash held the course and speed of the ship, still trying her best to compensate for the damage. “The Trottingham is beginning to dive,” one of the spotters called over the radio.

“Maintain course, standby to increase speed.” Bright Skies relayed.

“Got it,” Dash acknowledged with a nod, leaving a hoof on the telegraph.

She saw the trails of a few shells fly in front of them, one of them impacting on the front. Dash was some splinters of wood fly in front of the glass only for it to dissolve into remnants of unicorn magic.

“Trottingham is on an intercept course, but they’re coming in at a blind spot. We can’t return fire,” another spotter instructed over the radio.

Bright Skies picked a radio up in her hoof. “Fire control, this is the bridge. Train our rear turret about ten degrees to starboard.” She ordered before putting the radio down, not waiting for a response.

The Canterlot continued to take fire as the two ships closed, one even almost knocking Dash out of her chair as it exploded very near the bridge. It left her ears ringing for a little while, but not so severely that she couldn’t hear one of the unicorns calling out that some more ponies had been ‘injured’. But she was more concerned about what she grabbed to stop herself from falling off. The wheel. It didn’t seem to move.

She composed herself then tried to twist the wheel again. It didn’t budge. It was stuck. “Bright, the rudders jammed!” Dash yelled, desperately trying her hardest to get it unjammed.

Bright Skies flinched at the news. “All ahead flank, put some distance between us.” She ordered.

“Yeah,” Dash replied quickly, acknowledging the order, but she was still pulling and tugging on the wheel trying to get it to turn. She used her wing to push the telegraph forward.

Another explosion shook the ship even more violently, but Dash managed to maintain her seating. But she saw the needles for the starboard engines start to fall. “Entire starboard side is dead. We’ve got no steering, and if I keep the remaining engines on full power, we’ll just spin in circles. Looks like we’re dead in the air.” Dash informed with an annoyed tone.

“Dammit,” Bright Skies slammed a hoof on her chair. Then grabbed a radio. “Engine room this is the Bridge. Try and get the engines back, but keep us in the fight if you can.”

“Yes, ma’am!” The pony on the other end of the radio replied just before Bright Skies put it down.

“Trottingham turning to port, they’re going to pass over our bow,” one of the spotters informed.

Bright Skies sighed and put a hoof on her forehead. “Train our forward turrets on them and fire if possible.” She instructed in a frustrated tone. It sounded like nothing was going to plan for her at the moment.

Dash just sat and did nothing, staring at the dials to keep an eye on everything. With no steering and very little thrust control, there wasn’t a lot she could do but wait. It seemed like game over for them now anyway.

She watched the Trottingham pass in front of them and over to their port side. It continued firing as it passed by, starting its turn back around.

A warning light displayed on Dash’s instrument panel after a shot hit. It was next to a pressure gauge. It seemed to be measuring the pressure of the gas in the balloon that helped keep them afloat. Looks like a hit had managed to damage it to the point where they were losing gas. That loss of gas would eventually translate into a loss of altitude.

“Dash, all ahead flank on whatever engines remain on the port. Spin us around.” Bright Skies yelled the order at Dash.

Dash didn’t even acknowledge, she just reacted instantly by punching the telegraph.

The Canterlot spun around to the point where it’s rear turret was pointing towards the Trottingham. It then fired all three cannons on the turret, which the Trottingham responded with. The shells whistled past each other before landing on their intended targets.

Dash noticed the pressure loss gauge start to indicate an even higher pressure loss, but before she could read it anymore, a pulse of multi-coloured unicorn magic slowly radiated through the bridge and seemingly through the rest of the ship. The smashed glass and splintered wood were instantly restored as the magic aurora passed through it.

“Canterlot’s damage unrecoverable; Trottingham wins.” The chief unicorn explained.

Swift Sprint took a step forward to Bright Skies and shrugged. “Can’t win them all, unfortunately,” he consoled, but the smile on his face implied that he wasn’t exactly disappointed with her performance.

He leant across and picked up the radio. “All hooves on both ships, this is the admiral. For our final engagement, I’m going to set some conditions. The first being that the ships can no longer come within two thousand yards of each other and the second being that I’ll have our unicorn friends here limit the magazine capacities to ten percent. So be wise with your shooting, and may the best crews win. We’ve drawn a bit of a crowd, so be sure to put on a good show.”

Dash took a look out the window to see what he meant. Sure enough, a few ships had parked themselves around the perimeter of the section of sky they were using to watch them in their mock battles. She spotted around a dozen or so, maybe more. All of various shapes and sizes.

“You did well,” Tornado’s voice suddenly sounded behind her.

Dash looked back at Tornado. “I guess I did alright. Engines and rudder stopped working because of damage towards the end though,” she explained.

Tornado shrugged, “Not your fault. Anyway, let's get back into the start position and put on a good show.”

“I just noticed that,” Dash replied, going through the motions with the controls to put the Canterlot back into its starting position. “Are we really that impressive to watch?”

“It’s not just that, it’s the magic. This whole simulated battle using unicorn magic thing? It’s never been done before. We’re the pioneers. And if it catches on, this could become a new standard in training.”

“I guess it’s very realistic,” Dash gathered. “But what do you think of these conditions? Not a lot of ammo, and no getting very close.”

“Not a lot of ammo gives us a slight advantage over the Trottingham since we have a larger magazine capacity. But the two thousand yard limit gives them an advantage for out-manoeuvring our shells.” Tornado explained.

“But aren’t the Trottingham’s guns bigger? Can’t it deal more damage?” Dash questioned.

“Only if they hit their target. They do no damage if they miss. Which is what makes the lowered ammo interesting.”

“How many shells do we have now then?” She asked.

“At ten percent, I’d say only about eleven or twelve shells per gun for us. For the Trottingham, that’s even lower. Maybe around nine or ten at most per gun.”

