• Published 28th Jul 2015
  • 1,856 Views, 65 Comments

Firefly: The Long Job - psychicscubadiver



It seemed like a simple series of jobs. Some of them weren't even thefts. Sure the client wanted secrecy, but the payoff was more than worth it. Too bad nothing is ever as easy as it looks in this 'Verse

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Chapter Four: The Village People

Editor: Silentcarto
Proofreader: Coandco
Story Image by: Silentcarto

Disclaimer: I don’t own Firefly or My Little Pony; that is Joss Whedon and Hasbro, respectively. This is a fanfiction that portrays MLP characters in a ‘Verse very clearly based on Firefly. Shake well and enjoy.


Twilight tumbled through empty air, but not as far as she would have expected. She had a single moment to glimpse a metal floor before it rushed up and knocked the breath out of her. The blow against her horn extinguished her illumination spell, plunging her into total darkness. She continued tumbling, this time at an angle. Her world became a rolling fall, punctuated with bursts of pain. Finally, she landed on something flat and soft.

“Ugggghhhhhhh…” she groaned, trying to stand up. Unfortunately, her head still spun and ached, and the most she accomplished was not throwing up. Although, given how she felt, that was no mean feat.

A harsh voice gave a pair of quick barks. Whatever they meant, the tone of voice didn’t spell anything good.

Panic gripped Twilight and she tried to channel a spell for light, or a shield, or something! But her mind and body were the tiniest bit disconnected at the moment, and the only thing her frantic attempt at magic produced was a feeble shower of harmless sparks. Something massive and strong gripped her around the barrel, while its twin closed around her throat like a vice.

“Hurk,” she choked out, beating her hooves futilely against the thing choking the life out of her.

The harsh voice barked another string of unfamiliar syllables. The pressure eased, allowing her to draw in a desperate gasp of air. The grip around her throat was still there, but at least it was loose enough that she wasn’t choking anymore. The harsh voice continued speaking, its growls taking on a berating tone.

A deep voice from somewhere close behind Twilight rumbled out an apologetic whine. She could feel its breath on the back of her neck, and the sensation sent shivers down her spine. Twilight considered screaming just for the pure catharsis of it, regardless of what the voices would do to her. She opened her mouth and began to draw in the necessary air for a truly prodigious scream.

“Don’t,” the harsh voice commanded in accented but understandable Equish. “Scream or use magic, and Cliff will break your neck.”

The deep voice, presumably Cliff, rumbled another set of growling syllables and Twilight quickly decided not to test the patience of her captors. At least her head was finally starting to clear from her trip down the chute. It was likely she had a mild concussion, though this was not the ideal time or place for self-diagnosis. “What do you want with me?” she asked, unable to keep a fearful tone out of her question.

“You’ll see,” the harsh voice promised. It was interrupted by the sound of tumbling down the chute, and Twilight’s hopes rose. Had the others followed her down?

The yips and barks coming from the chute dashed those hopes. “Wedges 'round the hatchway! Just like Alpha Duke say! Stu-pid po-nies can't come down!” two voices said in sing-song harmony.

The harsh voice – Duke, she supposed – snarled at them in the barking language. A pair of sulky growls came from the new pair, but they quickly fell silent. Twilight didn’t speak any languages besides Equish, but she thought it was a reasonable assumption that her captors were using some dialect of Canine, the Diamond Dogs’ ancestral tongue.

Duke barked another command, and Twilight felt herself lifted fully from the ground. The paw beneath her barrel effortlessly supported her and while the other paw still gripped her throat.

She peered forward, trying to see where they were going, but she couldn’t detect the faintest speck of light in these tunnels. Her eyes had plenty of time to adjust while Cliff carried her, but everything remained utterly black. That was more than a little disconcerting, but Cliff didn’t blunder into any walls. By the sound of it, neither did any of the other Dogs.

“Where are you taking me?” Twilight asked. She didn’t expect a useful answer, but anything was better than the near silence of the pitch black tunnels.

Duke growled again. “Pony doesn’t get to ask questions. I do. What’s your name?”

Twilight felt a spike of annoyance through the fear. Her head and horn still ached, but at least her mind was starting to clear. “I’m Star Glimmer.”

“Liar! Liar! Coal vein fire!” the sing-song voices chanted again. One voice chuckled, while the other continued. “We heard hat-pony say ‘Starlight’.”

Twilight blinked at that and reviewed the conversation within her mind. “No, she said ‘Star, light’. I was in charge of lighting the path and there was an implied comma in her statement. It was a request for more illumination, not my name.”

