• Published 23rd Oct 2016
  • 607 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 7

CHAPTER 7



Cobalt was awoken by a sharp knock on his door, breaking through the ship’s eerie silence and sending the stallion shooting forward in his bed, his eyes scanning the room. They landed on the closed door, where another set of knocks sounded. Rubbing his eyes, Cobalt turned on the light with a flash from his horn, making the path to his door clearly visible. He stood up as a third set of knocks landed on the door, now beginning to grow irritated. Who’s bothering me this late?


His question was answered as he opened the door, revealing an equally-tired Star Step in the doorway. Her eyes were red, though not from a lack of sleep. Now beginning to regret his irritation, Cobalt quickly wrapped Star in a hug, and pulled her into the room. She entered without resisting, and walked to the center of Cobalt’s room as he closed the door and turned around.


“What’s up, Star?” he asked, concerned. He took a few steps forward, stopping behind her.


“I couldn’t sleep…” Star replied, wiping her eyes with a hoof. “Every time I close my eyes, I see them… Just yesterday, everypony was okay. Sure we’re stranded out here, but everypony was okay… Now, though…” Frowning grimly, Cobalt placed a comforting hoof on Star’s shoulder, and spun her around.


“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” he whispered, trying to calm the mare down. “None of this is your fault, there’s nothing you could have done. I know it’s hard, but we’ll get through this. Together, we’ll get through this. Okay?” Star Step sniffled, but nodded.


“Okay…”


Despite his words, Star did not seem to be feeling any better. And, strangely, Cobalt found himself feeling something he had not felt in a long time: regret. He knew his purpose; he had come to Harmony with a specific mission, one he had been longing to see through for years. The future of Equestria hinged on his mission, yet now he was experiencing doubts. It was one thing to act as a regular computer technician for two years, but it was something else entirely to love another pony for that time. Seeing Star in this condition hurt Cobalt more than anything else; he reached out to her, wrapping her in another hug, wishing he could take the pain away.


“You need some sleep,” Cobalt said, knowing she had an early shift in the morning. “Do you want to stay with me tonight?”


Star nodded, but her expression quickly soured, and she pushed away from Cobalt, looking to him with a concerned stare. “What… what if somepony sees me come out of here in the morning?”


“Who cares?” Cobalt released Star and returned to his bed, taking a seat on the covers. “I don’t. It wouldn’t change anything; I love you, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.”


“But… with everything else going on…” Star followed Cobalt to the bed, though she did not appear any less concerned. “The saboteur, and now the situation with the rescue… I don’t want to complicate anything for anypony else, especially the Captain.”


“We’re not complicating anything for anypony,” Cobalt said assuredly. He lay down, pulling the covers over himself, and watched as Star did the same. “It doesn’t matter if the Captain approves of this or not; we’re civilians, military protocol doesn’t affect us. You have nothing to worry about.”


“I… Okay.” Star Step nodded, finally appearing to calm down. Cobalt smiled, and used his magic to turn the light back out. “Goodnight, Cobalt. And… thank you.”


“Goodnight, Star.” Cobalt closed his eyes, feeling the call of sleep once again. But before it could arrive, his mind turned to the previous conversation; specifically, to something Star had said. The situation with the rescue, Cobalt thought, repeating Star’s words. What did she mean by that? Cobalt forced the thought out of his mind, choosing to ask her in the morning. Right now, he needed sleep...


Stifling a yawn, Twilight Sparkle lifted her morning coffee to her waiting mouth as she navigated through Harmony, her destination set for the bridge. It was not early, but with the events of the previous day, Twilight had allowed herself to sleep in later than usual. The rest of the ship was awake, and the crew was busy at work, trying to move on from their loss. Vibrant Flame had taken over as chief engineer, and Sharp Sight now handled security entirely by himself. There was a sorrowful stillness surrounding the ship, and Twilight knew it would not go away anytime soon. The effects of sabotage could be undone, but the pain of loss had to heal naturally.


