• Published 10th Mar 2020
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Cyberponk - pentapony



As the lines between android and pony blur, Pinkie seeks out answers on what it means to be truly artificial.

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Chapter 3: Rain, Drinks, and Other Things Pink

“I don’t like this one bit.”

Applejack followed Rainbow Dash through the narrow streets, wary of her foreign surroundings. She’d awoken a few hours ago from a days-long slumber, only to find that in that time she’d been broken out of prison and brought to another planet entirely. At Rainbow Dash’s insistence, she reluctantly agreed to help with an allegedly urgent task. When she pressed for details, however, Dash declined to explain, instead imploring for her trust.

They were now in Lux Valley, a city built within an ancient impact crater. Caelian weather was often unforgiving, so the establishment of a coastal city below sea level proved to be a precarious decision, one that was not made lightly. In fact, the only possible justification for settling such an inhospitable place was right beneath their hooves. The asteroid that carved out this crater had left behind a bountiful deposit of transuranic heavy elements. The abundance of critical resources proved too tempting for a burgeoning interstellar colony to ignore.

From the beginning, the city had measures in place to mitigate the harsh storms. Sea walls and flood channels were established early on to ensure the colony could remain shielded from catastrophic incidents. The valley was drained, and the first drilling rigs were constructed atop the rich silt. The rest of the city sprung up around these rigs, and within a few decades, Lux Valley had become a thriving metropolis.

This evening was one of those frequent stormy nights, with overcast skies and the low rumbling of distant thunder. It was raining lightly, the precipitation tinted a pale pink from the dissolved alkali it contained. Though it was late into the night, the city of light still appeared very much awake. The streets were packed with dense steel buildings, bright neon signs affixed all over their exteriors. In this district, the slums, everything was in derelict condition. Graffiti plastered any exposed wall, power lines stretched haphazardly across rooftops, and debris was piled along the sidewalks.

Applejack felt a tense uneasiness as she followed Rainbow Dash through the city. She was claustrophobic, making her way down endless streets of dense urban sprawl. The buildings seemed to almost lean in towards her, suffocating and smothering. This environment was vastly different from the expansive mining colony she had been relegated to her entire life. To make matters worse, she was now a fugitive, and by their very nature, cyber ponies tended to stick out. Altogether, the only thing she could concentrate on was that ever-pervasive anxiety.

“Land's sakes, Rainbow Dash, where are you taking me?” she asked, her frustration mounting. “The longer we walk, the more this feels like we’re headed straight for a trap.”

“Just hang on, okay? We’re almost there.” Dash dipped into a side alley and galloped across to the other end.

Applejack groaned and went after her. At the opposite side, she caught up with Rainbow Dash, who was now peeking around the corner to an impound lot across the street.

“Right there! That’s what we’re here for,” she said, pointing to a small starship parked in the center of the lot.

Applejack frowned. “You brought me here to get your spaceship? You said this was important! I left Pinkie Pie with a complete stranger for—”

“A starship. And yeah, it’s important. By now that Twirell egghead has to know I escaped with you guys. That makes yours truly her only lead. The first thing she’s gonna do is track down my last known residence.”

“And where’s that?”

“You’re looking at it! Address, wherever the hay I park it. So if she gets here first and finds it collecting dust, who do you think she’s going to go after next? She’s gonna put the pressure on all my known contacts. Starting with Chassis.” Rainbow Dash sank her head in humbling desperation. “I can’t do that to her. Besides, that means you and Pinkie won’t be safe at her garage. It’s just a matter of time before that mare shows up.”

Applejack was irritated by the deception, but her line of reasoning made sense. Cautiously, she skimmed over the impound lot. It seemed to be nothing more than a junkyard, and it was fortified like one. The only security she could discern was a flimsy chain link fence surrounding its perimeter.

“What do you need me for? Just hop the fence and get your ship back. You really that helpless without your wings?”

Dash glared at her. “It’s not that simple, genius. Chassis staked the place out for me yesterday. It’s got, like, infrared sensors scanning every inch of the lot. I set one hoof in there and the cops’ll show up in ten seconds flat. You, on the other hand, can get in without a hitch. No body heat, no problem!”

“Well, you sure have thought this through…”

Rainbow Dash raised her head high and beamed proudly.

“…except for the part where I don’t know how to fly the dang thing.”

Her head plunged back down, her smug grin wiped from her face. “You don’t have to. Just get in there and tell Gene to run the safe haven protocol. He’ll take care of the rest.”

“Gene? Safe-haven-what-now?” Applejack raised an eyebrow. “You expecting me to know what any of that nonsense means?”

“Look, there’s no time to explain everything. The longer we sit out here, the more we risk getting spotted by some nosy narc. Just get in, do what I told you, and you’ll be aces. I mean, I’m trusting you with my baby here. Give me a little credit.”

