• Published 23rd Oct 2016
  • 608 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 3

CHAPTER 3


A still silence had taken a hold of the Equestrian Space Administration’s main complex, brought about by a recent investigation and discovery. Ponies stayed at their stations, the tension palpable as the Princesses arrived. The two alicorns had done their business, concluded the investigation, and work at the space center had resumed. Princess Luna sighed as she and her sister exited the construction bay, shaking her head.


“At least this business is over with,” she said, more to herself than to her sister. Behind them, two guards escorted a fuming stallion from the building, their strong telekinesis keeping him steady as he was lead away. As they passed the Princesses, the stallion spat in their direction, and was met with a swift kick from one of the guards.


“For now,” Celestia said, watching as the stallion was loaded into the back of a chariot. “I doubt he’s the only one here. Do keep a look out, please.”


“We will,” Luna said with a nod, sitting down on the concrete ground. “They’re crafty, I will give them that. That pony was one of our chief engineers. We’ve never had a pony that high up be involved with the terrorists.”


“We announced the Harmony mission years ago,” Celestia pointed out. “Plenty of time for them to worm their way into this administration, and plenty of time for them to plan.”


“Do you think it worked, then?” Luna asked, lowering her voice. “Is it possible one of them made it aboard Harmony?”


“I suppose we’ll find out soon,” Celestia replied. “If they did, the whole world will know soon. There is no doubt that they will have tried; with a target like Harmony, no terrorist organization could resist sabotaging it.”


“I hope this plan of yours works, then.” Luna stood, taking a few steps away from her sister. Her eyes were focused on the empty launch pad, several hundred meters away. “A lot of ponies are being put at risk for it. If they succeeded in getting a pony aboard, and he succeeds--”


“Then my plan will have failed, and the crew will die,” Celestia finished. “The terrorists will take responsibility, they will gain credibility and we will gain nothing. If my plan fails, it will be the greatest failure of my life. But if it works, we could gain critical intelligence.”


“Well I certainly hope it is worth it,” Luna said. “For the sake of the crew, more than anything else.” The Princess paused, looking away. “... Excuse me sister, I have duties to attend.” She disappeared in a brilliant flash of light, leaving Celestia alone in the middle of the space center. She sighed, knowing Luna was right; if her plan failed, then the deaths of eleven of the best ponies in Equestria would be on her. The death of Twilight would be on her…


Establishing connection…


Complete. Connection to ESA established.


A wide smile broke out on Twilight Sparkle’s face as her laptop screen flickered on, showing the waiting faces of seven of her friends back home. They stared through the camera on their end, trillions of kilometers away, all of their expressions similar to Twilight’s. This was not the first time they had communicated with each other, but for Twilight, each time was most welcome. She had been gone just over two weeks, yet it felt like years since she had last seen her friends in person.


“Hey, Twilight!” Starlight Glimmer greeted, her voice coming through the low-quality speakers on the laptop. “It’s great to see you again!”


“It’s great to see all of you, too,” Twilight said, wishing she could step through the screen and be with them again, if only for a short time. “How have things been back home?”


“Business as usual,” Applejack responded. “Nothin’ too excitin’, which I guess is for the best. How are things for you?”


“Things are going great here,” Twilight replied. “We’re about to have our fifth jump, so we will officially be halfway to the exoplanet. I’m excited to get there; as nice as this ship can be, I need a little more space, I think.”


“Yeah, some space to fly,” Rainbow Dash remarked, her face filling up most of Twilight’s screen as she neared the camera. “Stretch those wings out for me. They look floppier than pancakes!” Sighing, Twilight did as she was told, and stretched her weakened wings for Rainbow. The pegasus scoffed, pulling away from the camera.


“I won’t be able to fly on the exoplanet,” Twilight said, folding her wings back to her sides. “The atmosphere is very toxic, I’ll be restricted to an environmental suit. Those things aren’t exactly aerodynamic, not to mention the lack of space for wings.”


“Excuses, excuses,” Rainbow Dash sighed.


“Is the crew still handling everything well?” Rarity asked, changing the subject. Twilight nodded, thinking back over the events of the past few days. The crew was continuing to work as efficiently as ever, despite the high-stress situations they faced each day. Twilight continued to be impressed by their efforts, and the utter calm with which they worked.


“It’s great to be working with them,” she said. “When we get back, you all should meet them. I think you’d get along pretty well.”


“Sounds great!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed. “They can come to your welcome home party!” Twilight laughed quietly to herself, smiling at the thought of a party. She made to answer, but was cut off as the ship’s intercom came on.


“All crew, prepare for jump,” came Ace’s voice, as emotionless as ever.