Twilight arrived at the bridge after a few more minutes of climbing and walking, and she looked over the crewmembers present, trying to gauge their conditions. Lightning Flash sat at his station at the front of the room, idly monitoring engine status and checking scanners. To an untrained eye, the stallion would have appeared simply bored. But over the past weeks, Twilight had learned enough to tell that he was deep in thought, and the thoughts were not positive. Star Step was far easier to read, primarily due to the slight redness of her eyes. She was tired, and her grief was to blame. Ace was as stoic as ever, but Twilight knew he was masking a great guilt. Skychaser, however, seemed to be suffering the worst. His coat was paler than usual, almost sickly. His eyes were red as well, and Twilight felt her heart go out to the XO. His feelings for Astral Breeze, and hers for him, had been common knowledge on the ship. Twilight could not imagine how he was feeling.


“Princess, thank you for joining us,” Ace commented as Twilight stepped inside the bridge. “How are you holding up?”


“I’m fine,” Twilight deflected, coming to stand next to Ace’s chair. “Have we received anything else from Equestria?” Ace responded only with a shake of his head, and he looked to his XO.


“Nothing unscheduled,” he said. “Princess Luna did send us some more information regarding the rescue, and Skychaser has been going through that.” At the mention of his name, Skychaser looked up from his station, his eyes landing on the Princess and Captain.


“Ah, right,” he muttered, appearing distracted. “There’s… a fair amount of information to get through, but I think we’ll be ready.” Ace nodded, but before he could speak again, Star Step stood up from the comms station.


“I’m going to have my lunch now,” she said. “Is that alright, sir?”


“Go ahead, Star,” Ace replied. “Take as much time as you need.” The comms specialist exited the bridge, and a moment later, Lightning Flash stood as well.


“Mind if I head out now too, sir?” he asked. Ace nodded, and Lightning departed, leaving the bridge to the Captain, the Princess, and the XO.


“So now that they’re gone, how ready are we, really?” Twilight asked, looking between her companions.


“It’s… not going to be easy,” Skychaser admitted, sighing. “Princess Luna’s plan was fairly dependant on there being two engineers. Vibrant Flame is a talented stallion, but installing a jump drive is a big job. A team of nearly a dozen engineers did it when Harmony was still under construction, and even then, the engineering module wasn’t in orbit yet.”


“Well, I’ll help in any way I can,” Twilight offered.


“That’s good to hear,” Ace said. “We still don’t know who we can trust. I think you’re innocent, Princess, and I’m fairly certain that Vibrant Flame is innocent. But I’d like to dedicate more than just two ponies to the installation process, to make it as quick as possible. We need to continue narrowing down our suspects, or we’ll make everything more difficult in the long-run.”


“Speaking of, I think I do have one suspect,” Skychaser said. Ace raised and eyebrow, looking to his XO.


“Oh?”


Before Skychaser could continue, the bridge door slid open and Sharp Sight ran in, wasting no time in approaching the Captain.


“Sir,” he said, “we’ve got a situation.”


Cobalt sat in the corner of the mess hall, leaned against the wall as he waited for Lightning to arrive. Quick Fix sat across from him, and while she appeared somewhat uneasy, Cobalt knew she would support him. The tension on the ship was so thick it could be cut with a knife, and if Cobalt was wielding the knife, he could cut a very significant divide…


The door slid open. Cobalt looked up, and watched as Star Step entered and took her seat. Lightning Flash entered the room after her; he exchanged a glance with Cobalt and Fix, nodding to tell them he was ready. The door was closed, and the three ponies converged on Star as she took her seat. The mare looked up as her three crew members approached, raising an eyebrow.


“What’s going on?” she asked. “Cobalt, what is this?” Cobalt felt himself wince at the sound of the fear in her voice, and he quickly took a step forward, easing his harsh expression.


“Star, we just wanted to ask you something,” he said, glancing between his compatriots. “We’ve… noticed that Ace, Skychaser, and Twilight have been a bit quiet on the rescue. And last night you said, ‘the situation with the rescue.’ What did you mean by that?” At this, Star’s eyes widened.


“I…” she started, before pausing. Her eyes passed between Cobalt, Lightning, and Fix, and she gulped anxiously. “I… don’t remember saying anything like that. You saw me, I was exhausted. If I said it, I didn’t mean anything by it.”


