• 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 4

CHAPTER 4


“Eleven interviews, and nothing,” Skychaser sighed, shaking his head as he paced back and forth through the security office. “Nothing concrete, at least.” Twilight sighed as well, resting her head on her hoof. Skychaser was right; everypony on the crew had been interviewed, themselves included, and no damning evidence had been found. They had managed to rule a few ponies out, but beyond that, little progress had been made.


“I still maintain that Astral is our number one suspect,” Ace said. “She was unaccounted for during both the security outage and the explosion, and she became afraid during her interview. She’s never shown that kind of fear before.”


“It is a bit suspicious,” Sharp Sight agreed.


“Now hang on!” Skychaser exclaimed, stopping in his tracks. “Her behavior during the interview is perfectly excusable, given that you two decided to treat her like an enemy. I don’t think a few bad jokes are good enough evidence to make her our number-one suspect.”


“Do you know something we don’t, XO?” Ace asked accusingly. “Have you, perhaps, spent time with her during her off hours? Would you like to update us on her activities?”


“That’s enough,” Twilight said before Skychaser could respond. “Let’s stay calm. We didn’t find anything concrete, but we ruled out some ponies. So let’s just think about the situation again, and see if we can refine any of our thoughts.”


“It still makes sense to me that the explosive was on a timer,” Sharp Sight began. “A detonator would be too conspicuous, and everypony knew the exact time we were going to be jumping.”


“So the saboteur planted the explosive during the security outage, programmed it to wait two days, and then acted natural,” Ace finished. “That makes sense to me. But who, on this ship, is capable of something like that?”


“Well, there’s us in here,” Skychaser said. “And it wouldn’t be difficult for the engineers to access the jump drive. But if this saboteur is well trained, they’d be able to get an explosive in there regardless of their position. We shouldn’t restrict suspects to certain jobs.”


“Agreed, let’s look at the bigger picture,” Twilight said, pushing her head off of her hoof. She stood up and circled the room, putting all of the facts in order in her head. “We know for a fact that Star Step and Skychaser were on the bridge during the security outage. Quick Fix was in the infirmary, as confirmed by Lightning Flash when he went to visit her for some headache meds. Golden Bolt was the engineer on-duty at the time, but she says she was in storage, gathering some replacement parts for a few lights that had broken. Everypony else was off duty and sleeping, essentially making them unaccounted for.”


“And if the explosive was on a timer, then it doesn’t matter where they were at the time of the explosion,” Sharp Sight sighed. “Whoever is responsible did a very good job of not getting caught.”


“The saboteur failed to destroy this ship,” Ace said. “They will try again. Let’s keep our eyes vigilant, and we’ll make sure the crew is safe.” The ponies nodded, all of them in agreement. If one thing was certain, it was that they were not safe just yet…


The city of Canterlot was buzzing with activity as news of the Harmony incident spread throughout the country. The day after the disaster, news agencies were all printing the same story: Harmony had suffered critical damage, and was currently unable to make jumps. The next day, more stories were printing, though they were filled with nothing more than flashy titles and conjecture. One paper was reporting that Princesses Celestia and Luna would “pool their magic and teleport Harmony back to Equus.” Another was reporting that the ship had been destroyed and her crew was dead. A third claimed to be in contact with the ship, which had been taken over by hostile aliens.


Princess Celestia sighed as she put down the three newspapers, rubbing her eyes with a gold-clad hoof. She hoped ponies would not buy into the garbage they were being fed by these “news” agencies, and would instead wait for official reports from the ESA. But if the past was any indication, at least a few ponies would be vocal about Harmony.


“So, how long?” Princess Cadance asked, breaking the still silence that had taken hold of the office. “Realistically, how long would it take to pull off a successful rescue mission?”


“... Over a year,” Luna answered after a short pause. “We would need to build a new jump-capable ship, with plenty of room for the crew, and plenty of supplies to keep them fed on the return journey. Financial difficulties aside, we simply can’t do this in time. Harmony has enough food and water for nine months; that’s three months worth of redundant supplies, but even then… Their rations are already strict enough, and Ace will have to restrict them even more. They will starve long before another ship can arrive, and that’s if the saboteur doesn’t strike again.”