“That somethin’ we need to worry about?” Applejack asked.


“No, it shouldn’t interrupt the communication channel,” Twilight replied. “There might be a quick lag spike, but the amplifier will remain active during the jump.”


“Jump in five, four, three, two, one.” Twilight closed her eyes, bracing herself for the familiar feeling of nausea and tingling that she knew was coming.


Instead, she was thrown across her room as the sound of an explosion filled her ears.


Princess Celestia gulped anxiously as she and Luna were lead into the command center of the ESA complex, holding a fairly good idea of why she had been called back so soon. Ponies sat silently at their stations, their focused stares betraying the anxiety that each one felt. The screen at the front of the room displayed a number of different images; a galaxy map showing Harmony’s relative position, several diagnostic windows, and an image which caused Celestia’s breath to catch in her throat. It was of Twilight, though she was merely a purple blur on an equally-blurry white backdrop. The low-quality still frame showed the young Princess being flung across her room, a look of pure panic on her face.


“Report,” Luna ordered coldly, bringing the attention of everypony in the room to her. A young pegasus mare timidly approached the Princess, holding in front of her a piece of paper.


“I…” she stammered, speaking at barely above a whisper. “At oh-nine-forty, Harmony stopped transmitting. Diagnostics of the final seconds before the ship’s fifth jump indicate there was a massive release of energy, roughly identical to that of one kilogram of TNT.” Luna simply nodded, turning to the large screen and reading over the available data.


“... Keep watching for now,” she said. “If it was simply some form of equipment failure, the crew will need us to be ready when they get communications back online. If it was more… I will work on that.”


“What is that?” Celestia asked, pointing to the still-frame image of Twilight that dominated part of the screen. The pegasus mare followed Celestia’s hoof, frowning when she caught sight of the image.


“Princess Twilight was in a video call with her friends just prior to the loss of signal,” she explained. “That’s the last frame that was transmitted. We were examining it for clues about what might have happened, but… there’s nothing there.” Celestia frowned, knowing very well that that image could be a picture of Twilight’s final moments. If her plan had failed, if the terrorists had succeeded…


“Sister,” Luna whispered, approaching Celestia. “A word, please.” The Princess of the Night lead her sister out of the command center, into the corridor just outside, and quickly checked to make sure nopony else was nearby. “So, it seems they were successful in getting somepony aboard. Somepony slipped through the background check, and was qualified enough for Ace to pick them.”


“I only hope this infiltrator was not fully successful,” Celestia said. “With all of the undocumented safety features you added, the challenge of sabotaging Harmony must have been far more difficult. If we are lucky, the ship is merely damaged, and they will be back online soon.”


“And if they’re not?” Luna asked accusingly. “If the saboteur was successful, and Harmony was destroyed? If the lives of everypony aboard have been ended in some horrific fashion? What then, Celestia? It will be awfully difficult to interrogate a member of their organization if his or her lifeless corpse is floating through space, now won’t it?”


“Luna…” Celestia sighed, glaring. “You agreed, we both agreed that this was the best way to catch them. With a target as important as Harmony, and a crew including a Princess--”


“For pony’s sake, ‘Tia!” Luna screamed, no doubt attracting the attention of the ponies inside the command center. “I… is this what we are reduced to? A mission that was supposed to be about progress and discovery, now used to track down and eliminate a terrorist organization… And Twilight, she… she had no idea. I… I think this was a mistake, sister.”


“I know,” Celestia said, “and maybe it was a mistake. But this terrorist organization has managed to outlive any others by decades. They are bold, they are careful, and they are effective. How can we expand to the stars when we cannot even stop these ponies? Until they are gone, significant progress cannot happen.”


“I… suppose we’ll find out, then,” Luna whispered, glancing away from her sister. “If your idea works, and we are able to capture the saboteur, I won’t deny that it will be a major victory for us. But if we fail… well, I hope it was worth it.” Without another word, Luna turned and re-entered the commander center, closing the doors behind her. Celestia took that as her cue to leave, and turned to go in the opposite direction. And as she walked away from the command center, the image of Twilight was burned into her mind. My student, she thought. Please, forgive me.


The bridge of Harmony was an scene of pure chaos when Twilight Sparkle finally arrived. She floated into the room, using her wings to keep herself steady, and tried to hear the orders Ace was giving over the sound of klaxons ringing throughout the ship. Everypony was strapped into their seats, working their control panels with a practiced diligence. Regardless, the concern everypony held was evident. Ace maintained his neutral expression, but his true feelings still managed to show. He leaned forward in his chair, quickly looking from pony to pony as they worked on diagnosing the problem.


“Captain!” Twilight called, floating over to his chair. Ace did not look in her direction; rather, he turned his attention to Cobalt, sitting at his station on the side of the room.


