• Published 2nd Dec 2018
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The Multiverse in a Nutshell - Pennington Inkwell

What do you do when you accidentally break the multiverse and scatter your friends to the cosmic winds? Go on a ROAD TRIP, of course!

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Stronger Than You Seem

"Hey. Thought you could use this." Coulson placed a hot cup of coffee on the table beside Skye.

"Oh, thank you SO much!" she sighed and grabbed the mug with both hands, closing her eyes as she took a long drink.

Coulson took a seat beside her, cradling a cup of his own.

"Hm? Okay, Coulson... I know why I have bags under my eyes, I'm learning alien programming on the fly here. What's bugging you?"

"There's something that's eating at me. How did that 'Penn' guy know Ward and May were our specialists? In fact, he knew exactly what every person on our team was capable of and where they'd fit best! I couldn't argue with him because that plan is exactly how I would have divided everyone up, myself!"

"Including sending him and Sunset onto the alien spaceship?"

Coulson sighed. Skye's outsider opinion always had a way of getting to the heart of the matter.

"They're civilians, Skye! That mission is suicide!"

"Well, I was a civilian too, remember? And, whether you liked it or not, I think I've become a valuable member of this team!" Skye took another long sip of her coffee. "Mmm... Coulson, what are the other options?"

That was a question Coulson had been asking himself repeatedly.

"Ward's skills include infiltration, so do May's. Either one of them could go onto the ship, be in and out in a matter of hours, and the other could be out destroying the rest of the Dalek scouts."

Skye nodded. "You're not wrong, but neither of them know as much about these things as Penn. And if Sunset isn't going to even go to a different room to sleep, she's definitely not going to let him go onto the Dalek warship without her by his side. A three-person team-"

"Exponentially increases their chances of detection. I know." Coulson finished the sentence. "Team three needs Penn, and he and Sunset are obviously inseparable..."

"Not to mention, if you replaced May with Simmons, are you sure they'd be able to get every single scout wiped out in time? She's surprisingly good under pressure, but I wouldn't exactly take her for a sharpshooter with an alien laser gun. Taking out the scouts quickly is just as important as the away team's mission."

Coulson couldn't help but balk slightly.

"What makes you think I wouldn't put Ward on the away team?"

Skye scoffed as she began typing away at her computer again.

"Are you kidding? Did you SEE the way Penn was looking at him? I don't know what's going on there, but I'm willing to bet that one of them thought there was a little too much testosterone in the room..."

Coulson blinked, surprised at Skye's assumption. He hadn't noticed anything between Agent Ward and the stranger, let alone the tension she was talking about.

"What can I do, Skye? The team here AND the team going out there are both crucial! You and Fitz are going to be totally burned out by the time you've cracked the codex, Simmons isn't suited to either task, and our only expert on these things is certain to drag another innocent civilian in with him! I've got no good options!" Coulson sighed and held a palm to his forehead. "We're supposed to protect civilians, not drag them into danger! At times like this, I wonder what Director Fury would do..."

Skye sighed, stopping her typing for a moment to turn and face him.

"I don't know about this 'Director Fury' guy, but I know Agent Philip Coulson knows who to trust. You'll make the best choice."

Coulson couldn't resist a smile, patting Skye on the shoulder as he rose back to his feet.

"Thank you, Skye. I think that's just what I needed to hear."

"Great! I'll get back to trying to get into this Dalek data core..." Skye sighed with frustration. "It's like the programming is adapting to everything I do, like it's actively FIGHTING me!"

"Think you can do it?"

Skye grinned.

"It might require calling in a few favors from my old Rising Tide contacts, but I've never met a code I couldn't beat, yet!"

"Well, pick up the pace, would you? The more time I have to think about what I'm about to do, the more likely I am to back out of it." Coulson delivered the line with a grin, as if he were joking, but there was more than a nugget of truth to the statement. He didn't like where this plan was leading one bit, but it had to be done.