“So that’s obviously not an option,” Celestia said. “But you would not have called us both here if you did not have some plan. So, what can we do?”


“Here, look over this.” Luna summoned forth two pieces of paper, and floated them to the other two Princesses. Celestia grabbed the paper and scanned over it, carefully taking in every word. The further she read, the more she became aware of what Luna was planning.


“This is prepared to launch in four days,” Luna explained. “It’s small, but it could get the job done. If the zebra go for it, they would delay the launch, we would install a jump drive, and it would be ready to go within a few weeks. It would arrive at Harmony in a month, we would extract the crew, and bring them home.”


“I remember hearing about this launch,” Cadance said. “The zebra have been planning it for some time. Why would they just give us this rocket?”


“Well, we would need to work that out with them,” Luna replied. “I think we can all agree that no price is too large to pay to get our ponies home.”


“Indeed,” Celestia agreed. “Luna, why don’t you and Cadance arrange a meeting with the ZSC this evening? I will remain here, should Harmony’s situation develop any further.”


“Very well,” Luna said, turning to the third Princess. “Cadance, shall we?”


“Let’s go,” Cadance said, nodding. The two Princesses left the office, leaving Celestia alone in the silent castle. She leaned down, propping her head up on her hooves, and sighed heavily. She had known this would happen; in fact, she was counting on it. If the saboteur was caught, it could give the Equestrian government the advantage it desperately needed to hunt down and eliminate the terrorists. But now that the sabotage had actually occurred, and Harmony was stranded, trillions of kilometers from home… It was harder to take than Celestia had anticipated.


This is not who I am, Celestia thought, standing up. She moved to a side table and quickly poured herself a glass of water, hoping it would help clear her mind. Look what these terrorists have done to you; the once fearless Princess Celestia, now reduced to putting her own ponies in great peril just for some information. This is not who I am. She downed the glass of water, sighing as it did little to help. She refilled the glass, this time with a vintage wine kept in the cabinet beneath the table. She carried both the glass and the bottle back to her desk and sat down, looking at her cluttered workspace. With a flash from her horn, Celestia teleported all of the irrelevant documents away, leaving only those which related to Harmony. There were not many, and Celestia quickly organized them into neat piles on her desk.


This had all better be worth it, she thought, looking over the first document. It was a supply manifest, detailing every food item that had been taken aboard the ship, along with quantities. Beneath the manifest was a table with rations for a number of scenarios. Celestia looked to the “stranded” scenario, and sighed as she read over the ration breakdown. The crew would not be pleased. Tensions would rise, and the situation could escalate. Celestia only hoped that Ace and Twilight would be able to keep the peace aboard the ship. If they could not, the saboteur would have no trouble striking again…


Harmony had become much quieter. It was not immediately obvious, but as the days passed, Twilight began to notice the change. The sounds of electronics, lights, and life support still existed, but the excited buzz of conversation was entirely missing. Everypony was uneasy, that much was perfectly clear. Twilight could understand; everypony knew a saboteur was in their midst, but nopony knew who it was.


The crew meals were the most awkward part of the day, Twilight had found. Where once they were filled with the joyful banter of ponies who knew and loved each other, now they were quiet and filled with tension. The trust between each pony was starting to erode, for some more than others. And while a few ponies were trying to salvage what they could - namely herself and Ace - Twilight knew no real progress could be made until the saboteur was caught.


Standing up from her seat in the mess hall, Twilight decided now was as good a time as any to return to her room. She had hoped somepony would come in to visit, but with the new rations put in place by the Captain, she knew they had no reason to. There was no more room to have a quick snack, and not enough time to spare for short breaks. For the ponies of the crew, the only thing stopping them from going entirely crazy was their work. As long as they had that, some sense of order could remain intact.