“Star, come on.” Lightning Flash took a step closer, unconvinced. “You know what the Captain has been saying ever since the sabotage: we need to stick together, and support one another. Well, we think that some information is being hidden from us, and we just want to know what’s up.”


“Please, Star Step,” Quick Fix said. “We’re just nervous. With no evidence pointing to the traitor, and now two ponies dead, everypony’s a little on edge. Is now the best time to be keeping information from us?”


“I… I…” Again Star Step glanced between the three ponies, shrinking back in her chair. “I don’t know anything… Please…”


“Star,” Cobalt said again, trying to sound as comforting as possible. “Please. You have to understand, we just--”


“What’s going on in here?” The mess hall door slid open, and Ace walked in, followed quickly by Twilight, Skychaser, and Sharp Sight. The Captain looked over Cobalt, Lightning, and Fix, frowning at each of them. “Explain yourselves.”


“Very well, Captain,” Cobalt said, turning around to fully face the older stallion. “We’re worried. Since our first day on this ship, you always gave us the details of Princess Luna’s messages to you. But lately, you’ve been completely silent. We want to know: what has happened, and why are you keeping us in the dark about it?”


“I don’t believe I’m obligated to share the contents of those video calls, Cobalt,” Ace stated. “And right now, I don’t like that you are effectively interrogating Star Step.”


“Oh, you mean like you interrogated all of us after the jump drive explosion?” Lightning Flash accused, glaring. “We just want answers, and it’s obvious that you’re hiding something. If you want to lead us, you need us to place our trust in you, and right now, I don’t feel like I can do that.”


“This situation wasn’t exactly expected, pilot,” Sharp Sight said, stepping forward. “Those interrogations were ugly, but they were necessary.”


“And what did they turn up?” Quick Fix asked. “Nothing! Those ‘interrogations’ did nothing more than terrify the crew, and complicate the situation even further. All we want is the information you’re holding from us. Is that so unreasonable?”


“Watch yourself, Doctor,” Skychaser warned. “Otherwise--”


“Otherwise what? You’ll start to suspect me? I’ll be thrown under the bus, ostracized by the crew, and driven to kill myself? Is that what you’re going to do?” Ace narrowed his eyes, and stepped into the center of the room.


“Listen,” he said. “I know that we’re all hurting. I know we’re scared. But look at us - divided like we’re at war. We are not fighting each other. Somepony here is the saboteur, that much we know, but we can’t let this ship fall. Now, I’d like to take some time for everypony to cool down. Let’s all get back to work, and this afternoon, we’ll have a ship-wide meeting. We can have concerns addressed in a civil manner, and we can put this behind us. Understood?” Ace waited for objections, and when he did not hear any, he nodded satisfactorily. He exited the room, slowly followed by everypony else until only Cobalt and Skychaser remained. The XO glared at the tech specialist, almost appearing to stare right through him.


“Something you’d like, Sky?” Cobalt asked, trying to remain calm.


“... Yesterday, before the explosion,” Skychaser began, “I saw you coming up from deck eight. What were you doing down there?”


“I already told you, the atmospheric regulator was damaged. Bolt asked me to fix it, so I did.”


“Uh-huh,” the XO said, unconvinced. “So, if I decided to go down there, I wouldn’t find anything suspicious?”


“If you’ve got something to say, just say it,” Cobalt demanded, frowning.


“Alright, Cobalt,” Skychaser said. “I will say it: I don’t trust you. I think you’re hiding something, something dangerous.” Cobalt’s eyes widened a barely noticeable amount, but he did not allow himself to react further. Instead he sighed, shaking his head.


“Well, that’s certainly your right. All I’ll say is this: if you want to convict me, make sure you have something solid. After all…” Cobalt took a few steps closer to the XO, stopping by his ear. “... You wouldn’t want another Astral Breeze on your hooves, would you?” Skychaser froze, a sadness entering his expression at the mention of the mare. He silently stepped away and exited the mess hall, hurrying back to the ladder. Cobalt watched him go with a smile, glad that he had already moved his laptop to a new location.