“I guess it’ll come down to whoever has the most accurate gunners then,” Dash analysed, stopping at the start position.

“That’s about right. You say that stallion is pretty good at this stuff? White Comet, was that his name?”

“Yeah, he’s got an eye for stuff like that. Don’t think he’s ever done anything like this before though.”

The Trottingham stopped in its position a few miles away in front of the Canterlot. Both facing each other, ready to go.

Swift Sprint cleared his throat then came away from the window and back towards Bright Skies. “Ask anypony, and they’ll all have different theories about who has the better advantage or disadvantage. But I believe your best course of action would be to eliminate the Trottingham’s advantage of agility. Get as close as you can and try to immobilise them.” He advised Bright Skies.

“I think I’ve got a plan.” Bright Skies replied to him, feeling said plan begin to piece together in her mind.

Swift Sprint smiled and nodded, “Good luck,” he said his final words to her before grabbing the radio. “Commence engagement,” he ordered the start of the battle then put the radio down. Taking a few steps back to watch the action unfold.

“All ahead flank, take us as close as possible to the Trottingham without crossing the two thousand yard boundary.” Bright Skies ordered.

“Yes, ma’am!” Dash replied with enthusiasm in her voice as she pushed the telegraph forward into its fastest setting. She was feeling good about this one. She knew that they had immobilised the Trottingham in a similar fashion in the first round, so everypony knew what they had to do.

The turrets on Canterlot kept tracking the Trottingham, but they didn’t make any attempts to fire. The Trottingham was also heading straight forward towards the Canterlot as well. As predicted, they were assumably going to try and utilise their agility advantage by getting as close as possible to the Canterlot. Exactly where the Canterlot wanted them to be.

Two shots from the Trottingham fired off their forward turrets and whistled towards the Canterlot. Bright Skies stood up from her chair and looked around the bridge. Seeing what she was looking for, she walked over to a table with a map and other planning equipment on it. She took a pencil and some scraps of paper in her wings and started taking notes as she walked back to her chair.

While the first shot missed, the second shot landed directly on top of one of the turrets. Being quite heavily armoured though, it seemed as if most of the explosion just bounced off it. The smoke did make it difficult for Dash to see ahead of her though.

The Trottingham started a turn to its right, firing another volley at the Canterlot. A few shots hit, but the Canterlot seemed to take them in its stride.

“Aren’t we gonna fire back?” Somepony on the bridge asked.

“Not yet,” Bright Skies replied, hastily scribbling some notes down on the paper she acquired. Swift Sprint took a look over her shoulder and smirked at what she was writing.

“Full port rudder,” Bright Skies ordered as she finished making notes.

“You got it,” Dash replied, twisting the wheel. The G-forces upset the footing of a few ponies as they started doing a very tight turn at very high speeds. The guns did their best to maintain their tracking, but the rate they were turning at meant that they couldn’t traverse fast enough to compensate.

The Canterlot turned towards the Trottingham, which was still continuing its turn away from them. Seeing this, Bright Skies immediately thought of an idea. “Rudder to starboard, about five degrees. A slow, gradual turn.”

“Got it,” Dash acknowledged, adjusting the rudder accordingly.

“Fire a single volley from each turret in range when the turrets are at a good angle.” Bright continued to order.

As the ship levelled out, the turrets managed to regain their firing angles. Seconds later, the loud BANG of the cannons firing rang throughout the ship. The shells flew through the air and impacted on the rear of the Trottingham. Through the smoke, Dash could make out some wood splinters and metal chunks breaking off the hull.

Before they could take in the damage done to the Trottingham, it fired a return volley. One of the shots landed in the front bow beyond what Dash could see, but the crunching noises that came from the front implied it wasn’t good.

A loud hissing noise overpowered the breaking machinery noises, and the turrets slowly began to droop down. Looks like whatever hit managed to break something on the turret.

“Bridge, fire control, turret one is down. The system that holds pressure to hold the turrets up at an angle has been damaged.” A voice over the radio called to Bright Skies.

Bright picked the radio up. “It is fixable?”

“We’re trying,” the voice replied.

“Keep me informed,” Bright replied, placing the radio down.

The Canterlot continued to return fire with its remaining turrets regardless. Dash noticed that the rate of fire was considerably lower, probably down to the fact that they now had a limited amount of shots and wanted to make sure each one hit its target (or did its best to).

“Trottingham’s speed is decreasing,” one of the spotters called. “We must’ve damaged their engines!”

“Perfect. Dash, bring us alongside, as close as possible within limits.” Bright Skies ordered.

“Yes, ma’am!” Dash replied, bring the ship forward with the controls.

The Canterlot steamed forward, its smokestacks kicking out a lot of smoke from its acceleration that was grasped by the wind and dragged away. Dash kept her eyes peeled on the Trottingham, slowly coming towards them. But as they got closer, Dash couldn’t help but notice that they were getting much closer much quicker...a lot quicker...too quickly!

“Dammit,” Dash cursed under her breath, realising that they were going to overshoot the Trottingham, passing on its starboard side. She adjusted the controls and did her best to compensate, but it was too little too late. Not only that, but it looked like the Trottingham had caught onto the possibility of this happening, so they had also slowed down an awful lot.

As the Canterlot sped past the Trottingham, Dash noticed its turrets training in their direction just before it went out of her sight. She knew what was coming, and all she could do was sit and wait…

The Canterlot shook violently back and forth as some loud explosions roared from behind them. The ship shook so violently that it almost winded Dash as she was blown forward against her instrument panel. Luckily she didn’t affect the stability of the ship too much with whatever controls she might have accidentally pressed.

“The Trottingham is climbing!” A spotter called over the radio.

“Climb with them, and take us hard to port!” Bright ordered.

“Aye!” Dash replied, going for a flick of the wheel in the left direction. But it wouldn’t budge. “Dammit, rudders jammed!” Dash informed.