The corridor outside of the mess hall was empty, as Twilight had expected. In the middle of the ship’s day cycle, she was the only pony not working. Her work was not meant to truly begin until the arrival at the planet, but now that was not going to happen. Still, Twilight wished she had something to do. Books could only distract her temporarily, and her supply of downloaded novels was starting to dwindle. She wished she had brought more.


Just before Twilight pressed the button to open her bedroom door, a pony emerged from the ladder well at the end of the corridor. Astral Breeze pushed herself through the cramped opening, her eyes locked in an ever-present glare. Twilight stopped to watch the assistant security officer, offering a warm smile as the mare walked down the hall toward her own bedroom. Astral avoided looking Twilight in the eye, or even acknowledging her presence. She kept her eyes locked on the sterile, white floor, stalking past the Princess.


“Good afternoon, Astral,” Twilight greeted, trying to sound as friendly as possible. Given the circumstances, it was not easy for her. But if peace was to be maintained, Twilight knew she could not allow the crew to build walls around themselves. Unfortunately, her effort had the exact opposite effect.


“What!?” Astral yelled, whirling around, her eyes still locked in a glare. Twilight allowed herself to recoil back slightly, not having expected Astral’s reaction.


“I was just saying hello,” Twilight explained, trying to remain calm. “What are you doing down here? Has your shift ended?”


“Oh, so now I’m not allowed to get a glass of water without somepony asking what I’m doing?” Astral said mockingly, rolling her eyes. “Fucking ridiculous…”


“Astral,” Twilight said, her tone hardening as her own eyes narrowed. “I am not accusing you of anything. I am only making polite conversation. I’m sorry that I upset you, I’m just worried about the crew, is all.” Astral paused, before she finally allowed her stern gaze to fall. She breathed out, shaking her head.


“I’m sorry,” she said. “Just a bit on edge. Nah, my shift didn’t end, but Sharp Sight said it was okay for me to come down here for a minute. What about you? Been keeping yourself busy?”


“As busy as I can,” Twilight replied, glad that she was able to succeed in breaking through one pony’s barrier. “There’s not much for me to do, unfortunately. I was supposed to study samples we gathered from the planet, but, well…” Astral nodded in understanding, and turned back to the mess hall door.


“Well, I should probably get a move on,” she said. “Sharp’s waiting for me back upstairs. I’ll see you later, Twilight.” Astral opened the mess door and stepped inside, making her way to the water tap. Twilight watched her for a moment longer, before she entered into her own bedroom. No sooner had she closed her door than the ship intercom buzzed, and Ace’s voice came through.


“All crew, report to the bridge. We have a message from Equestria for all of us.” Sighing, Twilight exited her room and made her way to the ladder, which she ascended with the use of her wings. She came out in the corridor just outside the bridge, the door to which was open. Much of the crew was already crowded inside, though a few ponies were still absent. Twilight trotted in, working her way through the crowd to Ace, who was sitting in his chair.


“What’s going on?” she asked.


“Princess Celestia is on the comm, says she has news,” Ace explained. Twilight felt her hopes rising, wondering if the Princess finally had word on a rescue mission. If she did, such news could go a long way toward improving crew morale.


The rest of the crew slowly filtered in, all of them wondering the same thing. They crowded around the Captain’s chair, waiting to be informed of the reason they had been summoned to the bridge. But rather than tell them, Ace instead placed his hoof onto the microphone button, and leaned in close.


“They’re all here, Princess,” he said, removing his hoof from the button.


“Good,” Princess Celestia’s voice said, coming through a number of speakers throughout the room. “Harmony, I have good news. Luna and Cadance have just reported in from the Zebra Space Center; the zebra have agreed to give us one of their rockets, prime for launch. Over the next few weeks, we will install a jump drive onto this ship, run the appropriate tests, then send it to your location. You will join the zebra crew, and be brought home as quickly as possible. Rescue is on its way, Harmony.”