“Are damage sensors operational yet!?” he barked, impatiently tapping his hoof on the armrest of the chair.


“Almost got them…” Cobalt replied, trying to keep calm as the alarms continued blaring. Beads of sweat slowly rolled down his brow; he wiped them away, sending them floating across the bridge to the glass viewport. Outside, Twilight saw nothing but stars. No asteroids, no foreign objects, nothing that could explain what had happened to the Harmony.


“Sir, comms are still down!” Star Step reported, her voice shaking with fear. “I… I think one of the wires must have shorted out. No way we can send an SOS right now.” Twilight felt her anxiety only grow at the mention of an SOS. If the situation was that bad…


“Okay, damage report coming in,” Cobalt began, watching as data scrolled by on his station’s screen. “Sensors indicate that the source of the damage is… the jump drive. A massive release of energy was detected just as the jump initiated, most likely an explosion. Magic power systems are out all across the ship, we’re functioning on emergency reserves. Life support is offline, but it looks like it only lost power, there’s no physical damage. Engines are offline as well, we’re drifting.” The stallion turned to look Ace in the eye, his face expressing worry and fear. Ace looked back, unblinking as he took in the information.


“... Turn the alarm system off, and reroute emergency power to inter-ship comms,” he ordered. “I want engineering to be able to respond to us.”


“On it, sir.” Cobalt turned back around, carrying out his orders.


“Lightning Flash, where are we?” Ace asked, unsecuring his safety harness. He pushed himself off of the chair, floating to the viewport to gain a better view.


“We only partially completed the jump, sir,” Flash replied. “Instead of making it the full fourteen light-years, we made it three. Sensors detect nothing even remotely near us, but I wouldn’t trust sensors right now. There’s a chance they didn’t update to our new position, with the power outage.”


“Inter-ship comms are back online, Captain,” Cobalt said as the alarms turned off, prompting Ace to return to his chair. The Captain pressed back down on the intercom button, opening a channel with the engineering room.


“Bolt, Flame, are you able to respond?” he asked, lifting his hoof from the microphone switch.


“Affirmative,” Bolt replied after a short pause, her voice barely noticeable among the static in the speaker. “We’ve got Cobalt’s damage report, sir.”


“What are your thoughts on it, Bolt?”


“Jump drive’s fucked, but we’ll see what we can do about power,” the chief engineer answered, doing nothing to allay the worries of anypony on the bridge. “I don’t think the reactor was damaged, given that it’s outside the ship, but it could be a little bit before we’re up and running again.”


“Copy that, keep us updated,” Ace said. He shut off the comm channel, and returned his attention the ponies on the bridge. “Cobalt, Lightning Flash, go down there and help the engineers out. Get life support power back up. I don’t intend to die by asphyxiation. Star Step, keep monitoring comms; the second power comes back, get into contact with Equestria. I want this ship back up and running as soon as possible. Princess, XO, a word.” With that, Ace floated back out of his chair and exited the bridge, waiting for Skychaser and Twilight in the small corridor beyond. Twilight pushed herself to follow him, while Skychaser flapped his wings to get out of his chair.


“What can we do, Captain?” Twilight asked, concerned.


“We need to figure out how this happened, and fully diagnose the degree of the damage,” Ace replied. “Whether it’s a critical equipment failure, or sabotage, or something else, I doubt we’ll be making a jump any time soon. We need to keep the crew working; keep them calm, get the ship back up and running, and figure out a plan.”


“I’ll get Sharp Sight and Astral Breeze to have a look around,” Skychaser offered. “They can see if anything was tampered with, and access security systems when we get full power back.”


“Help them out, if they need it,” Ace said. “Princess Twilight, I’d like for you to check in with everypony. Get status updates, make sure we know what’s going on. We need to keep some semblance of order until systems are back up. Understood?” Both Twilight and Skychaser nodded, then turned to perform their assigned duties. Skychaser flapped down the ladder well, while Twilight turned and reentered the bridge, where Star Step remained busy at work. Twilight floated over to the mare, who was staring intently at her screen, trying to get communications back online. Her mouth was opening and closing, and as Twilight got closer, she managed to pick up a few quiet words.


“It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay…”


“Star Step?” Twilight placed a hoof on the mare’s shoulder, causing her to abruptly stop speaking. She turned to the Princess, her eyes wide in fear.


“We covered this,” she stated plainly, never blinking. “In the event of a critical systems failure, we were trained to perform repairs. If repairs were impossible, we’re prepared to stretch rations and wait for a rescue. We covered this. I just didn’t expect anything to go wrong…”


“I know,” Twilight said. “Neither did I. But we’re going to be fine; we’ll get everything repaired, and we’ll be on our way. We’ll all be okay.” Star Step nodded, finally blinking, and looked back to her station.


