• Published 17th Feb 2016
  • 26,141 Views, 474 Comments

Tantabus, Mk. II - Rambling Writer



An attempt by Luna to update the Tantabus to spread good dreams has a few unexpected results. Self-aware ones.

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Glitch Isolated

Lyra was shopping at the Ponyville marketplace, and it was a positively absolutely perfectly normal day in each and every single possible way a day could be positively absolutely perfectly normal.

No, really, it was.

Seriously.

Twilight looked around, up, down, everywhere she could think. There were no aliens in the sky, nothing was threatening to flood Ponyville, no monsters were attacking, the sky was blue, the grass was green, the grass was growing, the birds were flying, the sun was shining, every sound sounded right, all the colors looked right, everything was right-side-up… There seemed to be nothing out of place. Everything was normal. And this was a dream, so that wasn’t normal.

She looked again. Nothing continued to be out of place.

She closed her eyes, opened them, looked again.

Nothing continued to be out of place.

She closed her eyes tightly, rubbed them vigorously, hit her head a few times, opened them, looked again.

Ponyville obstinately persisted in its mundanity.

“Not every dream needs to be dreamlike, or even slightly unusual,” said Luna, noticing Twilight’s behavior. “Improbable as it may seem, dreams can, on occasion, be perfectly ordinary.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the point of dreams?” asked Twilight. This was kind of disappointing. She’d been hoping for… she wasn’t sure what, but something more.

“Dreams do not necessarily have a point. They are flighty things, going wherever their whims take them.” Luna looked around and frowned. “I will admit, though, that whatever whim would take a dream here is a rather odd whim.”

The Tantabus fell out of a hole in the sky and picked itself up. “So,” it said, “what kind of…” It started looking around and its jaw dropped. “…of… of… of…”

“Yeah,” said Twilight. “Not very exciting.”

The Tantabus blinked a few times and hung its head in its hooves. “It’s so…” it whispered, “…plain. So dull. So simplistic. So… inane.”

“Oh, hush,” said Luna. “You’re going to change it anyway. Stop whining.”

“I know,” sighed the Tantabus, “it’s just… look at it.” It shuddered. “Anyway…” It looked at Lyra (who was in the middle of buying some oranges) for a few seconds, then grinned a little. “This should be interesting.” It blurred, briefly covering the whole area, then reformed.

Everything looked exactly the same.

Twilight looked around, then at the Tantabus. “You want this to be a surprise, don’t you?”

The Tantabus nodded. “I’m working on my transitions.”

“Thanks, Cherry Berry!” said Lyra. “I’ve been waiting to get these oranges for ages.” She turned away from the from the stall and put a hoof on the cobblestones.

The road caved in beneath her, revealing a black hole beneath. It expanded rapidly, quickly swallowing everything in sight as Lyra fell, shrieking. Everything gradually got darker and darker, quieter and quieter. Eventually, Lyra’s scream vanished and she faded into the darkness.

Then the music came in.

Unlike the previous ones, this particular dream had a soundtrack, with a main melody played by a guitar that managed to be ominous and swinging at the same time and backed by a large orchestra. It started up even before the environment had fully formed: Dun duhduhdun-dun, dun dun dun dun duhduhdun-dun, dun dun dun dun-dun… dun-dun-dun

In time with the beat, lights started coming on. They illuminated a colossal missile silo, filled with all the catwalks and control panels and beeping lights you could imagine. Technicians were milling around the place, checking clipboards or wires or vents, frequently flanked by guards. The silo doors were closed and very, very far up; they must have been deep inside a mountain. Everything in the silo was cradling a giant missile, proudly emblazoned with the symbol of Equestria. And strapped to the side of the missile, right below the warhead, was Lyra.

Twilight cocked her head. “This… is a good dream?”

“It will be,” said the Tantabus.

Twilight stared at Lyra for a few moments, then said to Luna, “You know, the ponies we’ve run into tonight have some very weird tastes in happy dreams.”