The reaction of each pony was identical; smiles broke out on every face, even Ace’s, and gasps of hopeful surprise filled the room. Twilight felt a warmth rising up in her, the idea of survival now concrete in her head. With this mission, they had a chance. But just as quickly as the hopeful thoughts entered her mind, so too did thoughts of the saboteur. They could not board the zebra ship with the saboteur still unknown; to do so would risk not only their lives, but the lives of the zebra crew as well.


“That’s very welcome news, Princess,” Ace said once the noises of excitement began to die down. “Is there anything you need from us to help prepare?”


“Just hang in there, and maintain hope,” Celestia replied. “We will keep you all updated when new information comes through. We will see you soon, Harmony.” The comm channel cut out, but the atmosphere of excitement remained. The ponies of the crew exchanged looks with one another, the idea that one of them was a traitor no longer in their minds. Instead, each pony was expressing a look of pure joy. The only pony apparently immune to this feeling was Ace, who remained in his chair, once again his usual pensive self.


“Alright everypony,” he said, drawing all stares to him. “We’ve still got jobs to do to make sure this ship remains running. Let’s keep up the good work, and we’ll all make it home in one piece. Dismissed.” The crew dispersed, with the bridge crew returning to their stations and everypony else filtering down the ladder to the lower decks. Twilight remained standing by Ace’s seat, thinking quietly to herself.


“... We’ve got a time limit now,” she finally said, drawing a curious stare from Ace.


“What do you mean?”


“We need to find the saboteur before the rescue ship arrives. Time is of the essence.”


Call started.


“Word has spread around Equestria. The zebra are being praised for their selfless donation of the rocket to the ESA. In a few weeks, that ship will be in space and on its way. You need to act soon.”


“I know. I’ve got some ideas, and I’ll be ready to strike soon. It’s just… with everypony so on edge, it’s been difficult to find a good time to set something up. Even late at night it’s not safe. Ace ordered extended security shifts, and I’m not sure if the camera jammer will work again, now that they know to watch for outages. I need to be careful.”


“I hope you’re truly prepared to do this. Your failure the first time has… caused some of us to lose faith in you, Cobalt.”


“I know what this mission is. I know I’m not coming back. But Harmony is a big target, and it will require careful planning on my part to make sure I don’t get caught. Unless you want me to just run down to engineering and start busting up critical parts, then run to Twilight’s room and--”


“No. Don’t make a show out of it, and certainly do not engage the Princess in one-to-one combat. As strong as you are, her magic is far too powerful for one pony to fight… Alright, take your time. But do not fail us again, do you understand?”


“I understand.”


Call ended.


In the day after Celestia revealed the rescue plan, tensions on Harmony began to lessen. The paranoia faded away, and general feelings of happiness returned to the ship. The crew now had something to focus on other than the saboteur, and Twilight noticed how much the news had improved morale. Maybe we do have a chance, she thought as she entered the mess hall, prepared for the evening meal.


Many crew members were already present, though a few were still absent, working elsewhere on the ship. After retrieving her packaged meal, Twilight took a seat in her usual spot, between Ace and Golden Bolt. Ace was among the ponies who had yet to arrive, but Golden Bolt was there, and she had wasted no time in starting to eat. A few other ponies were picking at their food as they waited for the late ponies to arrive, but Twilight opted to wait fully.


Finally the late ponies arrived, and the evening meal began. The crew reported on their days, telling about what they had done; Golden Bolt had patched up a few breakers that were under threat of failing again, Vibrant Flame had spoken with his family over the comm, and Quick Fix had received a message from a few old colleagues, all of whom were wishing her well. Twilight smiled as the conversation continued, carefully listening to every work that was spoken. It was as if the disaster had never happened; the crew that had trained with each other for two years was back, and it was functioning as well as ever.


“So, anypony heard anything else about the zebra ship?” Star Step asked, looking around the table.


“I read about it a few months ago,” Ace replied, nodding. “It isn’t large, and it was never intended for long-range space travel. But I doubt Princess Luna would have chosen it if it wasn’t capable of getting the job done, so I have no worries.”