“It… it looks like some power has already been restored,” she said. “Golden Bolt works fast… I should have communications back soon.” Nodding, Twilight pushed herself away from Star’s station, floating back to the bridge entrance. One pony down, eight to go, Twilight thought as she entered the ladder well.


With the klaxons now offline, Twilight noticed just how quiet the ship had become. There was always some noise; electronics whirring away behind walls, the gentle hum of lights, or the hiss of the ventilation systems. Now all of that was missing. The darkened corridors were barely lit by the emergency lights, and Twilight had to use her horn to find her way down the next corridor. As she floated to the next ladder, the Princess began to think; power systems and life support could be repaired, but Golden Bolt’s description of the jump drive was not promising. If it was damaged beyond repair, the crew would have much bigger issues.


After a few more minutes of navigating down ladders and through corridors, Twilight came to the main engineering room on deck 7. The bulkhead door had been forced open, and the ponies inside scurried from place to place, working on the repairs. Twilight had only been in the engineering room once, though it looked mostly the same now, which she took to be a good sign. Physical damage was restricted to a few breaker boxes, which lit the room every few seconds with a burst of sparks. Vibrant Flame was by one of the breakers, a pair of gloves on his hooves as he expertly manipulated a tool within. Cobalt and Lightning Flash were floating above the life support station, observing a sparking cord running through the center. Curiously, Twilight looked around for Golden Bolt, wondering where the chief engineer was. When she finally found her, Twilight felt her anxiety only grow.


Bolt’s wrench cutie mark was just visible behind what was left of the jump drive. The metal casing around the drive was warped and scorched, and next to it were two empty fire extinguishers. All of the metal-covered wires leading into the drive had been blown apart, leaving them in pieces on the deck. Bolt pushed herself out from behind the trashed drive, frowning.


“I… guess it’s beyond repair, then?” Twilight asked, gaining the attention of the engineer. Bolt nodded grimly, her brow knit together.


“Whatever caused the explosion, it was on the inside,” she began. “The casing did its job; it contained the explosion, but… there’s barely anything left inside. Mostly just melted metal and ashes. We brought replacement parts, but… nothing for damage this critical.” Twilight looked over the destroyed jump drive, trying to push away the reality that was now upon her; without this drive, they were stranded trillions of kilometers from home.


“... What are our options?”


“Stretch rations,” Golden Bolt answered. “Keep focused on repairs, contact Equestria, see if a rescue mission is possible. If it’s not possible… keep each other company, I guess.” Twilight nodded, appreciating the engineer’s realistic viewpoint. If anything was to be accomplished, Twilight knew they had to face facts.


“Fixed the last one!” Vibrant Flame called, closing the door on his breaker box. He pushed himself away, navigating to the other side of the room. “I’ll get started on gravity now.” Twilight watched the stallion work, noting how different his behavior was. Normally he was quiet and reserved, but in this situation, he was handling himself with a professionalism Twilight had yet to see. She was impressed.


“Life support is back!” Lightning Flash reported, using a nearby beam to push himself closer to the jump drive. The stumps where his wings had once been twitched, as though they were still trying to fly. Stretching out his forehooves, Flash bumped against the ruined outer shell of the jump drive, using it to come to a stop. “Anything else you need, Bolt?”


“Yeah, take some of the scrap metal to storage,” Bolt requested. “Could come in handy later, in case we have more damage to repair.” Nodding, Lightning Flash and Cobalt gathered up some of the scrap and floated it out of engineering, headed down the corridor to one of the ship’s storage pods. Twilight watched the stallions leave, wondering how this was all affecting them. They were showing few emotions, instead focusing on their work. Twilight wished she could do the same.


“Shit…” Bolt sighed, floating herself over to a nearby control station. “How’d this happen? All readings were normal, our pre-jump inspections didn’t turn up anything unusual… This shouldn’t have happened.”


“It’s not your fault, Bolt,” Twilight said. “I don’t think anypony saw this coming.”


“That’s just the thing.” Bolt switched the station on, showing a number of diagnostic reports. Twilight only understood a few of the data points, but she was able to tell that most of them were reporting zero issues. “By all of these readings, there were no system failures before, or at, the time of the explosion. It should not have happened. Whatever did happen… I don’t think it was an accident.” Twilight frowned as she considered the idea. If Bolt was right, then their problem just grew exponentially.


“Princess.” Turning around, Twilight found Skychaser floating in the engineering doorway. She flapped over to him, stopping just shy of running into the XO.


