• Published 23rd Oct 2016
  • 606 Views, 29 Comments

Onward to Tomorrow - SpartanD014



When a saboteur strikes during Equestria's first long-range space mission, Twilight Sparkle and the crew find themselves fighting for their survival, all the while searching for the saboteur in their midst...

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Chapter 12

CHAPTER 12


There were several bright flashes of light. Twilight felt herself floating, weightless in a void of silence. She groggily tried to move her head, but found that her neck would not respond to any commands. She was immobile, helplessly floating through blackness.

The flashes of light became more frequent, turning the black void into a white one. Gradually, Twilight felt her numbness subsiding, and the feeling of something soft crept in. A sound began to accompany the light and the touch; at first it was nothing more than an obnoxious ringing, but as the seconds flew by, Twilight began to make out words.

“Twilight?”

Twilight looked around, trying to find the source of the voice. Her neck moved slowly, and no matter where she stared, she could not find the voice. All she saw was the white light.

“Princess, are you in there?”

Spots of color began to appear in the white void. There was nothing vibrant, but as the colors became more defined, the whiteness was replaced with the image of a room. As Twilight’s vision became less and less blurry, the room sharpened, and soon Twilight recognized it as the medical bay. She looked around, her neck now going where she wanted; she was lying in one of the medbay’s several beds, and standing at the foot of the bed was Quick Fix, wearing a concerned look.

“Twilight?” the doctor asked once again. Twilight blinked a few times, and Fix sighed in relief. “Well, you’re conscious. That’s at least a good sign.”

“I… what happened?” Twilight asked, finally finding her voice. She looked down, noticing a set of bandaged wrapped around her chest. As feeling returned to the rest of her body, she felt a dull pain just beneath the bandages, and she winced, the memories of the night rushing back to her. “Is Cobalt--”

“He’s in our custody,” Fix answered. “But don’t you worry about him right now. Right now, I need you to tell me how you feel.” The doctor hovered a clipboard over from her desk and placed a pen to the paper, ready to write down Twilight’s every word.

“I’m… a little numb,” Twilight replied. “What exactly happened? I… thought I was going to die.”

“You would have, if Ace wasn’t fast for a stallion his age.” Fix jotted down a few notes, then floated the clipboard away, circling around the bed to Twilight. “He opened everypony’s doors - by that point everypony was awake - and sent Skychaser up to the bridge to disable the lockdown. While Lightning Flash and Vibrant Flame went to deal with Cobalt, we grabbed you and Star Step, brought you here, and pooled our magic to heal your wounds. We got lucky; a minute or two later and we’d have lost you.”

Star Step. Twilight was reminded of the mare’s interference last night, and her injuries. She looked to the bed next to hers, finding Star lying immobile beneath the covers. She wore a set of bandages similar to Twilight’s, and occasionally she twitched in her unconscious state. Fix looked to Star as well, and crossed to the unconscious mare.

“She’ll be fine,” she said. “Her injuries weren’t as severe as yours; only reason you’re awake first is that alicorn magic. Your wounds are healing much quicker than anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“Then can I get up?” Twilight asked, sitting up in her bed. “I want to see our prisoner.” Fix paused, thinking the question through, until she finally nodded.

“Against my better judgement, yes, you can go,” she replied. “But take it easy. If you get any sudden pains, come back to me immediately. Your alicorn physiology can’t fix everything, Princess.” Twilight nodded, and pulled herself out of the bed, testing her weight on the floor. Her knees buckled as her hooves came into contact with the deck, but she recovered, managing to stand up straight after a few moments.

“... Thank you, Doctor,” she said, stepping away from the bed. Before leaving, Twilight turned to Star, concerned. “Let me know when her condition changes. After what she went through, she’ll need the comfort of friends more than ever.”

“I will,” Fix said, nodding. “Ace is down on deck five, by the way. Whatever you decide to do with Cobalt… well, I hope it’s enough for all that he has done.” Twilight nodded, then turned and exited the medbay, climbing down the ladder to deck five. She moved slowly down the corridor, passing several airlock doors, each of which led to a storage pod docked to the outside of the ship. She winced as she passed one damaged airlock, where Cobalt had released a pod several weeks ago, killing Golden Bolt. It all seemed so long ago to the Princess, but now, justice would be served.

At the end of the corridor, one of the airlock doors was open, and the shadow of a tall stallion was cast into the hall. Twilight approached the door, finding that the shadow belonged to Ace; the Captain was standing still, his eyes never leaving the unconscious form of Cobalt, who was lying in the center of an emptied-out storage pod. At Twilight’s arrival, he finally allowed his attention to move away.

“Twilight,” he greeted, smiling. “I’m pleased to see you’re alright.”

“From what I hear, I have you to thank for that,” Twilight said. “Thank you, Captain.”

“Think nothing of it,” Ace said. “After Cobalt killed Golden Bolt, Astral Breeze, and Sharp Sight… I won’t let him touch another pony on this crew.”

Twilight frowned, glaring at the unconscious saboteur at her hooves. “What are we going to do with him?”

“As much as I want to kill him, we’re not executioners,” Ace replied. “Besides, he could know some valuable information. We’ll keep him locked up, and take him back down to Equus for him to be professionally interrogated.” Twilight nodded, her eyes focused solely on Cobalt’s still form.

“... How could he have gotten past the background check?” Twilight wondered aloud, raising an eyebrow. “Princess Luna poured her heart and soul into this project, there’s no way something like this should have slipped through the cracks. No terrorist organization, no matter their intelligence, could have completely cleaned one of their agent’s background records.”

