• Published 28th Mar 2018
  • 2,596 Views, 100 Comments

Off The Grid - MajorPaleFace

Commander John Maxon unexpectedly arrives in orbit above Equestria after a 90 year interstellar journey to Proxima Centauri in Cryostasis. John must learn to survive and inspire in an strange new world.

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Come Fly With Me

“Woah.” Lieutenant Midnight said. The single uttered word perfectly summarised the sight before them.

The Anlace was sat on its perch, it’s blocky and industrial design was backed by cool-grey stone from the mountain behind. The pair of bipedal automatons that stood underneath next to its freshly constructed landing struts turned to form an equally spaced barrier.

“What are these things, Maxon?” Kodiak sounded unlike herself but kept her head held high. Her wide stance accompanied the cautionary hold she had on her sabre.

He allowed a small smile at the uneasiness the Assaultrons had on her half-dozen-strong Thestral escort. “Friends of mine. Don’t wander off – they don’t take kindly to that sort of thing.” Kodiak’s eyes narrowed slightly as her Guards formed a tight cordon.

He activated the embarkation ramp and it kissed the soil with a hydraulic hiss and burst of steam. He thundered up the twelve-meter slope, exiting his power armour once inside the decontamination room.

The large space had a small armour bay and medical suite sealed off from the entrance chamber. The whole lower section had its life support that remained separate from the rest of the ship. If contaminants were detected it could be remotely locked down under strict quarantine. It could also be detached from the main body of the ship.

Lieutenant Colonel Kodiak, Lieutenant Midnight along with Senior Guard Starry Skies followed after him. Guards Dark Goldenrod, Moonshot, Frosted Whip and Starchaser hobbled in last.

A tri-laser turret emerged out of a housing recessed in the ceiling and tracked the seven bat-ponies after skipping over John. Once fully inside the vessel. A duel bleep denoted that no harmful bacteria or toxins had been discovered by sensitive detectors located all around the main portal.

The mechanical duo followed them up at a prompt from John, his fingers having barely left his wrist-mounted pip-boy before they strutted in behind them. The ramp hissed closed and sealed with a clank.

“Your friends seriously give me the creeps!” Goldenrod said, frowning.

“Same here!” Moonshot chimed in.

“Ditto,” Kodiak said quietly. Looking expectantly at John.

“Come on, the bridge isn’t far,” John said with a motion of his head and a half-hidden chuckle.

Kodiak and company followed without speaking. The rubberised soles of his all-black bodysuit made no sound and they were swallowed by the access corridor to the tune of clip-clop.

Bland metal hallways lay at intermittent intersections. Signs labelled the paths. Bridge, Armour Bay, Sick Bay, Living Quarters, Cryogenics.

John kept his eyes ahead and walked at a decent pace. They took a switch-back stairwell that brought them near the cryogenic bay. He turned left and then passed across the Cryo threshold, not glancing at the recently sealed door to the room or the plaque that had been erected.

Those we lost, it said above the names of the crew.

The thick steel door to the bridge was set against the end of a long corridor. To John’s eye, it was obviously not a feature of the original ship. It opened on well-oiled hinges, the pneumatic assistance allowed it to swing freely and easily.

He gestured for Kodiak to enter. He followed after Starry Skies and closed the door behind him. That new silicon and recently welded alloy smell hit and he restrained a cough, but Kodiak and her Thestrals couldn’t help but splutter at the unnatural odour.

He had only installed one command chair, and he sat down heavily. Kodiak halted at his left and glanced around the deck, while the others spread around to peer through the honeycomb view screen. It arced from underfoot a couple of meters and then rose into a vague ball shape. The entire thing looking like a giant angled bug-eye. One of the guards let out a soft, low whistle.

The command chair had tactical data pads on either arm, from here John could work in conjunction with the secondary computer. He had access to navigation, weapons and communication systems at his fingertips.

His pip-boy rested on one side, as soon as he was near and inside the ship, it could communicate wirelessly. Data streamed over the screen, he entered a few commands and began warming up the engines. Next, he instructed the maintenance bots to begin assembly of the cruise missiles.

“I'm running diagnostic sims and stress tests. It’ll be a few hours – but if all goes okay, I should be able to take the ship into a stable low-orbit.”

Kodiak looked appreciative, “honestly I never believed this thing would actually fly. But I’ll try to keep an open mind.”

“What now?” she asked after a short pause.

“I can only make a short flight. No more than a day to be safe. I’ll need fuel, so I’ll need another day before I can get in the air again.”

He checked the status of his latest instructions to the maintenance bots. Before he’d left for butterfly ridge, he had decided not having a hanger bay would be an issue. They’d cleared the portside storage bay and had begun to remove a section out of the exterior hull. It would give him some extra material for other uses and allow him to have an in-atmosphere hanger.