“But engines are still good,” Tornado butted in to advise her. “Reverse the port engines, and that should help the ship spin.”

“Right,” Dash nodded in acknowledgement, looking down at the telegraphs and adjusting them to do so. While at the same time, giving the orders to raise the altitude of the ship.

Dash felt the twisting effect start to happen a few seconds after she’d set the telegraphs to reverse the port engines. It felt a lot more unnatural than using the rudder. But it didn’t appear to be too much slower than the rudder either. Looks like this was the best way for her to do it until they get the rudder fixed...if the battle lasted that long…

As the Canterlot turned and climbed, the Trottingham appeared to be trying to mirror its manoeuvre. However, the damage it sustained meant that it couldn’t rise as fast as the Canterlot. That didn’t stop it firing its guns though, as they were still in range.

“Return fire with the rear turret only,” Bright ordered.

The odd order caused more than a couple ponies to raise their eyebrows. Nevertheless, she seemed to know what she was doing, and given that she wasn’t formally trained by the REAF, everypony knew that her tactics would be a little on the unconventional side. She apparently had a plan in mind.

The crew did as Bright Skies ordered and only fired with the rear turret. Since they were teetering around the very limit of the range, around twenty-five hundred - thirty-five hundred yards, accuracy wasn’t a problem for either ship.

“Maintain this angle to the Trottingham,” Bright continued to order. “But keep me updated on the damage situation of our port side.” Her voice was starting to show some strain in it as she continued to scribble down her notes about...whatever she was taking notes on…

While the tactics for the Trottingham looked relatively straightforward on paper, they were hard to follow when the ship was now basically limping along. Whenever the Trottingham tried to break away, the Canterlot simply shadowed it. Nevertheless, the Trottingham continued to pound shells into the Canterlot’s port side.

Dash felt some mechanical clunking through her controls before she started to see some of the needles dropping on her gauges. “Two port side engines are down!” She exclaimed, trying her best to compensate. There wasn’t much she could do with a jammed rudder though.

“Do your best to stay on course. We don’t need to stay here much longer.” Bright tried her best to encourage her. “I hope…” She muttered under her breath, continuing to scribble her notes. She seemed to be using the rocking of the ship from shell fire as a prompt to start writing.

The Canterlot’s speed began to drop off, and it slowly began to veer closer towards the Trottingham. Dash instinctively dropped the speed on the remaining engines to stop them crossing the two thousand yard limit. She wasn’t sure exactly how close they were, but they were pretty close.

“Three…” Bright Skies began counting under her breath, hearing another shell fire. “Two…”

The shell impacted on what must now be an utterly battered port side of the Canterlot. Dash heard a voice on the radio warning them about a fire starting on one of the decks.

“One…” Bright continued to count down as another shell impacted on the side. No sooner than she had the chance to process that, she heard another gunshot fire. “That’s it!” She jumped out of her seat holding her hooves high. And utterly confusing everypony in the process.

The last shell barely skimmed the bottom and couldn’t do much more damage than what was already done. To Dash’s surprise, the ringing in her ears was beginning to subside...which must have meant the Trottingham stopped firing.

She looked over to her left at the ship out the window. Its guns were starting to retract into their resting position. Not aiming at them at all.

“They’re out of ammo!” Bright Skies exclaimed, then a serious smile crossed her face. “Dash, spin us around. Do whatever’s necessary to get both turrets pointed at the Trottingham.”

“You got it!” Dash replied with an equal level of enthusiasm. She finally realised that Bright Skies had been playing one step ahead of the Trottingham all along. She deliberately put them in a position for the Trottingham to lay into them. It meant the Trottingham depleted its ammo. And by holding back from firing all of the Canterlot’s guns, they had plenty of ammo to spare. The fact the Canterlot held together must have just been sheer luck. Or strategic positioning of putting their most armoured sections in the line of fire.

“Fire control, this is the bridge. When you get both turrets in range, fire everything you got!” Bright Skies happily exclaimed.

Since the starboard propellers were still working fine, spinning the Canterlot didn’t take much effort. Dash adjusted the pitch and altitude to the best of her ability to give the turrets their best possible angle. Tornado had left Dash to it more or less and had gone to stand by the window. Dash smirked as he had obviously gone to take the best seat in the house to watch the fireworks.

The Trottingham had also spun around to face its rear turret towards the Canterlot. While it fired back, it was nothing compared to the barrage the Canterlot unleashed with its second forward turret and what was left in the magazine of the rear turret. The back of the Trottingham lit up like a Hearths Warming tree.

It didn’t take long for the entire back of the Trottingham to be covered by smoke. The Canterlot just seemed to be firing blindly into the smoke hoping to hit something. Which considering that they were pretty much shooting point blank at this distance, was an easy shot to guess.

Not having much else to do but sit and watch, Dash put her hooves on her ears to at last give them some relief from all the constant bangs and booms of the gunshots and explosions they’d been exposed to. She swore she could feel her eardrums beating against her hooves.

Not a moment too soon, a wave of the signature multi-coloured unicorn magic slowly made its way through the bridge to repair all the damage from the fake battle. Glass was put back perfectly as it was, metal was bent back into shape, and wooden panels were magically put back together.

“Trottingham suffered severe boiler explosion. Canterlot wins!” The chief unicorn announced.

The cheers Dash overheard were almost as painful on her ears as the gunshots she’d just been hearing. But everypony had the right to be happy. They were the pioneers in this type of thing, and they’d won the inaugural test! But there was one pony they owed it all to…

Dash took flight out of her seat and flew towards Bright Skies, her hooves screeching to a stop on the floor just before she landed on Bright. “Bright, you did it!” Dash exclaimed, placing her hoof around her shoulders. “That was...INCREDIBLE!” She pulled Bright Skies into a hug and squeezed her tightly. She wasn’t usually this huggy, but Bright deserved it. As much as she wouldn’t have admitted it, there was no way Dash could’ve pulled that off herself.