With a satisfied sigh, Cobalt trotted out of the mess hall, knowing that he had a shift starting shortly. With any luck, Skychaser would not pursue the lead he had found, and Cobalt’s cover would not be blown. He had come too far to fail now. Harmony would fall, and Princess Twilight would go with it…


Establishing connection…


Complete. Connection to ESA established.


Twilight smiled as her laptop screen flashed with light, revealing Princess Celestia sitting among the familiar surroundings of the ESA headquarters. While Twilight was happy to see her mentor, her smile was weak, and forced. Her eyes drooped, tired despite the extra sleep she had given herself. Celestia clearly noticed, and she smiled sadly in return.


“Hello, Twilight,” she greeted. “Are you doing alright?”


“I… think I’m managing,” Twilight replied, nodding slowly. “It’s the crew I’m worried about… A few minutes ago, we walked in on Cobalt, Lightning, and Fix practically interrogating Star about the rescue. It feels like everything is falling apart… First the sabotage, then Bolt and Astral, and now the crew is divided. I don’t know if I can handle this, Celestia.”


“I… know it’s hard, Twilight,” Celestia said, attempting to comfort the younger Princess. “You have to be strong. For yourself, and for them. I’m…” The elder Princess paused, her voice cracking as she looked away from the camera. “I’m sorry, Twilight. I… have to go. I will call you back later today.”


The screen went dark, and Twilight watched where Celestia’s image had been with a raised eyebrow. The Princess of the Sun’s reaction had not been what Twilight had expected; with how she was behaving, Twilight was believing more and more than Celestia felt guilty. She hoped this was not the case; Celestia had no way of knowing what was going to happen on Harmony.


Deciding to find something else to do, Twilight stood from her desk and turned to the door. Celestia was right about one thing: Twilight needed to be strong. She needed to keep the crew together, and that meant compromise. With a plan beginning to formulate in her mind, Twilight exited her bedroom and headed to the bridge…


Celestia leaned back in her chair, sighing as she shut the laptop in front of her. She closed her eyes, trying to regulate her breathing. But the second her eyes shut, the image in her mind was that of Twilight. The young Princess was fear-stricken, dealing with a situation she had never anticipated. A situation that Celestia had created.


This is my fault. The ship was sabotaged because of me. Golden Bolt and Astral Breeze died because of me. The whole crew is going to die because of me.


What have I done? I am using Harmony, a mission that was meant to represent progress and hope, as bait for a terrorist organization. I’m no better than they are. I’m… I’m worse.


Tears flowed from Celestia’s closed eyelids, streaming warmly down her pale cheeks as she lost herself in the silence of the room. There was nopony else to see her in this sorry state, nopony else to share in her guilt. Here, in the middle of a complex surrounded by the brightest minds of a generation, the Princess was alone. She was alone with her thoughts, none of them good. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw pictures of the Harmony crew before the launch. They were so joyful, so excited to lead ponykind into the stars. And now they were going to die.


“Sister.”


Celestia slowly turned her head to the lonely room’s door, finding Luna standing in the threshold. The Princess of the Night wore a disappointed stare as she stalked into the room, wasting no time in approaching her sister. Her expression softened slightly, and she lifted a hoof, wiping some of Celestia’s tears away. The two sisters stood in silence, staring at one another without exchange of words. Celestia looked down on Luna, her eyes wide and glistening with fresh tears. Luna looked up at Celestia, her eyes narrowing into a glare as her frustration returned.


“So it’s finally hit you, has it?” she asked, emotionless. “The harsh reality of what we’ve done? The idea of what is probably going to happen?”


“Luna… this is my doing,” Celestia whispered, glancing away. “This is my fault. Not yours.”


“Don’t do that,” Luna insisted, placing a hoof on Celestia’s head and forcing her to maintain eye contact. “Don’t act like this was all your fault, and you’re the sole pony to blame. I had just as large a part to play in this as you. The only difference is that I dealt with all of this far earlier on. Immediately after the sabotage, in fact. I spent hours in my room, convinced that I had killed everypony aboard Harmony. And maybe I have, that remains to be seen. But do you know what I realized? I realized that, regardless of whether or not this is my fault, this problem is still solvable. They don’t have to die, we just need to do our part and make sure everything runs as well as possible. We have our rescue plan; as long as we can execute it, Harmony still has a chance of seeing Equus again. You still have a chance of seeing Twilight again.”