“Fuel?” She asked.

“The remaining reactor that produces power for the ship uses Hydrogen as fuel. Specifically, deuterium and tritium.” He explained.

Moonshot squinted in thought, before asking, “isn’t hydrogen on the moon?” Her voice was sort of fruity and made John want to smirk.

He grunted in affirmation, “yes, but relatively only small deposits exist. If its anything like the moon over my world. Typically, hydrogen production on the moon piggybacks on mining other minerals and metals, to make it worth the immense sifting of lunar rock.”

“So how are you going to get it?” Midnight asked.

He nodded at the viewscreen as an image materialised. The ponies all reacted with wide eyes, yet none commented. The image was of a tokamak reactor, of which the S-10 was a miniaturised version. It was essentially a metal doughnut, pipes in and out were labelled in written English.

He turned to look Kodiak directly in the eye. “Once the Anlace is in the air I’m going to land it near the ocean – somewhere clear of prying eyes.”

“Better to make sure you’ve prepped as much as possible before launching an assault. I think we should summon Princess Luna. I’ll send a message. She has the authority to organise our military into a single cohesive force, while they mobilise – you can pack up and make for Horse-Shoe bay.”

She directed a head-raise at Dark Goldenrod, who turned and began unloading a scroll and quill – furiously scribbling paragraph after paragraph.

John nodded, the basis for a final assault on the Changeling hive taking place. “What’s in the bay?”

“A large body of saltwater,” Midnight explained. “It’s a holiday beach near Baltimare. If the unicorns come on board, they can keep the invisibility field stable enough for you to make a short hop over to the bay, and get your fuel.”

He frowned. “Won’t there be a lot of ponies enjoying the weather?”

Kodiak smiled wolfishly; fangs prominent. “I’ll have the weather nice and overcast for your arrival.”

Once all parties were in place, he began the initial launch sequence. Kodiak awaited outside along with a chariot full of Unicorns and her Thestral squad, hovering at a safe distance over the surrounding woodland. The magic-users could still maintain the field while the Chariot kept pace with the Anlace. Coming aboard afterwards as long as the ship didn’t plummet to an explosive grave.

The humanoid Assaultrons and floating Mr Handy bots had scoured every corner of the interior, ensuring everything was secured, except for stowaways. They hadn’t found any, and so he began to raise the engine temperature.

The Anlace had been a hefty 68,000-ton vessel after its commission and had been given a host of tune-ups and adjustments with its extra deep-reconnaissance equipment raising its voyage weight to around 86,000 tonnes. With the damage and loss of material during the malfunction of the Faster Than Light propulsion and crash-landing, the ship now weighed closer to 55,000 tonnes.

The ship was less advanced-looking and more utilitarian, having a bulky shape closer to a freighter vessel than a top-of-the-line military starship.

Still, he mused, she’s got enough ordinance to level a thousand kilometres square.

He received green signals from the secondary computer, and so approved lift-off protocols. The ship began to shudder almost imperceptibly as the Merlin plasma-fuel boosters fired. It had six plasma rocket boosters that could get the ship back into the air in the event it became grounded.

The computer began to auto adjust the manoeuvre thrusters. Correcting the intense wobble that threatened to tip the ship into the mountain that loomed out of the main view screen.

He gritted his teeth, clenching his jaw as he allowed the computer to handle the lift-off proper. He was buckled into the command chair and unthinkingly re-tested the securing strap to ensure it was as tight as possible.

The ground raced away and began to tilt slightly as the Anlace lifted toward the cloud layer, within two minutes he had left the mountain behind and was now far above the ground. The craft was pressurised and so he didn’t feel the usual popping in his ears.

The Anlace levelled-out, the altimeter displayed 3,000 meters and that sickness feeling in his gut began to lift.

Info scrolled over his arm, the pip-boy automatically compiling launch-data. The rise to the ships current altitude was steady, the S-10 reactor seemed to be holding with enough power to spare.

Horse-Shoe bay, as seen from the air was a large body of water surrounded by a thin crust of land. True to its namesake, in the shape of a horse-shoe.

A dozen unicorns had boarded – making themselves comfortable in one of the recently emptied storage warehouses. While the hanger bay had a large open-air rectangular portal, for now, five Mr Handy bots were assembling a set of blast doors from the hull section they had cutaway and a spare lifeboat launch tube.

Most of the debris from the crash site had been collected and piled in another identical warehouse. The cruise missiles were in position, ready to fire. Lieutenant Colonel Kodiak, Guard Frosted Whip and Senior Guard Starry Skies had transitioned into a second cart and according to the Anlace’s instruments was on a pre-set course for the Equestrian capital.