“Fine.”

Applejack anxiously crossed the street, scanning her surroundings to ensure there was no one in sight. She trotted up to the fence and gazed up at the barbed wire.

“Careful! It’s electric!” Dash whispered loudly from across the street.

Applejack shot her a glare in response to her obliviousness, and crouched down low. In one swift movement, she launched up and over the fence, nearly grazing her belly against the top. She landed softly onto the pavement, flinching in anticipation of an alarm. When no such thing happened, she rose to examine the lot.

A few yards in front of her stood Rainbow Dash’s starship. It was a VTOL craft made of black titanium, circular in shape, with two large twin thrusters mounted on the rear. Between them, a single word had been crudely scratched into the stern. GENESIS.

As she approached, she was surprised to find it was about the size of a small cottage. From the alley, it had looked comparatively smaller. But as she examined it, it made more sense, for any craft smaller than this would be designated a “planet-hopper”, incapable of interstellar travel. Rainbow Dash seemed pretty adamant that this thing was a starship.

She pushed in the side door and stepped inside the craft. Upon her entrance, the fluorescent lights flickered on. The main deck was the central room of the ship, equipped with a small galley, a bunk area to the side, and a large, cluttered holotable in the center.

Applejack headed over to the front of the ship, examining the bridge, though it looked more like a cockpit. There were two seats on either side and a large console between them. In front of the pilot’s seat, clipped to the overhead status screen, was a faded photograph. Taking a closer look, she saw the image of an older mare resembling Dash, standing on a cloud, pensively watching the sunset.

Confused by the seemingly uninhabited ship, Applejack turned back to peer out into the deck. “Uh… Gene?” she called out.

She heard a flickering static sound behind her and spun around to see the center console coming to life. Atop it, a small blue hologram of a stallion appeared.

“Mistress, is that you?” He spoke in a charming, sophisticated voice. “Oh. I don’t recognize you. Please identify.”

Applejack snickered. “You call her ‘mistress’?”

“It is the proper way to address one’s superior. Again, please identify.”

“Uh, yeah. I’m Jax. Rainbow sent me here. What are ya, some kinda virtual AI?”

“That’s correct… enough, at least. I am Gene, a state-of-the-art decentralized neural network, fitted for parallel modular processing. I’ve been integrated into this craft to assist Mistress Rainbow Dash in its flight and maintenance.”

“That sure is fancy and all, but Rainbow sent me to ask you about some ‘safe haven protocol’ or something that’d—”

“Keyword command accepted.” Gene’s hologram flickered off. The ship’s engine charged up and the starship suddenly hummed to life.

“Wha— that’s it?” Applejack questioned, mildly bemused. “They didn’t put a lock or anything on this ship when they impounded it?”

Gene’s voice crackled through the speakers on the wall. “I am not aware of any impediments to the ship’s operation at this time. Now performing systems check.”

“Now hang on just a dang minute, what’s this safe haven thing supposed to do?”

“I recommend you take a seat and— Now plotting flight path— secure yourself at once. It is unwise to remain standing for the duration of takeoff.”

Applejack grumbled under her breath and climbed into the pilot’s chair, strapping herself in. The engine had now completely fired up. Initiating launch, the twin thrusters rotated to face the ground and blasted their plasma array. The moment the rockets fired, a shrill siren outside blared.

“Oh, sweet heavens,” she muttered. The heat from the thrusters had tripped the lot’s security sensors. Before she even had a chance to panic, the starship shot up into the atmosphere at breakneck speed. The intense acceleration pinned her down to her seat, the ship rumbling as it rapidly ascended into the stratosphere.

The pink rain smeared against the windshield. Applejack watched the thick layer of dark, swirling clouds above draw closer and closer, until finally the ship burst through them, unveiling the starry sky above. Slowly, the ship decelerated and shifted its upward momentum forward, thrusters propelling it rapidly through the atmosphere, above the sea of clouds.

Now scanning police channels,” Gene stated. “Authorities on high alert and pursuit vehicles dispatched. Engaging Stealth-Tec cloaking array.”

“Gene!” she yelled, unsticking herself from the seat cushion. “Will ya please tell me where you’re takin’ me?”

“The safe haven protocol is a keyword command contingency designed to transport the phrase’s utterer to the nearest preset secure location. In accordance with the procedure, I’m afraid I cannot divulge the destination coordinates under any circumstances.”

“I swear, if that Rainbow’s up to something, I’m gonna pummel her into the ground.”



Applejack stood impatiently, kicking the sand beneath her hooves. Endless barren plains stretched outward in every direction. The ship sat behind her, adjacent to a giant dead tree, the only one of its kind in sight. Frustrated by her predicament, she grunted irritably and kicked the side of the ship. Out of options, she resigned to her fate and slumped down against the trunk of the tree.

