• Published 6th Sep 2018
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The Sunset Campaign - Starscribe

Sunset Shimmer dreamed of bringing her knowledge back to Equestria, but not as an invader. If she wants Equestria to survive, she's going to have to help the humans save it—without helping them become its new rulers.

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Chapter 15: Severence

Sunset Shimmer had been living with the Steel Tower for more subjective years than she’d ever been a pony. Most of that time had been spent in the Infinite Realm, where her body itself was a projection and all variables could be configured. Tesla’s “gift” of a human body was in its own way like a tiny sliver of the realm, with its own metal space that she could access while she wasn’t moving.

Twilight’s world was worse, since she didn’t even have a body of her own to explore the material. If it wasn’t for Sunset Shimmer, she might as well have been thrust into solitary confinement. Sunset had been wrong to assume that those two possibilities were the only ones.

As soon as she connected to Sir Bradley’s deployment vehicle interface, she found herself drifting. She landed in a featureless white expanse, with the words “New User Orientation” appearing before her in the air.

“Your user account has no training on file for field deployment shards,” said the same neutral female tone she had long-since come to associate with automated messages in the Realm. Alive, flawless, but without emotions. “Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the following limitations.”

Little pictures began appearing in the air in front of her, even as the ground started to slide. She was forced to watch each one, and listen as the voice explained.

“First, you should already be aware that residence within this shard covers the same risks as an instance body. Your mind is actually stored within, and destruction of shard hardware will kill you.” And on and on the presentation went. Most of it either didn’t matter to Sunset, or she didn’t listen anyway since she was desperate to get in touch with Twilight again.

It was like meeting her best friend released from jail, but somepony was making her watch a long slide-show first. Just let me skip this! But she couldn’t, her command console was as unresponsive as when she’d been hacked.

Eventually she neared the end. “Acceleration of perceived time will not be possible while the vehicle is not parked at a stationary generator beyond a 4:1 coefficient. Allocation of simulated space will be driven using a sharding scheme of active participants and their proximity to each other. Loss of fidelity beyond this limit is normal and service requests will be ignored.”

“Congratulations, you have completed your deployment shard training. A full spec is available at…” and on it went with more information Sunset didn’t actually need. But that was just fine, because it was finally letting her go.

She appeared in a familiar cafe, on the edge of a gigantic canyon in the desert. There were staff moving about, which she remembered well from the last time she’d been here.

Of course, this is Sir Bradley’s shard. What else would he use as the first place people appeared? One of the waitresses wandered over, with the characteristic motion Sunset had long since learned to associate with forks. It was a rehearsed, recorded motion, human but identical every time she saw it. Sunset waved her off with one hand. “I’m waiting for someone. Maybe she’s already here.”

The fork only nodded, and didn’t interfere with her further. It probably wouldn’t again, until she crossed paths with its prerecorded routines again.

She’d been right to suspect Twilight might’ve beaten her here. She sat low on the very edge of the restaurant, at a table near the glass fence. She could look out on the canyon there, bright orange reflecting off her hair in a way that made Sunset’s cheeks feel warm.

She strode over before she could embarrass herself, pulling over a chair and sitting on it backward. “Hey, Twilight.”

Her friend looked up, beaming. “Hey.” Her glasses dripped moisture, so that Sunset could barely see into her eyes. Why the heck did that happen?

“I’m sorry I couldn’t fix your necklace,” she began, her voice halting. “But Xavier, he’s one of the smartest—” She was silenced with a cough as Twilight threw her arms around her, making a few strangled sobs.

“Why would you have to be sorry?” she asked, her voice melting freely in and out of her tears. “I’ve been trapped in there for… too long. Living in one room… even with you… I was losing my mind, princess.”

Sunset pulled free of her hug. “I’m no princess. It’s my fault you were locked up in there in the first place. If I was more like them, I wouldn’t have lost to Tesla.”

Twilight shook her head. “Stop comparing yourself. They’re not human.”

“Neither am I,” she pointed out. “And I can’t really run from my mistakes anymore. King Richard himself ordered me to… basically… apologize to Princess Celestia. If we weren’t at war, I’d probably end up in prison for… an awfully long time, after what I did.”

“But this is a war, and you’re not her subject anymore. You’re Richard’s. Celestia isn’t going to do anything that puts her alliance with King Richard at risk after everything that’s happened.”