The occasional burst of multicoloured energy would swirl around the outside of the hull and arc across the angular viewscreen. The ships Geiger counters weren’t detecting above-usual amounts of radiation.

So, this ‘magic’ isn’t a radioactive property like some of the mutations I’ve seen.

Goldenrod was sat between Moonshot and Starchaser next to the viewscreen. Sprawling greenery passed underneath the occasional patch of cloud vapour, ever-thickening as they drew closer to the grey coast. All three had barely healed wounds, they were idly talking about their mission to destroy the bug artillery. John kept one eye on them and the other on his instruments.

“What happened to you, Starchaser? I thought you were gonna be bug-food for sure!”

The kid was kind of wimpy-looking. Not as large as some of the other Thestral males, he was underweight and seemed to have difficulty making eye contact, unless it was Moonshot. The female Goldenrod had allegedly saved.

“I’m not sure – I remember the rain and the cold. I was sure we’d make it out together. Next thing I know – I’m falling.”

He swallowed thickly, taking a long drag from his water bladder. “It was like my wings had stopped working, I kept falling, and I just sort of made peace with it, you know? I thought ‘at least Moonshot got out.’”

John could see the small flame the two newcomers shared. It was the classic predicament where two people liked one another yet neither had the cohones to say anything.

Goldenrod carried on. “Anyway – so I kept climbing, eventually breaking the cloudbank. The sun hit my face and I knew I could keep going. Moonshot was still out, so I had to remove our armour and fly with her back to camp. I only just made it as the bugs showed up to kick our flanks.”

Midnight was stood loosely to Johns right. She hadn’t moved in over an hour, the flight almost over. As he studied her, he realised her eyes were closed yet her nostrils were flaring in rapid succession.

He faced forward and lazily leaned on his opposite arm from her, “we’ll be there soon. I’m starting our descent.”

The ship shook for a few breaths, before slowly falling at a steep angle for the bay. The four of them quickly moved to the viewscreen to glance at their world from this perspective. Although, it was probably a view they had all seen countless times due to their winged nature. True to Kodiaks word, storm clouds were brewing – the outside temperature had been falling quickly, and now held at about thirty-two Fahrenheit.

The Anlace descended through two-thousand meters, a barely detectable vibration could be felt through the floor. Horse-Shoe bay was still a couple of kilometres out and the ships secondary computer was sifting over topographical data to determine a suitable landing zone. Ideally somewhere close to the ocean with sufficient subterranean bedrock to hold the weight of the ship. He sent a signal to the maintenance bots to decouple themselves from their storage hold and move to the hydrogen lab, the large equipment for the ground part of this ordeal was stored there.

Several more minutes without event passed. John drummed his fingers on the armrest, the ship tilted a fraction leftward and down, before levelling out again and pulling forward with more speed.

“What’s happening?” Midnight asked.

John checked the altitude readout, followed by the engine and reactor readouts.

At his silence, she asked, “are we landing?” Yellow eyes traced over him.

“Yes.” He said simply, not bothering to explain further.

The viewscreen could display images vital to informing the bridge crew of the computers’ intent. Lime green light raced across the image of the equestrian coastline. Displaying altitude, barometric data and geophysical subsurface scans.

Moonshot, Goldenrod and Starchaser backpedalled away. Halting just short of the command chair. The ship had picked out a suitable landing zone, ground-penetrating radar revealed a rocky under surface comprised mostly of ore-bearing rocks. The LZ was barely large enough for the Anlace at its current size, yet the ship didn’t realise it was smaller and so prepared to pull away for a secondary site. Johns fingers maniacally entered a series of commands. The LZ was not too small, the Anlace had lost some considerable size – mostly by having its frontal third and anterior hanger bays, with all the military-grade gunships held therein, teleported to oblivion.

After a breath, a blip denoted the acceptance of the instruction – and the ship continued on its current bearing. Starchaser had shuffled up bit-by-bit to the screen, waving a hoof over the holographic images.

“How do you make the glass show you things?” Her head rotated back like that of an owl.

John puckered his lips. “It’s a holographic-projector lattice, it lets me see all kinds of tactically advantageous information.” The ship was a few degrees off-course and the computer adjusted accordingly. More numbers popped up, altitude in meters lowering. The ship passed over a small plot of land and the sand and saltwater were cast up in a spray.

They were out to sea. About a kilometre from the continent’s main landmass, the horse-shoe shaped beach district got ever thinner as it cut into the ocean. The LZ was a vague rectangle shape a few hundred meters in length, the surface was a ruddy rock-red colour, porous vents a meter wide held saltwater that rushed out to splatter the hull as the Anlace gently touched down with its landing skids.

