• Published 27th Nov 2011
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The Dread Chitin - Karazor



Dimension travelling with Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash

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Chapter 6

Chapter Six

Rainbow Dash awoke some time later, feeling almost normal again. Yawning, she stretched her legs and wings, and wondered what time it was. The unvarying brightness of the electric lights everywhere in the base combined with the lack of windows made it almost impossible to tell time, and if there were clocks, Rainbow hadn't seen them yet.

Without thinking, she flapped her wings and hovered out of the nest of bedding she'd made for herself. She was halfway to the door before it registered in her mind. Hey, I'm flying again! She hovered in place for a moment, testing the stress on her wings, then did a little loop in midair from sheer joy and let out a girlish giggle. I'm still feeling heavier than I should, but at least I'm not ground-bound anymore! Flapping her wings pulled a bit on the sealed cut on her shoulder, but it was more uncomfortable than painful, and the cut didn't reopen, so she decided to just live with it.

Rainbow had feared, deep down, that she'd been permanently damaged and would never fly again. Having that fear proved false was like having a huge weight lifted off of her shoulders. Literally. Buoyant with glee, she donned the hat she'd left on the desk and stuck her head in the room next door to see if Twilight was awake yet. Unfortunately, that proved not to be the case, as she saw the snoring lavender lump on the bed. Oh well. She'd get a chance to share her good fortune with her friend later.


The next place she checked was the base entrance. She found the hallway to be far shorter when she could fly, instead of plodding along on the ground, and she threw in a couple of barrel rolls on the way just for variety. She knew it wasn't a particularly good idea, given the relatively enclosed space, but it was rare for something like "common sense" to get in Rainbow Dash's way.

The entry room proved disappointingly empty, so Duran wasn't back yet. Looking at the window (which she was beginning to suspect was less a window and more like the terminal things) she could see that the sun was well into the sky, suggesting she'd slept through most of the morning. Nothing moved out in the badlands, and Dash had a sudden impulse to go outside and just soar for a while, maybe see if she could spot where he'd gone. She was just about to key in the code to open the door when she remembered the human's words.

"Flying around here is death if you go too high," he'd said. "There's no time to evade. There's no warning. Just death from the sky, instant and violent"

Rainbow twitched back from the exit door. A chill ran down her spine, ruffling her fur and making her feathers fluff out. She'd been that close to going outside for a flight. If she hadn't remembered…

Come on, Rainbow, get your head together. This place is dangerous, you can't afford to not pay attention. Rainbow took a deep breath and let it back out slowly. Well, I did dodge that lightning bolt, if only barely. There was still plenty of this place to explore, so she decided that was how she'd spend the rest of the morning. Before she headed back out to the base, she checked the table in the corner of the entry room, just out of curiosity. It was easy to reach with her wings working, and hovering had the added benefit of avoiding the dried blood she'd dripped all over the room yesterday. Ha, wow, I sure did make a mess. The picture frame proved to be identical to the terminals she'd seen in the bedrooms, and a moment's examination revealed a panel in the desk. She flipped it over to reveal a keyboard, just like in Twilight's room, and also just like Twilight's room the glass obligingly lit up to show the same message she'd seen before. Huh. Interesting. Those things are all over the place in here; I saw one in the commander's office, I remember seeing a few off in the corners in the mess hall, both of the bunkrooms had one, and if all those bunkrooms are the same, that's hundreds of the things. She'd be interested to see if Twilight could do anything with the terminals once she woke up.

Rainbow went back to the hallway, which was well on its way to being comfortably familiar, and thus boring. She stood looking at the signs by the entry door, trying to decide which would be the most interesting. "Hangars?" She mumbled to herself, rubbing her chin with a hoof. "Nah, that's probably some kind of closet or something. Rarity's thing, not mine! But why would they mark it?" An interesting mystery. Interesting enough to investigate? "Ooo! Could that be where they keep those cool armored suits? Or maybe that's what the 'armory' is. He called it 'battle armor,' so maybe that's what they keep in the 'armory'? I'll bet it is!" Pleased with her reasoning and hoping to be able to find one that fit her, Rainbow set off in the direction of the "Armory." The "Hangars" were in the same direction anyway, so she figured she'd just check out whichever one she reached first.