“Quite.”

The three of them were standing on a catwalk near the peak of the missile. Lyra was only a few feet above them, cuffed to the missile by riveted strips of metal across her hooves. Not ten feet away from them was a panel that had, among all the other things, a Big Red Button, glowing and everything.

An Earth pony mare, tall and thin and drawn, stood near them. She was dressed in a purpley uniform that was almost like the dress uniform of the Royal Guard, but looked to be a bit more elaborate, with some extra filigree and more medals than were strictly necessary. She looked over everything with a contemptuous, authoritative eye, and carried with her an air of superiority; anypony simply walking into the room would she was the leader. She pressed the Big Red Button; above her, the silo doors slowly groaned open.

“So, Onatrott,” said Lyra in a remarkably blasé voice, “remind me again how attaching me to this missile is going to help you devastate Griffonstone.”

The mare, Onatrott, laughed lightly. Her voice was surprisingly alluring. “It von’t, actually. Ze missile vill launch vith or vithout you. Vith you is just a bonus.” She pressed a button next to the Big Red one, and a calm voice echoed through the silo. “Missile launch in T-minus two minutes. Please exit the silo.

Luna shuffled on her hooves and looked up. “Technically,” she muttered, “I have seen enough. I know where this is liable to go, so we ought to simply finish up and leave. But…”

“…you still want to see what actually happens because your interest’s been piqued?” said the Tantabus happily.

“…Yes,” said Luna, almost guiltily. “Which I suppose is a good mark on you as a storyteller.”

The Tantabus pumped its hoof in the air. “Yesssssss. You won’t regret it. This one’s good.”

Lyra strained against her bonds, but they were too strong, and an inhibitor ring had been placed on her horn to prevent her from using magic. “You’re making a mistake, you know. A big mistake. Now that you have me, she’ll come after you all the more. And nothing’s going to stop her.” Lyra smirked. “You might’ve actually won if you’d let me go.”

Onatrott sighed. “No. I’m sorry to say zat your friend von’t be comink to rescue you anytime zoon. She’s suffering a bit from burnout at ze moment.” She sneered. “No vun is comink to save you. No vun.

“You know, you should never say things like that when you’re a megalomaniacal supervillain. It’s just asking for trouble.”

Right on cue, a vent exploded above them, the grating flying out and banging loudly on the catwalks all the way down. Steam spewed everywhere; everypony not strapped to a missile turned away, shielding their eyes. Under that cover, the figure of a mare leapt out from the vent. At the same time, the music picked up, turning triumphant and brassy. DAH-DUN! Dun. DAH-DUN! Dun. DAH-DUN! Dah DAH-DUN!

The smoke soon cleared, and everypony turned to look at the vent, but they only saw a grappling hook wedged in there, a cable leading down. They followed the cable down, and there, not three feet above the floor, hanging from the hook strapped to one of her forelegs, was-

Luna blinked. “Sweetie Drops?”

Twilight cocked her head. “Sweetie Drops? Her name’s Bon Bon.”

Luna blinked again and coughed. “Oh, um, she simply, um, looked like somepony I knew, who, um, worked for me once. But I, ah, I was mistaken. They look similar, but they’re, they’re not the same. I don’t know her. Nope.” She shook her head.

Twilight shot a long glance at Luna, then turned back to the events unfolding in front of them.

Missile launch in T-minus one minute, thirty seconds. Please exit the silo.

You!” yelled Onatrott, horrified.

“Hey there,” said Bon Bon, flashing a grin. “Thought I’d drop in.” She flicked her hoof; the flick traveled up the cable, dislodging her grapple and depositing herself neatly on the catwalk.

Boooooooo,” said Lyra. “That one’s obvious. Why don’t you add ‘hanging around’ in there, too?”

“How in ze vorld did you escape?” screamed Ontatrott, slowly backing away.

Bon Bon winked. “Sorry. Trade secret.” She began whirling the grappling hook threateningly. “Now, I’ll give you one-”

“Guards! Guards! KEELLLL HEEER!