“That’s a good question,” Ace said. “You must have hit him pretty hard last night. How long until he wakes up?” Twilight lit her horn, and with a simple spell, Cobalt’s eyes fluttered open. He slowly rose to his hooves, and, upon realizing where he was, he launched himself at Ace, rage filling his eyes. His attack was met with a swift punch to the face, which sent the fatigued stallion slamming into the airlock door frame. He crumpled back to the floor, and Ace and Twilight converged on the saboteur, making sure he would be unable to get away.

“Morning, sunshine,” Ace said, lowering his head to look Cobalt in the eye. “How do you feel?”

“What do you care?” Cobalt asked, spitting in Ace’s face. Ace wiped the spit away, and sighed.

“I don’t,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t give any sort of brain damage to our prisoner. Or, any more than you already have.” Cobalt dragged himself back into the center of the airlock, turned away from Ace and Twilight.

“I won’t tell you anything,” he stated coldly, closing his eyes.

“You won’t need to tell us anything,” Ace said. “However, when we get back to Canterlot, I won’t exactly be taking “no” for an answer.”

“You have your training, and I have mine,” Cobalt said. “I’ll die before I betray my cause.”

“And what exactly is your cause?” Twilight asked, stepping forward. “Why would you do all of this? What purpose does it fulfill? Surely answering my question won’t compromise you any more than you already are.” After a pause, Cobalt sighed and turned around.

You are why, Princess,” he replied.

“Me?” Twilight raised an eyebrow. “But I was only assigned to this mission six months before launch. You’ve been on the team for two years.”

“Not you specifically,” Cobalt began. “The Princesses, everything about them. Think about it; Equestria is ruled by immortal, all-powerful alicorns who wield total executive power. Ponies are governed by beings who can manipulate celestial bodies. Nopony deserves that much power, much less executive power to top it off. For thousands of years, Equestria has been ruled by ponies who could not be more detached from society.”

“And for thousands of years, they have maintained harmony,” Ace countered. “You’re a computer technician, you know the saying: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

“Come on, we both know that’s not true,” Cobalt continued. “Does Nightmare Moon ring a bell? Look at the chaos that can be caused when one of these “peaceful” alicorns loses control. The amount of magic even one Princess wields is unfathomable. Besides, these Princesses are nothing but trouble magnets. Nightmare Moon, Discord, the changelings, Sombra, Tirek, all of them were motivated by one common goal: to defeat the Princesses. And in the process, innocents were hurt. Innocent, powerless ponies were wounded and killed in conflicts surrounding the Princesses.”

“So your solution to this “problem” is to cause even more harm by sabotaging this mission?” Twilight asked. “Were Golden Bolt, Astral Breeze, and Sharp Sight not innocent?”

“No, they weren’t,” Cobalt replied. “At this point, national borders are merely a formality. With Celestia and Luna’s power over the sun and moon, they effectively control the entire world. I won’t let that influence spread to other planets. Missions like this cannot happen until the Princesses are out of the way. Now, I’ve said all I need to say. You won’t get another word out of me.” Cobalt turned around once again, ignoring the two ponies behind him. Twilight and Ace exchanged a look, and with a nod, Twilight cast another stun spell on the saboteur. The blue stallion lowered to the floor, his eyes closed in a deep sleep.

“Come on,” Ace said, stepping out of the airlock. He sealed the door and worked his way back to the ladder, beginning the climb up with Twilight right behind him. “Now that Cobalt is out of the way, we can focus on getting home. But first, we need to see how long before we can jump.” The pair emerged from the ladder well, and entered the bridge, where Skychaser and Lightning Flash were diligently working at their stations. At the entrance of Twilight and Ace, Skychaser stood up, crossing to the new arrivals.

“So, how’s our prisoner doing?” he asked, grinning.

“He’s in a bit of a bad mood right now,” Ace replied, looking out over the bridge. “What’s our status?”

“Jump drive is still a few hours from being ready,” Lightning Flash reported from the nav station. “But don’t worry, we’ll be home in time for dinner.”

“And as you requested, sir, I ran a sweep of our systems,” Skychaser said. “I didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary, but with that virus, it’s difficult to know for sure. Also, Vibrant wanted to let you know that he looked over every system in engineering, and is pleased to report that there has been no tampering with anything.”

“Understood.” Ace crossed to his chair, and pressed a hoof down onto the intercom switch. “All crew, you’re on break until it is time to jump. Ace, out.” Skychaser and Lightning Flash exited the bridge, climbing down the ladder to the crew deck. Twilight and Ace lingered for a moment, each standing in silence.

“... Hard to believe it’s over,” Twilight finally said, breaking the silence. “It’s been rough, but we’ve pulled through.”

“... We’re not home yet,” was all Ace said in response, before he exited the bridge as well. Confused, Twilight followed the Captain down to the crew deck and into the mess hall, where Vibrant Flame, Lightning Flash, and Skychaser had gathered. The three ponies were sitting around one of the mess hall tables, each one clearly relieved. They looked as if a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders, and all of their troubles were gone.

“So how are you feeling, Princess?” Skychaser asked, motioning for Twilight and the Captain to join them at the table. After sitting down, Twilight placed a hoof over her bandaged chest, wincing slightly at the pain.

“I’ll recover,” she replied. “My main concern is getting Cobalt back to Equestria in one piece. His allies will know that he failed soon enough, and I have a feeling they won’t want him interrogated.”

“We’ll be cautious,” Ace said. “But I’d rather turn this conversation away from Cobalt.”

“Hell yeah,” Lightning said, grinning. “So, what’s the first thing everypony’s going to do when we get home?”

“You mean after decon and debrief?” Skychaser asked. “Probably take a nap in my own bed. Or fly around a bit. I’ll figure it out.”

“I’m going to see my friends in Ponyville,” Twilight decided. “It’s been too long, and I miss their company.” Before anypony else could speak, the mess hall door slid open, and Quick Fix stepped inside, stifling a yawn. The Doctor joined the rest of the ponies at the table, taking a look around.