Some minutes later, she was mindlessly pawing at the sand with her hoof when she saw her tail twitch. She watched it a moment curiously, but soon returned to dragging her hoof. Then it happened again. She sat up and leaned forward, staring at her tail, lying on the ground between her legs. A few seconds later, it twitched once more. Gradually, the ends of each strand began to stand up. Soon, she could feel the same thing happening to her mane.

Upon hearing a faint crackling sound in the air around her, she looked up to see a dust cloud following a tiny yellow light on the horizon. It was getting closer. She stood to watch the approaching vehicle. The air around her was crackling much louder now, and she could feel miniscule jolts tingling against her skin.

As it drew nearer, she made out the figure of Chassis and Rainbow Dash riding some kind of two-wheeled vehicle. They raced across the plains, a glowing aura of electrically charged air around them, before skidding to a stop a few hundred feet away. She trotted over to meet them.

Rainbow Dash smiled and waved, hopping off the vehicle and running over to greet her. Her rainbow mane had gotten all poofy. It kind of looked like… Pinkie’s.

“Where the hay have you been?” Applejack rebuked. “I’ve been here for hours! You cart me off to the middle of nowhere without so much as a warning?”

“Hey, I came for you as soon as you left!” Dash said defensively. “It’s not my fault Cass’ lightcycle is way slower than my starship.”

Applejack glanced over to the lightcycle. It had a sleek white frame, with the rims of each wheel shining a blinding neon yellow. Chassis sat atop the body, with her two front hooves inserted into stirrups on either side of the front wheel to steer. The dust it had kicked up was just starting to settle, and the electric aura in the surrounding air was slowly dissipating.

“Aw, shut it, Dash!” Chassis shouted, dismounting her bike. “It’s the fastest ground vehicle known to ponykind and you know it.”

Applejack looked back at Rainbow Dash, opening her mouth to argue some more, when she finally noticed what had happened to her mane. Applejack couldn’t help but snort at the absurdly poofy-haired pegasus in front of her.

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Dash groaned. “It’s gonna take forever to straighten this out again.”

“Now you see why I keep mine so short,” Chassis gloated, proudly bobbing her untouched mane as she walked over. “Well, that, plus it looks super hot.”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Cutting your mane for your bike? I don’t get why you’re so attached to ground vehicles. They’re so old-world. You’re a pegasus, Cass. You ought to fly like me.”

“Oh, you’re not doing any flying,” Chassis mocked, bumping Dash’s side.

“Hey! I’m getting a replacement set the first chance I get. Besides, I don’t need my wings. I got this baby!” Rainbow Dash ran over to her ship, excitedly heading inside. “Oh, baby, Mama’s missed you! I haven’t been inside you in months!”

Applejack stared speechlessly, bewildered by her word choice.

Chassis came up next to her. “Ignore her, she genuinely doesn’t know what she’s saying. She’s just really attached to her ride. I guess we all are.” She glanced back fondly at her lightcycle before continuing on. “Come on. Let’s head inside.”

Applejack followed her into the ship, where an eager Rainbow Dash was awaiting them, standing behind the holotable.

“Welcome,” she announced proudly, “to the Genesis! Fastest cruiser in the galaxy. Gene can back me up on that.”

The holotable illuminated as a small projection of Gene compiled atop it. “I can’t, in good faith, attest to that.”

“Ugh, Gene, you know I don’t like it when you’re all tiny on the holotable. Go big.”

“Right. My apologies.” He blipped out and a life size hologram of him crackled to life on the other side of the room. “As I was saying, while the theoretical velocity limit of the Genesis may full well exceed the capabilities of any other craft in this star system, it is impossible to ascertain the technological capacity of every spacecraft in the galaxy. There’s certainly no accrediting body that would endorse such an honorific.”

“Gene,” Dash groaned. “You know what I mean.”

“Of course,” he nodded to her. “The ship does go fast.”

Applejack approached the hologram and inspected him curiously. He was the outline of a handsome stallion, his form bound by an assembly of sharp, solid lines. The interior of those lines was filled in by a wispy blue vapor. She gently stuck her hoof into the projection. He stood silently it sank right through him, his outline turning fuzzy at the point of contact.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Dash noted. “Some scientist lady cooked him up special for me ages ago. He’s totally one-of-a-kind. He takes care of everything so I don’t need a copilot or mechanic on board. That means I get the cool job of flying the thing, without any of the hassle!”

“It also means she doesn’t know a dang thing about her own ship,” Chassis taunted.

“I know how to outmaneuver any other pilot out there. In my book, that’s the only thing that counts.”