The engines and anti-grav systems were kept at the ready in case they had to launch again in a hurry. Either side was an endless grey ocean, just visible to the right and slightly behind lay Equestria proper, he could see the misty spires of a city on the horizon.

That must be Baltimare. He thought.

Around the ship, the seawater swelled and fluctuated against the wash of the engines. Swirling white foam. They remained like this for several minutes, while John checked and rechecked the gyroscopic feed. Aside from a strong wind and vibrations caused by the thruster idle, the ground gave no indication of plummeting them into the sea.

John powered down the flight systems, the wash from them and the effect on the seawater was simultaneously abated.

Moments later and he was leading the four Thestrals down the access corridor that led to the forward observation deck. It was under the bridge and allowed for a good view of the surrounding landscape. They passed through a bare-bones section, the panelling had yet to be repaired and had been simply removed. The usually hidden honeycomb support slats were on display, as they made themselves smaller so a Mr Handy could float past, John equated it to the ship showing the robot its private parts. Causing a tight smile to fight onto his face.

More stairs had them arrive four decks below at a door with hatched yellow lines. It was a duel-reinforced blast door, 13cm thick with a small circular window on the right half of the two sections. They could seal off the bottom of the ship to protect against the vacuum of space.

He didn’t even need to request entrance, his electronic tag permitted him full access. As the doors whisked open, he stepped down into a pitch-black room. He gestured at Midnight who peered into the unlit room with a pinch of suspicion.

However, she along with the others eventually followed. Moonshot stumbled over a step, then they stood inside and glanced back as the blast doors sealed them all in.

“Lights!” He shouted suddenly and clapped his hands twice dramatically.

Nothing happened. His arm-mounted pip-boy came on as he brought it to his face, casting his features in eerie shadows. As if he was about to tell a horror story at a campfire. A hydraulic hissing and chugging sound emanated from the walls either side of the doors. A rhythmic thumping started and bright natural light bled into the room through ever-widening seams on the floor and walls.

As armoured doors lifted over the transparent under surface on guided skirts, the ground between the landing struts was right there – barely four meters away. Due to the angle of the Anlace’s perch, not much could be seen either side except snippets of ocean swell and miniature waves.

In the distance ahead, grey-black clouds were brewing. The wind had been picking up and a light rain was making patterns along the surf.

Behind them, six ball-bodied floating Mr Handy’s were already ferrying thick black cables from ports in the Anlace into the sea. As many bipedal Securitrons strutted around. Being careful, so as not to be washed into the foamy water.

“What’re those?” Midnight asked, and pointed at a series of giant metallic cylinders. They lowered from the belly of the ship right behind the observation blister on a pair of identical yet separate lifts.

John took a step to the side to let them all see, “they are storage tanks for the water. We’re going to be here for most of the day pumping, filtering and the more pumping…”

He shrugged. “It's pretty boring, but from the saltwater – I can fuel my ship using that equipment.” His hands were on his hips as they watched.

“Are y’all hungry?” He asked, again bringing up his pip-boy.

They looked around at each other, nodding in affirmation when each realised, they weren’t alone. The on-board galley was fully autonomous, with enough pre-ready food for forty people to last close to a year. There was a hydroponics bay for growing some food using frozen seeds. But that wouldn’t be necessary now. At the thought, he desperately wished another, actually useful system had survived in its place.

After listing off the 38 options for food, including beverage options of plain H2O, Nuka Cola regular, cherry or orange and Nuka Cola Dark (with alcohol) along with Sunset Sarsaparilla. John had ordered black-bean vegetarian chilli for the tabby-coloured Lieutenant. Her surprisingly long tongue ran circles around her teeth and fangs in anticipation.

Moonshot and Starchaser shared a romantic look and both asked for the seafood pasta. John wasn’t surprised that Thestrals ate fish, and sometimes meat as well.

Goldenrod was the least decisive and made John tell her the options again, and some of them a third time. He was quickly losing patience, fortunately, she decided on vegan meatballs. He also ordered a round of the Nuka Cola Dark. The spiced rum and cinnamon flavours were a real delight.
While the food was prepped, Midnight and Goldenrod took turns bombarding him with questions about the process they were watching. The bots having now assembled an electric-powered turbo-assisted water pump. He began explaining how to fuel a D-T tokamak using Deuterium (Hydrogen 2) and Tritium (Hydrogen 3.)

The first part of the fuel process required the production of hydrogen. Saltwater pumped into a series of chlorine filters and gas-liquid separation membranes will jointly remove undesirable chemicals, biological contaminants, suspended solids and gasses from the water. The filter is about a meter in diameter and has a length of six meters, with a pair of magnetic radiation emitters slung under the filtration chamber to bombard the water with ultraviolet light. A complex medium through which only liquid can pass acts as the final method of filtering. Afterwards, the water is pumped into storage tanks.