Sunset opened the passenger-side door of the humvee and hopped inside. Penn was waiting inside, reclined casually back in the driver's seat. His posture didn't fool Sunset, though. She could see his foot anxiously tapping away against the wall of the car, to the point that an eye unfamiliar with anxiety might have mistaken it for out-of-control shaking. Luckily, years of being friends with Fluttershy had gifted her with a discerning eye for nervous tics.

"So... any requests?" He held up his phone and gave it a small shake. "They won't trust me with the keys and an aux cable, so we're stuck with cell phone speakers."

Sunset smiled and shrugged.

"Anything is fine with me. Why not play me one of your favorites?"

Penn paused for a moment, then typed furiously into the phone for a few seconds. A moment later, a familiar guitar began to play.

"Once... upon a time,

you came into my world and made the stars align!"

A wave of emotion swept over Sunset as Applejack's voice rang through the car. Before she was even aware enough to stop it or suppress it, tears began to stream down her face.

"Now I can see the signs!

You pick me up when I get down so I can shine!"

Rarity's crooning sent another shudder through Sunset's body, too much for her to take. She buried her face in her hands as the wall holding back her emotions crumbled to dust and she began to sob uncontrollably.

"Shine like rainboooooows! Shine like-" the music was cut off suddenly and Sunset felt a firm hand on her shoulder.

"Sunset! I-I'm sorry! I just thought you might-" Sunset shook her head, cutting Penn's excuses off as another sob burst out. She couldn't stop the words that came after it any more than she could stop the tears from flowing.

"It's my fault! It's all my fault! And- and now I don't know if I'll ever SEE them again! I- I thought I'd made my peace with all of us going our separate ways, but not like this! Twi-Twilight had a full ride to the best college in the country! Rarity got an internship in Manehatten, Rainbow was guaranteed anything she could ask for! And I made a stupid mistake and took it ALL away from them! It's all my fault! It's all my fault... It's-"

The door beside her opened. She glanced over and saw Penn standing there. She hadn't even noticed him leave the car. He reached out and took hold of her hand, pulling her down and out of the seat.

Sunset had gotten plenty of hugs since she'd become one of the "good guys," the Rainbooms were pretty fond of them. She'd always thought Pinkie gave the best hugs, with Applejack coming in at a close second. Somehow, in that moment, she found herself wrapped up in some kind of super-hug. It was as if someone had crammed one of Princess Celestia's wing-hugs, her favorite blanket fresh out of the dryer, and a healthy dose of Equestrian magic into an iron vice and clamped it shut around her. The way he was gripping her, Sunset wondered if Penn was afraid she'd disappear just like the rest of her friends had. Everything else became muted, like an aura had settled around them that blocked out the rest of the world.

When her breathing had slowed and come back under her control, Penn finally let go enough to hold her at arm's length. Just like in the planning room, Sunset couldn't see a single trace of anxiety or hesitation.

"Sunset Shimmer, I swear to you, as your friend, we will find them. I will make certain that you find every single one of your friends, and that you all make it home safe and sound. I promise."

Sunset was glad that her complexion tended to hide a blush well.

"You give really good hugs."

Immediately, Penn's face shifted to surprise, and he couldn't seem to let go of her fast enough. The confidence was once again gone as quickly as it had come.

"Sorry, heh... I was always that one friend everyone would go to with their problems, and I've always been a hugger... That was mostly instinct. Was it too much?"

Sunset wiped away the remains of her tears and shook her head.

"No, it was... just what I needed."

Her answer sent a wave of relief washing over Penn's face, and he nodded back to the humvee. In a matter of seconds, the two of them were back in their seats, and Penn was typing away on his phone again.

"Okay, how about this: the words are all gibberish, but it's the theme to one of my favorite characters! In a world that seems like it's cold and cruel, she chooses to be kind and full of faith! It's called 'Credens Justitam!' It means-"

"Believe In Justice?"

Penn gave her a smile so bright, it nearly blinded her. Sunset couldn't help but smile in return and lean back into her seat.

"Sure. Why not?"

From the tiny cellphone speakers came the sounds of a full choir and orchestra, filling the space of the car until Sunset felt fully immersed. Penn was right about the lyrics being gibberish, but the emotion of the piece shone through clear as day. Comfort and hope wrapped around Sunset and washed over her. The panic of seconds before felt like a distant memory.