“What… has happened?” Sunset asked, her voice tentative. “I mean… I know Amber Sands hacked me somehow. That… probably would’ve trapped us in the realm during that attack. If it wasn’t for you.” She reached across the table, squeezing one of Twilight’s hands. It was her turn to blush.

“Were you able to learn anything while you were… out of contact with me? Could you still use my hardware?”

Twilight nodded. “I could still use your transmitter, since you were hardlined.” She brought up a command console beside her. Sunset noticed there were no longer dozens of grayed-out options. This shard doesn’t see her as a prisoner. She’s finally free.

She pressed a few keys, and the restaurant faded. Either the significance of it was lost on her, or she actively wanted to get away. Either way, they were suddenly somewhere else. A simple grassy field, with rolling hills, a bright blue sky, and their two chairs from the restaurant.

Though the field wasn’t as large as it might’ve seemed. They were surrounded by hills, probably to block line of sight. They wouldn’t be able to see the hardware limitations of the shard that way.

Twilight called up floating screens around them, filling mostly with text. There were a few image feeds from around the camp. “First, I saw one of your guests get ejected from simulation. I wasn’t sure what that was about, because she ran straight to the guards… then into the Federation headquarters. She walked out a few minutes later with a Ponyville native… and then we got this radio message.”

It was the voice of Alexi Colven. "Free people of Earth," she began, her voice confident and powerful. Like a king. "Citizens of Equestria. Our brothers and sisters of the Steel Tower.

"To all users of the human-spectrum Nanophage; your minds and bodies are infected with a virus program. When active in a brain equipped with military-grade Nanophage, it takes complete control of your body. We do not have the resources to develop an antivirus program here in Equestria.

"I have transmitted detailed information about the virus back to Earth. I caution the Aegis not to transport here until a vaccine can be developed. I plead for all convoys from Earth to cease. I beg our human brothers and sisters will not allow the actions of whatever force controls us to pressure them to a war that might consume all Equestria and Earth with it.

"I believe the program's designer was Dr. Samil. I identify this man as an Enemy of Earth, and instruct any who might encounter him not to take him prisoner. He was one of the inventors of the Nanophage, and if you are using it, he could be using you. Shoot to kill. I trust the representatives of the Tower to accomplish what we no longer can."

There was more, but Sunset didn’t need to keep listening.

“That explains what the squires were talking about,” Sunset said, as soon as it finished playing. “That guy really was as evil as Brad said he was. He attacked his own side.”

“I like the admiral as a pony,” Twilight said, rewinding a few seconds until the transmission showed her wearing the oversized hat. “She needed to relax. She doesn’t look like she’s upset all the time anymore.”

Sunset raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t hard to imagine why Twilight might think that, considering her own experience with pony transformation. But a reminder of Sunset’s time as a princess was hardly one she wanted. “I didn’t see her in the crowd,” Sunset said instead. “I hope she got out okay.”

“I’m sure she did,” Twilight said. “You can look her up later, once you’re done…” She trailed off. “Why are you in here, exactly? Shouldn’t you be busy helping with… something?”

“Not until Brad gets back. He’s talking to the Equestrians right now. After that, I… guess we’ll see. I don’t know how useful I’ll be anymore. Doesn’t seem like the Tower needs a native advisor. My cover’s blown… guess I didn’t tell you that yet. Starlight figured me out, and now she’s probably told her princess. For all I know King Richard will want me to stay in here with you and not interfere with the war again.”

But even as she said that, she realized it couldn’t be true. If Richard wanted her out of public view with the ponies from now on, he already could’ve ordered it. But he wasn’t the kind of king who just buried a scandal and hoped for everypony to forget about it. He wanted her to apologize.

Twilight seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “What did you say his last orders were?”

“Yeah, okay. Technically. I guess he doesn’t plan on getting rid of me.”

“He wouldn’t.” Twilight spoke with certainly, shoving her chair aside and standing up. As soon as she did it had vanished, puffed away in a cloud of smoke. There was no need for it here. Wherever here was. “I’ve read about King Richard. That isn’t how he is.”

Sunset nodded reluctantly. “I’m used to princesses like Celestia. He doesn’t match my expectations.”

“So… why’d you bring us here?” Sunset finally asked, looking all around them. “I mean, besides it being pretty. It is. Did you design this place?”

“No.” Twilight looked away. “I mean, not really. I tweaked a few things using the observations of Equestrian plants. These weeds are from your home instead of mine. But otherwise it’s the standard Elysium template. Good for relaxing for a few minutes.”

Sunset might’ve said something else, except at that moment she saw something from the hills around her. Suddenly they seemed… taller. She could see more of a world behind them, stretching away to a distant mountain range. That wasn’t there before.

What had the computer said about sharding? They’d be assigned space based on the number of people in proximity.

Sunset called up her console reflexively, activating a few old programs. She hadn’t done any digital combat for some time now, but if she had to… she didn’t intend to lose.

Twilight seemed to realize what she was doing—but instead of running any programs, she started humming. Fairly quiet, with the perfect pitch that Sunset had given her along with all the other ponies. I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m sure you do.

Sunset’s exhaustive location search had finished. There were indeed two people here, running complex programs of their own. She couldn’t locate them specifically, but she could see them in the stack. They were using an awful lot of visual processing. They’re running a cloak of some kind. Invisibility was an illegal effect in the Realm most of the time—at a software level. But there were ways around it, if you were clever. Apparently, Brad’s squires were.

They were close, wherever they were. Sunset felt their first attacks pass harmlessly over her more advanced process protection “spell.” Probably hadn’t been meant to do any real damage. Well, technically nothing in here would. They were sparring.

We could just leave. Go to a private cell. But that would be running away. If the squires wanted a fight, maybe she should give them one.

Sunset stopped what she was about to do, finally noticing Twilight’s little song. She’d started singing in Equestrian instead of just humming to herself. And Sunset could feel it. Feel it in the same way someone might feel after being kept in the dark for days, finally to see the sun again.

She couldn’t help but sing along. The words didn’t really matter, but she didn’t have to think about them. Something about friendship, and sticking together, and something equally silly.

She heard giggling laughter from nearby, but it didn’t last long. The whole world shifted, and the empty field became a recreation of a pony town. Like Ponyville, though obviously Twilight had only used the general look and feel of the structures. Pink glass, lots of hearts and friendly-looking buildings.

But they didn’t look small anymore. As the song came to an end, Sunset finally came out of her trance. She was standing in a cute little town’s square, on her old four hooves, with a few other ponies around her. Twilight was there—looking like a unicorn version of the Equestrian princess. And there were two others, one stallion and one young mare, wearing sword belts. They’d been singing too, at the end.

“What the fuck kinda mind control was that?” Asked the mare. She had the same buzz on one side of her mane, long cut on the other. “And…” She held out one hoof, eyes widening. “You changed our avatars! That’s not allowed!”

“You changed them,” Twilight said, as innocent as anything. “Look in your command history.” She nodded to Sunset. “Nice harmony.”

Sunset gave her a look, one that she hoped would signal just how insistent she was that they would talk about whatever the heck had just happened. But she didn’t say it, not with these newcomers watching. “You came to us,” she said, grinning. “I’m not sure what you were expecting.”

“Not this…” said the stallion. “Not sure what kind of spar this was.” He called up his console, but it kept flashing red. “Why can’t I…” He met the girl’s eyes, and then the two of them vanished.

“How long have you been saving that?” Sunset asked.

“The song?” Twilight tilted her head. “I dunno where that came from. But this place… I’ve been waiting to use it for ages.” She took Sunset’s hoof, pulling her along past city hall. They didn’t have far to go before they reached a cliff. Impossibly steep, with the sea so far below it was obscured by mist. “I’ve been… thinking of this place for a long time. It’s how I’ve been keeping myself sane over the last few weeks. If you didn’t need me, I’ve been building it. In… very small slices.”

She held out a scroll, and Sunset unrolled it. It showed the map of a massive pony village—easily larger than Ponyville, though not at scale with Manehattan or Canterlot. There were none of the tricks she’d seen often used in the realm, faking size by duplicating assets. At least from the map, everything here looked unique. “There are six districts, each one themed around one of the Equestrian Elements of…”

Sunset hugged her. “It’s amazing, Twilight. But… why? Just… something to keep you busy?”

“No.” She tugged away, towards the edge of the cliff. “Something for… the others. Back home. I know them. I know… how they’ll want to live when this is over.” She turned back, eyes watering. “You gave us purpose, Princess. You brought us back to life. I promise they don’t want to be changed back… most of them don’t. I figure when this is over we can get ourselves a little realm, and… you can be princess of it. Maybe I’ll help run the day-to-day, be your assistant.”

“After everything you’ve done with me, I’m sure you’ll be more than…” Sunset trailed off. She had been about to say something she probably wasn’t ready for yet. So she just looked away. “You’ve been a great assistant. But I’m afraid I won’t be able to carry you with me from now on. Xavier wants to get you a body, but we don’t have the hardware to make them here. You’ll be stuck in…” She gestured around them. “In here. Until the rest of the Tower arrives. We’ll just have to hope that Tesla doesn’t poke his head up. Maybe he exploded, and you won’t go back to being a hostage.”

Twilight winced. “You… know he could review everything we say in here if he wanted?”

Sunset’s ears flattened. She should’ve guessed that, but she hadn’t.

“You could talk to your knight friend about it. Tesla’s been… holding you hostage all this time, blackmailing you. If you came clean to the king about what happened, where you really came from, then Tesla wouldn’t have power over you anymore. He wouldn’t be able to do anything to either of us if you didn’t let him.”

“Come clean,” Sunset Shimmer repeated. “But if he’s really a good king, he’ll have to…” She lowered her voice. Even after all this time, it practically burned her brain to talk about it. “Execute me. For what I did to you.”

“No!” Twilight’s usual shyness was overwhelmed with her sudden passion. “He wouldn’t, because I’d testify for you. Richard could talk to me, to the others you saved. Tower Law paralyzed them—they couldn’t help us because they couldn’t change us without consent. But because they couldn’t help us, we rotted. You were the perfect pony for the job—you didn’t know the rules, so you weren’t guilty of breaking them. But you saved us, made us alive again. Maybe… for your own reasons. Selfish, sure. But I don’t care, and I don’t think the others do either. I remember…” She trailed off, stumbling away from Sunset. “I remember wandering. The same patterns, day after day. I couldn’t hear my own thoughts. There was nothing but patterns. But then… I heard you. You told me what to do, and I listened. Enough listening, and I remembered how to speak. Richard can’t punish you for that—he’d have to kill all of us too. I know your other subjects would agree with me. The ones who woke up, I mean. I know you didn’t stay long enough to save everypony. But you could, once we make it back.”

“You think…” Sunset hesitated. “You think he’d care that I helped you with my evil? I don’t. If he’s good, he has to be good. He has to destroy me if he finds out, because that’s what it means to be good. You don’t banish your sister to save Equestria. That’s what makes him good, and me evil.”

Incoming message. Sender: Sir Bradley.
Sunset, we’re relocating to the refugee camp. We’ll meet the Federation admiral and her replacement scientist there. You’re second for the Tower until Richard gets here. I need you.

She flicked the message towards Twilight, who wrinkled her nose a little as she saw what it would make her do.

“Can we still do copresence?” Sunset asked, blushing a little.

“Nope. You need highband for that. Can’t do that over more than a few inches without fiber or laser. We can still talk, though. Like what you were doing with your friend Jackie. Until she… disappeared.”

“I’ll ask Brad about her,” she said. “If I’m really second for the Tower, maybe that means I can get her some help.” She spun her hoof all the way, until the prompt highlighted “Delink.”

“Stay safe,” Twilight said. “I can’t go with you. You’ll have to watch your own back.”

“I’ll get you a body soon,” she said, though she wasn’t sure she could keep that promise. Then she pressed the interface with her hoof.

Jackie heard the banging around above them the same time the others did, less than an hour after breakfast. She looked up towards the ceiling, trying to listen through stone and figure out how many people were up there. At least three, said her identification program, though it couldn’t get more precise than that.

Then they started breaking things.

True Silver looked up with horrified resignation on her face. “I guess… it was only a matter of time until the mob turned on our house. I wonder if the griffons are gone.”

“Does anypony in town know we had a safe room?” Silver Spring asked, never looking away from the stone above them. “Did anypony help you with the…”

“No,” True Silver said, and the sound of breaking glass changed to crumpling wood, and tools on stone. “I didn’t think so. There are some old maps that show there used to be a mine under here. But there’s no reason for anypony to care. These claims are dry.”

Jackie heard a thump from the door, followed by a few metallic scraping sounds. She didn’t trust herself to gallop over, not with limbs that still occasionally twisted in ways she didn’t expect and felt like dragging through sand to move. She was just about ready for her scouting mission, dressed in her old full body robe but with her accelerator slung over her neck. So there was nothing to grab as she stopped in front of the door.

It shook slightly against the metal bar braced against it, and someone outside squawked in a guttural language. The sound of violence upstairs stopped abruptly.

She turned towards the others, who all watched her with some degree of panic. True Silver and Cirrus seemed calmer than the others, with Sandstone pacing back and forth so fast that he would probably wear a trail into the stone before too long, despite Frostline’s comforting wing.

Jackie stepped away from the opening, lifting her rifle slowly with one hoof. She could only use her left foreleg for it now, since it couldn’t grip against the cloth Bree had used, and didn’t even identify her prosthetic as a limb.

“Maybe they gave up?” Bree muttered, her voice a whisper in the gloomy cavern.

Then the stone in front of Jackie cracked abruptly, a terrible roar that echoed through the cavern and plastered Jackie’s ears flat to her head. Bits of stone started flying away from the opening, along with a light that would’ve been blinding if she had organic eyes. She could see the shape of a few miner ponies there, tunneling through the solid rock like they were children on a beach. They broke through a few seconds later, and she caught a few seconds of uninterrupted view.

They looked the worse for wear, with slime smeared in their fur, bags under their eyes, and a sallow look like someone who hadn’t eaten in days. They stared at Jackie in utter shock, so confused by her presence there that they didn’t seem to know what to do.

But there were other things behind them.

Jackie had never seen a griffon before, except on the coat-of-arms of some European countries. They were bigger than ponies, so large in the room behind that they barely even seemed to fit. Muscular, with clawed hands and wickedly pointed beaks. They were armed, too, with clubs and whips and a spear.

Jackie’s CQB program flashed with a near 90% probability on the nearest one, right before it whipped the ponies backs again. “Get out of the way! We found them.”

She froze as still as the ponies, letting them back up and out of the way. Whatever else they’d done to her, she didn’t want them to get involved.

So much for covertly looking around, she thought, watching the birds press towards her. There were three of them here, each taller than the largest stallion and firmer built. They wore metal armor that looked like it had been welded hastily from scrapyard sheets, and one of them had a wickedly horned helmet.

She shot him first. There was no hesitation this time, no chance for mercy. Roc had fallen only when she’d finally hit him in the head—the other bullets had only served to annoy. She wouldn’t give these birds a chance to be upset.

She fired three shots from her dozen-round magazine, and three roars of sound echoed through the hallway and into the house beyond. Three corpses fell to the ground, trailing blood down the steps into their shelter.

“I think our cover’s blown,” Jackie said over her shoulder, as one of the ponies poked his head forward nervously to see what had happened. His eyes found the bodies, and he collapsed as though he’d been shot too. “It’s time to go. Everypony, grab whatever you can! We move in one minute!”

She strode up the stairs, shoving one of the dead birds out of the way with a hoof, before pushing through into the basement. Both formerly-captive ponies watched her, with expressions that suggested they thought she might shoot them next. Of course she didn’t point her rifle anywhere near either one. “How many griffons are in Motherlode?” she asked, like a drill sergeant ordering a new batch of cadets.

Neither one answered for several seconds, still staring at the corpses. She stepped in between, glowering at them both. “How many griffons? I need a number, stupids!”

“You killed them,” one of the stallions finally said. “Just… without a word.”

Internal capacitors at 80%.

“Yes.” She smacked her rifle against the floor. “And unless you want their friends to do that to us, I need a number, right now.” She turned over her shoulder, shouting down into the mine. There was no point even trying for secrecy at this point. “Get your crap, boys and girls! It’s time to get the hell out of here!”

Finally one of the stallions said something sensible. “Not as many as… us,” he said. “A dozen? Two dozen? I dunno… we don’t see them all together. I haven’t left the mine in three days.”

“Great.” Jackie made sure the spare magazine was securely clipped to the back of the rifle, then shoved her way past them, up the stairs to the ground floor. It had been torn apart, shelves knocked over, windows shattered, like a miniature hurricane had rolled through and spared nothing. The birds’ search had clearly paid its dividends—they’d found the safehouse in the end. Sorry about losing your life here, True Silver. I know what it’s like. At least the unicorn would be able to know if her daughter was safe. Jackie’s own family was still a mystery to her.

Right as four more griffons landed in the dirt in front of her. These wore better armor than the last batch. More like the golden armor that ponies wore, stretched and hastily worked until it was big enough to fit on their oversized bodies, with huge strategic vulnerabilities between plates. You stole that. Probably off the dead.

They were better-armed, too. One of them had an old cavalry pistol, the others had crossbows. She killed the one with the gun before he could even start aiming it, but her slower limbs couldn’t move faster than the others. She felt arrows sink into her legs, and one into her neck.

Impact damage detected. All systems nominal.

She killed the other three, not even watching as their limp bodies rolled down the mountain and off the trail. “Gotta go!” she yelled, a little louder. One of the arrows had torn right through the cloth of her brass leg, denting one of the rods a little but passing out the other side. One was stuck in her neck, though, its shaft emerging nearly eight inches. She couldn’t twist her neck all the way around without the servos there grinding against it.

True Silver emerged from the house, wearing saddlebags and a look of horror not all that dissimilar to the ponies within. Her eyes flicked between the dead and the arrow in Jackie’s neck. “It’s fine,” she said, before the unicorn could comment. “It won’t slow us down. Spring can get it out as soon as we get to safety”

Internal capacitors at 60%.

She could see more birds in the air towards the city center—and those birds could see her. She could hear their calls, probably roars of alarm, though she couldn’t understand the words.

“You… how many people have you killed, Moire?”

“None,” she said, shrugging one shoulder. “I mean, I’ve been in monster sims before. But monsters don’t count, do they?”

True Silver stumbled back from her, eyes widening a little. “Monsters… Moire, griffons aren’t… that different from ponies. They’re not demons. They have… everything we do. Friends, families, dreams…”

Jackie fought back a swell of disgust in her throat as the rifle started shaking. “M-maybe,” she said. “But right now they’re trying to kill us. See this?” She pointed at the arrow. “You want one of these in Silver Spring?”

The unicorn fell silent, all the answer that Jackie needed.

Internal capacitors at 40%.

The others emerged from her house in a similar daze, except for Bree. The other human alone was desensitized to violence enough that she was able to urge the others forward, muttering something consoling to a stammering Frostline.

Then Jackie saw it, flying down from a sky of distant, dark clouds and descending rapidly. She could still recall it perfectly from the one time she’d been aboard: the Nightbreeze. A roar of sound echoed from above, a sound she couldn’t entirely explain coming from a pony ship. They weren’t supposed to have engines, were they? What do I care? They’re three days early. Perfect timing.

“Rescue’s here!” Jackie shouted, pointing up with a hoof.

Pony eyes squinted uselessly towards it, apparently unable to tell what it was they were looking at. “What is…”

“Just trust me,” she said, cutting Bree off. “That’s the ship I came on. Captain Evening Star promised she would be here two weeks after she dropped me off. Guess she’s early. Time to run!”

And run they did. Jackie slung the gun over her neck again, ignoring the cawing of the griffons above them on the mountain. She stayed at the back of the group, mostly because she couldn’t keep up with the organics anymore.

Even without the cart full of metal, she was running out of juice. The top of the hill looked further and further away. At least the birds were getting closer…

That wasn’t a good thing.

“Keep going!” she called, stopping and carefully taking aim with her rifle. A few of the birds had firearms of their own, though they had the same haphazard, American Revolution style of their construction. Maybe that was why they kept flying straight towards her even with her carefully tracking the group. I shouldn’t have to kill more than one. They’re not stupid, they’ll leave us alone after I show them how much danger they’re in.

She waited until the margin of error had dropped into the single digits before firing, dropping the first one at five hundred meters or so. The bird flopped sideways from his dive, dropping the spear he’d been carrying as his body went limp.

But instead of turning to flee, the birds above her clustered closer, roaring with rage. One of them slowed to try to aim at her, and she ignored him completely. Estimated effective range, 100 meters. Sure enough, the shot produced a huge roar and tons of smoke, but there was no telling where the bullet had gone.

Internal capacitors at 20%.

By the time he shot, Jackie had killed the others, and started galloping again. At least the one with the gun had the good sense to fly away. That was a dozen encountered, one survivor, she thought, as she finally crested the hill towards the airfield.

The Nightbreeze touched down in front of her, throwing up a wave of sand and dust. A ramp banged down from the front, and several ponies in gold uniforms poured out. “All of you, get aboard right now!”