“What is it?” she asked, speaking at barely above a whisper.


“We got power in security back,” Skychaser said. “Ace and Sharp Sight found something, we’re both needed immediately.” Nodding, Twilight motioned for Skychaser to lead the way, and followed him down the corridor. They entered the ladder well, going up a few decks before exiting once again. From there it was a short journey down another corridor, and the pair finally arrived at the security office.


Ace and Sharp Sight were waiting inside, floating just above the floor by the main security station. All of the monitors were online, and all of them showed a still image of the jump drive. The timestamp indicated that the images were taken two days prior, though Twilight was confused as to why they were being displayed. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary to her.


“Close the door, please,” Ace ordered as Twilight and Skychaser pushed themselves inside. Skychaser complied, closing the door behind them. “Thank you. What I’m about to say cannot leave this room until we find a way to deal with it. Understood?” Everypony nodded. “Good. You might think you’re looking at a still image. Check the timestamp again.” Twilight did as instructed, looking beneath the date at the clock. Her eyes widened as she realized this was not a still image; the clock was moving, this was a video.


“... Why’s it frozen, then?” Skychaser asked, reaching the same realization as Twilight.


“This is the case with every camera on the ship at this time,” Sharp Sight said, bringing up more images. All of them had the same moving timestamps, but all of the images were completely frozen. “It’s not a glitch. This affected both audio and video, and all backup recordings have been deleted. This was done intentionally.”


“So Golden Bolt was right…” Twilight muttered to herself, breathing out heavily. “Alright. What do we do about it? If there’s a saboteur aboard--”


“No ‘if’ about it,” Ace interrupted. He flipped a switch, and Golden Bolt’s diagnostics from engineering appeared on one of the security screens. “All security systems are jammed in the middle of the night, and then the jump drive explodes with no data indicating a system failure. I know sabotage when I see it.”


“We need to talk to every member of the crew, including the ponies in this room,” Sharp Sight suggested. “Get their stories; what were they doing at the time of the explosion, and what were they doing two nights ago during the security outage. I doubt anypony will outright confess, but it could help narrow down suspects.”


“Agreed,” Skychaser said. Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted as the intercom came on.


“All crew, main power has been restored,” came the voice of Golden Bolt. “Prep for gravity. Five, four, three, two, one.” The ponies in the security office pushed themselves closer to the floor, finally coming into contact as gravity was restored. Twilight welcomed the feel of the deck, flexing out her wings with the gravity now back online. She paused for a moment, considering all that had been said so far.


“I agree that interviews would be beneficial,” she started, picking her words slowly, “but we don’t want to give off the impression that we are interrogating anypony. If somepony feels threatened, like we are implicating them without cause, they’ll become defensive. If that happens, we won’t make any progress. We need to be careful.”


“Right,” Ace agreed with a nod. “With that in mind, Twilight, I’d like you to help with the interviews. I will be there, as will Sharp Sight. Skychaser, keep an eye on everypony else. Monitor security, watch for any more outages. It looks like the saboteur’s plan failed; if they’re going to try again, it will be in the aftermath, while we’re still getting back online.


“Let’s plan to do this starting tonight. We’ll let everything get fully repaired first, then we’ll start the questioning. This saboteur has crippled my ship; I don’t intend to die out here, so let’s make sure they can’t do anything else. Everypony, dismissed.” Before anypony could leave, a knock sounded on the door. Skychaser opened the door, revealing a weary-looking Star Step. Her eyes settled on the Captain, and she took a step inside.


“Sir,” she began, “Golden Bolt fixed the communications power relay. We’re back online, and Equestria is requesting a status update.”


“Tell them I’ll be right there,” Ace said. Star nodded, then turned and trotted back down the corridor. Ace waited until she had ascended back up the ladder before speaking again. “Remember, nothing of what was said leaves this room. If there’s a saboteur, we don’t want them to know we’re onto them until we’re ready to start the questioning. Now, go on.” Twilight exited the room, stopping just outside the office. The three stallions walked past her, splitting up in different directions, with Ace heading to the bridge, and Skychaser and Sharp Sight going down to the lower decks.


Twilight did not know what to make of the situation. They were stranded, that much was certain, and the mission would not be completed. There were too many unknowns. Who is behind this? Will they strike again? Will we be rescued? Is a rescue even possible? The questions raced through Twilight’s head, each one increasing her fear exponentially, until finally she came to the last question on her mind: Am I going to die out here?


Call started.


“What went wrong?”


“The explosion was contained by the outer housing. Again, we didn’t account for it being there, so our math was off.”


“I hope you realize what this means.”


“Yes.”


“This plan was the most likely to work. And it has not worked.”