“Star’s awake,” she reported.

“How is she?” Vibrant Flame asked, concerned.

“Physically, she’ll make a full recovery in no time,” Fix replied. “Mentally, though… well, that’s a bit outside my domain. But she’s hurting, I can tell that much.” Twilight nodded, and stood up.

“I’ll go talk to her,” she said, crossing to the door. The Princess began walking down the hall to the medbay, concerned for Star. Given how close she and Cobalt had been, his betrayal would be affecting her even more significantly.

Twilight opened the medbay door, her eyes immediately finding Star Step. The mare was lying on her side, tucked under the covers with her head mostly obscured by the pillow. Were it not for the shallow rise and fall of her chest, Twilight would not have known the comms specialist was alive. Star made no movements as Twilight moved further into the room, nor did she look up as Twilight took a seat next to her bed. The Princess frowned, feeling pity for the wounded mare.

“... Star?” Twilight asked, finally receiving a reaction. Star rolled onto her back and sat up in the bed, looking to Twilight. Her lavender eyes were red, and the fur on her cheeks was wet with fresh tears. Twilight smiled comfortingly, trying to put Star at ease. “How do you feel?”

“... Where is he?” Star replied, lacking any emotion in her voice. Twilight’s smile disappeared, and she glanced away.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” she said. “I… can’t begin to understand how you must be feeling right now. But I want you to know that I’m here for you, okay?”

“Two years…” Star said, looking away from Twilight. “Was the past two years nothing more than a lie? Was he using me, like a toy that can be discarded at any time? Is that… is that all I was to him?” The mare’s tears were renewed, and the medbay became filled with the sound of her sobs. Her pity growing, Twilight reached out and pulled Star into a hug, careful not to hit her bandages.

“Shh, shh,” Twilight comforted, her mind angrily turning to Cobalt. While the saboteur had given his reasons for wanting to destroy Harmony, there was no reason Twilight could conceive for why he would do this to Star Step. Unless Cobalt was nothing more than a sick and twisted individual, which was not outside the realm of possibilities, it was entirely possible that his feelings for Star were genuine.

“Why… Why has he done all of this?” Star asked between sobs, violently shaking her head. “He’s a monster! How… how could I not have seen it?”

“Don’t worry about that right now,” Twilight said, pulling away from Star. “You just focus on getting better. Remember, you’re among friends here. We all care about you, and we’re here for you.” While her words seemed to have a calming effect, Twilight noticed that Star was still shaking. The Princess understood; she was a comms specialist, trained to operate Harmony’s comms system. While survival plans had been included in her training, there was nothing that could have prepared Star for this level of betrayal. That bastard will pay, Twilight thought. He’ll pay for all of the lives he’s affected, and finally we will have unity in Equestria.


The bridge was quiet when Twilight finally arrived, but a certain excitement was present around each pony as they worked at their stations. Ace sat in his chair with Skychaser nearby, while Lightning Flash manned the navigation station and Vibrant Flame monitored engineering diagnostics on a nearby screen. Star Step was back at her comms station, though she lacked any of the enthusiasm held by the rest of the crew. Quick Fix was sitting next to her, ready to act should the mare’s injuries somehow worsen. Twilight stepped further into the bridge, joining Ace by his chair, and focused on a small screen at the front of the bridge, on which was displayed a countdown timer. The final seconds ticked away, and finally all zeroes flashed on the screen.

“Are we ready, then?” the Princess asked, eager to see her home once again.

“Well, Vibrant?” Ace looked to the engineer, who turned around and nodded. “Excellent. Lightning, confirm coordinates.”

“Coordinates confirmed, sir,” Lightning reported, making no effort to hide his ear-to-ear grin. “Ready to jump on your order.”

“Doctor, Princess, better strap yourselves in,” Ace suggested. Heeding the advice, both Twilight and Fix sat down in empty chairs, securing the safety harnesses over themselves. They nodded when they were ready, and Ace looked back to Lightning Flash. “Lightning, the word is given. Take us home.”

Lighting turned back around in his chair, and opened the glass case, beneath which was the jump initiation button. Wasting no time, he brought his hoof down onto the button, and the space outside of the ship was distorted as the jump drive activated. With a bright flash, Harmony was instantly transported away, re-emerging less than a second later. When the flash faded, little had changed. The view outside was still nothing more than stars; there was no moon, no sun, and no Equus.

“... Did it work?” Twilight asked, tilting her head.

“Lightning, rotate us two hundred degrees, please,” Ace ordered. Lightning nodded, carrying out the order, and the view outside slowly began to shift as the ship rotated. Soon, a particularly bright star came into view, illuminating the bridge with its orange glow. And finally, as the ship’s rotation slowed, Equus became visible. A smile immediately formed on Twilight’s face, and she felt relief flood her as she looked upon her home. Finally, she thought. After weeks of pain and suffering, here we are.

“Skychaser, Lightning, go ahead and prepare the Phoenix capsule for departure,” Ace said, removing his harness and standing up. “Vibrant, head down to engineering and begin shutdown of ship systems. Star, see if you can get into--”

“Sir!” Lightning interrupted, a look of alarm on his face. “Unexpected course correction just initiated, the main engines are spinning up. Sir, it’s… going to take us into the atmosphere.” Twilight’s eyes widened, and she felt her excitement slowly drain away, replaced once again by fear. She knew Harmony had been built in space for a reason: she would never survive atmospheric entry. Alarmed, the Princess looked to Ace, finding herself feeling no better at the look of panic on his face.

“Can you disable it?” the Captain asked.

“No.” Frowning, Ace stood up and trotted over to Lightning, taking a look at the navigation screen for himself.

“ETA to atmospheric insertion?” he asked.

“Six minutes.” Ace returned to his chair, his brow knitting together in concentration. Twilight could almost see the gears turning in his head, and she hoped he had some idea in mind.