Duke snorted. “Nice try, but Dogs aren’t stupid. Can’t trick us like that.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, briefly regretting that her captors couldn’t see it. “You caught me, My real name is Starlight Glimmer. No fooling you.”

“And don’t you forget it!” Duke said.

Cliff snorted, and let out a rumbling series of growls that ruffled Twilight’s mane. Duke moved closer and snapped a series of barks in reply. There was a loud sound of impact, and Twilight felt a tiny tremor run through the Dog carrying her. Cliff let out a series of whines that sounded more sullen than pained. Duke huffed at that and padded off, seemingly satisfied.

Twilight wished she knew what they were saying. Duke was obviously in charge of the group, but that was the second time he had seemed to berate Cliff despite Cliff being large and strong enough to support most of her weight with one paw.

Was there a legitimate disagreement there that she could use to her advantage, or was Duke just insecure about his control of the group? If only they didn’t have a language barrier. Cliff was the only one that hadn’t spoken a word of Equish thus far.

“Do you understand me?” she asked quietly. The soft pad of the Dogs’ paws was the only sound for several moments. Twilight sighed; she should’ve known better. “Just my luck,” she muttered.

“Shush, pony,” Cliff mumbled, his accent even thicker than Duke’s. “Talk later.”

Twilight opened her mouth to reply, but stopped. Her mind whirred with possibilities. Was his second sentence an indication that they would speak further, or just meant to reinforce that she needed to be quiet now? She puzzled over it as they traveled.

The Dogs turned left and right at various intervals, even turning completely around at one point, after some energetic snuffling from the Dogs. Soon Twilight lost all sense of direction. Descending further was the only constant. It was sometimes hard to tell whether the stairs covered one level or two, since no flight seemed to be the same length as any other. Eventually, finally, there was a dim sort of light end of the tunnel.

Duke growled when he saw the light and barked at the faint outlines of Dogs holding spears at the entrance. Those outlines snapped to attention, wincing at his verbal abuse as the group approached. Twilight glanced around, getting to see her captors for the first time in the faint light. Duke was an iron gray Dog, about the size of a big stallion but thicker in the chest and arms. His lean face looked mean and one of his ears was ragged and scarred. The two unidentified voices were a small pair of Dogs that looked enough alike to be twins, or at least sisters, with sandy-colored fur. They were watching her at the same time, their expressions curiously intent. Twilight couldn’t get a good look at Cliff without twisting around in a way which he might mistake for an escape attempt. She could at least glance down to see that his fur was reddish-brown, and his back paws were gigantic.

Duke finished his diatribe and the Guard Dogs leapt to work, tacking a large pair of heavy curtains over the tunnel entry. Duke gave a satisfied sniff, and continued on. The ambient light increased the further they moved down the twisty corridor beyond the guard post. Then they rounded the final bend and Twilight got her first look at the Dog village.

Her first impression was of extreme minimalism, with little more than a few benches, a podium of some kind, and a public fountain fed by an underground stream. Then she noticed the doors and windows built into the walls of the cavern. What she was looking at was the communal area, while homes and businesses were tucked out of sight. Though the face of each home was bare stone, they differentiated themselves with the size and shape of their windows and the material of their doors, everything from stone slabs to rough curtains to polished hardwood. The ambient light came from a thick growth of some kind which coated the ceiling far overhead. Twilight itched to examine a sample under a microscope – she couldn’t even tell whether she was looking at a moss, a fungus, or perhaps some kind of lichen. It shed a soft light, but after nearly an hour in pure darkness it was almost too bright to look at.

There were only two or three Dogs in the village commons, but the group’s arrival sent up a cry from one of them, and a pack of newcomers rushed out of the surrounding bolt holes to greet them. Duke barked again and again in a commanding tone, but it didn’t do much to stem the tide. Old and young, tall and small, Dogs of every shape and size came to peer and poke at Twilight.

Barks, growls and other sounds that Twilight couldn’t understand flew back and forth past her. There were several dozen Dogs, and the noise they made was something to behold. So was the smell. It wasn’t that they stank; in fact, the whole village had a clean, faintly dusty scent to it. The pressed mass of Dogs, though, had a certain musk to them that was a bit overwhelming.

Then, past the natural smell of the Dogs, a different reek reached her nose. An unpleasant smell that brought back memories of rare but urgent surgeries from her time in the hospital. She scanned the crowd, hoping that she was mistaken, but she spotted one individual distant from other Dogs and zeroed in on him. He was favoring his left leg with small winces of pain, and other Dogs avoided him with scrunched noses and expressions of disgust. The crusty bandages wrapped around his left leg weren’t even necessary for the diagnosis.

“Cliff,” she said quietly, taking the risk of turning part-way around. The paw on her neck tightened, but only slightly. “Set me down, please.”