“I know. But the jump drive is damaged beyond repair. That gives me time to think, and time to act.”


“See that you do. You have failed us once; do not fail again.”


Call ended.


Twilight paced back and forth in the mess hall, trying to relax some of her nerves. Ace stood silently by the back wall, while Sharp Sight sat on one end of the dining table, quietly drumming his hooves on the surface. All sharp objects had been locked away, and access to the room had been restricted. If the saboteur was found out, they would have a difficult time getting away.


Somepony knocked, and Ace stepped away from the wall, crossing to the door. When it opened, Star Step was standing outside, a look of concern on her face. She entered the mess hall, her purple eyes flickering from pony to pony. A look of realization slowly came across her face as she noticed the camera and microphone next to Sharp Sight.


“Please have a seat, Star Step,” Ace requested, closing the door. He followed the mare to the table, circling around it as the comms officer sat down across from Sharp Sight.


“What… what is this?” Star whispered, shrinking down into the seat.


“We want to make one thing very clear, Star,” Twilight said as warmly as she could, crossing to the mare with a smile. “We don’t think you are guilty of any wrongdoing. But this is a delicate situation, and we need to be absolutely sure. Okay?” Star Step slowly nodded, looking at the table.


“Okay…”


“You were on the bridge when the explosion occurred, yes?” Sharp Sight asked, removing his hooves from the table.


“That’s right,” Star answered.


“And did you notice anything out of the ordinary? A strange reading, or any of the other bridge crew acting odd?” Star Step appeared to think to herself for a moment, before finally she shook her head.


“No, nothing out of the ordinary.”


“Now, can you tell us what you were doing two nights ago, between one-fifteen AM and one-fifty AM?” Ace asked. Again Star Step thought to herself before answering.


“I was working the night shift,” she replied. “That’s right around the start of my shift. I was monitoring communications for unscheduled or emergency updates from Equestria. Skychaser was there, he can confirm all of that.”


“Since the start of the mission, have you logged any strange comms going in or out of the ship?” Sharp Sight asked.


“No, nothing,” Star answered, shaking her head. “There are records of every logged comm at my station. You can check them, if you want.”


“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Twilight said, trotting to the door. Swiping an ID card, she opened the door for Star. “That’s all, you’re free to go. Thank you for your cooperation.” Without another word, Star Step quickly stood and exited the room, disappearing up the ladder well. Twilight watched her go with a frown, wishing it hadn’t come to this. The mission had been going so well, and now they were reduced to this.


“So who’s next?” Twilight asked, turning back to the Captain and security chief as the door slid shut.


“Lightning Flash,” Ace replied. He looked Twilight in her eyes, squinting in thought. “I know how you’re feeling. Early in my career, I had to do these. Unfortunately, they were a bit less… clean. I hate being forced to individually question every member of the crew, but unless you have a better idea, it’s the only thing we can do right now.”


“I know,” Twilight said with a sigh. “It’s just… over the past couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed getting to know these ponies. I’ve treated them as equals, as friends. Now… it feels like I’m betraying them.”


“I’m their commanding officer, and now I’m treating them like they’re the enemy,” Ace countered. “I know it’s ugly business, but our main priority should be the safety of everypony on this ship. And as long as a saboteur is walking around freely, their safety is in jeopardy. I cannot have that be the case.”


Another knock sounded on the door. Twilight swiped her ID card to open it, revealing Lightning Flash standing outside. His expression was far more neutral than Star Step’s; no doubt he already had some idea of what this was. The pilot stepped inside, sitting down across from Sharp Sight with no reservations. Twilight closed the door, then turned to approach Lightning. Alright, she thought. Let’s get this over with.


The bridge was quiet after Lightning Flash left, leaving Cobalt alone at his station, where he was busily monitoring diagnostics reporting the damage he had caused. Despite his overall failure, the jump drive was utterly destroyed. Harmony was not going anywhere, and if Cobalt was able to strike again, the same would be said about her crew.


The door to the bridge quietly slid open, and Cobalt heard the sound of hooves on metal as a pony entered. Turning his head, the stallion found Star Step walking inside, heading directly to her station with an uncharacteristic emotionless face. She sat down, sliding her chair into her station, and resumed her work as if nothing had happened. Raising an eyebrow, Cobalt stepped away from his own station and crossed to Star, placing a hoof on her shoulder as soon as he was close enough.


“Hey,” he said calmly. “You okay?”


“Mhm.”


Cobalt frowned, unconvinced. He placed a hoof beneath Star’s chin and turned her head to face him, bringing his mouth close to hers. Star Step did nothing more than stare back, but Cobalt could see through her stern expression. Something had clearly upset her; two years was more than enough time to learn a pony’s tells.