“Hope we all fit,” Golden Bolt said. “I haven’t had to share a room since college. I… really don’t want to go back to that.”


“Bad roommate or something?” Quick Fix asked, smiling.


“Let’s just say that she liked petty theft,” Bolt answered, grimacing. “And she also liked blaming things on me. Ugh…”


“Well, if there isn’t enough room, I guess we’ll have to leave somepony behind,” Lightning Flash joked, grinning mischievously. “I nominate Astral. No saboteurs allowed, right?”


The mess hall went silent. Everypony’s eyes were on Astral, waiting to see her reaction. The security mare stared at Lightning Flash, her face entirely emotionless. She did not blink, or move, or even twitch. She simply stared, and when she spoke, her voice betrayed no feelings.


“Mind repeating that, pilot?”


“Just uh… just a joke,” Lightning Flash explained, laughing awkwardly. He scratched the back of his neck, looking away from the piercing eyes of Astral Breeze. Astral remained silent for a moment, before she slowly nodded.


“Sure it was.” She stood up, taking a step away from the table. “Sure it fucking was.”


Sharp Sight stood as well, circling the table to his assistant. “Astral--”


“WHAT!?” Astral whirled around, smacking away Sharp’s hoof, which was working its way to her shoulder. Her eyes were wide, and she looked to Lightning Flash with an expression of pure anger. “You all still fucking think it was me, don’t you!? All this joking around, all this banter, it’s all been a cover, hasn’t it!? You’re all acting like everything’s normal, but you all still think it was me. Well fuck all of you! Fuck you, fuck your jokes, and fuck this ship! You can all go to Tartarus!”


“Astral!” Ace yelled, rising from his own seat. Astral did not listen to what he had to say; instead, she turned and stormed out of the mess hall, disappearing down the next corridor. The mess hall was quiet once again as everypony stared at where Astral had been standing. Nopony dared to speak first, lest they say something to further worsen the situation.


“... Well that sure was funny, wasn’t it?” Skychaser asked sarcastically, looking to Lightning Flash. “A real funny joke, hm?”


“Sky, I’m so--” Lightning Flash was cut off as Skychaser slammed his hoof onto the table, causing all of the silverware to shake.


“You’ve got a lot of nerve, you know that!?” Skychaser exclaimed, glaring daggers at Lightning. “Things were finally starting to look up, and now this. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”


“XO, that’s enough,” Ace interrupted. He scanned over the table, frowning. “Everypony, finish up, then head back to your quarters. Twilight, Skychaser, Sharp Sight, I want you to stick around.” Everypony nodded, and the meal was finished in silence. Twilight did not make eye contact with anypony, instead choosing to keep to herself. And while she was trying to maintain an outward appearance of calm, inside she was worried.


When everypony was finished eating, they stood and disposed of their trays, then left the mess hall in silence. Only once the last of the crew had left, and the door had slid shut, did Ace open his mouth to speak.


“Astral Breeze needs to be dealt with,” he stated matter-of-factly.


“Now hold on,” Skychaser protested, crossing to the Captain. “Lightning Flash provoked her, he’s the one we should be ‘dealing with’ here!”


“It does seem a bit unfair to Astral,” Twilight admitted, frowning.


“I agree with the Captain,” Sharp Sight said. “As much as I hate to do this, Astral’s reaction is… worrying. Innocent or not, she’s become unstable. She’s let all of this get to her head. We can’t let somepony like that walk around freely on this ship, especially under our current circumstances.”


“So what do you suggest?” Skychaser asked incredulously. “We just toss her out the airlock? Label her a lost cause and give up on her? She’s one of us, we can’t do this!”


“We’re not giving up on her, and we can do this,” Ace said. “As much as it pains me to do this, I think we need to confine her to quarters. I know this isn’t how this mission was supposed to go, but right now, our priority needs to be the safety of the crew. Like Sharp said, Astral is unstable, and on a ship like this, we cannot allow an unstable pony access to critical systems.”