Bright returned Dash’s embrace, but only for a few seconds before Dash felt her forelegs to limp to her side. Dash slowly let Bright fall back into her seat. Bright had a goofy smile plastered all over her face and seemed to be in a world of her own. It was as if she had fainted.

Dash chuckled, “You’re better at this leadership stuff than you think you are. If you showed that much confidence all the time, you’d no doubt be a Wonderbolt.”

“Yeah...yeah...haha...that’s...a good problem…” Bright mumbled incoherently and continued chuckling to herself hysterically. Dash left her alone to slump in the chair and relax. What she accomplished was probably overwhelming even her.

Dash saw Swift Sprint walking over to them. He merely kept his gaze locked on Bright Skies as he approached. But when he got there, he simply raised an eyebrow at the goofy smile combined with the absolute exhaustion on Bright Skies’ face.

“Now that’s what I like to see!”

Dash spun around to talk to Tornado instead, somepony she was hoping she impressed. And by the sounds of it, she did.

“I can see why they consider you guys Wonderbolt material; you did amazingly well for a bunch of ponies that had never done this before.”

“Heheh, I’m a natural flyer at anything I guess,” Dash replied with a shrug and a smile.

A loud bell sounded twice throughout the ship, causing the commotion that was everypony celebrating to gradually die down.

Swift Sprint stepped forward and picked up the radio microphone, adjusting a few settings before he began speaking. “All hooves, this is Admiral Swift Sprint. First, let me say congratulations to the crew of the Canterlot. A true and worthy victory winning two out of the three battles.” He looked down at Bright Skies sitting on his chair to the side of him and smiled. “And also from the least likely of Captains, let’s get a round of applause for young Bright Skies.”

The bridge erupted with the sounds of hooves clapping together once again. Bright Skies could feel it through the seat of her chair as well. The ponies that were listening on the lower decks were cheering her on too. She felt stiff as a twig, she had had enough of being the centre of attention for today. But she smiled awkwardly and waved at everypony on the Bridge. Thankfully the flight suit she wore did an excellent job of hiding her blush.

“But really, a congratulations is in order from everypony,” Swift Sprint continued. “Let me extend my thanks to our many unicorn friends from various forces we’ve had to accommodate to make this work. It’s been very tight and snug around the quarters, but thankfully not for too long. And I also want to thank both crews for performing admirably and treating this exercise as if it were the real deal. And I’m sure I’m not the only pony on board who actually thought it was the real deal a few times.”

His comments stirred a few chuckles from the ponies on the Bridge.

“And lastly, I would like to thank Captain Spitfire, the Wonderbolts, and the Wonderbolt trainees for taking part. They’ve proven the point that with a little guidance and pointing in the right direction, they were immediately able to get to work and almost function as if they had been through the same training programs you’ve all been through. This will provide valuable evidence to support the theory that this type of combat training far outweighs anything else we can currently offer. Now, trainees, Captain Spitfire would like to address you all. Please gather on the deck of the Canterlot so she can begin. You’ve been a great company, and I wish you the best of luck for the remainder of your training.”

The radio clicked off, and Swift dropped it on its holster. “Helm set course for Canterlot.”

“Aye, Admiral!” Tornado replied.

Dash looked over at Tornado, who immediately looked back at her. “Don’t worry, I’ll take it from here. You deserve the rest. Besides, I’m actually getting paid for this. You aren’t,” he replied with a wink.

Dash chuckled in response, “Thanks.” She replied to him as she headed towards the stairs alongside Bright Skies.

“How was the helm?” Bright Skies asked as they descended the metallic stairs that made a slight dinging noise to them every time their hooves tapped on one of the steps.

“Stressful,” Dash replied, “You’ve gotta think about what you wanna do and also know how to do it. It doesn’t come as natural as flying with these wings does.” She flicked her wings a little for emphasis. “If Tornado weren’t there, I would’ve been lost.”

“I don’t think they would’ve put you at the helm of thousands of tons of metal without supervision,” Bright stated the obvious.

“Says you!” Dash replied, raising an eyebrow. “You totally killed it as Captain. Where did that Bright Skies come from? She would be a Wonderbolt without a doubt.”

“Oh ya know; fear, stress, anxiety, adrenaline…my brain goes a bit haywire when you throw all that together.” She replied, chuckling awkwardly and playing with her mane.

“Fear? You didn’t seem scared at all. Maybe a little anxious and hesitant, but anypony would be if they were suddenly told to take command of a battleship.” Dash deduced as they walked onto the deck.

“I was terrified!” Bright Skies exclaimed. “I could barely think straight!”

“Right, because you totally sounded like a frightened little filly when you shouted orders out,” Dash replied sarcastically, winking back at her.

“That’s just what happens when I’m put in situations like that. I don’t enjoy being in them. Seriously, my teeth hurt from grinding so much. And when Swift Sprint was questioning me about being Captain, he was so intimidating. I would’ve wet myself if I hadn’t gone before we started.”

Dash snorted, “You’re overreacting. You’re a natural. Just keep putting yourself in those positions, and it’ll feel more natural over time.”

Pegasi began to gather on the bridge, some had their uniforms more soiled than others. Dash presumed that it would’ve been from working within the depths of the machinery inside the ship. But what made her laugh was the state that Dahlia came out in. She was covered in soot from head to hoof.

“Have a good time?” Dash asked sarcastically.

“Tough,” Dahlia replied unamused. “They had me working in the engine room. I felt like I was inside the sun.”

“It’s a good look for you,” Bright Skies replied sarcastically.

Dahlia looked at her, raising an eyebrow. “Guess you’re the fashion trend expert here now you’ve got a new accessory.” She joked.