“That’s great and all,” Applejack interrupted, “but what I’m more concerned with is what we’re supposed to do now. Where’s Pinkie?”

“Safe at my garage,” Chassis replied, “though probably not safe for long. We’ll go pick her up, then I have a safehouse in the city we can stash the ship. Nopony’ll be able to find you there.”

“Alright,” Applejack agreed. “The sooner we get her up and running the better. I don’t relish the idea of sittin’ on my hooves for too long.”

The next several days were spent in stressful hiding. The girls retrieved Pinkie’s body, and Rainbow Dash brought the ship to a defunct drilling rig on the outskirts of Lux Valley, near the rim of the crater. Ever since the resource deposit below was exhausted long ago, the rig had been abandoned, left to deteriorate in the omnipresent Caelian storms. It was inside the main chamber of the rig Dash had parked the ship, well-concealed out of view from any ship that may be flying by.

During the day, Chassis returned to her garage to manage her business. At night, she would take her lightcycle to the rig and spend what little downtime she had on Pinkie’s repairs. The days were long and boring for the new fugitives. They tried to occupy themselves by scanning the police channels, but there was no indication of an ongoing hunt for them. Suspiciously, there was no chatter about them at all since the night at the impound lot. Each night, Chassis would arrive only to inform them that no one had come to question her about the escape.

It was almost more unnerving not hearing any news of a hunt. It didn’t sit right with any of them. Either Twirell was orchestrating a coverup, or something more elaborate was going on. Ultimately, they decided it did them no good to continue dwelling on it. The fugitives couldn’t risk going out in public to investigate, and Chassis’ days and nights were already occupied.

It took nearly two weeks, but one night the repairs had sufficiently progressed to safely reactivate Pinkie. At Dash’s behest, Chassis rebooted her. Once they explained the situation to her, she went back under to finish off the repairs. Finally relieved that her friend would be okay, Applejack left the ship for some fresh air.

She walked out onto the edge of the rig, leaning her forehooves against the railing and admiring the city skyline. It was a much more magnificent sight to behold from afar than within, that shimmering metropolis. Even at night, the entirety of the crater was illuminated by the neon lights of the city. In the center of it all was downtown, where the skyscrapers stretched so high that they almost poked out of the crater. After decades slaving away on the desolate rock that was Servos 6, the grandeur of Lux Valley was nearly incomprehensible. Thinking about everything that had happened, how her life had been upended, and how it brought her to where she stood now… it was too much catharsis for her to process.

Applejack shed a tear, something she had not done in a long, long time. Not since… Equestria. Hearing approaching hoofsteps behind her, she quickly wiped her cheek, knocking the teardrop off the edge of the rig and sending it tumbling to the ground far below.

Rainbow Dash came over and leaned against the railing beside her. They stared out at the city in silence for a few minutes. Then Dash spoke.

“You know, I lived here my whole life. I’m one of the lucky few who can say she was born here. From my ship, I’ve seen the city from just about every angle you can think of. But from here, right now, it just looks different to me. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. Or, it never really felt like home, and only now am I seeing it for what it really is.”

Applejack remained silent, not sure how to respond.

“I’ve been roaming so long,” she continued. “My contracts took me all over the galaxy. But I always came back here. The only home I’ve ever known. I have ties to this place. I don’t know, maybe they’re actually chains.”

“Count yourself lucky you got someplace to call home,” Applejack said. “Rest of us ain’t so fortunate.”

Rainbow Dash pulled out a faded photograph and held it in her hoof, over the railing. Applejack recognized it immediately from the night at the impound lot. The photo from her ship.

“She was the only one whose opinion I ever cared about. Even as a little filly I was doing everything I could to impress her. ‘Cause to me, she was a hero. The hero. I didn’t need storybooks or any of that stuff. I had her. She told me stories about how she’d blow up pirates and beat up stallions. Growing up, everything I’ve ever done was to be more like her. I thought, maybe if I could be half as awesome as her, I’d be okay. I’d finally be happy.” She sighed. “I think something inside me is broken. I’m afraid that… I’ll never be happy.”

“I wish I could help. I really do. I don’t know the first thing about being happy. I don’t even got myself a mother to miss. But it sounds to me like you’re clinging to something that’s long gone. You’ve done plenty brave things in your life, and still you feel like you ought to do more. Let me tell you something, darlin’. You ain’t never getting there. It’s a carrot on a stick. You built up this impossible standard in your head, and you’re chasing an image of her you’ll never live up to. At some point, you got to just… let go of the past.”