Cliff had a huge face with a thick jaw, heavy jowls, and low brow. His small eyes glittered as they stared at her, and his face turned into a deep scowl.

“Please,” Twilight repeated. “I’m a doctor and that Dog needs my help.”

“Doctor?” Cliff said, his low brow raising a tiny amount. “Can heal?”

“Yes,” Twilight replied. “He has a necrotizing fasciitis infection, and if I can smell it from here then the disease is very advanced. I need to act quickly, or he’ll lose the leg, and then his life.”

Cliff stared at her again, longer this time. He glanced aside, taking in Duke and the small group of older Dogs that he appeared to be arguing with. Cliff’s ears flattened back, and he closed his eyes. “Fine,” he said, releasing his hold on Twilight’s neck and setting her down.

Several Dogs barked in alarm at that action, and few scurried back. Twilight didn’t care, she needed to examine the wound to be sure, then prepare for surgical debridement and drainage. The conditions were appalling compared to the well-stocked, thoroughly-sterilized operating rooms she had once worked in. Even Tranquility’s small but well-appointed infirmary would have been infinitely preferable. The only positive was that she doubted the Dogs had experienced much in the way of modern magical medicine, so the pathogens should be susceptible to her antibiotic spells.

The horn lit with power and she drew the patient towards her encased her gentle but inescapable aura. He yelped in fear, and the noise from the other Dogs redoubled. “Don’t worry,” she said, giving him her best reassuring smile. “I’m a doctor, and I just want to help you.” Hopefully, he understood Equish, or at least her tone. “I’ll need to examine your leg wound, is that okay?”

There was a half-second’s pause from the Dog, but after a glance to Cliff, he gave a quick nod.

“What are you doing?!” Duke demanded, drawing a small, wicked-looking pick out of his pack. Several other rough looking Dogs copied his action, but they didn’t look quite so sure of themselves.

“I’m saving this Dog’s life,” she replied, barely even sparing Duke a glance. A feeling of calmness spread through her. She had been through Tartarus these past two months, but now she was back in her element. She was the doctor, and there was someone who needed her help. “I’m going to need a place to work. Get three of the largest pots you have and boil water.” The groundwater was probably pure this far down, but there was no sense taking chances. “Then clean a room with a low table using cloths boiled in the water, and pay special attention to the table. I’ll examine the patient in the meantime.”

Some of the younger Dogs looked hesitant at that, but Duke growled and advanced on her. He slowed as a looming shadow fell over her. She glanced up and back at Cliff. He gave a rumbling growl and laid a paw on her shoulders, which was worryingly close to her neck again, but she tried not to think about that. He spoke low and unhurried, but there was resolute tone to his words.

Duke barked several words back and advanced another step. Cliff took another step forward, removing his paw from her shoulder and baring his teeth in silent threat. A quiet growl came from the group of older Dogs that had been arguing with Duke. He turned and snarled at their involvement, but he sounded less sure of himself than he had before.

One of the Dogs, a small wizened female, snorted disdainfully. She stepped forward and addressed the watching crowd. A shiver of excitement ran through them at her words, and even without knowing the language, Twilight could feel the opinion turning away from Duke. Duke snapped out a sullen growl and made a consenting gesture. He put his pick away and moved to leave, but not before aiming a venomous glare at Twilight and Cliff.

The Dog elder barked a few soft commands and the crowd dispersed, but Twilight was pleased to see some of them setting about the tasks that Twilight had ordered.

Twilight breathed a silent sigh of relief, and refocused on her patient. He whined as she pulled off part of his bandages. She stopped, but he shook his head and made a ‘go on’ gesture, gritting his teeth against the pain. She briefly debated whether to use a local anesthetic or simply anesthetize him. A light paw landed on her shoulder, surprising her. She turned to find the old Dog there.

“I realize that you are probably keen to help Tin, but it will be a few minutes before the room you requested is ready. I would use that time to speak with you,” the wizened Dog said in perfect Equish, a shrewd expression on her face. The fur was long, well groomed, and a silver-white color that could have been either natural or due to age.

Twilight glanced at Tin’s still partially wrapped leg, but gently set him down for now, careful to keep weight off of his injured leg. Further examination could wait; a few minutes wouldn’t change whether or not she could save his leg, even if every second felt precious in a case this serious. “Certainly,” she replied. “Should I assume this has to do with the scene that occurred just now?”

The old Dog chuckled. “One good thing about ponies; they never fail to notice the obvious.”

Twilight’s ears flattened slightly at that, but she schooled herself in a more professional demeanor. “And what would that mean, Ma’am?”