Celestia froze, silently considering Luna’s words. Before she could bring herself to speak, however, the two sisters found their attention diverted to the ceiling as a siren began to blare over the intercom. Emergency lights flashed on the walls, and Luna crossed to the door, still showing no emotion.


“It’s time to decide, ‘Tia,” she said. “Are you going to sit here and cry like a foal? Or are you going to come out here and deal with this?” Luna did not wait for a response. She darted down the corridor, the sound of her hoofsteps disappearing under the deafening siren. Celestia watched where Luna had been standing a moment before, and made her decision. She stood up, wiped her eyes, and assumed a more authoritative expression. Somepony was here to sabotage their rescue, and effectively ruin any chance of bringing Harmony home. Celestia would not let that happen. She was a Princess, and it was time to act like one.


Cobalt sat across from Quick Fix, his eyes scanning over the otherwise empty medbay as he sat in silence with the mare. He looked over the cots pressed against the far wall, their covers undisturbed throughout the mission. The medicine supply had a small dent in it, mostly missing headache relief pills. The more serious medication had remained untouched, as had the rather large stock of bandages next to the medicine cabinet. Cobalt did not know why so much had been invested in the medbay, when over half of the mission was spent on the ship, relatively removed from harm’s way. Granted he was trying to kill everypony aboard, but still, there was not much opportunity for injury on Harmony.


The door slid open and Lightning Flash stalked inside, his normally neutral expression replaced with a glare of annoyance. He crossed to the other two ponies and joined them in sitting at the medbay table, wasting no time in opening his mouth to speak.


“I assume you’ve heard the news?” he asked, receiving a nod from both Cobalt and Quick Fix. Princess Twilight had come over the intercom only a few minutes earlier, saying that everypony was to meet in the mess hall in twenty minutes to discuss the “recent developments.” Cobalt doubted an actual discussion would occur; they would be told what to do, and that would be that.


“We need to take advantage of this situation,” Quick Fix said, frowning. “Unless they want to lose any and all credibility with us, they’ll give us a chance to speak. Let’s not waste it.”


“Even so, we’re only three ponies,” Cobalt countered. “They’re four. To them, we’re just a few antsy crew members who are upset with how things have gone. Now, I think we can easily turn Vibrant Flame and Star Step to our side. And, with some more convincing, I think Skychaser can be brought around to our way of thinking as well.”


“What makes you think that?” Lightning asked.


“Everypony knows that Skychaser and Astral had a bit of a thing for each other. Now that she’s dead, he’s obviously shaken up. If we can emphasize that it was Ace and Twilight who put her into such a depressive state, we should be able to turn Sky against them.”


“Now hold on!” Fix interrupted, abruptly raising a hoof. “I’m not looking to turn anypony against anypony else. The last thing I want is to fracture this crew even more. All I want is for our voices to be heard, so we can ensure that we’re kept in the know. It’s obvious something is being hidden from us, I just want to know what it is.”


“Right, that was poorly phrased,” Cobalt admitted, mentally kicking himself. “I only mean that we can gain some more leverage against Ace and Twilight. If well over half the crew is demanding answers, there’s no way they’d continue lying.”


“Unless there’s more going on than we realize,” Lightning Flash said, drawing confused stares from the other two ponies. “Think about it… The Harmony mission has been in development for years, with some of the smartest minds leading it. I mean, Princess Luna is at its head. I honestly find it difficult to believe that she would let something like a terrorist slip through the cracks during the background check process.”


“What are you saying?” Cobalt asked, raising an eyebrow.