“Let go…” Dash whispered. She hesitated a moment, then apprehensively tilted her hoof, letting the photograph fall off the edge. It slowly wafted in the wind as it fell to the bluffs beneath the rig. “I hope that was the right choice. It’s just… every time I see her face, I feel like I let her down. My whole identity is so tied to her that I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

“I know it can’t be easy. But you don’t have anything to prove. Not to me. Not to her.” She motioned to the photograph that had now fallen far out of view below.

“So maybe I should get out of here. This prison break can be like a fresh start for me. I mean, I can’t exactly stick around, waiting for them to catch me again. But even if it weren’t for that, I think I’d still want to leave. I dunno. Looking at Pinkie, at you, it feels weird. Like it’s changed how I see things. I didn’t know you were so like us. I think nopony really knows.”

“I’m more like you than you know,” Applejack said, quietly. “Pinkie and I, we ain’t anything special. There are millions of other cyber ponies out there, just like us. Thinking. Feeling. Suffering. All so some Equestrian execs can line their pockets with bits. It’s sick. It ain’t right. That Princess Twilight ought to suffer for what she’s done. Suffer like the way she made me suffer in her lab. Suffer like the millions of ponies she built and doomed to a life of slavery.”

“Geez. Taking on the Princess of Equestria. Now that’s a contract.”

“As soon as Pinkie’s ready, we’ll head there together. To Twirell.”

“About that…” Rainbow Dash mumbled, “I, uh, don’t think I can take you.”

Applejack took her hooves off the railing and turned to Dash. “What?” she asked, incredulously.

“This is a new start for me, right? If I get caught with a couple of rogue cyber ponies, Twirell is gonna execute me for sure.”

“Rainbow, think this through. We can use somepony like you. A pegasus.”

“I don’t even have my wings anymore! Can’t you just get a cyber pegasus to help you or something?”

Applejack stared at her, baffled by her ignorance. “Cyber ponies are earth ponies. No unicorns, no pegasi. Machines can’t do magic and the only way you’re getting steel to fly is if you slap a jet engine on it. By that point, what you’ve got is less a pony and more a plane. So no, we can’t just ‘get a cyber pegasus’. See, me and Pinkie, the way we are, we can only do so much. We can’t blend in, we can’t fly or do magic. If we want to do this for real, we’re gonna need organic ponies like you fighting alongside us.”

“What about what you said earlier, about clinging to the past and chasing an impossible dream? I mean, isn’t that what you’re doing? With Princess Twilight? Chasing revenge?”

“Don’t twist my words. This ain’t your mom. This is bigger than me and Twilight. This is about fighting the good fight for all them cyber ponies out there, suffering under—”

“This isn’t my fight!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, boiling over in exasperation. “It’s not my place! I feel for you cyber ponies, I really do, but that doesn’t mean I should be forced into laying my life on the line for their freedom!”

How dare you?” Applejack barked, shuddering in fury. “A cyber pony risked her life to break you out of prison. A cyber pony blindly trusted you to get you your stupid ship back. Everything you’ve ever had, from your fool’s wings, to your precious spaceship, was built off the blood of slaves like me and Pinkie. She didn’t even think twice before saving your skin, did she? ‘Cause that’s who she is. Somepony who puts others first. And you dare to claim it ain’t your fight? You stand here, not rottin’ in a cell, all because of the kindness of a cyber pony, and you want to argue that you don’t owe her your freedom? Where’s your sense of loyalty?

Applejack angrily charged back to the ship to check on Pinkie, leaving her alone on the platform. Trembling and tearing up, Dash looked back despondently over the railing to the bluffs far below.

Storming back inside, Applejack came over to Chassis, who was patching Pinkie’s skin with a synthetic tissue supplement.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “I heard yelling outside.”

“It’s nothing,” Applejack responded bluntly. “When’s she gonna be ready?”

“The subcutaneous circuitry is all fixed up. Maybe an hour more for the nano-cells to regenerate her dermis.”

“Good. As soon as she’s ready, I’m gettin’ her outta here.”



Pinkie and Applejack were solemnly trekking back into Lux Valley through the old town, a largely abandoned district. Applejack had curtly declined Chassis’ offer to drop them off at a safe spot in the city; her pride having gotten the best of her, she didn’t want the company of ponies apparently so eager to be rid of her.

“I still don’t get why she would say that!” Pinkie yelled, dubiously. “Rainbow Dash wouldn’t do that to us.”

“I was there. I heard her myself. Said she don’t want any part of our cause.”

“No! I refuse to believe that! If you hadn’t pulled me out of there so fast, I could have talked to her myself, could’ve convinced her—”

“Pinkie, you got to accept that those two gals back there only care ‘bout themselves. They think a little repair work makes us square, after we risked our tails for them!” She scoffed in disbelief. “Face it. Organic ponies will always look down on us. We cyber kin got only each other. There ain’t an organic pony in the galaxy that sees us as equals.”