“Call me Elder Lass,” Elder Lass replied. “It means that we have much to discuss about you, your medicals skills, this village, and your friends still combing our mines.”

Twilight frowned. “Why?”

“Because plain rock can hide bright gems,” Elder Lass said, then noticed Twilight’s confused expression and sighed. “Because things are never as simple as they appear.”

“Then would you mind explaining them to me?” Twilight said. Or do you prefer to just be cryptic, she thought sourly. Not she would have vocalized it, even if Cliff hadn’t still been looming nearby.

Elder Lass nodded. “This is Underhill, as the nearby ponies call it, the oldest Diamond Dog community on this world. For generations Dogs have lived, mined, and died in these tunnels. Until the seams of jewels and ores finally began to play out. We smelled the warning signs, the diminishing returns year after year, the way we had to dig deeper and deeper to find new gems, but we ignored them. As the mines played out, many Dogs left, including our doctor. The few who remain are the stubborn, the dedicated, or those without the means to leave.”

Twilight frowned in thought; things were starting to fit together. The sudden raid from the previously peaceful Dogs was because they were getting desperate. “And Duke decided that stealing from that town was the best solution.”

Elder Lass nodded. “Duke has been our Alpha since–” she stopped, glancing at Cliff. “Well, he has recently become the Alpha, and he has very strong ideas about how to save the village. We have tried counsel him against aggression, but he is … difficult to convince.”

Twilight wondered about her hesitation and side-long glance. What else was there to this story? How did Duke become Alpha, and how was Cliff connected to it? She opened her mouth to ask, but a glare from Elder Lass said that she had guessed what was on Twilight’s mind. A small shake of her head convinced Twilight not to pry further. For now at least.

“I know I have no right to ask this of you, but please do not attempt to escape. Not only are the mines dangerous to those unused to them, but you are the Alpha’s prisoner by our laws. If you run, he would be within his rights to hunt you down. After being forced to back down earlier, I fear he would show you no mercy when he and his guards found you.”

“And my friends?”

Elder Lass hesitated. “He also wishes to capture them or drive them off. I and some of the other Elders hope to dissuade him. Capturing and robbing ponies will only invite retaliation. We raise some mushrooms in the darkness and catch some fish in the underground waters, but without trade we will starve. The mines that defend us from direct assault would become our tomb. We will convince him to release you and ask that you convince your friends to turn back. I can only ask for your patience until then.”

Captain Dash wouldn’t leave without the gem one way or another, Twilight was certain of that. But maybe by doing as Elder Lass asked, she could bargain a price for the jewel and this could all be resolved peacefully. Besides, she had no intention of leaving at least until Tin’s infection could be treated. And she should examine the rest of the village too, while she had the chance. They had been without medical care for so long, who knew what could be plaguing them?

“I’ll wait for you to convince Duke,” Twilight said. “Until then, please have another room prepared, and find anyone with complaints or symptoms. I’d like to put my time here to good use.”

Elder Lass nodded. “Thank you. I imagine you’ll have a fair crowd. We have been without a doctor for quite some time, and folk remedies can only do so much. I’ll start the preparations on another room. Cliff will accompany you, and within reason, see to all your requests.”

Twilight couldn’t help but wonder if he was also there to keep an eye on her, despite her promise to stay. She couldn’t complain too much. She still had questions, and from his earlier promise to ‘talk later’ she hoped he would be willing to share.

But before that, she had a patient in need of her undivided attention. She took a deep, calming breath and turned to Tin again. “Is it okay if I pick you up and continue examining your wound? I don’t want you to put any weight on your leg while I look at it.” He winced, but nodded assent.

This time he didn’t fight her aura as it lifted him, and didn’t make a sound of distress. Still, he looked nervous and whined in mild pain as she began removing the crusty bandages again. She gave him a reassuring smile and spoke in a soothing tone. “It’s okay. You’re going to be all right.” I just hope the same is true of me.

………

Fluttershy hummed to herself, matching the soft whirr of the engine behind her. She was watching the world through Mr. Hooty’s eyes at the moment, though sometimes the little crystal screen went fuzzy or didn’t want to work like it should, but that was okay. She’d coax it back to doing its job.

That was one of the nice things about machines. They always did their jobs as best they could. Sometimes they couldn’t do them so well, sometime they needed a little bit of help, but they always tried their hardest, never shirking or slacking.

Sometimes she liked to pretend that was why she liked machines better than ponies. It was better than the truth.

Fluttershy pressed a series of buttons on her control panel and Mr. Hooty pretended to preen himself, just like a real owl. She couldn’t help but get excited at Dash’s promise. She always spent her pay on parts and tools, but an extra forty bits would help with some of the things she had been saving for. A new charge crystal for the ‘bots would be amazing.