“You can talk to me,” he insisted. “You’re clearly not okay, so what’s wrong? What was that ‘meeting’ all about?” Star Step paused, her eyes flickering away from Cobalt. She sighed, and finally answered.


“‘Interrogation’ is more accurate,” she said. “They wanted to know what I’ve been doing, if I’ve noticed anything out of the ordinary… Twilight said they didn’t think I had done anything wrong, but their tones made things pretty clear. They don’t trust me.” Frowning, Cobalt stepped away, trace amounts of anger growing in him.


“That’s ridiculous!” he exclaimed, walking in a circle around Star Step’s station. “Anypony who knows you, knows you could never harm somepony else! They’re being crazy!”


“But… but what if they’re right?” Star Step asked. “About sabotage, I mean. They never actually said the word, but I know that’s what they think. We… we’ve all been training together, and living together, for two years. Who could do something like this? It’s… it’s monstrous!”


“Who knows?” Cobalt replied. “Ace and Sharp Sight, they’re military. They’re paranoid. And the Princess, well… she’s been a princess for only a few years, she’s probably just going with what they’re saying because they’re more experienced. I don’t think we have anything to fear.”


“You really think so?” Star Step raised an eyebrow, and Cobalt returned to the mare with a smile.


“I know so,” he said, giving her a quick kiss. “It’s like you said, we’ve all been together for two years. I don’t think anypony here would sabotage the ship. We’ll be okay, I know it.” Star Step nodded, and smiled weakly.


“Okay,” she said. “Thanks.” Cobalt moved in for another kiss, but was interrupted as the door slid open.


“I leave you alone for five minutes…” Lightning Flash muttered as he stepped inside, not making eye contact with either pony while he crossed to his station at the front of the bridge.


“Uh-huh,” Cobalt said, trying to act natural. “So, how was your ‘meeting’?”


“Alright,” Flash replied, strapping himself in. “A bit insulted, honestly. Don’t really care, though. I just want to get a move on.”


“I wonder who’s next,” Star Step thought aloud, frowning once again. “They’re moving pretty fast down there.”


“I think Vibrant’s next, I saw him on my way back up.” Cobalt sighed as he returned to his station. Soon it would be his turn to be ‘interviewed.’ His training had covered methods of acting innocent or natural, but he had also been warned about the Captain, and about his past. If Ace had any reason to suspect him, Cobalt was not sure if he would be able to keep his cover…


Twilight watched Vibrant Flame exit the mess hall, his eyes wide in pure fear as he carefully made his way back down the ladder to engineering. The Princess felt bad for the engineer; he was talented, but his social anxiety rivaled Fluttershy’s. And when he was locked into a room with three of the commanders of the mission, his anxiety had only increased. Twilight did not think he was guilty, but his answers to some of the questions did leave her suspicious.


“I’m not so sure about him,” Ace muttered, frowning. “His behavior aside, he has access to critical engineering systems. That makes him a suspect.”


“By that logic, Golden Bolt should be a suspect, too,” Sharp Sight countered. “Come on, we all know Vibrant. He’d never hurt anypony. As for his behavior, well… abuse’ll do that to a pony. Fact is, he’s never been aggressive before. I think he’s just scared.”


“Agreed,” Twilight said, closing the door. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep an eye on him, but… he’s only the third pony we’ve interviewed. That still leaves more than half the crew. Let’s not make any judgements just yet.”


Once again there was a knock, and once again Twilight opened the mess hall door. Astral Breeze was waiting outside, her hoof raised mid-knock. She lowered it when she saw Twilight, and quickly saluted as she noticed Sharp Sight and Ace further in the room.

“Reporting as requested,” she said. Ace motioned for her to enter. Astral dropped the salute and calmly walked inside, stopping just across from Sharp Sight.


“Sit down,” Sharp requested, starting the camera and microphone. “Where were you at the time of the explosion?”


“My room,” Astral replied, not giving any indications of fear or worry. “I’d worked the night shift a few hours before, so I was getting some rest.” With a nod, Ace circled around the pony, quietly thinking to himself.


“Mhm,” he began. “Can anypony else confirm that?”


“I… don’t think so,” Astral answered. “I told Sharp Sight I was going to take a nap, but I don’t think I passed anypony in the halls or anything.”


“Alright,” Sharp said. “What were you doing two nights ago, between one-fifteen AM and one-fifty AM?”


“Sleeping again. I didn’t have the late shift that night.” Sharp Sight withdrew a piece of paper, on which were written schedules of crew shifts for duration of the mission.


“Have you noticed anything strange in the security office?” Ace asked. “Have any of the computers been tampered with, or has any unauthorized pony been inside?” Astral shook her head.