“Oh yeah,” Bright Skies took the cap off and held it in her hooves, “He didn’t say anything about it. I guess I’ll give it back to him before we leave.”

“Of course. I’ve got something I need to talk to him about too,” Bright Skies added.

“I think we all do,” the voice of White Comet added.

Dash turned in the direction of the voice behind her to see Comet, who had just found them in the crowd.

“What gun did you go to in the end?” Bright asked.

“The middle one, behind this one,” Comet replied, motioning with his hoof to what he meant.

“You did some pretty good shooting. I wasn’t counting the number of hits, but I’m sure you were on par with the other turrets.”

Comet shrugged, “It’s just simple maths and physics. I just got shown how the equipment works and the rest I figured out myself.” He explained.

Dash chuckled as Comet seemed to have a much less stressful time than everypony else did. Although she was sure it didn’t go that smoothly considering how much damage they took at various points. She was going to ask what Dahlia wanted to talk to Swift Sprint about, but she was ninety-nine percent sure that she wanted to ask him about Torque.

Just as she was thinking about it, she heard the muffled buzzing of a microphone coming to life over the speakers. She turned her head in the direction of the noise and saw Spitfire standing on the bow of the ship, with the rest of the Wonderbolts just behind her. She flew at a high enough level so everypony standing on the deck could see her.

“I just want to start by saying well done. I’m sure you’re all exhausted, and there’s not much else for me to say that the Admiral hasn’t already said, so I’ll make this quick. We’re heading back to Canterlot now. We will be meeting to discuss the results of this exercise and to make our picks to see who goes forward from here on. Which we will be telling you when you make it back to HQ. So take some rest while we’re in transit. Feel free to explore the ships a little more, but try not to get in the way of the crew. That’s all for now, well done everypony.”

With that, Spitfire flew back down to return the radio and everypony resumed their conversations. Dash turned to look at Bright Skies and Dahlia, but Dahlia had already started making her way towards the bridge of the Canterlot. Dash didn’t say anything but just followed. Comet and Bright Skies followed suit.

The trio knew precisely where she was heading. They had nothing to say. And they couldn’t deny that they were also curious if Torque’s Dad knew anything about what happened to Torque. This kind of exercise would have been right up his street since he seemed to have all manners of knowledge about mechanics and engineering. Plus it sounded like he actually served in the REAF at some point.

Dahlia trotted gently up the stairs until she got right to the bridge. She stepped through the open door and looked around. Immediately spotting Swift Sprint sitting in the captain's chair. She trotted up to him but slowed her pace as she neared.

Swift Sprint noticed her approaching and turned to look at her. “Can I help you?” He asked, rather pleasantly.

Dahlia sighed and looked away, glancing over her shoulders to see Dash, Comet and Bright behind her. But she had put herself in the position to do the talking, so it looked like it was up to her to do it. “I just wanted to ask about...Torque...your son…”

Swift Sprint smiled, “I haven’t seen him yet, I presumed that he was on the Trottingham. Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, but...he wasn’t on the Trottingham. In fact, he wasn’t here at all...he quit yesterday.”

Swift raised an eyebrow, “That’s disappointing, but that sounds like his choice. What are you after from me?” His voice was very stoic. He sounded compliant, but he didn’t seem thrilled about the questions Dahlia was implying.

Dahlia gulped, not sure how she should word it. “Well, he talked a little to me before he left, and... what he really wants to do is what you do. He wants to be in the REAF. But he said you were putting a lot of pressure on him, with some very high expectations. Which is why I think he left…” she trailed off, trying to think about what she was saying. Despite wanting answers, she hadn’t really thought this through this far ahead.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re being way too harsh on him and need to give him some sort of indication that you, the pony he idolises, are proud of him.” She rambled, very fast and very loud...maybe a little too loud. She got a few glances from other ponies on the bridge.

An eerie silence fell between them for a few seconds before Swift inhaled sharply and bought himself to his hooves. “Outside,” he motioned with his hoof, starting to walk towards the doorway.

“What?” Dahlia asked, confused.

“Do you want your answer or not?” He asked sharply, not ceasing in his path.

Dahlia didn’t dare question him again and followed suit. The five of them all crept through the doorway, with Swift closing it behind him and holding it closed.

“You have some nerve questioning my parenting techniques considering I’m old enough to be your father young mare.” Swift began in a stern tone.

Dahlia was taken back by his tone. She didn’t mean to make him angry. Had she touched on a sore subject? “Well--” Dahlia tried to speak but was cut off.

“So let me make this clear to you; I am proud of him, and always will be regardless of what he chooses to do. But I’ll be damned if I raise a son of mine into an underestimating, apathetic, naive, narcissistic, entitled brat.”

The four of them all felt a funny feeling of deja vu as they were sure some of those words were what Torque used to describe Riptide when he finally did crack. Sounds like the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

“I act the way I do so it doesn’t soften him up. He’s tough, and always will be. He doesn’t give up. He can solve problems on his own. He understands the value of things. He knows how hard you need to work to achieve your goals, something I’m sure you’re all too familiar with.” He tapped one of the medals on his jacket. “You think one of these just appears every time Daddy rustles my mane and says ‘I’m so proud of you son’?” He said in a mocking tone. “The moment you get too complacent is the moment when you start losing. And I won’t allow that to happen.”

Dahlia opened her mouth to speak, but she couldn’t find the words to come out of her mouth. While she didn’t particularly agree with it...everything he was saying was right. And the damage was already done anyway, anything she did to argue it would be pointless. She guessed she just wanted to know the truth and knew where she could get a good answer.

“Anyway, that’s my rant over. Now, there’s some advice I want to give to the four of you, something very important to keep in mind for the rest of your Wonderbolt careers.”

Dash, Comet, Dahlia and Bright’s ears all perked up at the same time as he spoke.