"Yuki Kajiura really is a musical master..." Penn whispered, barely audible over the music.

Sunset had to agree.


"Anything new?" Coulson asked.

"Well, as near as I can tell, 'Penn' has no kind of specialized training, let alone being an expert in xenobiology." Agent Ward shrugged and let out a long sigh of frustration. "Real name: Elijah Bakersfield. Delivered pizza before the world went crazy. Born in Conneticut, spent his childhood in Maine, moved to Texas eight years ago. Flunked out of college in Utah about two years ago. Been on medications for depression and anxiety, but nothing out of the ordinary. This guy is clean, Coulson, not even a parking ticket! There's no reason to trust him, but also no reason NOT to trust him!" Ward spun in his chair to face his commanding officer. "I have no idea how he knows so much about these aliens, but he didn't learn it in school or from any organization we have on record."

"What about 'Sunset Shimmer?'" Coulson still couldn't take the name seriously. It sounded like a name a 5-year-old girl would come up with for her pet pony.

Ward shrugged. "Ran her photo through every database SHIELD has, nothing. She's a ghost, as if she didn't exist until that security camera at the hardware store caught her on film yesterday!"

Coulson had once said that Skye's ability to have wiped her digital existence from the face of the planet was intriguing. The novelty of not knowing things was very quickly wearing off.

"May? What are they doing now?"

Agent May removed her headphones and gave Coulson a very fed-up expression.

"I think they both fell asleep in the humvee. That or they're just listening to music. Sunset started to have some kind of meltdown, but Penn defused it."

Coulson had to admit that he was mildly surprised. In his office, Sunset had shown a level of nerve that could have stared down Romanov, and Penn had seemed too timid to even speak out loud if someone else was talking.

I guess everyone's different when they think nobody's watching...

"Can I stop watching them, now? I've got better things to do, like make sure Zephyr One is ready for an emergency takeoff if one of those THINGS tracks us down."

Coulson knew better than to push May when they were all under so much pressure. He gave her a quick nod, and she eagerly left the room.

"Sir, with all due respect, may I ask you something about this plan?" Ward asked, setting aside the laptop he was working off of.


"The away team is going to be striking deep into the heart of enemy territory. Agent May and I are both specialists, more than suited to the job! We have the skills, why not send one of US?"

Coulson sighed.

"Because the scouts have spread too far apart. We need to deal with them all quickly, before they can coordinate a counterattack. You and Agent May will have to split up and each take on six or more in a matter of a couple hours at the same time the away team is infiltrating. You're the only agents I can count on to be that efficient AND to take these things out in a head-on fight by yourselves. Our new friends already proved that they have a knack for not getting killed by daleks, but Penn wasn't lying: watch the footage from the store, killing that thing WAS a matter of luck. We need more than luck to destroy the scouts."

Ward sighed again, and Coulson knew that he'd already contemplated and dismissed every thought going through Ward's head while he was alone in his office.

"I don't like it, sir. Putting them into the line of fire. It's against every SHIELD protocol, and even our mission as an organization altogether! We're supposed to protect the innocent, not send them into the line of fire!"

Coulson took a deep breath.

"You're right. SHIELD agents keep people safe. We protect the world." He turned and quickly made his way out the door. "Thank you, Agent Ward! You just helped me make up my mind about something!"


Sunset could feel herself drifting between awake and asleep. Penn had decided not to stop with "Credens Justitam," going on to play the entire soundtrack to the show it had come from, something about "magical girls." She hadn't really been listening too closely by that point.

A soft knocking came from the window, followed a second later by the door opening on its own.

"Hey, you two still alive in here?" Agent Coulson asked.

Sunset smiled and rubbed at her eyes. "Sorry, must have lost track of time..."

"Do you need the car for something?" Penn asked. Sunset watched him open the door and roll himself out of his seat.

"Actually, I need to talk to the two of you about something important." Coulson stepped aside and motioned for Sunset to get out. She quickly obliged, her sluggishness wearing off in a matter of seconds. Penn quickly made his way around the car to join them, taking up a position at Sunset's side.