“... We don’t have nearly enough time to get to the capsule, get our suits on, and launch,” he said, more to himself than anypony else. “But I won’t let Cobalt win this. Twilight, can you form a shield around the ship?”

“Even if I wasn’t already weakened, Harmony is far too large, and the atmosphere is far too hot for me to keep a shield up long enough,” Twilight replied, shaking her head.

“Could you try teleporting us?” Quick Fix suggested.

“I’d need to be much closer to Equestria to ensure a safe teleport,” Twilight answered. “By the time we get close enough, either the atmospheric forces will have torn Harmony apart, or the heat will have cooked us.”

“Well there’s got to be something we can do!” Lightning Flash exclaimed. “I mean… we can’t just go out like this!”

“... Alright,” Ace said. “If Harmony is too large for you to fully shield, Twilight, then we’ll need to shed some weight. Skychaser, go get Cobalt from his holding cell.” Skychaser nodded, and ran off to complete his task. “Vibrant, access engineering and prepare to disconnect the following sections of the ship: the solar panels, modules one through three, and the reactor and engine struts. Twilight, will you be able to shield what’s left?” Twilight brought up an image of the ship in her mind, and mentally removed the sections that Ace had mentioned. With the other modules disconnected, only the bridge module would be left; even so, the bridge module was almost thirty meters long, and was similar in diameter.

“... Yes,” Twilight finally answering, hoping she was correct. Even if she was not, the alternative was to accept death with open arms. Twilight would not let that happen. “Yes, I think I can manage that for a minute or two. Hopefully long enough for us to get through the atmosphere.”

“What about the landing?” Lightning asked, his eyes wide. “Even if we survive the intense heat of reentry, we have no way of slowing down. It doesn’t matter if we hit ground or water, we’ll be pulverized on impact.”

“... The Princesses will be watching,” Ace said, though he did not appear entirely confident. “Hopefully, once Harmony is close enough, they can help.” The bridge door reopened, and Skychaser walked in, dragging an unconscious Cobalt by the scruff of his neck. The XO threw the saboteur into an unoccupied chair and secured the harness, then took his own seat, alarmed.

“One minute,” Lightning Flash reported. The ship was slowly beginning to shake, and Equus now dominated most of the viewport.

“Alright,” Ace said. “Detach the requested sections. Everypony hang on, this is going to be a rough ride down…”


Something is wrong, Luna thought. Her eyes carefully scanned over the ESA control room’s main screen, on which was a diagram displaying Harmony’s position around Equus. At first everything had seemed normal; the ship jumped in, limited comms were regained through the Phoenix capsule, and it appeared that the crew was alive. But when the ship began accelerating, the air of relief had entirely disappeared. Now it was unclear as to whether or not the crew had survived; if they had, who was in control of navigation?

“Princess, we’ve got an update,” a nearby technician began, drawing Luna’s attention away from the main screen. “Harmony’s projected trajectory had been completed. Assuming there are no additional course corrections… The ship is aiming for us.”

“It’s… on a crash course?” Luna asked, receiving a nod. “ETA to impact?”

“Four minutes,” the technician answered. “The ship will burn up in the atmosphere, but enough debris will survive to cause significant damage. And if the reactor survives, the safety mechanisms may fail in the crash. With that much magic power, it wouldn’t leave more than a crater.” Luna sighed, and turned to her sister, who was still focused on the main screens.

“They have to be alive…” Celestia whispered to herself. “They have to do something…”

“If the ship is on a collision course, I think we can safely assume the crew is dead,” Luna said, though it pained her to do so. “We have to evacuate the campus, sister. Perhaps if anything survives the crash, we can--”

“Princess!” another technician exclaimed, turning to Luna. “Harmony is breaking up. It appears to be a uniform separation; modules one through three, the solar panels, and the reactor and engine struts have been disconnected.”

“What does that mean?” Celestia asked, raising an eyebrow.

“... It means they may be alive after all,” Luna replied, choosing to focus on the glimmer of hope that had been presented to her. “We may have a chance, here. I’ll still order the evacuation, but we need to stay. The crew will need us.”

“I… think I understand,” Celestia said, trotting to the door. “I will meet you outside, and ensure that everypony in the complex makes it to safety.” The elder Princess exited, and Luna approached the microphone for the complex PA system, activating it on an emergency channel.

“All ESA employees, evacuate the premises immediately,” she ordered, trying to sound calm. “Repeat, evacuate the premises immediately.” Luna activated an alarm, and watched as the control room staff trotted out of the building, headed for the nearest tram to take them far from the complex. When the command center was deserted, Luna followed the last of her ponies out, looking around for her sister. She found her standing a few dozen meters away, her eyes trained on the sky. Luna followed Celestia’s gaze, and found several fireballs, all of them quickly approaching. The Princess anxiously trotted to her sister, squinting her eyes as the fireballs drew closer.

“Look,” Celestia said, pointing to the debris. “Most of it is breaking up into smaller pieces, except for that one in the center.” Luna nodded, her suspicions confirmed.

“It is the bridge module,” she said. “They are casting a shield to protect from the heat. But it will not hold for long… prepare yourself, sister. When the debris is close enough, try your best to divert it into the bay. I will attempt to slow down the bridge, and deposit it safely on the ground.”

“Will you be able to handle the weight?” Celestia asked, concerned for the lives of those aboard. Luna paused, knowing that hers was not an easy task; if she faltered for even a moment, Harmony would crash at speeds high enough to kill the crew.

“... Yes,” she answered with a nod, summoning all the magic she could into her horn. “Just keep the debris away. Nopony else needs to be hurt on this mission.” Nodding, Celestia lit her horn as well, and waited for the debris to come within range.