“Don’t EVER question your CO in public. If you’ve got something to say to them that you disagree on, speak to them in private. Your job is to execute the orders of your superior officer to maximum efficiency. When you start questioning them, it makes everypony else in earshot start to think as well. And all of a sudden, the unit stops functioning as it should.”

At the end of his sentence, he opened the door to the bridge again. “Always keep that in mind...because if you don’t, then one day it may cost you your lives.” He spoke his final words before turning to walk away.

“Um, sir!” Bright stopped him before he walked away. He turned sharply and looked at her. Bright simply took his hat off her head and presented it to him.

Swift looked at the cap being presented to him. He took his hoof around it but didn’t take it from Bright’s grasp. He just held it in his hoof for a few seconds then pushed it back towards her. “Keep it.”

“What?” Bright Skies questioned.

“You exceeded the expectations I would have even of actual REAF airponies young Bright Skies. You could be destined for great things. Let that be a reminder to you.” He said nothing more and walked through the doorway.

The four of them stood in silence for a few moments. “Well...I guess you got your answer…” Comet said.

“Yeah...I guess I did…” Dahlia agreed softly, turning away from the bridge and heading back down the stairs. “I don’t really know what I was looking for…but that’s the answer I guess…”

Dash followed the pair of them back down the stairs. Her thoughts were distracted as she heard some very silent giggles from behind her. She glanced over her shoulders quickly to see Bright behind her smiling from end to end of her face and clutching the cap tightly into her chest as they walked down. Swift’s comments had apparently left her feeling very giddy. But the boost to her confidence from a gesture like that would last for a while.

Like Dahlia, she found it nice to know some more background info about Torque’s situation. But it didn’t really do anything to help Torque. But who knows, maybe Dahlia’s words got through to him, and they will see him again someday...maybe…


Dash landed perfectly in line with the formation on the runway, beginning to pound her hooves on the tarmac as they converted from flying in formation to marching in formation. A trick that was quite difficult to get right the first time, but plenty of practising meant everypony pretty much had it nailed at this point.

They marched all the way up the runway to the main HQ building. “Squad...HALT!” Spitfire ordered as they reached the end, making everypony come to an abrupt stop.

“At ease,” Spitfire added, breaking formation and motioning to the rest of the Wonderbolts. They all gathered in front of the formation, collating some papers together and handing them to Spitfire.

This must be it. This must be where they decide who’s made it through and who hasn’t. Dash did her best to hold her nerve. She was nervous but excited. Very nervoucited, as Pinkie Pie would put it.

“Okay,” Spitfire turned around to address everypony in the formation, shaking the papers in her hooves to line them up squarely with each other. “If I call your name, I want you to head inside.” She instructed.

But to Dash’s dismay, and probably everypony elses, she didn’t give any further instructions than that. She just started calling names, and they obliged. But she didn’t provide any context. If they were going inside, did that mean they passed? Or was it just to get them out the way so they can pack their things and head home? Whatever it meant, Dash was soon to find out.

“Riptide!” Spitfire called his name.

Dash looked over when she heard the hoofsteps of Riptide walking towards the building. Did he pass? Or was he out? She hadn’t actually seen him throughout the whole exercise with the airships, so she had no idea how to measure how he performed.

As the last name was called, everypony waited patiently while they made their way into the building. The door was shut behind them as they entered.

Spitfire landed atop the steps up to the building, giving her a little bit of a pedestal to stand on. She looked around at all the ponies left, slowly shifting her glare before beginning to speak. “As for the rest of you...unfortunately it’s not good news…”

Dash felt like she’d just taken a dagger through the heart as those words rolled off her tongue. All of this...for nothing? She did her best to stop her legs wobbling. She felt her bottom lip quiver. She wanted to cry. She felt like crying. But every ounce of her told her to stay strong in the face of--

“Instead it’s great news!”

…What?

“Congratulations. You and the fifteen other pegasi you see standing on the runway with you now have passed.”

Just the words Dash had been wanting to hear. But she still couldn’t believe Spitfire had led them on like that! She felt her heart race at the news. She wanted to dart around the sky in all directions, but she knew her body wouldn’t thank her for that after being so exhausted.

She heard everypony else let out relieved sighs and chuckles from the news. She looked around, seeing Bright Skies laying down on her back on the runway in disbelief. Dash ran towards her, seeing how happy she looked. “Bright, you did it! Can you believe it!?”

“We all did it!” Dahlia added, joining them for a three-way group hug.

“Whew…”

Dash looked over at Comet, who looked like somepony had just told him he’d won ten trillion bits.

“I...I thought I’d do well, but I never expected to make it this far…” He commented.

“Wait,” Dahlia interrupted the celebrations, “If we’re all here, then that means that Riptide…”

“...Wasn’t good enough.” Bright Skies finished her sentence for her.

“That’s…I mean…” Dahlia shrugged, “it just seemed like Torque had got through to him and he started taking it seriously...too little too late I guess…”

“That’s a harsh lesson,” Comet added.

“Should we go and find him?” Bright Skies asked. “I bet he’s devastated.”

“We’ll find him later, for now, let's just celebrate that we passed!” Dash jumped into the air, punching it with her forehooves.

Everypony on the runway celebrated between themselves for several moments. They celebrated as if they achieved the impossible. There was now only one more stage separating them from their dream. Dash was confident that there would be sore heads tomorrow morning.

“Are we done?” Spitfire deliberately bellowed to try and overpower the celebrations. The celebrations slowly died down, and everypony turned their attention back to her. “Good. Because while you’re free to go for a couple of weeks, I’ve still got things to do. So please be off site by six PM.” She turned to head back into the HQ, but with a sneaky smile on her face. “And enjoy your rest. It’s well deserved.”

Dash and her roommates made their way back into the HQ building. All the while chatting about their plans for their few weeks off before the final. Dash was sure she would meet some of them before then, but she had a certain pony she needed to pay a visit to first.