“I’m saying… what if the Princesses know? What if all of this - the ship, the mission, this crew - all has some other purpose?” Cobalt and Quick Fix did not answer, instead choosing to work Lightning’s words through their minds. Cobalt was conflicted; he knew his confederates had very carefully altered his background records to appear clean, but Lightning did have a point. Given the nature of this mission, it seemed highly unlikely that Cobalt would have gotten through the system without something being flagged. Choosing to file the thoughts away for later, Cobalt shook his head, feigning disbelief.


“Doesn’t sound too likely to me,” he said. He looked to Quick Fix, and found himself surprised when she appeared more convinced.


“Maybe…” she whispered. “We all know about Ace’s black ops background. That sort of thing doesn’t just disappear.”


“Well, regardless, it’s almost time for the meeting.” Cobalt stood up and crossed to the door, opening it with his magic. His companions joined him, and the trio walked down the corridor to the next ship module. They passed through a bulkhead leading to the living quarters, at the end of which was the mess hall, its door already open. Cobalt caught signs of movement inside, and as they neared the room, he saw Twilight and Ace waiting at one of the tables. The Princess and Captain looked up as Cobalt and his companions entered, standing to greet them.


“Thank you for coming,” Twilight said, smiling warmly.


“We had a choice?” Lightning Flash asked. Twilight’s smile disappeared, and she glared at the pilot, annoyed.


“We’re trying to fix things, here,” she stated. “Don’t make this any more difficult than it has to be.” Lightning sighed as he took his seat. Cobalt and Fix sat as well, waiting in silence for everypony else to arrive. After only a few short minutes, the remaining crew members stepped inside, all of them taking seats. When all of the seats had been taken, a clear divide rested between the crew. Cobalt, Fix, and Flash all sat on one side of the room, while everypony else sat on the other. Cobalt sighed, and stood up.


“I’ll make this easy for all of us,” he began. “All we want is to know what’s going on. Something is being hidden, what is it?”


“Cobalt, please try to understand where we’re coming from,” Twilight said, standing as well. “Somepony here is the saboteur. This means that some pieces of information are more sensitive than others. By keeping information restricted to a select few ponies, we minimize the risk of that information being used against all of us.”


“But… you have no suspects,” Star Step spoke up, frowning. “How can you be sure that the saboteur isn’t one of the ponies ‘in the know’?” Everypony paused, considering Star’s point.


“Well, that’s certainly a valid point,” Ace admitted. “But the odds are still more in our favor if fewer ponies know. If we tell everypony about the new developments, that guarantees the saboteur will know as well. This way, it’s less likely.”


“Is that how you can justify lying to all of us?” Lightning Flash asked. “You want us to trust you, yet at the same time you’ve made no progress in catching the saboteur. You want us to have faith in you, yet the situation has done nothing but worsen. How are we supposed to feel right now?”


“I know nothing has gone to plan,” Twilight said. “I know this whole mission has been turned upside down, and everypony is scared, but… You need to place your faith in us, just as we have placed our faith in you. That is how we’re going to get out of here alive; by working together, and trusting one another.”


“You say we need to trust one another, but you can’t trust us with whatever new information you have!” Cobalt snapped, his eyes narrowing at the Princess. “Do you even realize the hypocrisy in what you’re saying? Is this how a Princess is supposed to lead?”


“I wasn’t chosen to lead you on this mission, Cobalt,” Twilight stated, glaring in return. “Princess Celestia only chose me a few months ago, to be a science officer. Princess Luna chose Ace to lead, and it is him that I expect you to respect and follow.”


“How can we respect and follow a stallion with a background like his?” Quick Fix asked, troubled. “I mean, he talks about how he’s going to ‘find the saboteur,’ but what progress has he actually made? And given his background, the missions he used to run… Realistically, he’s the only one here with the training to perform sabotage without leaving evidence.”


“Princess Luna hoof-chose me for this mission,” Ace hissed, allowing more emotion than usual to enter his voice. “I have served the crown for more than half of my life, I would do nothing to betray the Princesses. The fact that you can even suggest I would do something like this--”


“Is a valid point…” Star Step interrupted, appearing conflicted.


“Now hold on,” Sharp Sight said, stepping out of his chair. “Ace is our Captain, it is our duty to follow him--”


“And potentially die at his hooves?” Lightning Flash asked sarcastically. “I don’t think so.”