The decontaminated, desalinated and degasified water is then pumped into a heavy water production plant, fortunately still suspended in an armoured bin at the Anlace’s steely centre. One of the larger sub-systems aboard, the heavy water process is essential for the production of deuterium – a critical component in fusion fuel.

Hydrogen sulfide gas is circulated in a closed loop between the cold tower (30˚C) and the hot tower (130 ˚C). Although these can be mounted separately, the Anlace had a single large one with the cold section at the top. The filtered water is fed to the cold tower where deuterium migration preferably takes place from the hydrogen sulfide gas to liquid water. Normal water is fed to the hot tower where the deuterium transfer takes place from the liquid water to the hydrogen sulfide gas.

An appropriate cascade setup accomplishes enrichment: enriched water is fed into the cold tower and further “enriched”. The water has around a 15%-20% concentration of D2O, and drains into a sub-level to distillate until more than 99% reactor grade concentration occurs.

Deuterium tritium atoms fuse inside the hot plasma of the reactor, producing one atom of helium-4, one neutron atom and along with it, energy. The fusion neutrons will escape the plasma to react with the lithium atoms in the breeding blanket to produce atomic tritium. This can be extracted and fed back in as the Tritium component to the fuel, the extra is stored in a special and complicated compartment.

He could soon tell that the Thestrals had no real idea or concept of what he was describing. He ventured back into the hallway, located a toolbox which helpfully had a set of chalk and carbon pencils, and returned. He also took a spare piece of decking, it was relatively small – about the size of his torso.

But man does it weigh a ton!

He huffed as quietly as possible as he placed it gently on the clear floor of the observation room, to begin drawing once he’d sat cross-legged.

He drew a simplistic version, a bulky 3D doughnut, with a maze of lines representing the various pipes in and out. He denoted which was which in written English, and explained as he went.

It took him longer to explain the simple version, and although obviously the technology was beyond them – he sensed in their eyes a tiny understanding. At least of the concept.

Dinner arrived and they ate ravenously, the first meal in over a day, he really needed to sort his diet out. A man of Johns size required a complex and high content mix of nutrients. He thought back to when he was a skinny little kid and shivered at the thought.

“Will it be much longer?” Midnight whined, for the umpteenth time.

He resisted gritting his teeth, and growled the same reply, “I don’t know.”

It would probably take the rest of the night and into the morning. Luckily, he didn’t actually have to do any work and took great pleasure in languishing across a sofa-like seat in the ad-hoc downtime room.

“Shouldn’t Colonel Kodiak be back by now?” She followed up after a small frown.

He thought about it, his arm felt heavy – he had, as usual, overeaten. Ordering three Meals, Ready to Eat at once. He forced himself to look at his pip-boy and scrawl across the sensor feed. Nothing within several kilometres except what may have been birds, or the weather team – as Moonshot had claimed the ponies could manipulate the weather simply by flying around.

John didn’t know anything about that, but he did know a chariot-sized object was closing in on the Anlace from the north-west at an altitude of two-hundred meters.

Once inside the hanger, he left the Thestrals alone to peer through the open hanger bay and search for the inbound chariot. John walked along the corridor, into an opposing storage bay, inside which was a dozen Royal Guard spread out. Some were playing cards while other nibbled on awful-looking rations.

“I can get you some food,” he offered.

A squat stallion with what John believed were NCO stripes engraved into his armour spoke first, “shit, here I am eating this crap. Bring it to us, son.”

John didn’t like being called ‘son.’ That was reserved for his father and grandfathers, yet silently took orders again like a 6’8, 300lb waiter. Once completed, he returned to the bay and nearly slipped over on the wet floor.

The weather outside was frightening, strobing lightning flashed across the dark sky and hammering winds carrying icy rain almost threatened to knock the ship over. The antigrav systems were being used to form a conical barrier around the LZ from a hundred meters out, the dark waves bristled and burst against the invisible force, allowing the ship to remain on its struts unmolested. Albeit soaked from the rain and shaking from the wind.

A barely observable fleck was emerging over the waterway, John brought up his wrist and set about making it easier. He activated the anti-collision lights. He imagined the several that still worked winking on.

It was slightly off course. Yet once the pulling team spotted the disturbance from the anti-grav system, they corrected to intercept.

A minute later and the chariot had slowed to an almost complete stop as it emerged through the invisibility barrier, it lowered down, and listed toward the storage-converted-hanger-bay.

Once across the threshold, he instructed the doors to close. It was a larger and more ornate carriage, with a swirly blue-black finish and white jewels painted across it to look like stars. A windowless cover was over the passenger compartment, shielding the occupants from the brutal weather.