As it happened, that turned out to be the armory. After passing a seemingly endless number of small offices and storage rooms (she'd peeked inside a few doors, but they were uniformly empty and boring. The emptiness was getting kind of creepy; she was beginning to wonder if she was going to find a huge pile of skeletons somewhere. At least that would be interesting!) Rainbow finally spotted the door marked "Main Armory." The door led to one of the huge, spacious rooms that came as a shock in an underground building. Instead of the suits she'd been hoping for, this one was filled with racks and racks and racks of the long, narrow stick things like what Duran had been carrying when she met him, with metal lockers standing next to each rack. They were present in this room in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes, and there were thousands of them. Awesome, she thought, I wondered what that thing did, now maybe I can find out! She decided to be fairly careful; the human had had something that was the source of that thundering noise and the tiny zipping things that had torn apart the bugs, and it was a pretty good bet that the stick might be related. She lifted one of the sticks off of its rack for examination, finding it to be made of some dense, hard metal and much heavier than it looked. She tried holding it in her forelegs the way she'd seen the human hold it, with the flared projection at the end tucked into her right shoulder, her right forehoof hooked around the grip and her left forehoof supporting the far end, with its projecting hollow tube. It wasn't terribly comfortable to hold, though she figured that might be because she was just too small to hold it properly. She did notice that holding it that way caused it to line up naturally with her eye, and that looking down the stick drew her attention to a post with a white dot down near the far end and a metal 'v' up near the closer end. Huh. Wonder what those are for. They look too precise to be accidental.

Laying the metal stick on the ground, she continued her inspection. The grip she'd noticed at the end of the flared extension was the next piece to draw her attention. It seemed designed for one of the long-fingered human hands to wrap comfortably around, (more or less impossible to do anything with if you had hooves) except for the curving metal spur surrounded by a ring jutting from the point where the grip met the body of the stick. She prodded it experimentally with a hoof, finding that the ring was solid and fixed, but the spur moved a bit under pressure, though it took a surprising amount of effort to push. The ring was just wide enough that she could get enough of her hoof inside it to push the spur back, and it made a startling, snapping click when it she pushed it all the way back. Oops. Did I just break it?

The spur retained its springiness, and made the same click when she pushed it back again, so Rainbow decided that must be what it was supposed to do. Weird. What purpose could that have? I must be missing something…

She couldn't think of anything else to do with the stick for the moment, so she ambled down the rows of racked sticks, looking at all the different kinds. The one she'd taken down was near the entrance, and was one of the smaller ones. Further back, the sticks got bigger and bigger, some of them intricately precise, some huge, wide, and simple-looking; hollow tubes nearly as big around as her torso. The ones at the very back were massive and heavy, she could barely budge them in their racks. As she looked, she tried thinking back to the stick Duran had carried; surely it didn't just make a clicking noise! What could she be missing…?

Inspiration struck. Those brass spike things! Rainbow remembered. He stuck a box of brass spikes on it before he left! Maybe those make it do something?

Winging her way quickly back to where she'd left the stick on the floor, she looked around for anything like the brass spikes she remembered. Opening a large locker next to the rack proved fruitful; she found boxes of familiar-looking brass things. Admittedly, these boxes (and the spikes they contained) were smaller than the one she'd seen, but the stick was smaller too. Fiddling a bit with the stick and the box, she found that it attached behind the hand-grip. She seated it in place and heard a click.

Pushing the metal spur again yielded the same disappointing, snapping click as before, though. Dang it, I'm still missing something. Frustrated, she looked over the stick again. Rainbow was about to give it up and go find something else to look at when she noticed a little knob set in a track on the side. She pulled on it, using more force than she expected to need, and was rewarded by a satisfying ratcheting sound as it slid back into place.

Alright, let's give this one more try, she thought, poking at the spur again.

*BLAM*

The blast was enormously loud up close, as sudden and shocking as a nearby lightning bolt. The stick lurched backward forcefully, hurting Dash's hoof as the ring surrounding the metal spur caught it. Almost simultaneous with the discharge was the noise of an impact banging off of one of the metal walls, several sticks falling off of their racks with a loud clatter, a hot brass cylinder flying out of the stick and bouncing off of her face, and something else hitting the pegasus high in the flank hard enough to draw blood. Dash leapt back, spinning, her ears back as she tried to identify what had hit her. She heard something metallic hit the ceiling and fall to the floor behind her as she looked around frantically for her attacker, her wings flared defensively and her heart hammering in her ears. There was a sharp smell in the air that she'd last smelled on the hilltop, after Duran had killed the bugs.

Ow, ow, ow! What the heck just happened? Rainbow rubbed at her face where the cylinder had hit her, grateful that it had missed her eye. There was nothing in the room that hadn't been there before, so what was it that had hit her flank? She checked her hoof, but found no major damage where the ring had scraped it.