“Face it, Captain,” Quick Fix continued. “With how little we’ve actually seen you do, it’s reasonable to believe that you’re responsible.” Cobalt nodded in agreement.


“The Captain would never betray Princess Luna or Celestia,” Sharp Sight insisted.


“I disagree.”


“Please!” Skychaser said, trying to be heard above the arguing ponies. “We’re getting off task!”


“I think that finding the saboteur is perfectly on-task,” Lightning Flash countered.


The room descended into a cacophony of shouting as the crew continued turning on itself. Quick Fix argued against Ace, while Sharp Sight was quick to defend his CO. Skychaser was trying to calm everypony down, and Lightning Flash was doing his best to undermine the efforts of the XO. Through it all, Cobalt watched with a ghost of a smile on his lips. All of the fighting, the anger coming to light… It was beautiful.


“ENOUGH!”


The mess hall instantly fell into a still silence as the shout echoed throughout the room. Eyes wide, everypony looked to the source of the cry, who stood in the center of the room. Her back arched and her wings flared, Princess Twilight’s narrowed eyes passed over everypony as she breathed heavily through her downturned mouth. After the silence had lingered for a few moments, she collapsed her wings, straightened her back, and regulated her breathing. Her glare remained, however, and she looked over the ponies of the crew once again.


“Listen to me,” she hissed, a surprising amount of anger coming from the Princess. “Somepony in this room is trying to murder everypony else. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, and frankly, I don’t care. All I want is to stop this pony, and get everypony else home safe and sound. Throwing the blame around is utterly pointless; we have no way of knowing who is responsible, unless the saboteur chooses to confess right now.” The Princess paused, waiting to see if somepony would speak up. When nopony did, she continued. “Now, we will share more information with you, but you all need to cooperate. We need to work together if we want to get home alive. Is that understood?”


Nopony spoke. Nopony dared, lest they evoke more rage from Twilight. Instead, everypony nodded slowly, agreeing with her terms.


“Good,” she said. “... Rescue plans have updated: the zebra ship will arrive in fifteen days.” A wave of relief passed over the ponies in the room, completely wiping away the tension that had been present only a moment before. Smiles replaced frowns, and eyes widened with hope as each pony considered the new information. Even Twilight allowed herself a small smile as she looked over the ponies again.


The only one not smiling was Cobalt. When he realized he was the odd one out, he forced a smile, though inside he was considering options. Fifteen days was not a significant amount of time; the original sabotage had been planned over years, and it had failed due to undocumented security features. This put him in a difficult spot.


“Alright, everypony,” Ace said. “Go ahead and get back to work. I’ll see you all later tonight.” The excitement still palpable, the crew began clearing out of the room. Cobalt was the last to exit, and he quickly entered his quarters. When he was alone, he allowed the false happiness to fall away, his expression being replaced with one of urgency. He knew he needed to act fast, but he could not work alone. If he was going to be successful, Cobalt knew he would need help…


Twilight watched as the crew filtered out of the mess hall, observing their happiness and trying to mask her own guilt. Only once the door had closed did she allow her smile to fall away, and she turned to Ace with a sigh. The Captain frowned at her, doing nothing to mask his disappointment.


“As I recall, you were the one getting worked up about our little ‘lie’ yesterday,” he said, his eyes tracking Twilight as she paced throughout the room.


“I know,” Twilight replied, nodding. “And when the truth comes to light, I’ll bear that responsibility. But right now, we need the crew to trust us. So, for now… I think it’s necessary.”


“Well, I’ll support you,” Ace said, crossing to the mess hall door. “See you later, Twilight.” He exited the room, leaving Twilight on her own. The young Princess sighed once again and took a seat, rubbing her temple with a hoof. She did not want things to be this way, but the saboteur had dealt them a difficult hand. Their options were few, and none were pleasant. Even if they came out of this alive, Twilight knew one thing for sure: nopony on the crew would be the same.


Princess Luna held her head up high as news cameras flashed and a wave of silence washed over the ponies of the press before her. Her assistant stood next to her, doing an excellent job of maintaining a stoic expression. In situations as difficult as these, everypony would be watching, including the terrorists. Luna knew they could not show fear of any kind; to do so would only strengthen the resolve of those who sought to do them harm.