“-aaaand you’ve wasted it already,” sighed Bon Bon. “Of course.” She released the grappling hook, sending it flying at Onatrott. At the last moment, Onatrott ducked — and right behind her in the hook’s path was Lyra. Bon Bon yanked back at exactly the right moment; the hook stopped dead right at just place to smack into the inhibitor around Lyra’s horn and shatter it without harming her.

Bon Bon turned towards Onatrott, but before she could make a move, the guards Onatrott had summoned finally arrived and attempted to dogpile her as Onatrott hopped in place on the sidelines, egging them on. Meanwhile, Lyra began undoing the rivets with her magic. The music became low, fast-paced, tense.

Missile launch in T-minus one minute. Please exit the silo.

“I never really asked,” said Twilight as she watched the fight. “How do you know what to change dreams to? You said something about feeling it, but that wasn’t really clear.”

The Tantabus frowned and scratched its head. “I get… sensations of what they like and don’t like. Feelings. Just a kind of… general likes and dislikes list, I guess. Like, this pony, she liked that pony, and for some reason there were really strong feelings of super-spying or something attached to her-” (Twilight never noticed Luna suddenly staring very hard in the opposite direction.) “-so I just stuck them together, and voilà: spy thriller, starring the two of them.”

“And she’s okay with being the damsel in distress?” asked Twilight as she ducked a guard Bon Bon had just dropkicked.

“Oh, sure,” said the Tantabus, waving a hoof. “I mean, look at her. All it took was for her to get her magic back and she started freeing herself.” Indeed, Lyra’s back hooves had already been freed and she was well on her way to way to releasing another one. “There’s the damsel who tries to escape her predicament, and then there’s the damsel who just screams and lets herself get captured. She’s being the former, and they’re a lot less annoying.”

“Was that something you knew from your feelings of her, or did you just guess?”

“Half and half, to be honest,” shrugged the Tantabus. “I noticed some things, put two and two together, and hoped for the best. It seems to be turning out alright.”

Twilight turned to Luna. “Out of curiosity, do your powers work the same way? Where you feel what ponies do or don’t want?”

“In essence, yes,” said Luna. “It is a touch more complex than that, but the generalities are similar. And while I don’t agree entirely with the Tantabus’s assumptions, it is not a bad idea for Lyra to play the part of damsel in distress for a dream like this, being an average pony in a situation where average ponies tend not to last long.”

Lyra’s final restraint dropped away and she fell to the floor, panting.

“Although at this point, ‘damsel out of distress’ might be more appropriate.”

Lyra rolled her hooves, trying to get circulation going again. After a moment, she lunged at Onatrott, who was still engrossed in Bon Bon’s fight (which seemed to be going in Bon Bon’s favor, but Onatrott made no attempt to help her guards). Lyra hit Onatrott in the side with all of her might, and-

-dropped to the floor, Onatrott completely unmoved. “Ow,” Lyra muttered as she got back up, rubbing her nose. “You were supposed t-”

Onatrott struck Lyra hard across the face; she staggered back and fell back down onto her back. Before she could roll over, Onatrott had planted a hoof on her chest, keeping her from rising, and was glaring daggers at her. Onatrott began pushing down, squeezing the breath out of Lyra. “You,” she hissed, “haff been a torn in my side zince-”

Bon Bon, having just won her brawl, dropkicked her in the face. Onatrott flew across the catwalk and slammed into the missile next to the main control panel, hitting her head particularly hard. In the moment she was stunned, Bon Bon sprinted over, grabbed her head between her hooves, and smashed her head into the Big Red Button.

Far, far above them, the silo doors began grinding shut, blocking out the sun.

The sliding sound of metal-on-metal was enough to shake Onatrott alert. “No,” she mumbled. She blinked the confusion away. “No!” She threw Bon Bon away and dove for the Big Red Button.