"Now, about this mission: are you two certain that you can do it? If you're having doubts, we can find another way."

Sunset's mind flashed back to the moments after their last meeting with Coulson and Penn's ensuing breakdown. She glanced over at her friend, trying to gauge whether his condition had improved. He was staring right back at her, locking eyes. Sunset felt a solidarity between them, a solid base from which friendship had been built. Finally, Penn turned back to face Coulson with a shake of his head.

"Sir, of course I have doubts, it's sneaking onto a ship full of killer aliens! But it's what needs to be done, right? So we'll do it."

Sunset watched Coulson's expression settle into a melancholy smile.

"Spoken like a true agent. Unfortunately, you two are NOT agents, and SHIELD cannot in good conscience put civilians in harm's way like this." He sighed and reached into the pocket of his suit. Penn's eyes widened, and Sunset felt herself begin to slip into a defensive position. A moment later, however, Coulson produced two items from his pocket. They looked like leather wallets, and Sunset heard Penn gasp in surprise as he obviously recognized them.

"No way... NO WAY!"

Coulson ignored Penn's excitement.

"When I first joined SHIELD, Director Fury told me that a person can do anything when they realize they're a part of something bigger. Over all these years, he's only been proven right time and time again. So, for the sake of this mission, I am fully deputizing the two of you as temporary agents." He handed each of them one of the leather items. Sunset flipped it open to reveal a large circular badge with the SHIELD emblem and an ID that looked much like her driver's license, including a photo and her physical details.

Shimmer, Sunset. Level 4
Title: Specialist


"Well, there wasn't really a title for 'Alien Mothership Infiltrator.'" Coulson shrugged. He gave Sunset a firm handshake, followed soon after by Penn. "Both of you, welcome to SHIELD."

Penn eagerly held up his hand in a passionate salute. "We won't let you down, sir!"

"Wrong hand, Penn. But again, I like the enthusiasm!"

Penn instantly switched hands, and Sunset held back a giggle at the awkward antics.

"You two are going to have a mission debriefing tonight and leave first thing in the morning, Skye and Fitz should have the data core cracked by then."

There was something that had been bothering Sunset up until now, and this felt like the time to ask it.

"Mister Coulson, sir? Can I ask you something?"

"Go ahead, Sunset."

"Well, isn't it just space on the other side of that rift? How are we going to survive on the other side?"

Coulson smiled.

"Well, Fitz-Simmons didn't JUST separate the weapon from that Dalek in the lab! Come on, I think you'll like this." He nodded towards the back of the plane and out the cargo hold. Together, the three of them walked outside and around to the front of the plane.

"We managed to extract the hoverskirt, as well! We've attached it to one of our environmentally sealed cargo containers and..."

As they reached the front of the plane, just beyond the nose, Sunset could see a large rectangular container sitting on the ground. Bits and pieces of the bronze Dalek armor were scattered around the bottom, messily welded on in places and connected by a mess of wires she knew would have haunted Twilight's nightmares.

"Instant spaceship. It's not much, but it should get you there and back again under the radar!"

Sunset suddenly felt much less confident about placing her life in the hands of SHIELD. Penn, meanwhile, immediately ran up and began to examine it, gleefully clapping his hands together.

"Ha HA! Coulson, this is GENIUS! Using Dalek parts means that we'll be recognized and not blown out of the sky!" He pointed back at Coulson with a sly grin. "It's an older code, sir, but it checks out!"

Coulson's face lit up with delight.

"Episode 6? You're a fan?"

"Who isn't?" Penn replied, slapping the side of the container and leaning against it. "Who can ever forget 'Return of the Jedi?'"

"One of the greats!" Coulson agreed.

Penn leaned forward. "Okay, I have a question: did you like that they re-used the plot of destroying another death star? Or did that seem kind of lazy after A New Hope?"

"Not at all! The fact it was only half-built made a really chilling image, and the fact it was fully operational? Huge twist at the time! I loved it! It's what got me interested in things like aliens and the supernatural, to begin with!"

Sunset had no idea what they were talking about, but it reminded her of Rainbow Dash and Twilight's conversations about Daring Do novels: something she'd long ago decided to give up trying to interpret.