“Thank you all for coming,” the assistant began, looking over the crowd. “We will now begin the session.” Pens hit paper as the press members prepared to write down every word Luna said. The Princess of the Night cleared her throat, and leaned closer to the microphone in front of her.


“By now, I know that word has gotten out regarding what happened,” she said. “I am confirming that three ponies are dead, and fifteen have been wounded after a tragic accident in the vehicle assembly bay this morning. While we were retrofitting the ship kindly donated to us by the zebra, a cargo elevator carrying several steel beams collapsed as it was rising. We are still investigating the cause of this collapse, but I wish to offer my sincerest condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost. The work done by those ponies was some of the most important work in the world, and their efforts will not be forgotten.” Luna waited for the press to stop writing before she continued. “Questions?”


“Princess, has the possibility of sabotage been considered?” one stallion sitting near the front asked. “Given what’s going on with Harmony, it seems reasonable that--”


“As I said, the cause of the collapse is still being investigated,” Luna interrupted. She looked over the crowd, and pointed her hoof at a mare further back. “Yes, you there.”


“Recently, the number of arrests around the space center has increased,” she said. “Does this mean that terrorists have infiltrated the ESA?”


“I would like to keep these questions about the accident, please,” Luna answered, immediately pointing to another pony.


“How has this accident affected the ship retrofits?”


“There is no damage to the zebra ship,” Luna replied. “Retrofits will continue as planned.”


Over the next half-hour, the questions kept coming, more of them about terrorism or sabotage than about the accident. When Luna had had enough, she sent the press away and retired to a small office behind the meeting area, where Princess Celestia was waiting. Luna approached her sister quietly, noticing the somber expression once again on her face. With the events of the day, plus all that had happened aboard Harmony, the elder Princess was struggling to hold it all together.


“So, how did it go?” Celestia asked, not making eye contact with her sister.


“It went fine,” Luna replied. “There were a few too many questions about sabotage, but I denied any possibility that that could be the case. I won’t give these terrorists what they want.”


“It won’t matter,” Celestia said. “They’ll take responsibility for it anyway.”


“I could stub my hoof on a chair leg and they would take responsibility.” Luna took a seat, sighing. “It doesn’t matter. Without evidence showing that they did it, nopony will believe them.”


“We will.” Celestia finally looked to her sister, frowning. “We know it was them. And they’re going to keep trying; you know that as well as I do.”


Luna nodded, knowing her sister was correct. “Yes, this was no ‘accident.’ But we cannot yield to these terrorists. We need to keep working on the retrofit, or Harmony will have no chance of returning home.”


“I will keep arranging security, as you asked me to do,” Celestia said, crossing to the door. “... You were right, this morning. I cannot let the guilt of this get to me. Thank you, Luna.” Luna smiled, and watched as her sister exited the office. As soon as she was alone, her attention went to a nearby window, through which she had clear line of sight of the vehicle assembly bay. The zebra ship would be ready soon. It would launch, travel to Harmony, and with luck, the crew would be able to install it and return home safely.


But Luna knew this would not happen. Unless the saboteur was caught, Harmony had no chance of making it home in one piece. Twilight and Ace would need to hurry if they were to be successful; every minute that the saboteur remained unknown was an opportunity for disaster. Again Luna felt the helplessness rising up within her; surrounded by the smartest minds of a generation and the best technology available, yet unable to directly help. It was frustrating, but Luna knew there was nothing she could do about it. As much as she wished things could be different, the reality was clear: Harmony was on her own, and the survival of her crew was out of Luna’s control.

Author's Note:

Hello, readers. Sorry for the delay in getting this chapter out; between traveling home for Thanksgiving, and now finals, it's been a hectic couple of weeks, and I haven't had much time to write. This may be the case for the next chapter as well, but I will devote as much time as I can to writing.

If you notice any spelling/grammar errors, please let me know! And as usual, feedback is appreciated, so please let me know what you think. Thank you for reading!