The eight-Thestral flight crew were thoroughly drenched, they quickly unhitched and stood with four either side of the tightly tied entrance flap. It was opened from the inside, a large long white horn emerged followed by an aquamarine and sparkling pink mane.

Princess Celestia reminded John of the swan boats he’d seen at an abandoned pre-war amusement park as a kid. Her long and powerful looking neck careened so that her magenta eyes might drink in the surrounding bay. A tiered golden tiara balanced perfectly in the recess of her hairline.

She stepped down on polished gold horseshoes that created light clipping sounds. She wore a large gold collar around her thick neck, a single purple jewel flashed in the artificial light as she turned to grant the next occupant her exit.

Princess Luna was the Yin to Celestia’s Yang. Her dark blue coat seemed to absorb the light. It made the crescent moon mark on her rear leg stand out more. She had a silver inlaid steel breastplate on, her pair of curved and long sabres were fastened onto her back between her dark wings. A smaller and silver version of the tiara Celestia had likewise sat nestled on her head. Her ethereal mane had blues, black and purple under motes of white. Like the most perfect star-filled sky.

Polished silver-tipped hooves touched the deck of the Anlace for the first time since the crash. Luna looked around apprehensively as if the entire place might set alight or come undone any minute.

Midnight, Moonshot, Starchaser and Goldenrod quickly bowed. John almost joined them but decided it wasn’t his place. Luna came almost unnervingly close to rest a foreleg on his abdomen.

“We heard about the burial of your crew and the difficulties you suffered fighting on the ridge. We are glad to see thou are still with us, John” She offered a sincere smile, which he returned reflexively.

Princess Celestia stepped up next, a head taller than her lunar counterpart, John was finally able to make eye contact without looking down. A welcome change.

“Commander,” her voice was not as husky as Luna’s. It was a sort of sing-song voice, and despite his mother having been a hardened man-killer, it oddly reminded him of her.

“Princess Luna, Princess Celestia.” He looked both in the eye in turn. “Welcome aboard the Anlace.

He extended his arms like they had won a grand prize, he waved around himself with a small flourish. They smiled politely, but he could tell neither thought too highly of the dull grey construction. In addition to a pair of defensive ceiling-mounted laser turrets whose purpose was deathly obvious.

He led them forward, the main corridors of the ship were designed with hulking power-armoured soldiers in-mind, and so the two rulers had plenty of headspace. He suggested the Thestral pulling team could hole up with the Unicorns in the adjacent bay and Celestia’s horn ignited in gold for an instant.

The eight Thestrals flashed, all of them unfazed and suddenly completely dry. They secured the craft to the deck using ropes and the rungs at the edges of the walls, the main group leaving them to it as John directed them for the bridge.

As soon as the road to the command deck began, Luna began chatting animatedly as if she was holding drunken court. She went on a tirade about the political situation in the capitol. The noble ponies having finally ‘seen the darkness’ of the world and the shift from resistance to openly suggesting things like mass-conscription and rearming the military with ‘the alien’s weaponry’ hadn’t exactly surprised the darker sister.

“But an outcome of total war is something I had hoped to avoid altogether.” Celestia finished the string of sentences together with her own opinion, Luna gave a disapproving look at her but negated to say anything to that end.

“What were you expecting?” John snorted derisively. “I’m sorry, but did you really think peace could be restored without more bloodshed? It sucks. But it's them or you, and having seen glimpses of both cultures and its citizens,” the last word doused in sarcasm. “You can’t let the kindness in your heart overrule your ability, and frankly, your obligation to keep your people safe.”

They bundled into one of the few functioning maintenance lifts, the door sealing them in like caged chickens as they began to rise.

“I am afraid I cannot disagree with you, John Maxon. Yet I find myself thinking about other alternatives and methods.”

Luna chimed in this time, “if we are to approve of the use of your mega-weapons, shan’t this appear a demonstration of some new capability that we do not actually possess in the eyes of the world?”

They exited the lift once the barrier raised itself, John pulling a sharp right. As they followed him out of a manually controlled door, the two princesses and he had to duck, John waited as they all passed across the steel threshold and then resealed the door.

He pointed and Midnight led the way followed by Luna and Celestia, Moonshot, Starchaser and Goldenrod at the back between John and the monarchs.

They walked in silence, the command bridge coming up. Midnight stopped them at the refurbished door, he had to manually enter the code for this one. He passed the three at the back and had to shimmy awkwardly between the two princesses. He breezed passed Midnight to enter the access code. Once inside they picked up the conversation.

“I believe the use of these weapons is a big decision, and must only be carried out as a last-ditch effort to stop all this,” Celestia said, her eyes squeezed shut.

John grunted, “It’s your call. Just know that while you ponder the ethics, more and more of your soldiers are being killed.”