Her heart slowed a bit from its frantic pace as she searched. There was a dent in the wall that hadn't been there before, and a distorted piece of shiny metal lying on the floor behind her. Walking up to the wall, she peered at the dent, then glanced back at where the various items had been knocked off their racks, and where she'd been standing. She noticed that the stick was still pointed almost directly at this part of the wall, and the motion vectors suddenly coalesced in her head. It shot something out that hit the wall here and fragmented; some of the pieces hit stuff on the racks with enough force to knock them off. The biggest piece hit me, but it was going a lot slower by then, so it bounced off. Now that she knew to look, her keen vision spotted several small metallic fragments on the ground, most of them pretty far away. A few others were actually embedded in the metal ceiling and floor near the impact dent. It was small, but it was moving fast, so fast I couldn't even see it! If I'd been directly in the way instead of being hit by a piece that bounced… this place really is dangerous! She picked up the largest piece, the flattened metal smear that had struck her. It looked almost melted, like it had splashed with the force of the impact, and she dropped it back where it had fallen. She glanced back at where the piece of metal had hit her; she wasn't bleeding badly, (Argh, but I am bleeding again! I'm getting kind of tired of leaking all over this place!) but the spot ached, and she was going to have a heck of a bruise later.

Okay, these things may be a little too dangerous to play with. She gave the stick on the ground an apprehensive look. I'm not even sure what this thing is supposed to do! The only way I can think of this being used is to hurt somepony or something, and why would they have thousands of things that only do harm?

Rattled, Rainbow tried to pull the box of spikes back off of the stick, but it wouldn't budge. Carefully keeping the hollow tube end pointed away from her, she laid it back on the ground pointing away from the doors, and decided to leave it for now. As long as I don't mess with that spur, I think it's harmless. Kinda scary, though.

Leaving the thunder-stick behind, Rainbow decided to keep exploring. There were a couple of doors over on the far side of the armory, and despite the scare she'd had, she still wanted to see what kind of stuff she could find. It wasn't like she'd never been scared before! As she made her way to them, she found her thoughts wandering to the possible uses of the thunder-sticks. I've seen ponies get hurt pretty bad by monsters out of the Everfree. We had that group of colts get mauled a few years back by that Cerberus before Cloud Dancer and I drove it off, and the filly that almost lost her leg to a giant scorpion. Her dad chased it back into the forest, but he never came back out. And if Twilight hadn't been around when those two dunderheads brought an Ursa into town, who knows how many ponies could have been hurt or killed? If we had this stuff, could we keep ourselves safer? Would it be worth it if we hurt or killed something when we could have just driven it off? Dash mulled the problem over, and wondered if it was just something wrong with her, that she would rather hurt something than let it hurt one of her friends or neighbors. She knew she was a lot more aggressive by nature than most ponies; none of the thoughts she was pondering would even occur to, say, Fluttershy.

I need to talk to Twilight about this later. She's the smartest pony I know, she'll be able to help me work something out. Rainbow looked up as she approached the door, and hesitated. The sign read, "Morgue."

Her earlier morbid speculation about finding a pile of skeletons somewhere came rushing back. It had been just a moment of dark humor, but what if that was actually was what was behind this door? Only one way to find out. Steeling herself, Rainbow entered the code to open the door.

"Woah!"

Apparently, this was the place they kept the suits. Dozens, maybe hundreds of silent, looming metal sentinels stood in neat rows. Closer to the entrance were the sleeker, more human-shaped suits that she'd seen Duran wearing. Behind those stood hulking, distorted shapes, bulky with armor, and so different in shape that she wondered if they were intended for a different species. Their left arms ended in a long cylinder that reminded her of the biggest of the thunder-sticks in the armory, while the right sported a heavy, three-fingered, clawlike hand. Their shoulders sat above their heads, four big box structures making them look stooped and hunchbacked.

She flew up to examine the trollish suits and found one that was already open. The huge shoulders evidently weren't part of the wearer, but part of the suit. While examining the inside of the suit, Dash again had the impulse to see if she could fit in one. This time, no one interrupted.

Taking a deep breath (and knowing this was probably another bad idea) the cyan pegasus hovered up above the point where the armor's chest plate gaped open, and carefully lowered herself hindlegs first into the suit.

It sure was roomy. Too roomy, unfortunately. Dash managed to get her forelegs into the arms of the suit, but found that she just dangled from them, her shoulders too narrow to fit properly and her hindlegs not long enough to support her, as she realized that the suit was designed for creatures with one less joint in their forelimbs than she had anyway. Aw. Dumb humans. Everything's just too big and shaped wrong! Even when she pulled her forelegs out of the suit's arms and slid down, she wound up sitting at the bottom of the suit's torso, her hindlegs dangling in the suit's legs, and her hooves nowhere near the suit's feet. She peeked out of the open chest plate, annoyed because she knew she probably looked ridiculous. She felt a bit ridiculous, like a little filly lost inside her mother's formal gown. If her mother had been a hermit crab in a welding shop.