The two sisters stood strong, staring without blinking as the debris descended upon the facility. And finally, just as soon as it was close enough, they acted. Celestia grabbed the various pieces of debris that had once been Harmony, using all of her magic to slow down and redirect them. Luna wrapped her telekinesis around the bridge module, immediately feeling the strain it brought upon her mind. The weight and speed of the ship was significant, but Luna could feel it slowing. She screwed her eyes shut, concentrating only on the task at hand. The rest of the world faded from her perception; in this moment, all that existed was Harmony. Whenever the Princess felt her telekinetic grip weakening, she would redouble her efforts, using every ounce of magic within her to bring the ship safely down.

Finally, she felt her grip disappear as the ground around her rumbled. Opening her eyes, Luna was met with the sight of Harmony’s bridge module, resting on the tracks between the assembly building and launch pad a hundred or so meters away. The ship had seen better days; the white plates were stained with soot, and some of the exposed metal was warped and melted from the heat. But she was intact, and that was the important part. Through the hell that the ship and her crew had endured over the past months, Harmony was home once again.

“... Are you alright, sister?” Celestia asked, concerned. Luna nodded, smiling, though she did feel greatly fatigued.

“Not exactly as easy as raising the moon,” she replied. “I’m fine. Our job is not over yet; we still have a crew to recover.” The Princess of the Night flared her wings, and set herself to launch into the air, but was stopped as she felt a hoof on her back.

You need rest,” Celestia insisted. “I won’t have you flying after doing something like this. Allow me to go get the crew.” Luna opened her mouth to protest, but closed it as her sister glared, reinforcing her stern demand. Instead, Luna nodded, stepping back.

“When you get them out, take them to the medical facility,” she said. “They’ll all be needing evaluations, both physical and mental. And Cobalt… make sure he’s under guard.”

“I know the drill,” Celestia said. “You just recall all the personnel, now that disaster has been averted. Also… I would suggest calling for additional security. Cobalt’s confederates will know Harmony returned safely very soon. They may strike.”

“Right,” Luna nodded, turning back to the command center. “I will meet you in the medical building.” Celestia leapt into the air, flying to Harmony’s airlock, while Luna trotted back to the command building, set to perform her task...


Twilight winced as the ESA nurse changed her bandages, feeling the pain of her wound spreading throughout her body like lightning. The fur around the wound was beginning to grow back, but Twilight could still see the scarred skin that Cobalt’s magic had left behind. The Princess frowned; it was not a scar that would be disappearing anytime soon. The nurse pressed down on the fresh bandage, making sure it was secure, then moved on to the next pony in line: Star Step. Her bandages were changed as well, while the rest of the crew sat anxiously on their beds in the decontamination room. Most of them, Twilight included, had been knocked unconscious by the significant forces of their return, meaning that they had yet to see a friendly face. However, according to Ace, it was Celestia who had carried them all from the ship. This gave Twilight hope that she would see her mentor again shortly.

After finishing her initial rounds, the nurse smiled, and removed a shield that she had conjured around herself. “Alright,” she said, “you’re all good to go. Just take it easy; remember that you have been in a sterile environment for the past several months, so your immune systems will need time to get used to Equestria again. Should you begin to feel sick, visit a doctor immediately.”

“Understood,” Ace said. “Do you know where we’re supposed to go?”

“Down the hall and to the left,” the nurse replied. “The Princesses will be waiting for you.” The crew hopped out of their beds, all of them glad to be on solid ground once again. Ace took the lead, walking down the corridor with the rest of the crew following him. At the end of the hall he turned left, opened a door, and entered into a small meeting room with enough seats for the entire crew, plus four extras. Twilight frowned at the empty seats, remembering those who had been lost. She made a mental note to organize a proper memorial, then turned her attention back to the present. More specifically, she turned her attention to Celestia and Luna, who were sitting at the very end of the table, both wearing looks of pure relief.

“Crew of the Harmony,” Luna greeted. “Welcome home.”

“It’s good to be home, Princess,” Ace said, taking a seat at the opposite end of the table. The rest of the crew filtered in and sat down as well, focusing their attention on the Princesses.

“First, we want to commend you all for the work you have done,” Celestia began. “Nopony expected anything like this to happen. Your mission training did not cover sabotage, and your mental training did not prepare you to deal with a betrayal on this level. Quite frankly, none of you were equipped to deal with anything like this, and yet you all managed to overcome Cobalt’s treachery. Equestria truly is fortunate to have ponies like you.”

“Now, I know you all want fresh air, but it is imperative that we debrief as soon as possible,” Luna said. “We need as much information as you can possibly provide, specifically regarding Cobalt. If we can track down his confederates, we can see that nothing like this will happen ever again.”

“Twilight,” Celestia said, “we’ll begin with you.” Nodding, Twilight cleared her throat to speak.

“Alright,” she began. “Let’s start from the beginning…”


FIVE DAYS LATER


Fields and forests rushed by Twilight’s window, and as the train drew closer to its destination, the Princess began to recognize familiar landmarks. The outer fringes of the Everfree were first, and in short time they gave way to the vast acres of apple trees owned by Applejack and her family. Buildings were the last thing to come into view, and Twilight smiled at the sight of her home. It’s been too long, she thought.

The train’s arrival was signaled by the screech of breaks, and Twilight lurched forward as the train slowed to a stop. She gathered her things - a few books she had read during the ride - and dumped them into her saddlebags, placed the bags on her back, then stood as the conductor entered the train car.

“We’ve arrived, Princess,” he announced. Twilight smiled and trotted to the front of the car, watching as the conductor opened the passenger door, then disappeared back into another section of the train. Taking a deep breath, Twilight looked at the open door before her. Through it was home, and everypony she had left behind all those months ago. With a nervous grin, the Princess exited the train, holding up a hoof to block the sun from blinding her.