"I guess that answers my question... Thank you, Agent Coulson." she tried to hide the trepidation in her voice. This transport did NOT inspire a lot of trust. Coulson still seemed to pick up on her hesitation, walking over and placing a firm hand on her shoulder.

"I know it doesn't look like much, but I'd trust Fitz and Simmons with my life, and they say it'll hold. I would never place the lives of one of my agents in unnecessary danger, Sunset. You'll be safe inside, I promise."

Sunset nodded, her fears somewhat eased. Coulson seemed earnest, and there was something about him that made Sunset feel he was trustworthy.

"OH MY GOSH!" Penn practically screamed, drawing all attention back to him.

"We're going after the Daleks... in a flying box! Do you have any idea how HILARIOUS this is?"

This time Coulson seemed to be out of the loop, as well. He looked to Sunset, who simply shrugged. She didn't get the joke, either. Being the only one to get the joke didn't dampen Penn's enthusiasm, doubling over with laughter.

"C-Coulson, sir! P-please, I'm begging you! Can we- Can we paint it BLUE?"

Coulson leaned down, half-whispering to Sunset.

"Is... he okay? I think the stress might have gone to his head..."

Sunset rolled her eyes. "I used to have a friend who said a lot of things that didn't make sense. When we stopped questioning her all the time, she wound up being one of the most reliable friends I've ever had. I'd say... just roll with it."

Coulson pondered her advice for a moment, then shrugged.

"No painting it! I'm expecting it to come back to us intact, with both of you on board!"

Penn's laughter finally petered out, only leaving a gigantic smile on his face instead as he rose into a proper salute.

"Yes, sir! Understood..."

Coulson nodded and turned back the way they'd come.

"Well, the rest of the day is your own. I recommend you familiarize yourself with the controls, then get plenty of rest for tomorrow! And that's an order, agents!"

Sunset took her turn to salute as Coulson walked away. The moment he was out of sight, she rushed over to Penn.

"WHAT was all that about?"

"S-sorry..." Penn said, hardly sounding sorry at all as he wiped a tear of laughter from his face. "It's just that the arch-enemy of the Daleks... his ship is a blue box, almost the same size as this one! It's either a sign from God or the funniest coincidence in the history of the universe!"

Sunset rolled her eyes. "I'll go with 'coincidence.'"

Penn shrugged, and Sunset noticed his expression quickly turn dower.

"Hey, Sunset... I feel like I owe you an apology. For playing that song earlier. It was stupid of me to think that was a good idea, and it just wound up hurting you... I should have thought more about it. So... I'm sorry." He turned his eyes down to the ground and shuffled his feet.

Sunset was surprised. She'd thought that the whole ordeal was behind them.

"Penn, you were just trying to make me feel better! Why would I be mad about that?" She walked over and stood beside him, leaning against the makeshift spaceship side by side. "Besides, I owe you an apology, too. Ever since I got here, I've been trying to only think about what's happening in the moment so I wouldn't think about what's happened to my friends... But when I heard their voices, everything I'd been bottling up all came out at once. I'm usually pretty calm, you know? But I just fell apart... I'm sorry you had to see that."

"Sunset, you've got every reason to be upset! You can't apologize for that!"

Sunset pounded her fist against the wall. "Then I'm just sorry you had to SEE it! I don't get hysterical, I get things done! I've never... I've never just panicked like that!"

Penn shrugged off the statement.

"It happens to the best of us, Sunset. In your position, I don't even know what I'd do other than break down into a panic attack to end all panic attacks!"

Sunset sighed. "Well, thank you... Thanks for helping me get control."

"Hey, don't forget you were the one who calmed me down enough to be willing to go on this crazy adventure! I was freaking out, too!" He gently patted the pack of cards on his waist. "If we can both keep each other's heads on straight, we might stand a chance of surviving this."

Sunset smiled and shoved her elbow into his ribs.

"Hey! You promised you'd get me and my friends home safe and sound! That starts with definitely surviving the Daleks!"

The two of them both began to giggle to themselves.

"Sunset, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!"

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