She sighed, “I know. The most recent figures have almost topped 30,000. It is already the second-highest number of casualties in our history, and It has only been a month.”

John didn’t bother to mention the billions of humans killed in conflicts over his species self-destructive history.

“I’m just saying, its one option. Option two is to use the Anlace in a fire-support role to overwatch a ground offensive. But in that scenario, you're gonna probably throw a quarter-million-strong army at it.”

Celestia blanched. “It is possible, but also unthinkable. Of course, I want this to end soon. But not at the risk of losing so many.”

Luna chimed in by resting a blue leg on her sisters slouched neck. “Of course. But we mustn’t tarry: if we are to become paralysed by indecision as the nobles have been, we are to potentially sink our nation into an eternal abyss. Something we – I – can not condone.”

Celestia nodded, “I know.”

Luna looked at him with the ferocity he’d come to expect. “Is there a third option, human?”

He thought about it. Yes. But did he want to even suggest it? Fuck it.

“I could lead a strike team armed with a portable nuke. Repeat what I did last time, sneak in, set some bang-bang, get out making as much noise as possible and then demo the place to hell.”

She smiled at his enthusiasm when he talked about blowing things up. “How likely is such a mission to succeed?”

John shrugged. “Depends.” He struggled with what to say next.

“Look if I’m stuck here, which might well be an alternate universe or dimension – rather than a fixed point in the same universe as my homeworld, I can give you some action on my tech.”

Luna and Celestia looked as if they didn’t quite understand. “Explain,” Luna said tersely.

He stepped toward a seated Midnight. Fur-tipped tabby ears swivelled in uncertainty but she soon relaxed. He gestured, “imagine. My armour, but designed to fit the Lieutenant.” He spoke more to Celestia, “or for Luna. Power-armoured protection, you could enhance it magically I bet. Toting advanced human weaponry,” he drew and re-holstered his laser sidearm for emphasis.

“Suddenly you would have an enormous advantage militarily over the Changelings, and really anyone else.”

Celestia looked as if to offer a rebuttal, but John kept talking. “Just because you have the biggest stick doesn’t mean people are going to presume you mean to invade and conquer unless of course, that’s what you wanted. But it would make them think twice about messing with you. And if you could defeat the Changelings not only conventionally but without allies from this world, it would go along way to show Equestrian military might.” He clenched his fist and leaned forward in a position of physical power.

Celestia sighed and turned to face the viewscreen. For the first time viewing the world outside. The rain had begun to calm as had the turbulent ocean.

Luna spoke next, “for now, John Maxon, we shall rest. And discuss it more in length tomorrow. Lieutenant Colonel Kodiak is a capable mare, she and her direct superior Colonel Amethyst are going to hold a war meeting with the generals. Her view of the situation on the ground is vital to allow them to come up with their plan.”

She seemed a little giddy suddenly, “in the meantime, mayhaps we might talk more about this ‘power armour’.” She said the words slowly.

He nodded as he looked at the back of Celestia’s turned head. “Alright. I’ll have a maintenance bot set up some quarters. What little furniture I’ve got should be large enough for you both. More than adequate for these,” he gestured at the Thestrals.

She smiled at this, slightly mischievous but he couldn’t say what made him think that. “Tis’ no need, an unused space would be more than suitable.” Her horn flashed in a demonstration, the room strobed white and he shut his eyes for an instant. He blinked. Once the largely barren room had been quite devoid of anything, save for his centrally located command chair.

The bridge now had blue cloth on the walls, an ancient rustic rug had materialised from thin-air underfoot. A half-dozen thick plump pillows lay around in a semi-circle. Blue and gold streamers ran along the upper portion of the walls and across the viewscreen. A small coffee table lay off to one side, a steaming kettle and a tray of cups occupying its surface.

John put his hands on his hips while he inspected the new additions to his ship. “Yeah just make yourselves at home. Do you want to install a log fire as well?”

She smirked in a flash of immaculate teeth, “we thought about it. Concluding the integrity of your vessel more important.”

Midnight and John followed behind an unusually excited blue princess. She veritably skipped down the hall toward the armour bay.

“Turn left,” he said flatly.

She disappeared, he and Midnight rounded the corner. Following for a few moments, they passed a myriad of sealed hatches. Eventually arriving at the armour bay. B/2/1. Once through the security doors, Midnight and Luna each made little sounds of exclamation.

Armoury B/2/1 was the heavy weapons and manufacture lab, from here using automated systems he could 3-D print a wide variety of things from drinking straws to laser weapons, baseball bats to a full functioning set of outdated T-51b armour if he cared to. Four Cerulean Robotics three-dimensional printers could create almost any non-biological material and form single pieces, from there the pieces would travel into the next compartment.