But to earn that, she needed to be attentive. Nopony would slip by while Fluttershy was on duty!

To her credit, she noticed the moment Cardinal Song opened the back window and made a run for it. There just wasn’t much she could do about it. Cardinal was flying for everything he was worth, making a dash for the forest behind his house. His small pack might have been weighing him down, but he was still across the lawn and gone into the trees by the time Fluttershy could react.

She frantically pressed a few more buttons, getting Mr. Hooty powered up for flight mode. She had powered him down so that his charge would last longer, but now Cardinal Song was out of sight before she even made a chance to follow him.

Her breathing sped up, and her vision narrowed to a tunnel-like focus. She felt a panic attack coming on, and for a moment it seemed like the perfect time to panic. Instead, she slowed her breathing, fighting the feelings that threatened to overwhelm her.

“Soarin, get to the engine room and hurry!” she called into the comm.

Okay, so maybe she was still a little panicked.

Soarin burst into the engine room, quick as you’d like. “What’s wrong?” He was worried about her, she could see it in his face. She fought down the last bits of panic, and forced herself to give a reassuring smile. She had to be a brave girl for now.

“Cardinal Song bolted. I didn’t expect it, and didn’t have Mr. Hooty powered up, so I couldn’t chase him right away.” A small ‘ding’ came from the control panel, and Fluttershy flopped back into her seat, pressing a button that set Mr. Hooty’s wings to flapping. She steered him with a small control stick, glancing back at Soarin. “What do we do?”

Soarin stared at the screen, and his expression said that he wanted to curse, but couldn’t find a word strong enough. Instead, he groaned. “Of course he did. Because another thing going wrong on this job is exactly what we needed.” He paused, considering something. “We need to search the forest. I’m no good in the field, and neither are you. And if Rarity has explored any piece of greenery that ain’t landscaped, I’ll eat my shirt. I just wish we could contact the Captain. Skulking around dark woods and searching for fugitives are right up her and Gilda’s alley.”

Fluttershy blinked. “And Applejack?”

Soarin smiled. “My wife is great at everything, except for her taste in comics and movies. Shoot. I guess we just patrol the woods with Mr. Hooty for now. Maybe Cardinal Song hasn’t realized that’s how we were watching him.”

Fluttershy shook her head just the tiniest bit. “It won’t work. There’s too much forest and only one Mr. Hooty.”

“Ugh,” Soarin groaned, covering his face with one hoof. “Great, it’s like the worst game of hide-and-seek ever.”

“Did somepony say hide-and-seek?!” a voice from the comm exclaimed.

Fluttershy squeaked and flinched at the sudden cry, accidentally jerking the control stick and sending Mr. Hooty into a plummeting dive. The wildly spinning view on the screen grabbed her attention back, and she had to yank hard on the stick to save him from a crash in the treetops. “Pinkie?” she asked, raising her voice and glancing nervously at the ceiling.

Smiling too big, laughing at nothing, her eyes glazed over and pink hair bouncing wildly

She shuddered once, then steeled herself. Mr. Hooty needed her to keep a steady hoof on the controls.

“I wasn’t spying!” Pinkie said over the comm. “It technically isn’t spying if you’re just listening!”

“Why were you listening?” Soarin asked, eyeing the comm.

“Because her humming is pretty; it soothes the savage breast. Although, I honestly can’t imagine one of those being savage, but that’s how the saying goes.” Fluttershy almost asked ‘what saying?’ but she stopped herself. “So anyway, about that hide-and-seek game…”

“What?” Soarin said. “No, I was being facetious.”

“Gesundheit,” Pinkie replied.

“We’re not playing a game,” Fluttershy said. “We’re just looking for someone who doesn’t want to be found, which, I guess is kind of like hide-and-seek, but not really?”

There was silence on the other end of the comm.

“Pinkie?” Soarin said, and Fluttershy had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

In some distant corner of the ship, a metal hatch clanged open with sudden and terrible force. The sound of laughter rose to a crescendo then fell, fading with distance.

“Oh, sweet Harmony,” Soarin murmured his eyes wide. “She’s loose upon the world. I’m going to find Zecora and see if we can track Pinkie down. You and Rarity seal the ship and use Mr. Hooty to help us.” He sighed. “I just hope our spelunking friends are having better luck than we are.” He ducked out, already yelling for Zecora.

Fluttershy turned back to her screen, adjusting Mr. Hooty’s flight pattern. Her expression was intent as she searched the forest through the eyes of her owl.

It was better than thinking about how she’d screwed up again.