As they entered the room, they were expecting to see Riptide, but...no Riptide was in there.

“He didn’t leave already did he?” Comet asked.

“Without saying goodbye?” Dahlia responded. “I doubt it.”

But as she walked around his bed, her suspicions were all but confirmed. None of his things was there. It was as if he was never there…

“...Wow…” Bright Skies cut through the semi-speechlessness of everypony. “I didn’t expect him to just take off. It must have really hurt him.”
“Yeah, the room feels...kinda empty without him…” Dahlia replied, peeling her flightsuit off.

“As annoying as he was…pffft…” Dash covered her mouth with her hoof to hold in her laughter at what she saw on Dahlia.

“What’s so funny?” Dahlia asked, finishing taking her flightsuit off and picking up on Dash’s laughter.

“Have you looked in the mirror?” Dash answered back.

Dahlia raised an eyebrow as she heard some more snickers from Comet and Bright Skies. She walked over to the bathroom and took a look in the mirror. She could only smile and chuckle at what everypony else was laughing at. The bits on her face where her flightsuit started and ended had left her with what looked like tan lines, but with soot instead.

“Okay, that’s pretty funny.” Dahlia agreed with their sense of humour.

“I’ve got a few myself, mostly because when we were moving forward fast, the smoke from the cannons blasted the platform I was standing on,” Comet added, appearing behind Dahlia and marking his own lines on his face.

“You got off light. That’s just a dusting,” Dahlia replied, turning the tap on and filling the sink with water.

“Lighter than you yeah. But my fur is white, so it stands out more.” Comet deducted. “Your purple makes it a bit easier for you to hide it.”

“Oh the horror,” Dahlia replied sarcastically, lowered her head over the sink to wash her face.

“Leave the water in there when you’re done. I want to do the same.” Comet requested.

Dash packed her things as quickly as she could. While it may have been part of the adrenaline from officially making it to the final stage, she couldn’t deny the fact that she was excited to see Soarin. They’ve hardly been able to spend any time together. And with the final coming up, it was likely that they would be seeing even less of each other on a personal level.

With her packing done, she threw her saddle bags over her back and quietly waited for everypony else to finish packing. It didn’t take them much longer than her though, and they all headed for the door.

They trotted down the corridor and headed to reception, where the exit awaited them. “These past few weeks have been great guys. I’m sure we’ll bump into each other sometime before that anyways.” Dash said to send them off, waving at her friends.

“Well we’re going the same way anyway, we can fly till we part ways?” Dahlia asked.

“Nah, I uh...gotta...go to the bathroom,” Dash quickly made an excuse in her head. “You go on ahead. If I catch you, then I will.”

“Fair enough,” Dahlia replied, shrugging. “Let’s have a group hug now then. Come on, one more time,” she said, extending her forelegs wide so everypony could get in.

“Oh fine, one more,” Dash replied sarcastically as she moved in with the rest of them. The four of them formed a tight circle in each other's embrace.

“Regardless of what happens, you guys have been great friends. And I want that to remain afterwards.” Bright Skies explained.

“Of course we will,” Dahlia replied, “I could never forget you guys, after all, we’ve been through.”

“And I wasn’t even in it to win it, yet here I am,” Comet added.

They held the hug for a few seconds before they released their embraces. “Hit me up if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, Dash!” Dahia advised.

“Sure, will do,” Dash acknowledged, turning around. “See ya soon guys!” With that, she started walking off, back into the HQ.

It appeared as if her alibi worked. Nopony doubted her claim. However, she knew where she was going, and she was excited to get there.

She hadn’t been up here in a while, but she still knew the way to Soarin’s quarters very vividly. She approached his door and knocked on it. She couldn’t get the smile off her face.

The door opened and there standing in the doorway was the very pony she was waiting to see. Every ounce of her just wanted to leap forward and hug him tight. But she kept her cool as he motioned with her hoof for her to come in.

Dash nodded and walked through the door, hearing Soarin close the door behind her. That was all she needed to slide her saddle bags off and leap towards him.

“Dash--mmph--” Soarin didn’t even have a chance to get some words out before his lips were met with Dash’s. The force of Dash colliding with him backed him up against a wall. But not that he was complaining. It had been far too long, and he was more than happy to be here with her again.

The passionate kiss lasted for only a few seconds, but it already had a significant impact. “Wow…” Soarin chuckled, finally able to start talking. “Now that’s a great way to say hi. I was about to say you must be tired, but you’ve obviously got some energy left.”

“Not much,” Dash said with a smile, “But it’s all for you.”

“Well, let's not waste it then,” Soarin replied, taking Dash under his wing and gently pulling her over to a sofa in his room. He set himself down first in the corner and let Dash lean in next to him. “How have you been? You made it through.”

“I know, I almost can’t believe it!” Dash replied, still excited every time she thought about it.

“Haha...yeah never doubted ya,” Soarin replied, running his hooves through her mane.

Dash kept trying to think of things she wanted to say to him...but to be honest, she was completely happy just laying there, with him, in his embrace. It was quiet, but she found it soothing…

...But she also found it a little too quiet. Soarin was usually a lot more chatty than this. “So...what’s up?” She asked.

“Hm?” Soarin looked down at her. “Sorry, I was a little spaced out there…”

Dash raised an eyebrow, “What’s wrong Soarin? You seem a little...distracted.”

“Oh, pfft,” Soarin batted his hoof, “I was just thinking about the finals. I bet you probably are too.”

“What about them?” Dash questioned.

“Well...to be honest, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and...well, I’m struggling to find a way to back you up should I need to.”

“Well if I’m so good you hopefully won’t need to right?” Dash replied, winking.