Weapons into an Arm-co assembly unit, armour into an Armour-go assembler and most other things into the unreasonably large H&H Tools, Inc. automated pre-assembled reconfigurator.

What a mouthful.

A set of five armour cradles were staggered on the left, his battle-damaged set sat covered in grime in one, a gap in the floor that ran along the centre granted access into the weapons portion, just visible were dozens of small arms, missiles and belts of fusion cores. At the back of the armour portion rested the fifteen-meter-long rail cannon. It was hyper-lethal. It could fire 7,400 20mm rounds per minute using a variety of munitions.

The far-back bulbous end of this room also held the cradles for the ships four Mk-IV b sentry bots, hulking tanks on wheeled struts, if they did launch a ground offensive, he could always descend into the hive along with his automated followers. Twelve housings for the bipedal Securitrons were devoid of robots save for four. An armoured locker held the only man-portable T-2 five kiloton bomb. A large blank section that used to belong to the pair of cruise missiles sat unoccupied.

The image of an army of fully armed and mechanised ponies caused him to smile, both mares rushed into the room, inspecting all of it.

He followed and the door auto-sealed. It was tricky, John by no-means an engineer. He thought they had to stay there anyway while the ship refuelled, so why not make the most of it with a science experiment.

He began by having Midnight remove her armour, he placed it on a worktable and began loosely measuring her with a tape measure, he was unsure about reaching underneath her body and so asked Luna to take over. He booted up a RobCo terminal and imputed Midnight's measurements as Luna called them. A vague 3-D image of a pony began to form.

Next, he asked Luna to measure from the hoof to the joint and went back and forth to the mackerel-striped Thestral to test the range of motion in her legs, and eventually her body. He added X and Y axis’s along with the approximate location of her various joints and asked them to tell him about their internal organs and bone structure.

He glanced at his pip-boy and could see over two hours had passed without anything exciting happening. Early on the Princess had summoned more cushions and other regal-looking decorations to spruce up the room. He retained a groan at the non-regulation accessories.

John had the automated galley prepare two dozen meals using vegetarian and a few seafood options, a Mr Handy was instructed to be the butler and ferry them to the guards near the hanger and then to Princess Celestia, Moonshot and Starchaser in the bridge.

“Are either of you hungry?” He asked, doing a double-take as Midnight was on top of and had somehow gotten her head inside the headless power armour, pulling it out hastily at his voice.

“I’m easy.” She said fiendishly.

Luna hummed. Her horn lit and a small dining table with three chairs and three set meals hidden under silver covers revealed themselves. John nearly broke his neck at the force of his second double-take.

He resisted the desire to gape. Luna sat on a large blue pillow, Midnight following her example, like summoning an entire living room and three meals was somehow usual.

He sat reluctantly as well. Eyeing everything from the placemats to the half-burned candles, a glass appeared under the management of Lunas sparkling ultra-blue magic. It was promptly filled with a tawny coloured liquid, and he had a sense of Déjà vu from that night he’d had a borderline three-way date with Luna and Colonel Kodiak. John was clueless about the motivations of women. He’d never been any good at ‘playing the game’ as his cousin Sam had said.

He felt a slight sense that one or more of his most recent company might have an interest in him, but he couldn’t be certain and wasn’t sure himself if he could bring himself to do it. When he closed his eyes at night, he still saw her. Amber eyes like gold oil in water, grey-blonde hair that framed her face.

In one motion he took his glass and downed it, foregoing any decorum and as punishment began coughing immediately.

Luna laughed, “art thou alright, Maxon?”

He nodded through watery eyes, coughing even more deeply and hammering his chest to try and put it to an end. He felt his face become warm as an alcoholic heat permeated his insides.

Once he was finished spluttering, a magically levitated bottle refilled his glass, him thinking about her again and trying not to.

“Sorry, I just thought about someone and needed to take my mind off her.” He said, feeling no shame in it.

Luna flicked her chin up in curiosity, Midnight sipping her drink quietly after a probing sniff.

“Tell us about her – somepony we know, maybe.” Her voice had this tone, he wasn’t sure what that meant.

He shook his head, clasping glass number two. “Someone whose been gone for years. I just think about her sometimes, dream about her too.” He smiled dumbly.

“Oh,” she said, “well anyway…” and lifted off all three silvery covers at once, revealing a creamy-looking dish. It smelled excellent.

“What is it?” He droned, spreading some of it with a fork.

“Tis’ roasted squash risotto with cheese. One of our favourites.” She held her fork in navy magic and gave a delighted expression after the first forkful. They ate in relative silence, John forcing himself not to down his other drink. He made some small talk with Midnight, Luna simply observing.

They talked some more about each other’s family, some details of their upbringing and afterwards, they all drank and continued to design a pony-suitable set of power armour.

Author's Note:

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