“Astral, a few times during this mission, you’ve made some strange comments, played off as jokes,” Sharp Sight began. “Most of them are related to death, specifically the death of the crew. Can you explain those?” Astral Breeze looked away, growing uncomfortable. She remained silently for a moment, thinking to herself.


“I… don’t know,” she replied. “Just a morbid sense of humor, I guess. I didn’t actually think anything was going to happen, really. I just… they were just jokes.” Both Ace and Sharp Sight remained silent this time, each one staring at Astral with piercing eyes. The mare shrunk in her seat, avoiding eye contact with the two stallions.


“... Alright,” Twilight said, interrupting the stare-down. “That’s all. You may go, Astral.” The security officer stood and quickly exited the mess hall, hurrying away. When she was out of sight, Twilight closed the door and turned on the two stallions.


“That’s not how we treat crew members,” she stated plainly, her eyes narrowed. “I agree that her answers left a lot to be desired, but did you see her? You were terrifying her.”


“She should know better than to be terrified by us,” Sharp Sight said. “She’s military, she should be able to keep that fear in check. The fact that she did get scared tells us a lot.”


“Unfortunately, I agree,” Ace said, sighing. “There’s no pretty way to do this, so let’s just get on with it.” There was another knock, but when Twilight opened the door, it was not their next crew member on the list. Rather, Star Step stood outside, trying to mask any emotions she may have been feeling.


“Equestria contacted us,” she reported. “Princess Celestia wants to speak with you, Twilight.”


“Thank you,” Twilight said, stepping out of the mess hall. “Patch it through to my room. Ace, Sharp, you can handle the next few meetings without me, right?”


“Of course,” Ace replied. “Take your time, Twilight.” With a nod, Twilight trotted down the corridor to her quarters, where her laptop was already active. On it was a video feed of Princess Celestia, her worried stare fading away as Twilight entered the view of her camera.


“Twilight!” Celestia greeted, clearly relieved. “I’m so glad you’re okay. When Captain Ace sent me his report--”


“I know,” Twilight interrupted, smiling warmly. “I feel the same way. For a few minutes there, I thought it was all over. But Ace chose well; this crew handled the situation excellently, and nopony got hurt.”


“That’s good to hear,” Celestia said. She paused, her expression changing as her mind moved to different matters. “Ace… also told me about the newly developed situation. That there is a high chance of a saboteur onboard.” Twilight nodded, and Celestia sighed. “Be careful, Twilight. Please. Just this morning, we caught a pony with terrorist ties in the space center. I think it’s believable that this pony could be connected to the saboteur. If a terrorist organization is organized enough to infiltrate a project like this, the saboteur will be very skilled. Have caution.”


“I will, I promise.” Twilight froze as another question entered her mind, though she was not sure if she wanted to hear the answer. “I know it may be too soon to tell, but… is there any word on a rescue mission?” Celestia frowned, shaking her head.


“Not yet,” she replied. “We’re considering options, and we’ll have something for you soon. But have hope, we won’t just abandon you out there.”


“I know,” Twilight said, forcing a smile. “Thank you. Despite what happened today, this is still the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m glad I’m here.” Celestia smiled back, though Twilight could tell it contained some amount of pain. She hoped the elder Princess was not feeling guilty about assigning Twilight to the mission. After all, there was no way Celestia could have known something like this would happen.


“I won’t keep you any longer,” Celestia said. “Though if you ever want to talk, I’m available. Have a good rest of your day, Twilight.”


“You too, Celestia.” The image of Celestia flickered away as the connection was cut off, and Twilight leaned back in her chair with a sigh. She stared at the laptop screen, wishing once again that the images it displayed were more than just pictures. Before, she was able to cope with the idea of six months. But now, her time in space was indefinite. She was among the first ponies to leave their home system. She did not want to be among the first to die out here.


With a grunt, Twilight stood up, rubbing her eyes. The clock on her wall read just past eight P.M. Despite the relatively early hour, her ‘day’ had been a long one. But still many more meetings remained, and as unpleasant as they were, she had to see them through. Opening her door, Twilight stepped outside, and returned to work...

Author's Note:

Hey, everyone! Thanks for your great insights and words of encouragement you've given so far! Your thoughts really do help, so if you have anything to say about this chapter, please feel free to post a comment below.

I'm getting back into the mindset of writing frequently, and I hope to be able to maintain a weekly schedule for chapter releases. Obviously this will vary based on chapter length, how much free time I manage to find, and if something comes up in my schedule. But for now, expect something resembling weekly releases.

If you noticed any spelling/grammar errors, or if you have any critiques, please let me know. Thank you for reading!