When she lowered her hoof, Twilight’s jaw dropped. Standing a few meters from the edge of the train platform was nearly everypony in town, with her friends at the very front of a group. A few of the ponies held a banner, on which was written, “WELCOME HOME TWILIGHT!” The phrase was echoed by the crowd, and Twilight felt tears of joy enter her eyes as her friends rushed forward, embracing her in a tight hug.

“It’s good to have you back, Twilight,” Starlight Glimmer greeted.

“It’s good to be back,” Twilight said, her smile only growing. Her friends broke the hug, and Pinkie Pie jumped back toward the crowd, ushering Twilight to follow.

“Come on!” she urged, bubbling with excitement. “I promised you a party, and you’re getting one! Let’s go!” Before she could react, Twilight was swept along by the rest of her friends, practically being carried to the scene of the party. She laughed, the first genuine laugh she had had in a long time. Here, her worries seemed to disappear. Back in Ponyville, surrounded by her friends, there was no Cobalt. There was no Harmony, there were no terrorists, there was only familiarity…


When the party had died down, Twilight found herself standing on the balcony overlooking her castle’s foyer, examining the aftermath of the festivities. The floor was more confetti than marble, and the streamers would take several trash bags on their own. I’ll do that later, Twilight thought, yawning. For now, it’s time to relax…

“Hey, Twilight,” Starlight said, approaching the fatigued Princess. “Tired?”

“Just a bit,” Twilight replied. “This was quite the welcome home party. It was… everything I needed and more.” Starlight frowned, and stepped closer to her mentor.

“I can’t imagine how bad it really was up there,” she said. “The news reported on every statement the ESA issued, but they tried to keep things as quiet as possible. We didn’t even know members of the crew had died until you told us…”

“It was rough.” Twilight nodded, frowning at the mention of those who had not survived. A lone tear dripped down her cheek, and she wiped it away with a hoof. “It was rough.”

“Well, you’re home now,” Starlight added. “You’re safe again.” The rest of Twilight’s friends joined the pair on the balcony, all of them offering friendly smiles.

“Yeah, there’s nothin’ to worry about here,” Applejack said, draping a hoof over Twilight’s back.

“Everything’s a-okay!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “No plots here.” Twilight nodded, happy to be in the company of her friends once again. But even with all of the familiarity, one issue lingered; during the debriefing, Celestia and Luna had been behaving oddly. Ace had as well, and their words had seemed crafted, almost rehearsed.

“... Yeah,” Twilight said, trying to push the thoughts aside. But no matter how hard she tried to focus on something else, she could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. “Everything is fine…”

“Is something wrong?” Starlight asked, clearing sensing Twilight’s worry. “I would understand if you didn’t want to talk about it, but… We’re here for you, Twilight.”

“It’s just…” Twilight faltered, trying to find the words. “Celestia and Luna were acting strange during the debriefing… and before that, whenever I commed Celestia from Harmony, something seemed off… I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just like… It’s like they have something to hide.”

“Well, could it not be reasonable that they were acting oddly out of fear?” Rarity posited. “Given Princess Luna’s attachment to the mission, and your bond with Princess Celestia, I can understand why even they may be behaving out of the ordinary.”

“That makes sense to me,” Spike agreed, nodding.

“... Maybe,” Twilight said, “but it still feels like there’s more going on. More that I’m missing.”

“Well, they’ve trusted you with major responsibilities in the past,” Starlight said. “It’s clear that they trust you, so if there is something going on, I’m sure they’ll let you know.” Twilight nodded, though she was not entirely convinced. Her friends stood in silence for an awkward moment, wondering if Twilight would say anything else.

“... Look, it’s been a pretty long day,” Twilight finally said, stifling a yawn. “I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep.”

“Well, don’t let us keep you up,” Rainbow Dash said, patting her friend on the back. “Goodnight, Twi’!” The rest of her friends echoing the farewell, Twilight castle was soon empty once again, occupied only by herself and Spike, who was standing nearby.

“... Are you sure you’re okay?” the dragon asked, concerned.

“... I’m fine, Spike,” Twilight replied, nodding. “I just need some time to think, readjust, and… and come to terms with everything.”

“Well… I’ll do some cleaning, then,” Spike said, crossing to a small doorway on the side of the balcony. “Goodnight, Twilight.” He disappeared through the door, the sound of his claws on the stairs echoing through the crystalline castle. Twilight stared out over her foyer, trying to resolve the conflicting thoughts that flew through her mind. On the one hoof, Rarity had a point about the Princesses simply being worried. But on the other, too many things did not add up. Ace’s background, Cobalt’s ability to get past the background check… Oh, Celestia and Luna, Twilight thought, beginning to piece something together in her mind. What have you done?


ONE MONTH LATER


The sun set on Canterlot, and a still quiet took hold of the city as its residents transitioned from their day to night schedules. A gentle wind rustled the leaves of the trees in the city, but beyond that, not a sound was made. For the citizens of Canterlot, all was peaceful.

For the ponies in Canterlot Castle’s dungeon, peace was something they would never know again. Thanks to the efforts of Celestia and Luna, along with help from Ace, Cobalt had been broken. The Captain was thorough; he knew his crew in and out, and in situations such as this, he knew exactly what to say to bypass any barriers a pony could erect around their mind. And with the arrest of seven high-ranking terrorist leaders, a several-decade long mission was concluded. Now all that remained was cleaning up the mess that had been left behind.

Princess Celestia sat behind her desk, calmly reading over the after-action report from the squad that had apprehended the terrorist leaders. It had been a very clean mission; no friendly casualties, no civilians alerted, and no terrorist left standing. It was almost surreal for Celestia; all of the effort, the sacrifices over the years, had finally paid off. She allowed herself a smile, though it paled in comparison to the one worn by her sister.