“But--”


“Skychaser,” Ace interrupted, looking to the XO. “I need you to be with me on this. I know your feelings for Astral, but you need to think about this more objectively. Lives are at risk - lives under our command. This is our safest option.”


“... Alright,” Skychaser quietly said after a short pause. “But let me handle it, please.” Ace nodded, and turned to Twilight and Sharp Sight.


“Twilight, I’d appreciate it if you could let Princess Celestia know what happened,” he said. “Sharp, with me, please.” The four ponies exited the mess hall, heading in different directions. Skychaser went down the ladder, looking for Astral, while the Captain and Sharp Sight climbed up. Twilight entered her room and sat down at her computer, breathing out heavily. Why now? She thought as she booted up the comms system. The crew was just beginning to recover, and if Astral was not the saboteur, then the true culprit had just been unimaginably strengthened.


“Star Step, you there?” Twilight asked, speaking through the microphone in her laptop.


“Yes, Twilight,” Star’s voice replied.


“Patch me through to Celestia. Tell her… tell her there’s been an incident.”


Cobalt lifted himself from under the covers of the bed, his hooves quietly hitting the metal floor of the deck. He stretched out his back, popping a few joints, and sighed satisfactorily. The darkness of the room was broken as a light turned on, and Star Step lifted herself from the bed as well, yawning. Cobalt spared a glance at the clock; it was early in the ‘morning’, most ponies would still be fast asleep, not to rise for another few hours. Cobalt did feel the call of sleep, and he rubbed his eyes tiredly, trying to fight it off for a few minutes more.


“Mm… what time is your first shift?” Star Step asked, holding back another yawn.


“Seven or eight,” Cobalt replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed.


“So, guess you can’t stay all night, then?”


Cobalt shook his head, rubbing his eyes once again. “Much as I want to, duty calls. Plus, with all the tension around… wouldn’t want to make anypony suspicious, right?” He grinned at Star Step, who smiled in return as she sat down next to Cobalt. She planted a light kiss on his cheek, and leaned her head against his.


“What do you make of all this?” she asked. “You hear that they locked Astral up, and they’re not letting her leave her quarters?”


“Yeah, not sure how I feel about that,” Cobalt answered, thinking to himself. On the one hoof, it was good that nopony was suspecting him as the culprit. But on the other, Astral served as an excellent scapegoat. With her locked up, that made his own job far more difficult. “I mean, do they have any evidence that she’s the saboteur?”


“What more evidence do you need?” Star Step huffed, frowning. “With how she freaked out this evening... Pretty obvious, to me.”


“I hardly think her reaction to a tasteless joke is evidence enough,” Cobalt countered. “Too many factors to consider, and her reaction doesn’t explain… any of them, really.”


“I don’t know why you’re trying to defend her after what she said!” Star Step stood up, stalking across the room. “I mean, ‘fuck you, fuck your jokes, and fuck this ship’ pretty much speaks for itself!”


“Well, it just seems like the general process of justice is being ignored!” Cobalt stood as well, crossing closer to the door. “I mean, Princess Twilight is supposed to ‘represent the crown,’ and yet she’s done nothing but nod her head and let Ace imprison Astral without any sort of trial!”


“Oh, so we’re just going to hold a trial on the ship, are we?” Star mocked. “Are you a lawyer? Are you going to represent Astral? Would a trial on this ship even be legal?”


“Forget it,” Cobalt scoffed, turning to the door. “I’ll see you in the morning.”


“Yeah, see you.” Star Step turned the light back out, and Cobalt exited the room, entering the corridor beyond. He worked his way a few doors down to his own bedroom, and stepped inside with a sigh. That could have gone better, he thought as he collapsed into his bed, exhaustion beginning to take over. Regardless of his true feelings, Cobalt did know one thing: he needed to secure Astral’s release. Breaking her out was not an option, as it would only shift blame away from her. She would need to be released, but retain the suspicion already placed upon her.