“Oh yes there is,” Pinkie uttered under her breath.

“This here’s the hand we’ve been dealt. We’ve got to make the best of a bad situation. First course of action is hitching a ride to Equestria. Now how do we do that?”

“Agh, I don’t know!” Pinkie groaned in frustration. “Look at this place!” She waved her hoof angrily at the dilapidated buildings along the streets; warehouses with shattered windows and decommissioned factories were all that remained in this section of the city. “How are we supposed to find anypony who can help us in this ghost town?”

“Easy there, sugarcube,” Applejack reassured her. “The whole city ain’t like this. See that?” She pointed ahead to the bright, towering skyscrapers that stuck out past the rooftops. “We’ll head there. We’ll find somepony who can chart us a ship to Equestria, and we’ll be back on track in no time.”

“Hey, cyber ponies,” a gruff voice emerged from the shadows. A disheveled-looking mare appeared in the doorway of the crumbling building beside them. “I can help you out. Come over here.”

“Okie-dokie-lokie!” Pinkie cheerily accepted, hopping over to the stranger.

“Pinkie, n—” Before Applejack could stop her, Pinkie had already reached the doorway.

“Hi, I’m Pinkie Pi-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-” She convulsed uncontrollably as the stranger jabbed an electrostatic reciprocator straight into her neck.

Instantaneously, Applejack leapt between them and delivered a swift kick to the stranger, sending her flying into a precariously unstable wall. It collapsed under the impact, and a mountain of rubble buried the attacker. Pinkie fell to the ground, still jittering from the shock.

“Dang it, Pinkie! Haven’t you learned anything? You can’t go blindly trustin’ everypony you see. She was probably plannin’ on selling us for parts to get her next fix.”

“She… sounded friendly…” Pinkie moaned.

Applejack sighed. “Can you walk?”

“I’m alrighty,” she answered, standing up slowly. “It was just a teeny tiny jolt.”

“New order of business then. We’re gettin’ me a weapon. Say the next cuckoo that comes along’s got a blaster. We’re gonna need something stronger than a few fancy moves to get us out of a pinch like that.”

“What about my hoof cannon?” Pinkie asked, pointing it heroically.

“Some good that did us just now,” Applejack muttered, continuing back down the street.

Soon, the pair made their way into the heart of the valley, Downtown Lux. Despite it being several hours into the night, this district was still very much active, flaunting a vibrant nightlife. Neon signs advertised bars, nightclubs, and gambling rings. Mares of all kinds poured in and out of these various dens of iniquity, from junkies to mercs to the wealthy elite. Pinkie and Applejack kept their heads down to avoid attention, but inevitably turned heads as they walked.

Two cops in a ground rover drove down the street, presumably there to keep the peace. As the vehicle slowly passed, they saw the officers inside scowl disdainfully at them. Thankfully, the rover did not stop, instead passing them and continuing down the street.

Applejack breathed a sigh of relief, watching them disappear around the corner. “Careful. We got no idea how they treat cyber ponies here. Don’t wanna arouse any suspicion by doing something we ain’t suppo— Pinkie?”

Pinkie was standing a few yards away, her face pressed against a storefront window, enthusiastically peering inside. Applejack looked at the sign above her, blinking out ALL-MARE REVUE in flashing pink letters.

She scoffed and pulled her away from the glass. “C’mon Pinkie, we got more important matters to attend to.”

Pinkie dragged her hooves, throwing a fit. “But I wanna see how they do it without any stallions!” she whined.

A few minutes later, they passed an open mod shop with a “Discreet Service, No Questions Asked” sign posted in the window.

“I like the sound of that,” Applejack said. “Now you just hush and let me do the talking.”

She pushed the door open and entered the shop, greeted by walls stocked like an arsenal. An earth pony behind the counter was disassembling a blaster. She had a bionic eye and her front right hoof had been replaced with a multitool limb.

Applejack walked up to the counter while Pinkie stayed behind, gawking at the wall full of body mods. “Uh, yeah, I’m looking for a weapon.” She kept her head bowed, avoiding eye contact.

The shopkeeper put down the blaster she’d been working on and stared indifferently at her. “Yeah? What’s a cyber pony need a weapon for?”

Applejack raised her head and revealed her face. “That obvious, huh?”

The shopkeeper extended her eye an inch outward, like a tiny telescope. “Honey, this thing can scan a thousand times the wavelength range of your eyes. Also, your cyber buddy over there’s waving hello to me.”

Applejack glanced behind her to see Pinkie across the room, still waving. She frowned, and Pinkie immediately dropped her hoof, smiling apologetically. Turning back, she took a better look at the shopkeeper. “Never seen mods like that before.”

“You been living under a rock, sweetheart?”