With her magic, Lyra grabbed one of the beams that had held her to the missile and threw it at Onatrott. It hit her in the foreleg and smashed them both into the missile before she could hit the Button. A little more magic, and the beam was bonded with the missile.

Onatrott was trapped.

“NOOOOO!” she shrieked. She reached out for the control panel, trying to at least hit the Big Red Button one last time and let the missile launch, but it was in vain; the controls were yards away, well out of reach. The music blared a final, triumphant blast, and then went silent.

Bon Bon picked herself up, looked at Onatrott and grinned. “Nice one.”

“Thanks,” gasped Lyra. “Can we disarm the missile?”

Missile launch in T-minus thirty seconds. Please exit the silo.

“Not enough time,” said Bon Bon, already hooking her grappling hook over the edge of the catwalk. “Gotta just run. Climb on.”

Lyra wrapped her forelegs around Bon Bon’s neck, and the two of them jumped over the edge. Bon Bon let the line play out as fast as she dared, rappelling them down the silo. Whenever they risked hitting something, Bon Bon would just kick out and push it away. Twilight’s group followed them without ever actually moving, simply being on lower and lower catwalks as Bon Bon and Lyra passed them. They reached the bottom floor soon enough. Lyra dropped to the ground, and with a flick of her hoof, Bon Bon recalled the grappling hook.

“So,” Lyra asked, still panting a little, “how did you escape? I always knew you would b-”

“Less talking,” said Bon Bon, “more getting away from the missile that’s going to explode in here! Move!” She pulled Lyra down one final walkway towards a door out of the silo.

But before they were halfway, the door suddenly slammed shut. “Missile launch in T-minus fifteen seconds. The silo has been sealed.

“Crap,” muttered Lyra.

Bon Bon kept pulling. “Oh, don’t you worry, I got this. We just need to keep moving.”

By the time they reached the door, low rumblings were coming from the missile. “T-minus ten seconds.

“You sure you got this?” asked Lyra.

Nine.

“Positive,” said Bon Bon. She leaned in to the control panel next to the door and quickly wiggled it away. When she saw what lay beyond the panel, she blinked and gulped. “…Okay, wow, that is a lot of wires.” She reached into the gap and began fiddling with them.

Eight.” The rumblings were louder, slowly growing and overpowering weaker sounds.

Twilight leaned in next to the Tantabus and stage-whispered, “Did she really just do all that in one second?”

“Apparently.”

Seven.

Sweat began dripping from Bon Bon’s brow. “C’mon, c’mon,” she muttered.

Six.

“What’s taking so long?” yelled Lyra.

Five.” They could barely hear her; the rumblings had grown to roars.

“There’s a lot of wires in here! Shut up, I’m working!” snapped Bon Bon.

Four.

“I think this might be the longest minute in the history of minutes,” said Twilight.

“Maybe, yeah.”

Three.

Bon Bon snorted and stepped away from the wires. “Frak this,” she muttered, and drove a hoof straight through the delicately-arranged array of wires. Things broke, sparks flew, and most importantly, the door opened, revealing a long, straight hallway behind.

Two.” The rocket engines were glowing.

“And now we run,” said Bon Bon. And run they did, pelting down the hallway as fast as their hooves could carry them.

One.

The hallway was empty; all staff had nowhere to be that was around here. Plenty of halls branched off the sides, but Lyra and Bon Bon just kept heading straight. The other end of the hallway, a rectangular patch of light in the distance, seemed miles away. But they kept running, galloping towards that white speck like their lives depended on it.

Mostly because they did.

Zero. Ignition.

BOOM.

The roar from the firing rockets was indescribably loud, eliminating all other noise in favor of itself, and that was before the walls caught it and bounced it back on itself, doubling and redoubling it over and over and over. Behind them, massive balls of fire flew from the rockets, the heat washing down the hallway like water down a funnel. The flaming exhaust built up on itself and began filling the silo. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem; everything inside the silo had been sufficiently heat-proofed against this.