Deciding to deal with that in the morning, Cobalt closed his eyes and pulled the covers over himself. His awareness of the outside world faded, and in only a few seconds, he was asleep…


The next morning, the tension that had previously gripped Harmony had fully returned. When Cobalt awoke, he could feel it permeating throughout the ship. Even knowing his purpose on this mission, it still made him feel uncomfortable. Paranoia was high, and with the events of the previous evening, Cobalt’s task would be far more difficult. But if he could ease some of the tensions, then perhaps it would be easier to strike…


His morning shift lasted a few hours, but as soon as his lunch break had arrived, Cobalt worked his way down to engineering, where he knew Vibrant Flame would just be ending his shift as well. The thoughts of the timid stallion were obvious; he was feeling guilty, yet nopony besides Cobalt knew why. And as the engineering room door opened, and Cobalt watched Vibrant Flame exit the large room, he hoped he would be able to take advantage of the situation.


“Cobalt?” Vibrant asked as the door slid shut behind him. “What are you doing out here?”


“Well, our shifts ended around the same time,” Cobalt explained. “I figured you might want to grab lunch together. Now more than ever, I think it’s important to stick together. Don’t let all this tension tear the crew apart, you know?”


“Ah… yes, that makes sense.” Vibrant motioned for Cobalt to lead the way, which the stallion began to do. As they began walking to the ladder, Cobalt turned to Vibrant, who had his gaze set on the floor.


“So, how’ve you been?” Cobalt asked. “You been handling everything okay?”


“I guess,” Vibrant answered quietly. “I don’t… I don’t like all the tension. Like you said, we need to stick together.” Cobalt nodded, thinking through his next few lines. Vibrant was timid, and he could be a pushover, but he was not stupid. Cobalt knew he needed to be careful in his phrasing.


“You don’t think Astral’s guilty, do you?” he asked, watching Vibrant for a reaction. His eyes widened, but beyond that, the engineer did not let any emotions cross his face. “I don’t either. And I think this is setting a bad precedent; if the Captain can lock up whoever he wants based on their reaction to a bad joke, who’s to say he can’t lock us up because we looked at him wrong? It doesn’t sit right with me.”


“... I don’t think she’s guilty,” Vibrant said after a short pause. “And I think it’s unfair what has been done to her. But what can we do about it? I… I don’t want to get on the Captain’s bad side.”


“Well, we’re not going to do anything wrong,” Cobalt began. “We’ll just… talk to a few more ponies, gauge their opinions, and then talk with Princess Twilight about it. She may not be in charge on this ship, but she’s still a Princess, and she can technically order Ace around. If we can convince her that a trial is necessary, she’s the only pony who can get to Ace about it.” Vibrant nodded, though he appeared uneasy. That was fine; Vibrant did not need to do anything more than pledge support. If Cobalt petitioned for a trial alone, he would almost certainly be unsuccessful. But with support, he had a chance…


Twilight was worried. A day had passed since Astral Breeze’s “outburst,” and she saw no signs of the crew’s condition improving. The slight increase in morale brought about by the news of a rescue had completely disappeared, and the ponies of the crew had once again receded into a paranoid silence. The ship was quiet, and it only made Twilight feel uneasy. She did not like all of the paranoia; on a mission that was built around teamwork and trust, paranoia would only lead to ruin. Something had to be done, and soon.


A knock sounded on her bedroom door. Twilight jolted in her chair, snapping out of her thoughts and back to the present. Her eyes passed over the clock, finding it to be closing in on 9PM. Confused as to who was visiting her so late, Twilight stood from her desk and crossed to the door, opening it with her telekinesis. Outside stood Cobalt, Vibrant Flame, and Skychaser, all of them staring at the Princess. Their expressions did not betray any emotions or intentions, but Twilight did not let that threaten her. She smiled warmly, stepping out of her room.


“Hello, everypony,” she said. “Can I help you with something?”


“Actually, yes,” Cobalt replied. “We talked to the Captain about it, but got basically nowhere with him, so… we thought we’d come to you instead.”