“On a rock, more like.”

“Augmentation’s all the rage. You could say it’s getting pretty fashionable to emulate you.”

Applejack recalled a number of augmented ponies she passed on the street earlier, along with the wings Rainbow had repeatedly mentioned. “I don’t believe it. You organic ponies think this is stylish?”

“Call it what you want. Body mods make life a million times easier. Take a look at this.” She raised her metal hoof and transformed the end into one specialized tool after another, each one assembling itself from within the limb’s interior. “Power drill, voltmeter, torque wrench, you name it. Whatever I need, I built into this baby.” She returned to her blaster, unscrewing the frame with ease.

“So what’s stopping you from going full cyber pony? That even possible?”

“Implantation is stressful on the body,” she replied, not looking up from her blaster. “We’re not modular like you. Can’t just swap out parts, it takes intensive surgery. The body can withstand one or two major mods at most. After that, you’re just gambling with your life.” She held the barrel up to the light, inspecting it closely. “Not to say some ponies haven’t rolled the dice.”

“Ooh, what do these do?” Pinkie pointed to a glass case, kneeling down to peek inside.

“Those are cosmetic mods. LEDs under the skin, backlit eyes, sexy spikes. Very popular. Low risk, high appeal. Me, I prefer function over form, but hey, whatever brings in the bits.” She turned back to Applejack. “But you don’t care about any of that. You’re here for a weapon, huh?”

“Sure am. Nothing fancy though.”

“Look, I could sell you a conventional weapon, sure. But how about a mod? Never had the chance to install one on a cyber pony.”

“I don’t know,” Applejack said. “I ain’t too keen on turning myself into a killin’ machine.”

“Think about it. Huge advantage over traditional firearms. Hooves-free control, just think and shoot. Plus, no surgery, no implantation fee. Just pick out the mod you want, and I can wire it straight into your cortex.”

“Alright then. You show me what you got, and I’ll take a gander.”

The shopkeeper pulled a device off the wall. “Saddle turret. Mounts right on your back, 360 degree gun rotation, autonomous targeting system.”

“No good. Could get in the way of me carrying something. Can’t have that happening in an emergency with no time to dismount.”

“Alright, how ‘bout these neck-adjacent blasters? Standard military issue, head-tracking software. Gun looks where you do.”

Applejack shuddered. It was the same model the overseers wore on Servos 6. “I’d sooner die before I let one of them puppies touch me.”

“Okay, tough cookie,” the shopkeeper said, returning the blaster to the wall. “How about you tell me what you’re looking for?”

“I don’t know if I’m up for all these death contraptions. Pinkie here’s got the killing covered. I want something less lethal. It’s gotta have good range, and be easy to hide. Something they won’t check for if I get captured.”

“Ooooh, that’s smart,” Pinkie interjected, resting her muzzle on the counter and watching them attentively.

“Hmmm.” The shopkeeper went around back and emerged a minute later carrying something in her teeth. In front of them she dropped a long loop of cord, fixed to a small metal cylinder at the end. “Superconductive microfilament. Tensile yield strength of five tons. Initial launch velocity over a hundred miles an hour. The last three feet are cased in tear-resistant insulation so you can grip it in your teeth. This baby’s one kinky whip.”

Applejack held it in her hoof, thinking back to the very same implement she’d been tortured by Spectra with. “I reckon this’ll do just fine.”

“Good choice, kiddo. That’ll be 1.6 kilobits.”

“What?” Applejack exclaimed. “This lil’ rope ain’t worth that much.”

“Maybe not. But that’s the premium for no questions asked. You seem to be forgetting that arming cyber ponies constitutes treason. Now I don’t know who you are, but somepony’s bound to show up looking for you, and there’s a convenience fee for keeping my mouth shut.

Applejack grumbled and retrieved what few hundred-bit coins she had stashed in her hoof, dropping them onto the counter. She counted sixteen out and pushed them over.

The shopkeeper scooped up the payment in her hoof. “Solid money. Retro.”

“Say,” Applejack said, nodding to a brown wide-brimmed hat on the wall, “how much is that?”

“This?” she asked, retrieving it to show her. “Nifty little weapon. I’ll throw it in for another hundred.”

Applejack slid another coin across the counter. “I’ll take it.”

After getting the mod installed, she and Pinkie Pie left the shop, continuing down the street.

“She was nice!” Pinkie said. “I wish I had some bits so I could afford a shiny new hoof. Could you imagine the kinda damage I could do with double cannons? Ooh, maybe I should get a job! Do you think any of these places are hiring?”

“You don’t wanna work in a place like this,” Applejack responded. “Besides, you’re a cyber pony. Who’s gonna pay you?”

“Maybe I’ll find a boss that’s not a racist!” Pinkie said, optimistically.