“So we should be able to cut down travel time to 55 Eridani b to nearly fifty percent!” Luna reported excitedly, looking out the office window toward the horizon. “Once the funding is approved - assuming it’s approved - we can start construction on the new ship. The destruction of Harmony was unexpected, but as soon as news about our victory goes public, I have confidence that public support of a second mission will be overwhelming. Plus, we’ll have help from the zebra, as per the terms of our arrangement.”

The Princess of the Night was cut off as a knock sounded, and a guard opened the office door, poking his head inside. “Highnesses,” he said, “Captain Ace is here to see you.”

“Send him in,” Celestia ordered, lowering the after-action report. Luna turned away from the window, watching the door as Ace stepped inside, closing the door behind him.

“Captain,” Luna greeted. “How did the interrogation go?”

“Better than I expected,” Ace replied, stopping across from Celestia’s desk. “They may be smarter than most, but at the end of the day, they’re still terrorists, which means they’re all out for personal gain. Promise them the right things, and they’ll out their comrades with no trouble at all.”

“What exactly did you promise them?” Celestia asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Nothing they’re going to actually receive,” Ace said. “I’ll have a report written for you by tomorrow morning. Now, as for your promise…” Celestia and Luna exchanged a glance, then nodded and returned their attention to the Captain.

“We’ll honor our end of the agreement,” Luna said. “By the end of the week, all of the paperwork will be through. You will be retired with all honors, your records will be erased, and you will be free to live a life of your choosing.” Ace nodded, satisfied.

“And the crew?” he asked. Again Celestia and Luna shared a look, before shaking their heads.

“They won’t be told about the true purpose of their mission,” Celestia answered. “They believe their fight is over. Why reopen old wounds?” Ace’s jaw dropped, and he glared at the Princess, shaking his head.

“Why reopen old wounds?” he repeated. “You say that as if this all happened years ago! We lied to them. I lied to their faces, allowing Cobalt to sabotage my ship again and again just to force him to reveal himself. Do you think I liked doing this? Do you think it gave me a rush, like the ‘good old days’? I let three of my ponies die in order to catch that son of a bitch. Are we really not going to tell the crew that their suffering was worth something?”

“They will believe their suffering was worth something, once news of our success is released,” Luna replied. “They simply will not know the entirety of the truth. Now please, let this issue rest, Ace. Your fight is over, and your battle is won. Let it go.” Ace opened his mouth to speak again, but closed it after a short pause, sighing quietly instead.

“... Like I said, I’ll have a full report for you by morning,” he whispered. “And after that, I’d appreciate if you honor the terms of our agreement by never speaking to me again. I gave up retirement once, there will not be a second time.”

“If that is your wish,” Celestia agreed, nodding. “Goodnight, Ace. Thank you for your work.” The Captain grunted, and without another word, exited the office. Celestia let out a sigh as soon as he was gone, and turned to her sister. The two sisters did not have to speak to know that their feelings were mutual; the situation with Ace could have gone better, but at the end of the day, their mission had been a success. The most enduring terrorist organization Equestria had ever seen was gone. Others would rise, but Celestia was confident that they could be crushed as well. For now, she was content to sit in victory.

This contentment was broken as her office door opened again, this time without a knock, and, to Celestia’s surprise, Twilight Sparkle walked inside, her face an emotionless slate. Exchanging a confused glance with her sister, Celestia offered Twilight a welcoming smile, rising from behind her desk.

“Twilight,” she greeted warmly, “we weren’t expecting you. What brings you to Canterlot a this hour?”

“The truth,” Twilight answered. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past month. At first I thought I was just paranoid, traumatized from my time on Harmony. But as more of the pieces fit into place, my findings became impossible to ignore. It all works too well to be a simple coincidence. So tell me, am I right in suggesting that you risked the lives of Harmony’s crew with the sole intent of catching Cobalt?” Celestia’s smile disappeared, and she let out a sigh, knowing no amount of additional lying would convince Twilight otherwise.

“... Yes, you are right,” Celestia replied, nodding. “When it became clear that a mission as exciting as Harmony would be the prime target for a terrorist strike, we found ourselves with an opportunity that was too useful to pass up. By baiting Harmony, we have been able to catch monsters who have evaded our grasp for decades.”

“Ponies died, Celestia,” Twilight stated, a hint of anger entering her voice. “Ponies who thought their work would pave the way for colonization of other planets. Who are the real monsters here?”

“Their work has paved the way for the colonization of alien worlds,” Luna said, stepping forward. “Because these terrorists are out of the way, we are now free to embark on future missions with no risk of attacks. Golden Bolt, Astral Breeze, and Sharp Sight are heroes, and their sacrifice--”

Sacrifice!?” Twilight screamed, making no attempt to hide her pure, unadulterated rage. “They didn’t even know! Golden Bolt died in the vacuum of space, experiencing pain I can’t even imagine. Astral Breeze killed herself, betrayed by the crew she loved like a family. Sharp Sight died just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Do you think their final thoughts had anything to do with “sacrifice”?” Celestia crossed to her pupil, frowning as the young Princess recoiled away.

“Please, Twilight,” she said, “try to understand. I have been fighting these monstrous ponies for longer than you have been alive. Until Luna returned, defeating them was out of the question. This is not the course of action we wanted to take, but you cannot deny that it worked. We are safe now.”

“So that’s it, then?” Twilight asked. “You’re just going to accept this victory and move on? Did the lives of the crew mean nothing to you? Do I mean nothing to you?”

“Twilight, I care about you more than words can express,” Celestia answered. “And I don’t want you to think that I threw lives away for this mission. I never wanted anypony to die, and now that Cobalt has led us to his superiors, we can prevent thousands of deaths for years to come. And… Harmony was not always going to be a bait mission. There are exoplanets out there, and some of them could potentially support life. There will be another mission. And when the time comes, Luna and I want you to lead it.”