Hmph. Dash thought, climbing back out of the cavernous suit and readjusting Applejack's hat on her head. Well, there's a bunch of 'em in here. Maybe I'll find one that fits!

Sadly, this hope proved to be in vain. Rainbow went up and down the aisles, looking for smaller versions of the suits, but they all seemed to be the same size. Containing her disappointment, she decided to head back and see if Twilight was up yet.


Eh, it's not that big a disappointment. Rainbow thought to herself as she flew along the hallway. Walking around on two legs all the time would be really awkward, and those didn't look like they'd bend enough for me to walk normally. She giggled a bit at the thought of one of the huge, blocky, trollish suits trying to walk on all fours. The mental image that thought conjured was pretty funny.

Opening Twilight's door, Rainbow found that her friend was indeed awake, staring in rapt fascination at an active terminal screen. The pegasus waited for a moment to see if her friend would notice her, but Twilight was clearly totally absorbed in whatever she was reading, her eyes scanning across the screen, occasionally tapping it with a hoof.

Rainbow had a momentary urge to scare the unicorn, but an instant's thought made her change her mind. How would she feel if somepony scared her in this hostile place? Ha, maybe I'm finally learning to think before I do stuff! Yeah, right, and maybe Applejack will learn how to fly!

Instead of shouting, Rainbow just cleared her throat. The lavender-coated unicorn still jumped in surprise, though, so Rainbow got to have her little moment of humor while still feeling virtuous about avoiding temptation. Best of both worlds! She thought, smothering another giggle.

"Oh! Rainbow Dash, there you are! I looked for you when I woke up, but your room was empty. Are you feeling any better this morning?" Twilight saw the hat still adorning her sunset-colored forelock, but didn't mention it this time.

Rainbow grinned exuberantly. "Oh, yeah, tons!" She did a little midair double-flip, to show her friend she could fly again. "How about you?"

"I'm feeling much better, thank you. My magical reserves are still building back up, and it will be another day or two before I feel up to trying to get us home, but I've got enough back to do minor stuff."

"So, did you figure out how to use that?" Rainbow gestured at the terminal.

"Oh, yes, it's actually quite easy once you work out the basics." Twilight's smile was slightly smug. "It will even teach you how to use it, if you ask. And there's so much here! Far, far more than my library in Ponyville, maybe even more than in Celestia's royal library in Canterlot!"

"Huh?" Rainbow eyed the glowing glass face of the terminal suspiciously. "But it's so small! What do you mean there's more here than in your library?"

"It's… oh, it's hard to explain, and super complex! I'm not really sure how it works, but the information seems to be stored in a nonphysical form, and retrieved when…"

Rainbow listened as the torrent of words washed over her. After the way she'd lost it when she thought Twilight had called her stupid yesterday, she really didn't want to admit that while she understood every word Twilight was saying, the actual content was going way over her head. And, to be fair, she wasn't stupid, she just wasn't as good at abstract thought as Twilight was. So she just let the unicorn happily chatter on, nodding when she thought it was appropriate, and trying to understand as much as she could.

When the verbal flood died down some, Rainbow managed to get a word in without interrupting her friend. "Wow, Twilight, that sounds, uh, really interesting!" She put on her best fake smile. "But has it helped you figure out how we got here? Or where here is?"

"Well… no. Not really." Twilight looked a bit abashed. "I redid my equations first thing after I woke up, but I came up with the exact same results, even when I redid them from scratch twice. That means, given the way the spell reacted, that not only am I missing something from the spell design, but whatever I'm missing actually isn't present in our current model of arcane theory." Rainbow nodded, while thinking, oh boy, here we go again, but the unicorn declined to launch into a detailed explanation. Instead, she continued with, "I thought I'd check and see if I could find anything in this library terminal, and I was sure I would once I got through the basic tutorial and figured out how to browse the archives," Rainbow reflected that her friend's description sounded really cavalier about accomplishing something that seemed pretty complex. "But when I started looking, I made the most incredible discovery!" Twilight's eyes widened, and she stared straight at Rainbow, trying to emphasize the gravity of the information she was about to convey. "These humans use no magic! They don't even think magic is real! Every reference to it I've found has been under a 'Fiction' heading!"

Rainbow blinked a few times, unsure if she'd heard her friend correctly. "What? None at all?" She looked around, at the metal walls, at the doors that opened when you got close, at the electric lights that never dimmed or flickered, at the terminal that continued to glow cheerfully. "But, all this stuff…"

"Completely nonmagical. All of it." Twilight pointed at her horn, "I've checked. There's not even residual magic on anything. The only place I've found any thus far is in your human friend's room across the hall, but that's mostly just natural leakage from a magically talented individual, and you said he wasn't from the society that built this place anyway."

"But how does all this stuff work if there's no magic?"

"I'm… not entirely sure. As far as I can tell… well, you've seen steam engines, right?" Dash nodded. They weren't terribly common, but some earth ponies used them for a little extra push when they were moving things around. "Well, they work nonmagically, by using purely natural physical processes to generate and apply force; heat and pressure. You with me so far?" Dash nodded again. "Okay, as far as I can tell, this group of humans never encountered magic in any form, so they've gotten better and better at identifying and using different features of the way the universe works to do more and more sophisticated things. The ways they use electricity are absolutely amazing! Like I said, I don't understand most of it yet, and there's so much information there," she nodded at the glowing screen, "that I'm not even really sure where to start!" The unicorn shook her head. "I'm glad you came by, actually, I needed a break. Is your friend back yet?"

"Nah, he said it'd be about a day and a half, so I don't think he'll be back before tomorrow morning." Rainbow replied. She wasn't at all sure she'd consider the human a friend yet, but she decided not to mention that. She didn't think he was entirely sane, and she'd had some uncomfortable dreams about the way his hands had felt. Which probably wasn't entirely fair; he'd been extremely helpful, but that didn't make it any less creepy. She'd make up her mind when (and if, a little piece of her mind whispered) he got back.

Instead of actually saying all those things, Rainbow told Twilight about what she'd found in the armory and morgue, including some of her thoughts about the thunder-sticks and the only uses she could think of.

"Huh. Well, they could be some kind of mining tool, I guess…" Twilight's speculation trailed off as she pondered, then she brightened. "I know! I can just look up 'armory' here and see what's normally stored there!" The unicorn hopped back onto her chair, and her horn glowed as she used her telekinesis to press keys. "Ah, here we go! Armory… storage place for… weapons and explosives, including small arms and heavy weapons…" Twilight read in silence for a few moments, as Rainbow fidgeted with impatience. "Well, it… looks like you were pretty much right, Rainbow Dash. The things you described are called 'guns,' and they're used either for hunting or war."

"War?" Rainbow was confused. "But why would they need so many of them in the middle of nowhere like this? Who is there to go to war against? Besides, wars almost never happen!" She was frantically sorting through her poorly-remembered history classes, trying to remember when the last war in Equestria was, when Twilight answered for her.

"Wars almost never happen to us, Rainbow. The last one Equestria had was generations ago, against the predatory griffon clans." Twilight was using the keyboard again as she spoke, evidently looking something up. "These humans are an alien species; they almost certainly don't do things the way we do. What's more, they're predatory omnivores, from what I can tell, whereas we are cooperative social herbivores, so they're likely to be much more competitive and violent than we are, and oh my…" Twilight's jaw sagged as she trailed off, and she tapped a hoof to the screen. Then did so again. And again.

"What are you looking at?" Rainbow finally blurted, when it became clear that Twilight had lost the thread of the conversation. She hovered up to read over the unicorn's shoulder, but all that she could see on the screen was a list of names. Twilight tapped an icon on the bottom right corner of the screen, and the list scrolled down to reveal… more names. "What is this, Twilight?" Rainbow asked again. "It just looks like a list!"

"It's," the academic swallowed. "It's a list of wars." She tapped the icon again, and the screen scrolled obediently.

"Wow." the pegasus observed. "They really like to fight, huh?" Oh, that might explain why they've got something killing anything that flies nearby, since they can't fly themselves maybe they didn't want anyone having that advantage. Speaking of… "Have you read anything about a 'starship,' by the way? Duran said there was one that was watching this place, and killing anything that flew."

Twilight wrenched herself away from the screen. "Rainbow, I'm not sure we can trust him." Her eyes were troubled. "A species that fights this much…"

"Woah, woah." Rainbow interrupted. She had private doubts about the human, but there was no arguing that he'd been helpful and straightforward. "You trust Spike, don't you? What did you say about dragons when you left him at home while we went to deal with the one on that mountaintop?"

"Well… it's true that dragons tend to react to one another with hostility. Sometimes extreme hostility. But that's not what's going on here! This isn't an instinctive response, this is organized conflict!"

"Oh, more like griffons then." Twilight gave her an odd look, so Rainbow elaborated. "Griffon clan conflicts, though they're not really wars. They aren't all that organized, but they fight all the time. It's part of the reason there aren't very many of 'em."

Twilight still looked confused. "What? I've never heard of that! The books I've read on griffons say that their low population is a result of a low birth rate!"

Now it was Rainbow's turn to be surprised. "Low birthrate? Griffon families have more kids than ponies do! Gilda was one of five kids, and her family was one of the smaller ones! I met two of her brothers when her family visited once. They'd left her sister at home to help the clan out, and her oldest brother and father had died in a fight with another clan a couple of years before!"

"What? Rainbow, there have been several books published on griffons; I read most of them when Pinkie told me about the problems she was having with Gilda, and none of them mentioned any kind of interclan conflict. They all said that griffon families only have one or two kids, rarely three, and that doesn't allow them the kind of population growth pony towns get!"

"That's… weird." And this isn't really helping us get home. "Tell you what, when we get back, I'll go find Gilda, see if she's cooled off some, and you can talk to her about it yourself. But in the meantime, Duran's been really helpful to us, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt, okay?" Twilight looked like she wanted to ask something else, but just nodded. "You didn't answer the question I asked, either."

"I didn't?" Twilight's eyes went a little out of focus for a second. "Oh, about starships?" Rainbow nodded. "I haven't seen anything, but that's probably because I hadn't looked. Give me just a second…" Her horn glowed as she used the keyboard, and after just a moment she spoke up again. "Ah, here we go. Starships. Oookay. They're exclusively spacecraft…"

"What does that mean?" Dash asked, a peevish edge entering her voice.

"It means they're vehicles that stay in space all the time." Twilight replied distractedly.

"In space?" Dash was getting a little tired of being confused. "What, you mean up above the air? I tried to fly up there once when I was little, it got really hard to breathe and I lost all my lift. How could they build something up there?" She realized Twilight was ignoring her. "Hey! Helloooo! Equestria to Twilight Sparkle!"

The unicorn was muttering to herself as she read. "Jump drive? Kearny-Fuchida? What's a misjump? Sorry, Rainbow Dash, give me just a second…" She tapped something on the screen. "…theorized to send a ship almost anywhere in the universe or potentially to another one altogether…" Her brow furrowed. "Another… another universe? Multiple universes? Multiple universes! That's it! That's what was missing!" She spun in her chair to face where Rainbow was hovering, violet eyes shining. "Do you understand what this means, Rainbow?"

"Uh, not really…" Dash was interrupted when Twilight grabbed her in a hug and planted an enthusiastic kiss right on the cyan pegasus's lips.

They both froze. Dash's wings' flapping to hold her up was the only motion in the room. Man, what is it about me and this place? Are those bug things gonna try and hit on me next? Aw, man, ick, maybe they already have, Duran said he thought those little things might be larvae…. Eew eew Eeeeeeew! Dash thought, straightening the slightly-askew cowpony hat while trying to come up with something to say. Before she could sort herself out, Twilight released her, covered her mouth with her hooves with an "eep!", and started talking so fast Dash had trouble sorting out the words. "OhmygoshRainbowI'msosorry! IjustgotsoexcitedandIdon'tknowwhyIdidthat…"

"Woah, Twilight, sloooooow it down, there." Rainbow interjected, feeling her cheeks burn. Twilight was sporting a matching flush under her lavender coat.

The unicorn took a couple of breaths and started again. "Rainbow, I'm so sorry! I just got so excited, I got carried away, and…!" Twilight tried to say too many words at once, and evidently choked for a moment, so Dash tried to defuse the awkwardness a little bit.

"Um… Twi… you know I don't swing that way, right? I mean, I like you, and we're friends, but…" Oooh, yeah, Rainbow. Defuse that awkwardness. That's totally the way to do it…

"You don't?" Twilight interrupted, only to slam a hoof into her mouth and flush deeper. "Wait! No! Not what I meant! I mean, I don't either! I just, I mean, augh!" Twilight closed her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, letting them out slowly. Rainbow had to bite down on a chuckle when she thought she realized where Twilight was going. Whew. I thought I was going to have to explain again that I'm not into other mares, rumors to the contrary. The unicorn, regaining some of her composure, started again. "Okay. Let me try again. Rainbow, I apologize for my… enthusiasm. It's just that, when I realized what I'd missed, I was just so happy and excited I just wanted to kiss somepony, and, well, you were right there, so…" Twilight tapped her forehooves together in an amusingly crude gesture, especially coming from the somewhat sheltered unicorn academic. "And then I got all flustered, because, well, most of Ponyville thinks you're, um, fond of other fillies, and I didn't want you to think I was hitting on you…"

Rainbow facehooved. More or less what I thought, but I guess I do have to trot out that explanation after all. "Okay, Twilight, a couple of things. One. I'm not upset, just a little embarrassed. Two. I'm not attracted to other mares. I know how that stupid rumor started, and it happened once back when I was in school and I was really, really drunk at the time. Okay?" Twilight nodded, her blush fading a bit. "And three, while you're not a bad kisser, I would be totally happy to forget it ever happened if you'd just tell me what the hay got you so excited in the first place!"

"Didn't I tell you?" Rainbow groaned and sank to the ground, covering her eyes with both hooves. Now I'm getting the 'didn't I tell you' routine from both of the other creatures capable of speech on this entire planet. Celestia help me, I may kill someone. Those 'guns' are looking awfully tempting.

"No, Twilight. You didn't tell me. You were going on about multiple universes, that's all I heard."

"Yes! Yes! Multiple universes!" The unicorn looked like she was getting excited again, and Rainbow took a cautious step back to take herself out of reach. "The portal spell was built under the assumption that there was only one universe! If there are actually more than one, then it was missing a set of coordinates, and must have used a random one to complete itself, and that's why it hesitated before completing the connection!" Twilight was smiling so widely Rainbow almost expected the top of the unicorn's head to fall off. "This is a huge discovery. I'll be able to publish at least six or seven major papers in The Arcane from just the basic math alone, once I get it worked out!"

Rainbow was starting to feel cautiously optimistic. "So… you know what went wrong with your spell? Does that mean you'll be able to get us home?"

Twilight beamed. "Yes!" Then her face fell. "Eventually. I think. I'll need to work out a way of describing multiversal coordinates that works with our current arcane mathematical language, so that I can properly construct the return portal. If I try again and fail the same way… we could potentially be lost forever."

"F- forever?"

"Only if things go really badly."

"Like they did last time?" Rainbow tried to picture what it would be like to never see Ponyville or her other friends again. Duran's blank expression and hinted description of half-dreaming life surfaced in her memory. Would I be that bad after years on my own? Would I be worse?

The unicorn winced. "I… kind of deserved that. I'm going to try really, really hard to make sure that what happened with the last portal doesn't happen again, but it is a risk, yes. Hopefully, I'll be able to use some of the information already worked out in there" she gestured to the terminal "as a shortcut, but I'll need to translate their physical-based mathematics into unicorn arcane-based systems, and at the very least it will take me a few days. Um… how sure are you that we can trust this Duran? He is an omnivore, and we know he eats meat, are you sure he won't decide to eat us?"

"Well, I'm not saying I trust him like I would another pony, but…" How to convince Twilight? She hadn't talked to the human, hadn't read… of course! "Hey, Twilight, come with me real quick. I've got something I want to show you."

"What? But I need to get started on…"

Rainbow cut her off midsentence. "You said you needed a break. We're taking a break. Besides, this is kinda important."

The unicorn protested a bit more, but Rainbow was able to herd her out of her bunkroom and down the hallway to the Commander's Office, where she'd found Duran's journal. She lifted the battered notebook off of the desk and handed it to Twilight. "Here. Read the first entry."

The unicorn was staring at the chair, however. "Rainbow… where did all this blood come from?"

"Oh, uh, heh heh, that was my fault." The pegasus felt sheepish. "I was kind of ticked at him at the time, so I figured if I couldn't find a way to patch myself up, I'd just bleed all over his nice clean office. Didn't know he'd gone to get a first aid kit. Anyway, read!" She pointed at the journal imperiously.

Pulling her gaze away from the dried blood, Twilight flipped open the cover and started reading. She reached the end of the page and started to turn to the next one, but Rainbow stopped her. "Hold on, Twilight, I want you to see this the way I did. Turn to the last page."

Eyeing the pegasus, Twilight did so, flipping back to the last entry just as Rainbow Dash had done earlier, and, blinking at the changed style, began reading again. She didn't take long to read the last entry, and when she laid the notebook down there were tears in her eyes, and she seemed at a loss for words.

"You should've seen him when he realized we were real; he was helping us even when he thought we were figments of his imagination. He's not gonna eat us, Twilight, at least I really don't think so. We're the first ones he's seen in years that he can talk to." Twilight nodded, and finally seemed to find her voice, though when she spoke it was a bit husky.