“It’s about Astral Breeze,” Skychaser explained. “We think she was locked up unjustly, and we think a trial is in order. Ace disagrees. We hope you will at least hear us out.” Twilight thought to herself, considering the pros and cons. On the one hoof, a trial could help clear up some of the tension surrounding the crew. Plus, if Astral truly was guilty, a proper trial could help to determine that. But on the other hoof, it could result in the release of the pony responsible for trying to kill the crew.


“Alright,” Twilight decided, choosing to hear the ponies’ reasoning. “Come on in.” She stepped into her room, allowing the three stallions to enter after her. Twilight closed the door and sat down next to her bed, motioning for her guests to take seats as well.


“Thanks for listening,” Cobalt said. “We just think that justice is being overridden, and under the circumstances, that can’t happen. Ponies are scared, both of the saboteur, and of being wrongly convicted. I think showing that trials are possible could… ease some anxiety.”


“I certainly understand that,” Twilight said. “The tension is… palpable. It’s taken over this ship like a disease. We need a way to clear it up.”


“Exactly,” Skychaser agreed, nodding. “You had to have noticed how much happier ponies were after hearing about the rescue. But after the whole business with Astral… The crew is tense now because, for the first time, there’s a pony to blame. If we’re able to clear her name somehow, maybe the crew will be able to go back to that happiness.”


“It’s a good thought,” Twilight admitted. “I’m not sure if it will work. It… seems like a bit of a stretch, to be perfectly honest. That said, I’ll talk to Ace about it. He’ll listen to me, hopefully. We can schedule a trial for sometime tomorrow, and go from there. Does that sound alright?”


“That sounds perfect, Twilight,” Cobalt said, a smile breaking out across his face. “Thank you very much.”


“Yes, thank you,” Skychaser added, smiling as well. “We’ll leave you alone now. Have a good night.”


Nodding, Twilight opened the door for the stallions, letting them back out into the corridor beyond. They went their separate ways, disappearing into their own rooms further down the hall. When they were out of sight, Twilight closed her door and retreated to her bed, suppressing a yawn. A trial, she thought, still working the idea through her head. She hoped Cobalt and Skychaser were right, and a trial would successfully clear some of the anxiety. For if it did not, and the situation on Harmony continued to worsen, then there would not be a crew for the zebra ship to rescue…


UNFORESEEN ALLIANCE FORMED. RESCUE MISSION ANNOUNCED.

by Silver Pen, Manehattan Times


Yet another Harmony development has come out of the Equestrian Space Administration, this time in the form of a much-anticipated announcement. As many space-enthusiasts are aware, the Zebra Space Center had scheduled a launch for Gold Star 340, their first launch in over two years. Designed to hold a small crew, and only meant to dock with a station in orbit, it was announced today that the Gold Star launch has been cancelled, and the rocket is being given to the Equestrian Space Administration for the purpose of a rescue ship.


“We are eternally grateful to the zebra for their sacrifice,” said Princess Luna to a panel this morning. “Having worked with the ESA for over ten years, I know the amount of time and work that goes into the planning and construction of a ship, and I know that this is not easy for the ZSC to do. But their assistance is giving us a chance to save our ponies; it is a selfless action on their part, and it will not be forgotten.”


A launch date for the rescue mission has not yet been given, but Princess Luna assures us that it will be “soon.” We will continue to update you all as more information comes out. Until then, this has been Silver Pen for the Manehattan Times.


The stallion looked down at the newspaper, and carefully folded it up. He placed it into a corner of his desk, unveiling a number of documents that the paper had previously covered. Leaked images, maps, plans, and more cluttered the desk. The stallion’s eyes passed over all of it, taking in the information and formulating a new plan. A plan to buy time.


He glanced to the opposite corner of his desk, where an old red rotary phone rested. He spun the dial, lifting the phone to his ear with a hoof, and waited as the call went through. It rang once, twice, three times, until finally the other line was picked up.


“Get me your newest map of the space center,” he ordered. “It’s time we give Cobalt a bit of… breathing room.”