“Yeah, but…” Soarin shimmied up the sofa, sitting upright but continuing to hold Dash in a hug with his wing. “What if it comes down to the wire? What if it ends up being the deciding factor?”

“Well…” Dash thought about it for a moment before responding. “I understand that you’ve got a job to do. And I won’t hold it against you.” She didn’t like thinking this far ahead in the future, especially for something as serious as this because it just distracted her with the possibility of not getting the result she wanted. This was the first time she had really thought about it the way Soarin was putting it.

“You say that, but…” Soarin sighed and glanced away, “Let me put it this way Dashie...and be honest here.” He held his head back up and looked at her. “Assuming things don’t work out, would you really look at me the same way? Would you ever greet me again in the way you did a moment ago? Would you get so excited and giddy about coming to see me? Would you still enjoy my company knowing that I was the pony that got in-between you and the Wonderbolts?”

Dash opened her mouth to speak...but no words came out. What she wanted to say and what she had to say didn’t match up. And it only caused her words to get jammed in her throat.

Soarin sighed, and his ears flopped down. “That pause says it all really…” he rested his head on his forehooves.

“Soarin…” Dash ears flopped down, and she glanced away. But then her ears came back up, and she glared a piercing glare at him. “That was very rude.”

Soarin’s ears perked up hearing her change of tone. “What?”

“Are you assuming I’m only sucking up to you to increase my chances of selection? That’s not what this is about at all. I love you. And I mean it. And if you think otherwise...then honestly, I’d be offended.” Dash blurted it all out.

Soarin remained silent for a few moments. He wasn’t expecting an outburst like that at all. But if anything, it helped convince him that he was getting worked up over nothing.

He smiled and chuckled gently, twisting around to Rainbow Dash. “You’re right. I’m sorry Dashie, I guess I was just overthinking. It’s been a busy few weeks for me like you.” He wrapped his forelegs around her shoulders and pulled her forward into a hug.

A relieved smile crossed Dash’s face as she rested her chin on his shoulder. “It’s okay, I understand.” She replied, returning his embrace. “I’m sure you want to think about something else for a little while.”

Soarin smiled. “Well, funny you mention that…” He pulled back to look at her face to face. “Me and a few other ‘Bolts are having a little get together next Friday. Nothing serious, just dinner and drinks. If you wanna come then feel free…”

Dash’s jaw hung ajar. “Did...you just invite me to hang out with you guys?”

“Well, like I said, it’s just casual. So I thought you might like to come along. Ya know, get to know some of the others on a more informal level.” Soarin explained.

“Who else will be there?” Dash asked. “Spitfire?”

Soarin shook his head, “No, Spitfire can’t come. But Blaze is coming…” he chuckled nervously, “It was actually her idea to invite you…” He rubbed the back of his head as he admitted that.

“Wait, what?” Dash jumped backwards, “She knows about us!?”

“Well...kinda.” Soarin admitted, “In fact, I probably would’ve never worked up the confidence to you if it weren’t for her. I kinda owe her everything...”

“Really?” Dash replied, “I guess I owe her big time too. But geez, I didn’t think anypony else knew,” Dash rubbed the sides of her head, feeling the temperature start to rise in her cheeks. “Does anypony else know apart from Blaze?”

Soarin shook his head, “No, just them. Or at least if anypony else does know, they aren't letting on. But I don’t think it’ll remain a secret if you come.” He analysed.

“Well...does it need to be a secret?” Dash asked. “Generally of course, but from the rest of the Wonderbolts?”

Soarin shrugged, “Blaze doesn’t seem to mind. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m sure we’ll get questions, and I probably won’t hear the end of it, but…” he started chuckling, “I’m sure they’ll all like you.”

“Well, when you put it like that…” Dash rubbed her chin, “Of course I’d love to come. But seriously, I don’t want you to end up doing something that you’ll regret.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Soarin replied, winking. “I know it sounds cheesy, but...you complete me, Dashie. I’m bored without you. Sure, it’ll be fun if I just went out with the ‘Bolts, but honestly, I’ll take any reason to spend more time with you.”

“Bleugh,” Dash made a fake vomiting motion, but then smiled. “Okay, I guess that’s pretty sweet of you to say…” She admitted, feeling herself blush even more from a combination of what he said and what she was thinking about. “But Friday’s still ages away. In the meantime, Spitfire told us we didn’t have to clear out till six PM…” she said, running a hoof through his mane.

Soarin returned the gesture, understanding what she was implying. “That’s more than enough time to make up for lost time... “ he lowered his hoof down from her mane and bought her forward, bringing her into another long passionate kiss...

Author's Note:

Whew, that was way longer than I anticipated it to be!

I've been looking forward to writing this scene for a while, so I took my time with it to try and get it just right. It sounds like Dash and her roommates got a very exciting experience, something they weren't expecting at all. But Bright Skies overcame her fears and took to commanding a battle-airship like a fish in water. An experience that will last a lifetime.

Poor Riptide, he left without even saying goodbye. 2 friends being knocked out so close together can be a real kick in the ass to remind you that whilst you're all friends, it's a competition and there can only be one winner at the end of the day...

Sounds like Dash has been invited to meet some of the Wonderbolts with Soarin. It's extremely unlikely that they will be able to keep their relationship a secret from them if they go. Will Soarin regret that? Well, I suppose you'll have to read on to find out won't you :raritywink:

Fun fact: this chapter and the previous one were originally gonna be the same chapter. But I wanted to get something out before Christmas, so I cut it off. I'm glad I did, otherwise this would've turned into a 30,000 word behemoth of a chapter :rainbowderp:

And we've officially hit 200k words in this story! My god I wasn't expecting this to go on for so long. I wasn't even expecting half that :rainbowlaugh: Big thanks to you who have stuck with me and kept reading. I can now say we're somewhere around the 60%-75% completion mark, so hopefully not too much longer.

Thanks for reading! :twilightsmile: