• Published 1st Feb 2019
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The League of Sweetie Belles - GMBlackjack



A team of multiversal explorers comprised of alternate Sweetie Belles explore fanfic worlds and beyond!

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Split Contact (Letters to the Sun)

“Cinder, what are the goals of this mission?” Suzie asked, standing between Cinder and Swip’s interdimensional ring.

“Make friends, explore, learn, and help!” Cinder recited.

“Who’s in charge while you’re out?”

“Burgerbelle!”

“What’s your job on this team?”

“To learn how the League exploration missions work!”

Suzie smiled warmly. “Are you ready to have some fun?”

“Yes!”

Suzie nodded, turning to Burgerbelle. “Watch out for her.”

The Flat jumped to a saluting pose. “She will feel like there’s a menacing vulture over top of her at all times.”

Cinder blinked. “Wait, vult-” Burgerbelle was suddenly standing over her with a predatory expression. “...Geez…”

Burgerbelle made an OK gesture with her hand and smirked. “Aaaaalways waaaatching.”

“You’ll get used to it,” Blink said, patting Cinder on the back. “Though it might take you a bit longer to figure out why the meme-lord is second-in-command.”

“...I thought we didn’t have a chain of command?” Cinder asked.

Squiddy let out a snort. “Suzie’s captain, Burger’s commander, then Celia.”

Cinder looked up at the alien Burgerbelle. The Flat in question was currently spinning in place and singing “AAAAAY MACARENA!” with a voice that was not her usual synthetic monotone.

Blink was right. She wasn’t sure why Burgerbelle was given any authority. But she didn’t exactly want to offend the expedition leader, so she kept quiet.

“Are you ready to rumble?” Burgerbelle asked, moving to the front of the interdimensional ring. “Beyond this gate lies a world interdimensional eyes have probably never seen. A world ripe for the taking. Forward unto dawn everyone!”

She tapped the edge of the ring with her finger, activating its ‘random selection’ program. The portal established itself in a matter of seconds, leading to an empty, but well lit metal hallway with screens on the walls.

The team of four - Burgerbelle, Blink, Squiddy, and Cinder - walked through the portal and let it close behind them.

The hallway remained just as empty as it had been before they arrived.

“So what now?” Cinder asked.

“Usually we’d just keep walking until we found something,” Blink explained. “But since we’ve got a metal hallway and a tech-base high enough to produce digital screens, we can start sending out ‘hails’ to see if anyone’s listening.”

Burgerbelle had already produced a silver cube with an antenna on it, presumably sending out the general ‘we come in peace’ broadcast.

Squiddy walked up to one of the screens and narrowed her eyes. “Pony-based, there’s cutie mark symbols on the edges here. Rainbow Dash’s in the top corner right there.”

“Oh, cool!” Cinder pressed her face into the screen. “Ponies, Rainbow Dash, what else?”

She tapped the screen with her hoof and got an ACCESS DENIED message.

“...Aww…”

“Guess that means the local Sweetie doesn’t have clearance here,” Blink said. “Hey, Burger, got any response?”

Burgerbelle shook her head. “Nada. I am picking up reruns of the local version of Star Trek.”

“And you thought ponies were prevalent,” Squiddy said.

“We should go exploring,” Cinder asserted. “No responses, and security on the screen. We need to walk until we find someone.”

“Correct, you get an internet cookie.” Burgerbelle produced a cookie and threw it into Cinder’s mouth, much to the unicorn’s surprise. “Forward is a great direction.”

And then something exploded, tilting the entire hallway sideways and throwing the Sweeties into the far wall. Squiddy’s ink tank hit a screen at a blunt angle, cracking the glass. For a moment, gravity vanished and they floated in midair - but the laws of nature quickly re-exerted themselves and the Sweeties fell flat on their faces.

“...Right, so, we’re on a spaceship,” Blink said as she adjusted her shades. “Good to know.”

“That’s under attack,” Squiddy added, readying her weapon. “Things are probably going to get tangled…”

It turned out that she was right. A black, metallic spike shot out of the ground, cutting a circular hole a few meters in front of them. With a sharp jerk, the floor fell out, allowing a robotic monstrosity to crawl up into their hall. It had a singular blue eye surrounded by seven different limbs, all lined with an excessive number of blades and knives. It let out a digital screech and charged at them.

Cinder ducked behind Squiddy - she had a feeling fire wouldn’t be effective against this thing.

Squiddy planted her feet into the ground and unloaded a burst of ink onto the machine’s eye, making it recoil. Blink phased out of existence and appeared behind it, driving her hoof into its back plating. Even blinded, it was able to sense her and throw her off, though she managed to make herself intangible before the blades started chopping her up.

“I hate robots,” Squiddy muttered, putting her ink-based weaponry away and opting for a small pulse pistol, finding that even energy bursts bounced off the creature’s metallic exterior. “Blink? MAGIC?”

“Working on it…” Blink said, focusing the Void onto one of the mechanical limbs, slowly erasing it from existence. The machine took exception to this, but it couldn’t find her. Its response to this was to start flailing around wildly, spinning blades everywhere it could.

One of the blades caught Squiddy in the arm by chance. The small gash started squirting out ink like she was a pressurized hose. “SHIT.”

Cinder gasped. “What in…?”

“Inklings are fragile, all right!?” Squiddy took a few steps back while at the same time removing a small length of cloth from her shirt. She slapped the cloth onto her arm, the advanced material binding itself to her flesh and stopping the excessive loss of inner ink.

“You okay back there?” Blink asked as the machine kept swinging blades through her intangible body, confused.

“Watch out for yourself!”

“It can’t even hit me!”

“All it takes is one moment of lost focus,” Burgerbelle said. She was nonchalantly walking up to the machine, a butterfly in her hand. “Hey, robot, is this an explosive?”

She tossed the butterfly right onto its ink-covered eye. It paused, trying to analyze what exactly it was looking at.

“Answer: no, it isn’t.” Burgerbelle held up a big red button. “But that thing on your back is.” She pressed down - and an airbag exploded out of the creature’s center, tearing all its limbs off at once. “And that, girls, is how it’s done.”

“Woah…” Cinder said. “That was-”

“THERE’S MORE!” Squiddy shouted, throwing an ink grenade at the two coming out of the hole.

“Do the thing again!” Cinder told Burgerbelle.

Burgerbelle shrugged. “Rarely works the same way twice.”

“Retreat?” Blink asked.

Burgerbelle nodded - but before she could recall the portal, the entire ship lurched, and everything went slightly purple for a second. They felt as if they were being elongated like a piece of gum between someone’s teeth.

The snap back to reality knocked them all onto the ground, even Burgerbelle. The robots were notably unaffected, spinning their claws in anticipation of a kill.

It was at this point the ship’s crew arrived. Energy pulses hit the robots from behind, about as effective as Squiddy’s own weapon had been. The robots were able to recognize the new ponies as the greater threat given their numbers, so both of them charged blades-first into the reinforcements.

A blur of intense rainbow colors barreled out from behind the crew, hitting one of the robots right in the eye. Colors burst and sparks of energy flashed as the eye shattered, kicked right through the back of the robot's skeleton.

The local Rainbow Dash stomped on the remnant of the eye once more for good measure, tossing her vibrant mane back with a cocky smile on her face. “That’ll teach them t-”

The second robot drove its foremost blade through the base of Rainbow’s neck, coming out the front of her chest and squirting blood onto the ground before Cinder.

Cinder gasped. “Oh no…”

Rainbow let out a gargled chuckle. “I’ll… be fine… just watch...” No pegasus should have been able to live, much less move with a blade run through them like that, but this Rainbow Dash was more than a simple pegasus. With the blade still inside her, she twisted her body around, severing the blade from the robot’s limb.

The machine attacked her again, but she used her wings to jump out of the way. Still dripping blood, she was able to pull out her gun and shoot it right in the eye.

It took only minimal damage, but it still stumbled backward - allowing the rest of the crew to pile on all at once, flattening it into the ground with a mixture of magic spells and hooves. It was soon immobile.

“Last one?” Rainbow asked a red stallion.

“Last one.”

“Good.” Rainbow’s eyes rolled into the back of her skull and she passed out.

The red stallion grimaced. “Lamp Shade, get her to med bay!”

“Convenient that she only fell at the last one…” Lamp Shade muttered as she hefted Rainbow onto her back.

“And you four!” the red stallion pointed at the Sweeties.

“We come in peace?” Blink suggested.

“...Surrender your weapons and equipment, then we can talk.”

Squiddy’s face contorted in anger. “Hey! We’re no-”

“Agreed,” Burgerbelle said, tossing a handful of devices onto the ground. With a grunt, Squiddy relented hers as well.

Blink tossed her dimensional device and communicator down as well. “I need to keep these rings on my legs to survive.”

“Fine. Tangello, take them to the brig. Rainbow will deal with them later.”

“She’s gonna be fine?” Cinder asked, looking at the stallion with pleading eyes.

“She’s an Element. She’ll live.”

Tangello took them away before she could ask anything else.

~~~

Suzie anxiously tapped her fingers at the captain’s console. She was carefully eying a timer as it counted down.

Less than twenty seconds left. As the timer ticked closer and closer to zero, the speed of her finger taps increased.

“...Maybe there’s just a time discrepancy,” Celia suggested.

“Swip, was there a time discrepancy on the other side of the portal?”

“Nope,” the ship responded.

“Ah,” Celia said.

Less than ten seconds now.

“C’mon Burgerbelle…” Suzie muttered to herself, some part of her thinking her words could change the outcome.

The timer hit zero. No call from Burgerbelle.

“That’s ten minutes,” Suzie declared, marching off the bridge. “Swip, try to call Burgerbelle.”

“Already am. I’m not even getting a ping back from her communicator.”

“Great.” She passed by Nira’s room and banged on the door with her fist. “Nira, suit up, we’re going in after them.”

“I don’t have a ‘suit’,” Nira said, teleporting to Suzie’s side. “Burgerbelle forget to call again?”

“Something’s happened.” Suzie walked up to the ring and activated the ‘last location dialed’ program, opening a portal into open space rather than a spaceship hallway.

“Swip, is the force-field holding?” Suzie asked.

“I can hold the vacuum of space away, I’m not a rustbucket.”

“Anything out there?”

“Sensors show a derelict ancient platform. Not even close to the same make of the hall they ended up in earlier.”

“Anything else?”

“Some minor debris.”

A robot latched onto the edge of the floating portal and pulled itself through the semipermeable force-field. It clawed in Suzie’s general direction, its single eye looking right at her with mechanical malice.

Nira lit her horn and disintegrated the eye with a beam of dark magic. For good measure, she closed the portal.

Suzie furrowed her brow. “...Swip, were you able to detect their locators?”

“Negative.”

“Okay… Something’s blocking them. Maybe a ship’s shield system. If they portaled onto a ship as it was being attacked, it might have needed to flee with shields on…”

“Joy. They could be anywhere,” Nira said.

Suzie nodded, frown deepening. “Swip, you and Seren need to analyze the universe head to toe. Find the points of highest ka-saturation and check for anything interdimensional. Shields or not, Burgerbelle and Blink should stick out like sore thumbs.”

“It’s a space-age universe…”

“I know we won’t be able to find them quickly.” Suzie clenched her fist. “It was her first mission. Of course it had to go wrong.”

“You took precautions.”

“Not enough.” She turned away from the ring. “Swip, let me know the instant you detect anything of note.”

Swip beeped. “Already found a version of Equis. I think it goes without saying that they’re not on it.”

“Anything helpful there?”

“Not in particular.”

Suzie sighed. “Good work. Keep looking.”

~~~

The brig of the ship - apparently called the Bifrost - was a comfortable if small room sealed by an invisible force field. Burgerbelle, Blink, Squiddy, and Cinder were all seated on the floor, waiting - some patiently, some not. Burgerbelle was setting up a tower of cards while Squiddy was angrily tapping her foot. Blink’s time was occupied worrying about Cinder - the unicorn hadn’t stopped staring off into space since they’d been captured.

Blink decided she needed to fix this. “Yes, to answer your unspoken question, getting locked up happens a lot. Patience is a skill we usually need in our line of work. And we don’t bust out unless we perceive some kind of major threat - which is why I’m not walking out right now.”

Cinder nodded slowly, saying nothing.

The guard, on the other hand, took note. He was not a pony or a human, but a grey goblin-like creature with big muscles and a thin coat of fur. “Wot? You can walk out?”

“Uh, yeah, I can walk through walls and stuff,” Blink said. “Usually supersedes general magic. But don’t worry, I’m being a good little filly and not walking anywhere!”

“...Ah’ve got mah eye on ya’.”

“That is your job, gray guy. Actually, hold up, Cinder, do you know what this guy is?”

Cinder halfheartedly looked up. “...No.”

“See, that’s the fun thing, I don’t either! I’ve never seen his race before! Hey, buddy, what’s your race and, while we’re at it, what’s your name? We’re here to make friends, after all.”

“Not gonna let ya out.”

Blink rolled her eyes. “This isn’t some clever trick, I’m just curious is all.”

“Hmm.” The guard narrowed his eyes for a moment, contemplating deeply. “Mah name is Uzlevah, and Ah’m a Grom.”

“Cool, cool,” Blink continued. “What do the Grom do?”

“Uh…” Uzlevah blinked slowly. “Eat? Ah guess.”

“Oh, you have a lot of festivals?”

“Dere’s a lot o’ food. More parties since Pinkie came. Ah like the meat cake, pers’nally.”

Blink expected a revulsion response from Cinder, but there still wasn't anything from the filly. Blink sighed. “I don’t suppose you know anything that might cheer my friend up?”

“Ah can tell ya the story o’ the Smart Boy Yungri and how ‘e beat the Iggrinth all on ‘is lonesome.”

Squiddy was suddenly at Blink’s side. “You have my attention.”

“Well, see, Yungri was a scrawny lil’ Grom a-”

“I’m going to have to cut you short, sorry Uzlevah,” Rainbow Dash said, walking into the room.

“Oh, thank Celestia, you’re okay!” Cinder said, a smile coming to her face. “I was so worried - there was the blood, and the knife, and…”

“Hey, hey, it’ll take more than that to kill me,” Rainbow Dash said with a laugh. Absent-mindedly she scratched the front of her chest, drawing attention to the the red stain she hadn’t washed out yet. She clearly should not have been alive.

Cinder couldn’t stop staring.

“Oh, my, they really do look like Sweetie…” the local Fluttershy said, stepping into view. She looked much like a standard Fluttershy, though somehow larger-than-life and with a gaze that didn’t shy away from anything.

Rainbow Dash cleared her throat. “Yeah, about that… care to explain?”

Burgerbelle nodded in Blink’s direction - it was usually better if they heard things from a normal sounding voice first. The little unicorn cleared her throat. “We are an exploratory team from the League of Sweetie Belles, an interdimensional organization of, well, Sweetie Belles. I’m Blink, that’s Squiddy, Cinder here’s our newest recruit, and Burgerbelle’s in charge. And since I know you’re going to ask, she’s a Flat, and comes from a universe where physics really don’t agree with the standard.”

“Hi,” Burgerbelle said, producing a hamburger out of nowhere and stuffing it into her face without so much as a chewing animation.

The two Elements stared at the Flat in disbelief. Rainbow recovered first. “Okay, most of that is evident… but why are you on my ship?”

“We dialed in to a random universe,” Burgerbelle answered, “the location just happened to be on your ship. We had started sending out the usual hails and initial searches when the robots came out of nowhere. ...What were those things?”

“An infestation of ancient machines,” Rainbow muttered. “They’re making exploration of this sector of the galaxy… difficult, to say the least.”

“I was trying to talk to them,” Fluttershy offered. “...You arrived when it went downhill. I’m pretty sure the central intelligence tragically can’t move past its militant programming.”

“I hope we didn’t make it worse,” Blink said.

“I don’t think it even knew you were there when it attacked.”

“And you took one out,” Rainbow said. “You helped. So… to be frank I’m not sure why we’re still holding you in that cell. Uzlevah?”

“Blink said she could walk out anyway, not sure the cell even keeps ‘em locked up.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Oh really?”

“Are you asking me to walk out?” Blink asked.

“I’d like to see it.”

You won’t exactly ‘see’ it, but sure.” Blink closed her eyes - and vanished. A second later she appeared on the outside of the cell. “Tah-dah!”

“...Secure Systems is going to blow their lids,” Rainbow told Fluttershy.

“My power’s more than a little unusual, you shouldn’t feel bad.”

Rainbow shrugged, placing a hoof on a nearby terminal, dropping the forcefield completely.

“Thanks,” Burgerbelle said, smiling.

Rainbow looked her up and down with a confused expression, cocking her head side to side, discovering that she was definitely flat.

“Staring is rude, you know,” Burgerbelle said.

Rainbow folded her ears back. “Sorry! I uh, well…”

“She’s just messing with you,” Fluttershy said with a coy smile.

“...Oh.”

Burgerbelle stuck out a hand to Rainbow. She shook it with her hoof.

“Anyway, you’re all explorers,” Rainbow began. “From other universes. But why do you explore?”

Cinder grinned. “Ooh! Ooh! Our goals are to make friends, explore, learn, and help!”

“...Help?” Fluttershy said, raising an incredulous eyebrow. “What does ‘help’ mean, exactly?”

“Oh, basic explorer-hero stuff,” Blink said. “Slaying of evil, solving of mysteries, that sort of thing.”

“And…?” Fluttershy asked.

“...And we usually give people knowledge of the multiverse and some basic exploration technology.” She wanted to stop there, but she sensed Fluttershy wouldn’t be happy if, at a later time, she found out there had been some stuff she left off. “And if people ask for it we’re willing to help with governmental issues, societal problems, instability, resource management, and possibly move for inclusion within our nation, Merodi Universalis.” She smiled awkwardly.

Fluttershy nodded slowly. “I can see why you usually don’t lead with the full story.”

“The amount of things we know that we don’t tell people out of the gate is astronomical,” Burgerbelle said. “Exceptionally, descriptively, criminally, beyond astronomical.”

Rainbow made a slight grimace. “...We’re going to have to take you back to Epona.”

Blink’s jaw dropped. “Epona? Your world isn’t called Equis? Or Equus?”

“No…?”

“Dime a dozen,” Burgerbelle said with an amused shrug. “Patterns don’t always hold.”

“But… I… Er…”

Squiddy facepalmed. “Right, well, how far away is Epona?”

“Thousands of light years,” Rainbow offered. “It’ll only take a few hours to get there. It would be instant, but one of those robots got into the wormhole drive so we’re going to have to paddle to a way station.”

“Eh, fine. Can we have our stuff back? We kind of need to check in with the rest of the Sweeties.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy put a hoof to her mouth. “Sure, they must be worried sick.”

“Hold up,” Rainbow said. “We actually don’t know if they’re telling the truth.”

“Rainbow…”

“They’re interdimensional versions of Sweetie Belle that are offering us a lot. My gut tells me we can trust them, but these kinds of things are often traps, too good to be true. We can get them to Epona, have Applejack vet their story, and then they can call whoever they want.”

Squiddy pointed an aggressive finger at Rainbow. “That’s no-”

Burgerbelle put a calming hand on Squiddy's shoulder. “It’s acceptable. Just put the pedal to the metal, would you?”

“We’re already moving as fast as we can,” Rainbow said.

Squiddy smiled mischievously. “If we could make a call, our engineer could replace your wormhole drive, or our ship could take you directly…”

Fluttershy sighed. “You’re not exactly making yourselves sound trustworthy.”

“...Crap.”

“Regardless, this has been a nice chat, but I’ve got a ship to run,” Rainbow turned to leave. “Uzlevah, don’t let them out of your sight, and once we get to the way station keep them on the down low. Fluttershy…”

“I’ll stay with them,” she said. “I’ll learn as much as I can about their culture and customs.”

“Right. See ya.” She trotted away.

Cinder looked after her with a confused expression.

“What is it, little one?” Fluttershy asked.

“How is she alive? I… I’m glad, but it doesn’t make sense.”

“...She’s an Element. All of us… cannot die.”

Cinder looked to Blink. “That’s not normal… is it?”

Blink shook her head. “It’s not unheard of, but most Elements don’t do that.”

“What do most Elements do?” Fluttershy asked.

“Well…”

~~~

“I’ve got something, but I’m not sure what it is,” Swip said.

“Whatever it is, put the relevant information on the main screen,” Suzie said, looking up from her station. She was currently alone on the bridge.

Two galaxies appeared on the screen. One had a small dot labeled ‘Local Equis / Tree of Harmony’. The other galaxy had an entire area covered by a reddish glow, labeled ‘?????’

“...What exactly am I looking at?” Suzie asked.

“Since I wasn’t finding them, I did a quick search in nearby galaxies to see if I could get lucky. I didn’t find them - what I did find was this large area of high-complexity interdimensional energy.”

“A transdimensional civilization?”

“I don’t know, I told you about it the moment I found it. I can tell you it’s a large area that’s setting off my sensors with ‘hey, this really isn’t normal’. I doubt it’s them.”

“But it could be related, if we’re lucky.” She folded her hands together. “Open some micro-portals at that location, see what you can find out.”

“Done. Currently in a lot of empty space. Lots of static. Surprise, there’s something in the static. I’m guessing high-end psychic beings talking to each other over immense distances.”

“How bad’s our translation matrix?”

“It’s a language we’ve never heard before of one of the rarer communication classes. About as bad as it can be. I can’t even tell you if it’s encrypted or not, I just know it’s psychic.”

Suzie pressed a button to access the comm systems. “Nira, I might need that powerful mind of yours.”

Nira teleported to the bridge in a cloud of shadowy magic. “How so?”

“We’ve got a psychic communication network the translation spell can’t parse. Think you can worm your way in?”

“I can try.” Nira closed her eyes and lit her horn. “Swip, micro-portal array. Let’s see what we get…”

Everything fell silent. Suzie had no magic aside from the magitech she carried, so there was no way for her to tell what was going on with the complex spells Nira was undertaking. As far as her eyes were concerned, Nira was sitting completely still and doing nothing.

That is, until Nira flew backward as if she had just been punched. “CLOSE IT!”

“Already done,” Swip quipped.

Nira levitated herself off the wall and rubbed her back. “Okay, didn’t learn much. All I got was a fear response and then a psychic burst to the cranium. ...I’m going to get some migraine meds.”

“Fear…” Suzie said, narrowing her eyes. “...Swip, continue scanning for the team. I’m going to see what we can find out about this psychic pattern…”

~~~

Fluttershy met Rainbow Dash in the airlock as the Bifrost pulled into the way station. The docking procedure itself was easy - though it would take several minutes for the station to be sure they were who they said they were and approve them for entry.

“Find out anything new?” Rainbow asked.

“They have an easily mass-producible immortality serum.”

Rainbow gawked at her. “You’re serious.”

“Yes. Squiddy has it in her system.”

Rainbow broke into a grin. “This is amazing! We don’t have to be alone anymore!”

“...It just keeps them from aging, if I understand it correctly.”

Rainbow nodded dismissively. “Still great. ...We need to get them vetted as fast as possible, the longer we wait…”

“I’m not sure it’s such a great idea. Think of the long-term consequences…”

“They’ve gotten it figured out, clearly.”

“Their nation isn’t old enough to have experienced the long term effects,” Fluttershy said. “...For their central world, it would be around year 40 by Twilight’s Reign. The serum itself is new.”

“Right, so we don’t rush into it blindly. But the longer we wait the more ponies die.”

“I know. We’ll talk to Twilight about it when we get there.”

“Yeah.”

“ACCESS GRANTED,” the station’s computer declared, sliding their doors open. On the other side was a grand hall filled with creatures of all shapes and sizes, though notably there weren’t any ponies around. There were numerous Grom mixed alongside six-legged elephant like beings and a race that appeared as humans with pointed features. There were dozens of other races, but those three were the easiest to pick out from the crowd.

“Okay,” Rainbow Dash took a breath. “Just have to put in an order to Epona, quickly.” The terminal for ordering long-distance travel was just across the hall, easy to access. Fluttershy would have diplomatic access, which would get them priority and access to funds directly from the Eponan government. They just had to get there without anyone deciding it was time to talk to them…

“Warm greeting. Rainbow Dash, it is good to see you back from the frontier.”

Rainbow had to spend a lot of effort to keep from grimacing. It was one of the elephant beings - a Kahri. They were incapable of emotion through speech so they always had to state what the tone of the message was. Normally, talking to one of them wouldn’t be a problem, but she happened to know this particular Kahri.

“Ah, Ravinal, fancy running into you here,” Rainbow said with a forced smile. “How’s it going?”

“Happy response. I am always learning more about the varying races of this fine galaxy. What brings you to this station, if you do not mind my asking?”

“Heading home,” Rainbow said, relieved to see Fluttershy already at the terminal, placing the order for the wormhole. “Got some cool souvenirs for Twilight to take a look at.”

“Curious inquiry. May I see these souvenirs?”

“Ah, no. Just for Twilight. Personal, you understand.”

“Confused continuation. If you insist. Earnest request. I am seeking passage to Epona myself, and my ship is not heading there, so procuring my own passage has proved difficult. May I come with you?”

Rainbow swore inwardly. You didn’t just refuse a Kahri as high up the food chain as Ravinal without a good reason. Normally she’d be completely fine with a passenger on the Bifrost, she’d be able to keep most out of her secret business. But not Ravinal. It was essentially his job to figure out what shady stuff the other races were doing. He was going to have a look around, one way or another.

“Sure! Just let us set up this order here and get you a room.”

“Grateful response, followed by inquiry. I thank you. Why would you need to set up a room just for me?”

“Customization and… cleaning,” Rainbow answered quickly. “Fluttershy?”

“I’ll get them to clean it up faster than you can blink,” Fluttershy said with a wink, trotting back into the Bifrost.

“Assertive statement. I shall accompany you.”

“Actually, Ravinal, hold up a sec,” Rainbow said, trotting up to him. “I’m curious, why are you heading to Epona?”

“Eagar response. I am going to discuss the nature of future diplomacy with the local embassy. The Hand have been mucking about with unknown technologies, and your people have recently been brought into the fray.”

Rainbow wanted to say I see, that’s nice, but she needed to keep him distracted for a few more minutes. “How interesting. Tell me more…”

It was not that hard to keep him talking for a few more minutes. Rainbow was pretty sure he was suspicious and on to her, but he wanted to make her think this was just a casual conversation, so he wouldn’t cast suspicion on himself.

Rainbow hated playing the ‘I would know that you would know’ game without saying any part of it aloud, but sometimes you just had to do what you had to do. Eventually she decided she’d given Fluttershy enough time and they went back into the Bifrost. Rainbow showed Ravinal his room - sparkling clean, of course - and returned to the bridge, where Fluttershy was waiting.

Fluttershy held a hoof to Rainbow’s ear and whispered. “Blink has all of them invisible in the far corner. They will follow the two of us when we leave.”

“How do we know they’re not trying to run?”

“We don’t, unless we want to perform magic signature sweeps that Ravinal might see.”

Rainbow nodded slowly, not daring to continue the conversation further. Already she got reports that Ravinal was moving about the Bifrost and talking to the crew. Everyone knew not to mention the Sweeties. She trusted them to keep their mouths shut. Let Ravinal be suspicious, the one thing they didn’t need was having this turn into a political screwball before Twilight could announce everything publicly.

The way station processed their request for travel within ten minutes - it helped to be a diplomat. A blue pulse of light shot out from the front of the station, stopping directly in front of the Bifrost. It tore a hole in space-time slightly larger than the ship itself that led right to the Eponan System, a small blue-green dot visible just on the other side.

The Bifrost fired its engines and floated through the wormhole, arriving at Epona without a problem.

The instant the portal closed behind them, Twilight Sparkle hailed them, which wasn’t entirely unexpected. “Rainbow Dash! What are you doing back?” She was a tall alicorn with a sparkling mane of magical vortexes and old, wise eyes.

“Hey Twi, got something I want you to look at.” Rainbow heard the doors to the bridge slide open behind her, heralding the timely arrival of Ravinal. “Some cool souvenirs for you and Applejack to check out.”

“Oh, really?” Twilight pondered this for a moment. “I think Applejack’s in the middle of a case right now, and I’m a little busy…”

“Hey, no rush, Fluttershy and I will be waiting in your castle whenever you want to come look.” Rainbow smirked. “Unless one of us gets called away, but you know how it is.”

Twilight nodded knowingly. “I do. See you soon.” She cut the feed.

“Surprised observation. That was brief.”

“She’s a busy mare,” Rainbow said, smirking. She and Fluttershy walked off the bridge. “Tangello, you’re in charge.”

While it was almost impossible for Rainbow to read Ravinal’s expression, she knew he was just dying for a reason to follow the two of them. But he wasn’t going to be able to come up with something that wasn't suspicious.

Gotcha, Rainbow thought with a smirk.

Rainbow and Fluttershy walked slowly to the transporter room. They purposefully stood and admired the teleporting platform a few seconds before keying in the teleportation program themselves - making sure to take all the ‘air’ on the platform as well as the detected ponies.

They appeared outside the back of Twilight’s crystal castle, an area only a select few people were allowed to teleport. The two Elements carefully entered one of the back doors, leaving the cityscape that had once been Ponyville behind. Inside, there were several displays of artifacts both ancient and alien, lit by soft white light.

Fluttershy closed the door softly behind them.

“You all better be here,” Rainbow said.

Blink dropped the invisibility on all four of them, smirking at Fluttershy. “Told you it would work.”

Fluttershy let out a tense breath. “Yes… Yes it worked. I’m very, very glad. The Kahri are not known for taking secrets… well.”

“I’m pretty sure Twilight got the subtext,” Rainbow said, looking around for the stairs. “She should be up in the map room.”

“Look at all this stuff…” Cinder said, allowing her childlike curiosity to come out once more. She trotted up to one of the larger displays that held a piece of metal in the shape of a bug’s wing. It was charred and broken in many places. “What’s this?”

“A memory of war,” Rainbow said, glancing at the wing in distaste.

“Epona was attacked by a race of biomechanical bugs early in its space history,” Fluttershy explained. “They showed up one day and decimated us without explanation. We drove them back and we’ve found no trace of them since. Relics like this are all we know of the Unknown Alien Aggressors.”

“Fraggers,” Rainbow said. “They’re Fraggers, plain and simple.”

Cinder looked at the patterns in the wings with her deep, orange eyes. “...They killed a lot of ponies didn’t they?”

“...Yes,” Fluttershy admitted.

The spark in Cinder dissipated. She lost her interest in the artifacts.

“We should see Twilight,” Burgerbelle said. “Get a move on, ponies!”

~~~

“Probe’s ready!” Seren said, carting the pointed cylinder into the ring-room. “Ready for takeoff!”

Nira and Suzie were already waiting. “Good job, Seren,” Suzie said, rubbing a hand over the edge of the metallic pod.

Nira tapped the ring, dialing into the middle of space where they had detected the psychic transmissions. With a childish laugh, Seren levitated the pod through the ring and into the stars. “Activating transmissions… now!”

The scanners of the probe all appeared on the ring-room’s main screen, dominated by the visual camera showing the stars.

Nira closed the portal while Suzie placed her hands on the screen, tapping in a few select places to control the probe. It performed some proximity scans, finding nothing in the empty void of space it had appeared in. Suzie set it to start looking for origin points in the psychic transmissions.

“Uh, Suzie? You need to key in the calibration before trying to do that.” Seren gently moved Suzie out of the way and stood on her tip-toes to tap on the screen herself. “There you go! Now it can actually find stuff!”

“Thanks,” Suzie said, examining the information closely. It had managed to identify a few areas in the psychic background that were stronger than others, and it was currently attempting to triangulate distance. This wasn’t easy when the distances involved were dozens of light years, but the probe was capable so long as it kept moving and scanning. Most of the large energy signatures were slowly becoming single points on its radar - except for one. It seemed to be moving around rapidly, keeping the probe from getting a definite lock on it.

“What is that?” Suzie asked.

“Dunno,” Seren admitted. “Could be a loose manifestation from psychic interplay. We don’t need it, we’ve got plenty of other points to look at. A-” she stopped herself. “Proximity sensor alert?”

The probe suddenly started spinning end over end, making the visual camera useless. Seren quickly dismissed that display and went for a three-dimensional rendering of the area surrounding the probe - one that contained several dozen ships. Each one of them was about the size of a bus and shaped like bugs - dragonflies, scorpions, and bees among others. They were all attacking the probe ravenously.

“...Why haven’t we exploded yet?” Nira asked.

“These things are designed to fly into stars!” Seren said, pressing buttons wildly. “It doesn’t have any weapons though, and all the sensors are on the fritz!”

“Relax, Seren, it’s just a probe, we have more,” Suzie said, laying a hand on the girl. “What can it tell us while it’s being destroyed?”

“Uh…” Seren pointed. “Most of them don’t have the psychic signature, but that one hanging back does.”

“Probably a hive-mind,” Nira said. “Needs a local controller for all the mindless drones.”

Suzie pressed a button - she knew which one was the ‘hail’ button. “Hey, we come in peace! We’re unarmed! Don’t shoot!”

“...Not even a reaction,” Seren observed.

Nira let out a grunt. “Duh, the translator doesn’t work on their language.”

“We need to know more…” Suzie pointed at the bug giving off the transdimensional energy. “Nira, if we cut this off from the rest of the psychic link, do you think you can handle it?”

“Probably.”

“Swip, we’re doing a cut and run, prepare the tractor beam. Get that… bee with the magic.”

Swip made a beeping noise. “This should be fun…” Swip rotated thirty-seven degrees forward so the tractor beam was pointing in the exact spot in her pocket dimension linked to the probe. She raised her shields and opened a portal right in front of her, allowing the bugs to see into her world.

A light green tractor beam latched onto the magic bee machine. “Gotcha!”

The rest of the drones all rushed to attack, their weapons doing a surprisingly significant amount of damage to Swip’s shields. She didn’t have to fire a weapon, however - it only took a second for her to pull the bee in and shut the portal.

The bee itself was unable to move in the traction beam, though it sure was trying.

“Question,” Seren asked, holding up a hand. “How are we going to get it inside for study without it blowing us up?”

There wasn’t an immediate response.

~~~

Cinder and the rest of the Sweeties on Epona walked into the castle’s map room. Cinder was a little surprised that she could recognize the room - the map was still there, though it was currently deactivated, and the roots hanging from the ceiling still carried the memory crystals. Sure, the walls had computers on them and space-age Equestria banners, but it was still clearly the map room.

Twilight had clearly gotten the message, since she was sitting in her throne, patiently waiting for them. Applejack was sitting there as well, her appearance almost identical to that of a normal Applejack. Rainbow had apparently been so convincing Twilight had chosen to tear the Element of Honesty away from her case.

Given the dramatic shift in Twilight’s expression when the four Sweeties walked in, she was probably glad she’d gone through the trouble. “...Oh,” was all she said at first.

Rainbow rubbed the back of her head. “Eeeeyah… this one’s a doozy. Uh, Blink, care to do the explaining thing one more time?”

Blink nodded and began to recite what Fluttershy and Rainbow already knew, with her teammates offering bits of information as it seemed relevant. They described the events that landed them on the Bifrost, what the League of Sweetie Belles and Merodi Universalis were, and a general overview of what the exploration team did.

“And that’s why we’d really like our communicators back so we can get in contact again,” Blink summarized.

Twilight looked at them all with an inscrutable expression. “That’s… certainly a story. ...Applejack?”

“As far as Ah can tell they’re tellin’ the truth,” Applejack said. “Though Ah can’t read the… Flat one. Burgerbelle, was it?”

“Yesarooni,” Burgerbelle said, munching on a cup of macaroni.

“Gotcha. But yeah, Twi, this is the real deal.”

“Okaaaaay…” Twilight said, letting out a breath. “Rainbow, put a call through to the Bifrost, have their communicators shipped here. Covertly.”

“Right.” Rainbow Dash tapped her ear, activating a communicator. “Hey, Tangello, I need the stuff. You know what stuff I’m talking about. Thanks.”

“Good. Good.” Twilight drummed her hooves on the map-table for a moment. “Right, so, Fluttershy, is there anything else we glossed over that I should know about?”

“They have an immortality serum any one of their citizens has access to completely for free.”

Twilight pressed her hooves together and took a few deep breaths. She didn’t get a chance to speak her mind because Applejack spoke up. “What!? Immortality for everyone? Do y’all know the problems that’ll cause? Not to mention how unnatural it is!”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Unnatural? We fly through space in wormholes every day, Applejack, and everyone loves that. We’ve extended the pony lifespan to two hundred years, and I don’t see them complaining about that!”

Two hundred years isn’t normal for you? Cinder thought.

“Dash, look, it’s not right. There’s a certain order to things that we’ve been pushing for so long, and this-”

“An order? We live forever, Applejack! Are you saying that isn’t right?”

“Ah never really thought it was, and neither did you. This ain’t the solution.”

“There are ponies dying every second from age a-”

“Girls!” Fluttershy said, inserting herself between them. “You’re acting like your young selves. Stop it.”

Both Applejack and Rainbow had the decency to look ashamed.

“It’s a conversation we’ll need to have,” Fluttershy said, turning back to the Sweeties. “But it won’t be now. The option isn’t even available to us unless we want to become Merodi citizens, which wouldn’t happen for a long time, as I understand it.”

“We’re actually pretty quick about it,” Blink pointed out. “A standard Equis can usually be adapted in a few months.”

“I wouldn’t dare join without the rest of the Federation,” Twilight said.

“Couple years then, assuming you all want it. Which you’re perfectly okay turning us down, we get a lot of rejections. More than acceptance. We’re not pushy!”

“The fact that you exist is push enough,” Twilight commented. “...I’m sitting here thinking there has to be a better way to initiate first contact than sending a team into a random world.”

“There are some cases where we send in probes first,” Burgerbelle offered. “But probes aren’t people. People kill probes. Bad association.”

“It’s best to forge a personal relationship, if possible,” Blink said. “Plus, it’s easier for a team to make an on-the-fly decision than a probe.”

“We’re also cute and not very threatening,” Cinder added, looking to Blink. Did I do that right?

Blink winked approvingly, filling Cinder with a sense of pride. Maybe she could do something here…

“Regardless, table the immortality talk,” Squiddy said. “Don’t you have to move fast so you can keep those elephant-guys from breathing down your neck?”

Twilight nodded. “I’ll have to prepare a statement and give it within a day.”

Blink smiled. “Celia - our personal diplomat - can give you some templates.”

“...You have templates for this sort of thing.” Twilight facheooved. “I should have expected that, considering a version of me is probably over there as well. Regardless, I should start with the revelation that there is a multiverse. I’m sure you can give me a vague picture of what it’s like.”

Blink never got to begin her explanation, because a unicorn had just walked into the room. A unicorn with a white coat and pastel purple-pink curls in her mane.

She was the local Sweetie Belle. And she looked older than Granny Smith.

“...I’m not supposed to be here, am I?” she asked, a tad nervously.

Cinder gawked. “...You’re old!

“Cinder!” Blink gasped. “I’m terribly sorry ma’am, sh-”

“It’s all right. I am. You’re not. Old, I mean.” She closed her eyes, trying to will the rising headache away. “Dear, this is a bit much…”

“Maybe it’s best if you come back another time,” Twilight suggested. “I’d love to have lunch… two days from now. After this is… hopefully dealt with.”

“...I don’t think this can wait,” old-Sweetie said with a tired sigh. “Apple Bloom’s gone and done something… questionable.”

Applejack grimaced. “...What?”

“Gone and created immortal robot bodies. Already put herself in one.”

There was silence in the room.

“Looks like you all get to have that conversation after all,” Squiddy observed.

~~~

They eventually decided to deal with the bug while it was stuck in the tractor beam. This meant the three of them had to get in to full space suits and float out among the interdimensional miasma. The suits were simple - form fitting to their body types and largely gray with some orange-gold Merodi insignia on various locations.

Suzie knew the reddish clouds were completely safe so long as Swip wasn’t connected to another universe, but they were still unnerving. It wasn’t like floating through space, where there was nothing. It was like swimming through a ghost - she could feel it, but she couldn’t actually touch it.

The three of them drifted toward the frozen bus-sized bee. Up close, it looked truly monstrous - made of jagged metal and sporting two menacing multi-faceted ‘eyes’, if it weren’t frozen it would definitely be trying to tear them limb from limb. It was something that might be found in a horror movie, or alien invasion story.

“Seren, protections, just in case,” Suzie ordered.

Seren had a little difficulty moving her staff with the gloves on her hands, but she quickly found a rhythm and raised a protective barrier.

“Nira, you know what to do.”

Nira nodded. She summoned a magic blade from the aether and cut her front right leg, drawing a considerable amount of blood. Suzie could never bring herself to watch Nira’s powerful blood magic closely, but Seren stared at the spellwork in awe. Nira carefully arranged the blood in an intricate circle pattern, floating in the miasma between them and the bee. She activated the spell with a single magic spark, prompting a dark black chain to shoot out of the ring - one end drove itself into Nira’s chest, the other into the equivalent location on the bee.

“One with me, little bee,” Nira chanted. Seren and Suzie saw nothing physical occur, but the essences of the bee and Nira were linked. She was going to learn all of this bug’s secrets…

That was, until she found something that made her pull out and end the spell in an instant.

“What is it?” Suzie asked, concerned.

“That’s not part of a hive-mind in there. That’s a person. Volunteer for the army. She has a brood she’s currently praying aren’t about to die by our hand.”

“Release her, now,” Suzie ordered Swip. “Drop her back in her universe.”

Swip did as asked, depositing the bee back in her home universe. The bee jumped to FTL in an instant and ran away.

Suzie tried to put a hand to the bridge of her nose, but she hit her helmet instead. “Darnit...“

“It’s not the end of the world,” Seren said. “We just made a mistake!”

“And probably scarred that poor woman’s mind with a forced link like that,” Suzie muttered.

“I did learn some things,” Nira said. “You want to hear them?”

Suzie folded her hands together, thinking for a moment.

“Yes. Yes, we need to use what we have. We can worry about trying to smooth out relations later.”

“I only got bits and flashes. But I know why they’re terrified of us. Their people care a lot about propheies and put a lot of stock into them. She thought we were the tragedy that would destroy the galaxy. The tragedy they failed to stop at… a planet that looks a lot like Equis.”

“How would we be the tragedy?” Seren asked. “Prophecies can’t take into account multidimensional effects.”

“Unless the prophecies themselves are multidimensional,” Suzie corrected. “That’s what we were detecting. Their prophecies covered their entire space, and drew us to them.”

“Not even the Spectacularium could predict something that complicated.”

“And maybe their prophecy is wrong. We still need to look into it. Trying to communicate with them won’t go well… We need to look at the local Equis.”

“Still not any closer to finding them…” Nira pointed out.

“Yes. But I think we’re on to something now.”

~~~

“Ah’m callin’ her,” Applejack said, matter-of-factly.

“Applejack, maybe this can wait…?” Fluttershy asked.

Applejack didn’t even need to say ‘no’, her gaze communicated enough to get Fluttershy to shut up. Her call quickly went through. “Apple Bloom, what in tarna-” She stopped short, narrowing her eyes. “...She wants to be put on speakerphone.”

“Go ahead,” Twilight said. “...Sweeties, I’d appreciate it if you went over there and stayed quiet, I don’t need her trying to get an angle from this.”

“She wouldn’t,” native-Sweetie said.

“I’d like to hope so,” Twilight said, nodding to Burgerbelle all the same. They retreated from the table as Applejack put Apple Bloom on.

“So, how many of you are there?” Apple Bloom’s young voice came through, making the native-Sweetie twitch slightly.

“Four,” Fluttershy said. “Not Pinkie or Rarity.”

“...That is more than I was expecting. What are you all doing there?”

“Get to the point,” Applejack said.

“Sure. It’s better if I only explain this once anyway. Put simply, I have saved myself from death by creating a robotic body. The technology is new and has a handful of bugs, as I can attest, but the moment I receive support I will be able to produce bodies for everypony - and perhaps even other races. It will be expensive, draining, and take a few decades to get running, but I will save everyone.”

“And you just went and did this without consulting anyone?” Applejack asked.

“Yes. Derpysoft would ha-”

“Forget Derpysoft! This is bigger than your corporate squabbles!”

“Applejack, I have no doubt you and some of the others would have deterred me. This was in my own self-interest, if nothing else, as I was not guaranteed to survive the year.”

Applejack’s words caught in her throat.

“Apple Bloom, you are aware you sound a little different, right?” Twilight asked.

“The mind transition was not perfect. I can feel some of my mannerisms drifting from me, but those are problems that can be worked out. Furthermore I am specifically speaking formally since this is an important meeting.”

“You don’t have to,” Fluttershy said. “We’re your friends.”

“You, Applejack, and I’m betting even Rainbow and Twilight are instinctually revolted. You’re my friends, yes, but I still have to overcome that.”

“...How did Scootaloo take it?” Rainbow asked.

Apple Bloom sighed - the first real sign of emotion. “I already had partial bodies for her and Sweetie. She… took it better than Sweetie, at least. After a bit of… initial revulsion I wasn’t expecting. Yesterday was interesting…”

Cinder let her attention drift away from the conversation and to the older version of herself. “...I’m sorry we’re here, messing this up.”

“Don’t be,” Sweetie said, the voice coming out as an ancient creak in the back of her throat. “It just so happened that this was all going at the same time…”

Cinder nodded, sighing. “...I wish they wouldn’t argue like this.”

“It’s what friends do,” Sweetie said, cracking a smile. “They argue. But, in the end, they’ll stand by each other even if they disagree.”

Cinder looked her counterpart in the eyes. “That was hard for you to say, wasn’t it?”

Sweetie sighed. “Time and distance makes you drift from your friends, no matter how close you once were. I hadn’t seen Apple Bloom in decades… and then she asked me if I wanted a robot body. I said no, Scootaloo said maybe, and there was a lot of shouting we were far, far too old to be having.” She put her hoof on her chest, holding it tight. “It’s hard on my heart…”

Cinder’s expression shifted to a mixture of pity and fear.

“I must be a nightmare to you,” Sweetie said with a sad smile. “A mare at the end of her life, an image of what you will look like one day. ...Or what you would have been, I suppose you are the ones with the immortality…”

Cinder turned to Blink. “We… we can help her, right?”

“We can’t give out the serum,” Squiddy said, folding her arms.

“We can use some of the temporary and less-reliable methods,” Blink added. “We have age spells.”

“You’re assuming she wants it,” Burgerbelle said.

The elder Sweetie closed her eyes. “I’m not sure. I… I don’t think I want to die. I know I don’t want to be a robot, though. But… if it was just a simple age spell…” She shook her head. “I know I have to decide soon. But I feel as if my mind is too old to really make the decision.”

“Then maybe they can make it for you,” Blink suggested, pointing at the deliberating Elements. “And regardless of what you choose, you’re still a Sweetie. And that means you are one of us.”

“...Oh, how rude of me, how about you tell me more about yourselves? What’s it like being with… yourself, all the time?”

Cinder smiled warmly. “I’ve only been here a few days and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had. There’s… a lot of excitement…” She paused, pushing the image of Rainbow Dash’s injury out of her mind. “And it’s a lot to take in. But everyone’s so supportive and everything around us is so interesting. I mean, just look at you! You’re amazing. I don’t even know what you do and I can already tell you’re me, but you’re also someone else!”

“And I remember when I was you… So young, optimistic. Nothin could get me down for long.” She put a hoof on Cinder’s face. “Keep that as long as you can.”

“I plan on it!”

“...You’re already struggling, I can see it.”

Cinder looked away.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just something to be aware of.”

“...Okay.”

“They’re wrapping up,” Burgerbelle said, rolling up a toilet paper roll.

“...and don’t do anything until you hear from us in a couple days,” Applejack concluded.

“Can I continue my work in secret, at least?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Apple Bloom, take a break for two days, is that so much to ask?” Twilight asked.

“...Yes, but I can do it. I’ll wait. Talk to you later.” She disconnected.

Applejack let out a tense sigh. “We aren’t doing either option.”

“Applejack, the people are going to demand one or the other,” Fluttershy said. “We aren’t going to be able to keep it from them. I agree it’s not natural… but it’s also what they want. For what it’s worth, I’d prefer an immortality serum that lets you keep your body than… whatever Apple Bloom has done to herself.”

“Same,” Rainbow said.

“The serum would make us have a dependency on an outside power,” Twilight added. “And would involve us wanting to join them. These robot shells… would be customizable, and we would have more control over them.”

“And they’d also be outrageously expensive to provide to everyone for a long time,” Rainbow said.

Applejack narrowed her eyes. “If Ah had to choose between the two - and Ah really don’t want either - Ah’d say the robots. No offense to you lot, but I trust my sister more than you.”

“None taken,” Burgerbelle said.

“Girls, we don’t know enough yet to make a decision,” Fluttershy said. “This is an incredibly nuanced discussion with so many layers it’d be impossible to plumb the depths in one afternoon.” She turned to Twilight. “But we still have to say something within a day.”

“I’ll prepare the speech,” Twilight said. “I’ll be as impartial to each side as I can be, at least for the initial words.” She turned to the Sweeties. “Your devices have likely arrived by now, we should contact your ship an-”

Her ears perked up as a priority message came in. “By the Stars…” she said, paling. “Two Kahri gunships have appeared in orbit, unannounced.”

“What!?” Rainbow blurted. “Why!? They couldn’t have seen anything!”

One of the room’s screens lit up, displaying an infrared image of the castle’s back wall that had Cinder, Blink, and Squiddy on it. There was enough detail in it to make out the Sweetie-like features.

A monotone Kahri voice spoke from the speakers Apple Bloom had been on moment’s ago. “Angry demand. Explain.”

“You spied on our castle!” Rainbow shouted.

“Impatient response. Your castle is public land. And if we wronged you, clearly it was needed, since you were hiding this. Explain.”

Twilight took a deep breath, realizing with a small amount of panic there wasn’t a Pinkie around this time to take care of things. “Well…”

~~~

Suzie opened a portal to the local Equis, stepping out into an ‘outskirt’ of the analogue of Ponyville. She wasn't fazed by the giant buildings, for the Ponyville she knew best was equally urban and developed, though perhaps a bit more varied since there was a significant amount of otherworlders living there.

“Woah, what kind of alien are you?”

Suzie turned to a local earth pony mare - yellow coat, blue mane, and a very curious expression. “Oh, hello there! I’m a human, thanks for asking. Guess you don’t have those here, huh?”

“I mean, I think the Hand look kinda like you…” she said, scratching her chin. “My name’s Forever Free, by the way, welcome to Epona!”

“...Epona. Not Equis?

“Hm? Why would it be Equis?”

“...Never mind,” Suzie said dismissively. “I’m Suzie, by the way.”

“That’s a cool name.”

“Thanks, chose it myself.” She noticed the portal behind her hadn’t closed. “Swip, what’s the hold up?”

“I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I found them, right in Twilight’s castle. The bad news is that I’m currently being told by a couple alien ships to keep the portal open or you get blown to bits. You might want to put your hands up in surrender.”

Suzie had been doing this adventuring thing for a long time and the number of times she had felt relief go to near-panic was almost zero. She put her hands up, stress evident on her features. “Tell Nira to be cooperative, we don’t want this erupting into an explosion unless it has to…”

She saw a team of six-legged elephant-like creatures appear in the ring-room via a teleporter. Forever Free let out a yelp of surprise. Suzie made a quick gesture, telling the mare to run and hide herself.

“...Suzie, I really want to eject them,” Swip said. “Please let me eject them.”

“No,” Suzie said. “Let them do whatever they want unless they start killing. Find a way to patch me through to them.”

“We are being hailed. By Burgerbelle.”

The sound of Burgerbelle’s robotic voice entered Suzie’s ear. “Hey, you’ve just made a situation go from bad to worse.”

A Twilight’s voice came in as well. “Ah, Suzie, right? Suzie, may I introduce you to Yuniva, andisan of the Kahri ships in orbit. Yuniva, captain Suzie of the League of Sweetie Belles.”

“Greetings,” Suzie said.

The voice wasn’t quite as monotone as Burgerbelle’s, and it was significantly deeper, but Suzie still couldn’t read emotion from it. “Suspicious greeting. Hello. Why have you invaded our universe?”

“We are explorers,” Suzie explained. “All we want is to see what new worlds there are, and yours was just the one we came to. We can leave, if you want. I’ll just need my Sweeties…”

“Angry denial. You are not going to run away and get reinforcements. You are going to explain everything you intend, slowly, until we are satisfied with your answer.”

“I do not have the authority to tell you everything,” Suzie lied. “To get a full picture you will need to talk to some of the higher-ups.” This much was true. “Seeing as you’ve just taken Swip under your control, you can use her to create portals for your ships. Go to the Merodi seat of power, if you are so inclined. I can even tell you where it is.”

“Mocking disbelief. This seems like a trap.”

“You could also call them through a portal, make them come here. They’d be willing.”

“...Cautious consideration. Perhaps. Assuming your ship is cooperative, which so far it hasn’t been.”

“Swip give them access, that’s an order.”

Swip let out a digital sigh before opening her systems to the Kahri. “Done.”

“There. Now can you give us a little benefit of the doubt that we don’t want to hurt you or take advantage of you?”

“Cautious agreement. We shall see if your word holds up to scrutiny in th-”

A new voice entered the call - male, and highly emotional. “This is colonel Amin of the Hand. Andisan Yuniva, you are in violation of this planet’s code of space, remove yourself.”

Suzie tensed. Why did you show up to help now!? I was getting this under control!

“Colonel Amin! It’s fine!” Twilight said. “We’ve got the situation under control!”

“Clearly they are holding something important at gunpoint. This will not be tolerated!”

“Angry outburst. They are hiding interdimensional explorers from us.”

“That’s us,” Suzie said. “We don’t want any trouble. We were just offering to take the Kahri to our leaders, to show them we don’t mean any harm.”

“They shouldn’t need to hold you at gunpoint for that!” Amin announced. “Andisan Yuniva, power down your weapons and let’s resolve this like civilized people.”

“Appalled denial. No. We have them where we want them right now, if we give them opportunity or leeway, there’s no telling what disaster will take place.”

“If we keep standing off like this there’s going to be a disaster,” Twilight cautioned. “Amin, we don’t need them to power down their weapons, but we do need to have a civilized discussion where all parties can calmly explain what’s going on.”

“It’s impossible to have a civilized discussion with weapons on,” Amin countered.

“Amused retort. You have your weapons on.”

“This isn’t a civilized discussion.”

“It could be,” Suzie said, hopefully.

“Your presence isn’t exactly calming, captain.”

“No, definitely not, but I-”

Another face entered the call, upsetting the flow once again. “Gruz, Grom, here. Ya’ all need t’ stop it.”

“Us!? We’re already trying to stop it!” Amin shouted.

“Don’t get ya’ fingers in a twist.”

“I wi- oh look at that, the Haarkin have shown up now. What’s your take on this?”

There was no response from the Haarkin.

“They’re being smart,” Twilight said. “Inserting themselves into this only upsets what balance we are striking to achieve. This is our Federation! We are not so fragile as to be upturned by an outside force! We’re better than that - Eponrian, Kahri, Hand, Grom, Haarkin, Nivenn, Gryphon - it doesn’t matter. We forged stronger relationships than this! Please, let us all trust each other for just a moment and meet these newcomers as a united front, not one ready to tear itself apart at the seams!”

There was silence. Nobody powered down their weapons - but nobody shouted in anger either.

“...Is now a bad time to mention that I sent out a distress call?” Swip asked Suzie.

Suzie swore under her breath. “Everyone, we might have a situation. When Swip - my ship - was boarded it sent out a distress call. She is sending out a counter-order to that signal, but if it doesn’t get there in time we might have a-”

A tremendous portal opened up in space, allowing a ship to enter the universe. It looked like a turtle with three forward spikes on the front of it instead of a head or legs. Its shell was made of a smooth, white, pristine metal, and its engines glowed with every color of the rainbow.

It was a Merodi Warship.

“This is High Commander Yellow Diamond, acting commander of the Merodi Universalis ship Overshell,” the Gem said. “You have one of our ships in custody. Turn it over.”

“Angry accusation. This is a sign of aggression!”

“Whoever you are, you were aggressive first.”

“This is an invasion!” Amin shouted.

“No, it’s not, they just want their ship!” Twilight wailed. “Please, everyone, stand down!”

“Only if they stand down first,” Amin announced.

“I’m not betting on that!” Yellow Diamond declared.

“And we’re not gambling either!”

“EVERYONE STOP!” Suzie shouted at the top of her lungs. “LISTEN! Just LISTEN! When we were first exploring this universe earlier today, we found a race of biomechanical athropods-” she heard Twilight gasp, but ignored it. “-and when we tried to talk to them, they reacted in illogical, panicked fear. They did this because they recognized us from a prophecy of theirs - that we would be the source of great chaos in this galaxy, sparking an event around this planet. Don’t you see what’s happening? If we start shooting at each other today, their prophecy comes true! You’re all allies in a great Federation, and what do you think happens to your unity if we start shooting today? You’ll make enemies of us, enemies of each other, and enemies of those who are staying out of this! You’ll be doing exactly what that race feared! So please, for the sake of the galaxy, don’t. Power down your weapons. Yellow Diamond, this includes you. I know I can’t order you to do that, but I’m begging you, show some vulnerability. We can’t be the cause of these people’s chaos.”

There was silence in the call.

The Equestrian military and Haarkin powered down their weapons. Seeing this, Yellow Diamond ordered the Overshell to do the same. The Grom followed quickly - leaving only the Hand and Kahri.

Amin took a deep, tense breath. Then he gave the order to power down, leaving only the Kahri gunships.

“Please,” Fluttershy said, inserting herself into the call for the first time. “Remember why we’re friends.”

Yuniva grunted, speaking the next sentence without an emotional cue. “Stand down; let’s talk.”

Suzie let out a sigh of relief.

~~~

The next day, Cinder and Blink were walking around the Federation’s central space station without any Void powers. They got a few odd looks, but otherwise they were treated just like any other visiting race.

“So, what did you think of your first mission?” Blink asked out of the blue.

“Not sure what to think,” Cinder said, hoof to her chin. “There was a lot of politics stuff I didn’t understand, some pretty scary stuff at the start, and I got to see a version of myself that looked like a ghoul.” She paused. “I hope she decides to save herself.”

“Everyone makes their own choice,” Blink said. “There’s a Sweetie back in the rest of the League that goes by the name Wrinkle Bum. Yes, that was her choice, and she chuckles a little bit every time she hears the full name.”

“That’s amazing,” Cinder said, chuckling herself.

“Yep. Point is, while she does have the immortality, she’s decided to keep her body as old and creaky as an ancient cabin door. It’s how she sees herself as different from the rest of us. Even if this Sweetie joins, she will choose to express herself in her own way.”

“Hmm…” Cinder said, nodding slowly. “...I’m probably going to get stabbed at some point, aren’t I?”

Blink grimaced. “We’ll do our best to protect you. But injury… does happen.”

Cinder nodded slowly. Then she put on a determined expression. “Then I’ll make myself strong enough for when it does happen. I’ll get ready to fight. I need to do more than just hide and light things on fire.”

“That’s the spirit!” Blink said with a laugh.

As they rounded one of the station’s hallways, they noticed Twilight and Suzie having a chat.

“Yellow Diamond is good for getting through to people who don’t understand the meaning of careful diplomacy,” Suzie said. “She’s not too good for handling delicate situations. Evidently, O’Neill thought the distress call meant the situation needed a strong hand.”

“No need to apologize,” Twilight insisted.

“I wasn-”

“You wanted to,” Twilight said.

Suzie let out a short laugh. “Fair enough. Regardless, I’m glad to see things are under control now.”

“Under control!?” Twilight let out a big laugh. “The multiverse exists, you’re offering basic multidimensional technology to everyone you meet for free, the Fraggers vanished from the universe while we were all shouting over Epona, the races who weren’t at Epona are blowing their lids, and two forms of immortality are on the table!”

“Okay, mostly under control,” Suzie said bashfully. “I have faith you’ll pull through.”

“Oh, I do as well, but that doesn’t stop me from going stir-crazy.”

“Don’t you mean Twily-nanas?” the voice of another Twilight said.

The local Twilight took in the appearance of… herself, except a little smaller, and without as much magic in her hair. There was a single orange streak down the center of her mane, and two black spikes on the edges of her ears. She extended a hoof. “I’m Princess Evening Sparkle, Overhead of Relations for Merodi Universalis. It’s great to finally meet you.”

Twilight smiled warmly. “You look both younger and older…” She shook her hoof.

“Different experiences for different mares.” Eve said with a smile. “And before you ask, the black spikes are hearing devices. I only turn them on when I have to.”

“Sounds like you’ve been through a lot.”

“I’ll tell you about it someday. But first, we have some meetings to attend.”

Twilight sighed. “...Yep. A lot of very long, very difficult meetings.”

Suzie put her hands on the backs of Blink and Cinder. “And now… our work here is done.”

“Hmm?” Cinder asked.

Suzie opened a portal to Swip. “The initial contact is over. We came, did our job, and now Relations is taking over. It’s time to move to the next world.”

“Already?”

“Yep. This meeting isn’t for us, it’s for those with the power to change fate itself.” She smiled warmly as she tousled Cinder’s hair. “Don’t worry, we’ll be able to come back. But the rest of the multiverse calls for us.”

They walked through Swip’s portal - although Cinder took a moment to look back. “I wonder what they’re going to decide. About the Merodi, the immortality… everything.”

“Everyone does,” Suzie said. “But, in the end, it’s their choice, not ours.”

The portal closed, marking the end of another mission.

Author's Note:

Letters to the Sun is one of the best fics on this site, written by the elusive Horizon Runner, who came out of his 'retirement' to help plan this chapter out. (Thanks for that.) The story itself isn't really about ponies in space, but more about what it means to be an Element and the life that comes with it. (Though there is a lot of ponies in space, and I certainly don't complain.) The story is also criminally underrated for how good it is, so go give it some love.

NEXT TIME ON THE LEAGUE OF SWEETIE BELLES: Undead Robot Bug Crusaders

((LSB Status Post))

-GM, master of robotic squips.

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