Ordinarily, one of the containment doors wasn’t open.

As Bon Bon and Lyra ran like they’d never before, the fire from the silo escaped the only place it could: the hallway right behind. It was faster than them, but they had a good head start on it, and the exit to the hallway was much closer than it had been.

“When we jump,” panted Bon Bon, “grab on to me.”

“Jump?” asked Lyra. “What do y-”

They exited the hallway into an underground harbor, a plethora of patrol boats moored inside it. On the opposite side of the harbor was a large opening, leading out to open ocean. A catwalk on Lyra and Bon Bon’s level, several stories above water level, ran around the three remaining walls, and lights hung from girders embedded in the roof of the cavern. There were guards around, but none of them had noticed the two yet.

Twilight whistled softly. “Wow. You really went all out on this.”

“It’s what I do,” said the Tantabus. Its voice was humble, but Twilight could tell it was barely concealing a smirk.

“Do you ever get tired?” asked Luna. “I know that I can sometimes feel strained when repeatedly changing dreams. This is a rather complicated one, so if anything would stretch the limits of your abilities, it would be this.”

“I suppose I feel a little achy,” said the Tantabus, rolling its shoulders, “but not too bad. Besides, making ponies happy is more important. Now, quiet, I want to see where this goes.”

“JUMP!” Bon Bon yelled, and jumped. Lyra remembered to jump, too, and wrapped her forelegs around Bon Bon’s neck again. With a quick twirl, Bon Bon threw her grappling hook forward and up; it caught on a girder, and their plummet turned into a swing.

Briefly. Not a second after they’d dropped below the catwalk, the fireball blasted out of the hallway behind them, shooting all the way across the harbor and scorching the opposite wall. The line of the grappling hook was in the way, and was quickly disintegrated under the intense heat.

But though it’d only served them for a few seconds, it’d done enough. They’d swung a little, some of their vertical momentum converted to horizontal, and were heading straight towards a boat that was conveniently heading out for some kind of patrol duty.

They landed on the roof, still moving fast. Bon Bon turned it into a skid, sliding down the windshield and using her momentum to kick the front guardspony out of his turret. Lyra just kind of flopped down, face-planted, and counted herself lucky to not have any broken bones.

Bon Bon began wrestling with another guard. “Get to the wheel and punch it!”

“Um…” Lyra looked at her somewhat small hooves, then at the big stallion manning the controls. He, on the other hand, took one look at Bon Bon dropkicking his comrade across the deck, and simply left the boat. He climbed onto the railing, saluted Lyra, and did a magnificent swan dive into the water. Some ponies just know when to fold ‘em.

“Okay, cool,” Lyra muttered to herself. She climbed behind the controls. Fortunately, they weren’t complex, and the throttle was even conveniently marked. She pushed it all the way forwards, and the boat jumped like a tack had been stuck in its behind.

The jolt shook Bon Bon and the pony she was wrestling with. Bon Bon wrapped her forelegs around the railing, but the other pony couldn’t get a grip and tumbled off the boat. By now, the guards on land had managed to recover from their initial shock and were firing on the boat. Spray kicked up around them as magic missiles and enchanted crossbow bolts impacted the water around them, hitting them only rarely.

“Don’t try to dodge them,” Bon Bon yelled above the wind. “Just keep heading straight! We want to be as far away from here when the missile explodes!”

“Speaking of which,” Twilight said to the Tantabus, “it probably should’ve actually detonated now. Missiles don’t take that long to launch.”

“Yeah.” The Tantabus nodded. “But then they’d be dead, and she’d be awake, and we wouldn’t be here, and that’s no fun.”

The boat broke free of the harbor and was out in the sun. They were on an island, dominated in its center by a volcano (of course). There wasn’t much in the way of security; Lyra’s and Bon Bon’s boat skipped over the waves of open ocean without meeting any sort of resistance. Twilight, Luna, and the Tantabus stayed level with it by simply standing on the water.