“Ace is effective when it comes to military protocol and tracking down saboteurs,” Luna said, “but a black ops veteran was never our first choice for an exploration mission. Will you accept?”

“Why me?” Twilight narrowed her eyebrows, doubtful. “Here I am, confronting you about this awful lie you have told, and you want me to continue to work with you? I should tell everypony what you have done. That would be the right thing to do.”

“Would it?” Celestia asked, shaking her head. “No, it wouldn’t. Defeating these terrorists has made Equestria stronger and safer. Telling the world about what we have done would undo the efforts of the past several years. It would make the deaths of Bolt, Astral, and Sharp worthless. Please, Twilight; I know your trust in us has been shaken, but sometimes, as leaders, we are forced to do questionable things in order to protect those we love. And for future missions, Luna and I need somepony we can trust. Somepony logical, yet empathetic. Somepony calm, yet inspiring. That somepony is you.”

“... I can’t forgive you,” Twilight said. “And I won’t forget what you’ve done. Justifying your actions in the name of harmony only taints the word. But… I’ll lead the next mission. However, I want to make one thing clear: I will run the mission the way I want to run it. And if you lie to me ever again… the world will know about it.” The young alicorn trotted back to the door, stopping just before exiting. She paused as if to speak, but instead she merely sighed and stepped out of the office, disappearing with a flash further down the corridor.

“... We should have known she would figure it out,” Luna said, frowning. “I hope we can regain her trust someday.”

“As do I, sister,” Celestia agreed, nodding. “As do I. Now, I believe you have a mission statement to write?” Luna nodded, crossing to the office door.

“Indeed I do,” she said. “We have a real shot at redemption with a second mission. Let’s not ruin it.” The Princess of the Night exited, and Celestia returned to her desk, now alone with her thoughts. Her student was entirely correct; no justification she could conjure up would regain the lives lost aboard Harmony. And despite what her sister said, Celestia knew there was no redemption for their actions. This was something she was going to live with for the rest of her life, one more stain to add to a slowly growing pile.

Standing up once again, Celestia crossed to her window, watching the moon as it hovered high over Equestria, casting the landscape in its soft, pale glow. Everything was calm and quiet at this hour of the night. This calm had not come without a cost; a price had been paid, and now Equestria faced one less threat. Whether or not the price was worth it, only time would tell. The future was filled with new possibilities now, opportunities that Celestia knew she would take. The Princess also knew that she could not repeat her actions of the past months. To do so would lose the faith of everypony in Equestria, and in times such as these, the citizens needed to have faith.

Never again, Celestia decided, turning away from her window. She took a seat at her desk, staring down at the papers that cluttered the surface. Luna had work to do, and so did she. A space mission was not a one-Princess job, and if the proper funds were to be raised, Celestia had to play her part. With a flash from her horn, the papers disappeared, teleported into a filing cabinet on the other side of the room. Her desk now clear, Celestia pulled a clean sheet of paper out of one of the drawers, and set it down in front of her.

“Okay…” she said to herself. “Back to work.”


EPILOGUE


SIX YEARS LATER


“ESA control to Phoenix capsule, we are all clear on this end. Please confirm.”

Phoenix capsule to ESA control, checking systems now,” Twilight Sparkle reported, looking around at her crew. Each pony sat at his or her station, monitoring their assigned system with an admirable level of focus. “How are we?”

“Comms are strong, and we’re on our own computers,” Star Step answered quietly. Twilight nodded, and turned her attention to the next pony in line.

“Engines are aligned and ready,” Lightning Flash replied, grinning. “We’re all good.”

Phoenix to ESA control, capsule is ready for launch,” Twilight said, waiting for the go-ahead.

“Crew of the Dawn, this is Princess Luna,” Luna’s voice said through the intercom. “I want to thank you for your bravery, and to let you know that everypony here at the ESA has your backs. Good luck, Dawn, and farewell.”

“Begin launch prep,” a technician said once Luna had removed herself from the intercom. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, main engine start, five, four, three, two, one.”

The Phoenix capsule rumbled as the rocket was sent skyward, and Twilight felt herself filling with the excitement that she had felt six years earlier, sitting in almost the same position as her current one. Back then, she had thought that she was being sent as a vanguard of the future, one of the ponies who would prepare her planet for interstellar colonization. But that had been a lie; now, Twilight knew it was reality. She would be making history, along with her mostly-new crew.

The shaking subsided, and Twilight turned her gaze to the nearest viewport. Through it, she saw only the sea of stars that she had called home while stranded on Harmony. Now, perhaps far more ponies could call it home, under much safer circumstances. This was the future for ponykind; exploration, conquering new frontiers and overcoming every challenge they encountered. Twilight could not help but smile at the mission on which she was about to embark. Here, they had a real opportunity to make a difference. A real opportunity to drive ponykind into the future. A real opportunity to create a new beginning...

Author's Note:

And so ends Onward to Tomorrow! Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed your time with this story.

This may be a story that I revisit in the future, though whether that is in the form of a rewrite or an entire reconcept remains to be seen. Regardless, I want to thank all the people who provided feedback with every chapter update. Although I do not reply to everything, I do pay attention to all of the feedback I receive, and I try to take it all to heart.

Once again, thank you for reading. Until next time, this is SpartanD014, signing off!

Comments ( 3 )

Kinda disagree with Twilight? Yeah, I understand her on personal level but... Sometimes rulers forced to make rather... unethical choices for the sake of their country. And sometime they lead to death of innocent people. But in general “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

So by the end of it all... the heroes never actually succeed at any attempt to stop the saboteur, he just fails the final assassination attempt and even then only because someone else intervenes as he's about to kill Twilight.

Good story do you plan to continue maybe with contact with humans. Maybe the star trek or star wars universes?

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