"I think I believe you, Rainbow Dash. Thank you for showing me this." Blinking, she used her telekinesis to ruffle through the pages. "Do you know… how many years?"

Rainbow shook her head. "I asked him, but he didn't know. More than seven, maybe as many as fifteen."

"Fifteen years…" Twilight repeated, quiet horror in her voice. "It's… amazing." She shook herself. "And I think we should take his advice. I'm going to get back to trying to work out the math for a return spell."

"'Kay. I'm gonna wander around this place some more; I'll come find you when I get ready to eat, so you won't forget and starve yourself."

Twilight laughed ruefully. "That might not be a bad idea, Rainbow." She lifted the notebook in a purple glow. "Do you mind if I borrow this? I'm not sure if I want to read it or not, but I'd like to have the option."

Rainbow shrugged. "It's not mine. Go ahead, I think he meant for someone to read it someday." The two left the small office and headed in opposite directions; Twilight back to her bunkroom, and Rainbow deeper into the base.


Rainbow Dash spent the rest of the day wandering around the human base. It was huge, but most of it wasn't all that interesting. There were exceptions, though. The main power area contained a huge, humming power plant that radiated warmth, the Engineering spaces had intricate, bizarre arrangements of tools and metal arms of all different sizes, with wires running everywhere like vines in the Everfree, along with what looked like several battered, half-disassembled armor suits. The hangars, far from being places clothes were kept, proved to house a collection of enormous vehicles. Rainbow spent hours crawling over and inside these metal behemoths, but after her experience with the guns in the armory she was exceptionally leery of messing with the vehicles, since she could see absolutely colossal versions of the guns she'd seen before sticking out of all of them. Some of them were so big she could almost fit her head in them. (She knew because she tried a couple of times. And succeeded with one, though she nearly got stuck.)

The most fascinating thing of all, however, proved to be the top layer of hangars that Rainbow almost missed. There were two huge elevators in the back of the main hangar, and when she'd taken one down to the engineering bay, she'd assumed that both elevators were identical. When she tried the second one on a whim, after growing bored with the vehicle bays, she found it actually went farther up than the first one. When she stepped out, she was confronted with six more vehicles, these clearly designed to fly.

Not just fly, but fly fast, and Rainbow felt something close to lust as she took in the streamlined shapes, crouched and massive in the bright hangar lights. She paced around one of them, trying to figure out exactly how they worked. The wings were thick and swept dramatically back, with an arrangement of mobile flaps on the leading and trailing edges, and there were huge nozzles at the back that were blackened with heat. She figured it must be propelled by something like a firework rocket, only huge. She found the place the operator was supposed to sit high on the nose of the craft; a transparent blister lying close to the sweep of the vehicle's body. Peeking inside, she could see several odd levers and buttons, and she thought the entire inside surface the operator could look at was covered in the glassy surface she'd come to associate with the terminals. She found the catch that she suspected opened the operator's compartment, but even after repeated efforts, she couldn't figure out how to open the darned thing.

Rainbow poked around the air vehicle for a while longer, trying to figure out the details of how it would fly, and resolved to ask Twilight how to use the terminals, because surely there was something on how these beautiful things worked in there. She wasn't able to do anything with the vehicles for now, and she was starting to get pretty hungry, so she left the hangars to go find her friend again.


To her total lack of surprise, she found the unicorn seated at her terminal, reading avidly. Duran's journal sat on the desk next to her. Ushering the protesting academic from her room, Rainbow told her about all the things she'd found in the base, especially the air vehicles, and extracted a promise that Twilight would give her a basic tutorial on how to use the terminals after they ate. Twilight, in turn, filled Rainbow in on the progress she'd made; the human multidimensional math was amazingly complex, and the unicorn was just beginning to understand it. Twilight used some of the arcane power she'd regained to duplicate some of the remaining food, just in case they wound up needing more. Duplication was a short-term solution, Twilight explained, and it could potentially be dangerous if done over and over, but a few times wouldn't hurt. Plus, it would help the food last longer, just in case Duran was delayed… or didn't return at all. After they ate, Twilight showed Rainbow the basics of how to operate and use the terminals, and then they both retired for the night.


*Author's note: Battle Armor and Aerospace Fighers and assault rifles, oh my! You get nerd cred if you can identify the base designs of the two Battle Armor suit types. They're both modified, but still legal, designs in BT. I should know; I went and designed them before I started describing them, just to make sure what I had in mind was still a legal design! Ha ha ha, I did so much world building that no one will ever know about, since it's all from Rainbow's perspective and she's pretty clueless most of the time. My extra detail is defeated by my viewpoint character!