Lyra was still panting (although it was a bit less than before) as she carefully angled the boat to avoid the choppiest course. She looked behind them at the rapidly receding island. “Well? Are we good?”

The volcano exploded.

There were small fireballs at the peak of the mountain (probably where the silo doors were) and the underground harbor, but they were soon dwarfed by the way the volcano simply shattered, blown apart from the inside out. The entire thing was consumed in an immense conflagration, shooting high into the sky and turning the day orange. Large chunks of mountain soared through the air, and when they landed in the water, they kicked up splashes the size of cities. A shockwave, visible by the waves it kicked up across the water, blasted out at near the speed of sound. And then there was the sound, an unearthly slam so loud, so impactful, so deep, that Twilight could only imagine some angry god smiting some poor mortal.

But Lyra and Bon Bon were safe. The shockwave rattled their boat a bit, and they hacked a lot on the dust it carried, but they were far enough away to avoid any other damage. Even the largest waves thrown up by the rocks weren’t much more than ripples by the time they reached the boat.

Bon Bon smiled, sighed, and dropped to the ground. “Yeah,” she said. “We’re good.”

The dream blurred, the sun jumped forward. When everything settled again, the sun was only half over the horizon, tinging the sky a rosy orange. Far in the distance, Twilight could see land of some kind, but she didn’t recognize it. She and the others were standing on the water, which was mirror-smooth, right next to the boat.

Lyra and Bon Bon were basking on the rear deck in the fading sunlight. It was small, just barely large enough for both of them to spread out, but the managed. The boat was on autopilot, its motor quietly puttering as it headed toward land.

“So, um,” Twilight said, “should we ask Lyra what her dream was like?”

Luna shook her head. “We don’t need to. I can tell she enjoyed it. We shouldn’t interrupt her.”

“She starred in her own action movie!” crowed the Tantabus. “Or co-starred, anyway. How could you not like that?”

“By not liking action movies?” said Twilight. “Or getting shot at and all that jazz?”

“Well, she likes it. And I think she’s happy.”

Lyra opened an eye and looked towards Bon Bon. “So how do you feel?”

“Hmm?”

Lyra rolled over, climbed to her feet, and stared over the railing at the sun. “You finally took down Onatrott for good. We took her down. What’s it feel like?”

Bon Bon joined her at the railing. “Well, satisfying. There’s one less psycho in the world now. But also a little empty, in a way. There wasn’t anypony like her. I’ll miss the thrill of the chase with her. And I have to admit, once you get past the whole ‘genocide the griffons’ thing, this plan wasn’t that bad. After all, she was blown away by it.” She grinned the stupid grin of somepony who knows they just made a stupid joke and doesn’t care in the slightest.

Lyra laughed. “Oh, you.” She moved a bit closer to Bon Bon. “So, now that you’ve rescued me -- again -- we need to find some way for me to repay you.”

“You don’t need to do that,” said Bon Bon, feigning innocence. “It’s just what I do.” But she moved a bit closer to Lyra.

“You can do what you do, but I can’t do what I do?” asked Lyra, faux-scandalized. “Come off it.” She lightly nudged Bon Bon, who fell over-dramatically to the ground.

Bon Bon looked up at Lyra, smiling. “I suppose that all depends. Is what you do to me as good as what I do to you?” She made no attempt to get up.

“There’s only one way to find out. Should we?”

“I think we should.”

“Then let’s.” Lyra rolled Bon Bon over and started deeply kissing her, moving down her body. Her face, her chest, her belly, her-

Oh. Oh. OH.

Twilight’s eyes widened and she turned her head to one side. “Okaaaay,” she whispered, mortified, putting up a hoof to block her eyes. “I think this is a happy dream for her and we’re done here.”

The Tantabus wasn’t happy about that. “But-”

Ithinkthisisahappydreamforherandwe’redonehere!

Luna seemed to agree, for the words had scarcely left Twilight’s mouth and they were gone.