A passing mare did a double take upon hearing that. Pinkie noticed and waved affably to her, only for her to ignore it and keep walking.

“Ra— what?” Applejack questioned, dumbfounded by her comment. “We’re androids, Pinkie. Now I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure that ain’t a race.”

“Well, what else would you call it?”

Applejack paused a minute, failing to come up with an answer. “Oh, never mind!” she grumbled.

“How’s your new doohickey?”

“Feels a tad strange. I think she put it in wrong.” Applejack rubbed the side of her barrel.

“That’s just your body feeling all lopsided now that one side’s heavier! Trust me, you’ll get used to it.”

“If it turns out she conned me and this thing’s a dud, I’ll be right furious.”

“Why don’t you test it out?”

“Not here!” Applejack yelled in a hushed tone. “Can’t you see all these mares around us? We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile.”

“Right,” Pinkie replied. “Super sneaky. Like a super secret spy squad. So what’s our next mission?”

Applejack stopped in her tracks. “Er, I don’t know.” She looked around the block. “I ain’t got the faintest clue where to begin.”

“Hmm,” Pinkie murmured. “We should go get a drink!”

“A drink?” Applejack grew irritated. “We’re trying to find a way to Equestria, not get hammered! We’re not doing that. Now come on.” She started walking again.

Pinkie didn’t follow. “Who made you the boss? I thought we were a team! We should put it to a vote!”

Applejack turned around. “A vote? There’s only two of us!” she yelled, exasperatedly.

“Three of us!” Pinkie angrily corrected her. Nano popped out of her mane and beeped. “And he votes with me!”

“Wha— How long has he been there? I haven’t seen him in days!”

“Sometimes he’s shy!” she shouted, still mad.

“This is downright foolish, Pinkie. I ain’t letting you drag us somewhere pointless just ‘cause you and that little varmint say so!”

“He is not a varmint! He’s my friend! A better and older friend than you! And maybe if you had bothered to be a friend like him, you would have heard me out instead shutting me down!”

Their argument was starting to attract the attention of others on the street.

“What possible reason could you have for us to go to a bar right now?” Applejack yelled.

“I’ve been having a Pinkie sense all night!”

“A Pinkie sense? For land's sakes, we ain’t basin’ all our decisions on you thinking you can tell the future!”

“All we ever do is what you say we do! Drag me away from Rainbow Dash before I can talk to her, you! Find somewhere to buy a weapon, you! Not letting me talk to that stranger, y—”

“That stranger was trying to kill you!” Applejack interrupted.

“So what! Maybe that’s my mistake to make! You’re not the boss of me!”

“Are you even listening to yourself right now?”

“Yeah! You know what, I am listening to myself! And I say I’m going into that bar, and you can’t stop me!” Pinkie marched off in a huff, shoving open the door to the dive bar.

“Agh, forget you!” Applejack growled and stormed down the street, leaving her behind.

Pinkie entered the establishment, greeted by a bustling scene. There were a couple dozen mares in various states of inebriation, some gambling, some hustling, and some just there to get blind drunk. She hopped over to the counter and plopped down on an empty stool.

After a minute, the bartender came over to take her order. She initially raised an eyebrow at the sight of a cyber pony, but brushed it off indifferently. “What’ll it be?” she asked.

“Gimme a chocolate milkshake. Extra thick.”

“Yeah, kid, I don’t think so.”

“Strawberry milkshake?”

“Is this some kind of joke?” the bartender jabbed, unamused. “No milkshakes. Order some booze or get the hay out.”

“Hmmm…” Pinkie scanned the room, searching for an option that looked appealing. Her eyes finally landed on a bright pink drink in the hoof of an equally pink mare. “I’ll have one of those!” she said, pointing over to it.

“Cosmopolitan it is,” she said apathetically, leaving to make her drink.

Pinkie spun around in her stool to check out the rest of the bar. One particularly raucous corner booth caught her attention. There, three mercenaries were obnoxiously flexing their various weapon mods: one with a hoof blade, another with a neck-mounted blaster, and the last sporting an expensive-looking grenade launcher.

Turning to the opposite side of the room, she spotted a mare watching her intently. The two of them locked eyes, and the stranger made no effort to look away. After a few seconds in a tense stare-down, Pinkie felt a gnawing sensation. There was something about this mare. Pinkie could’ve sworn she wasn’t sitting there when she walked in. For whatever reason, she was the only other pony in the bar who wasn’t deep in conversation. But not in the she-could-use-a-friend kind of way. In a she’s-not-here-to-make-friends way. Most of all, though, she looked uncannily familiar. It started to bug Pinkie. Who was she?

“What’ll you have?”

Pinkie snapped her head back to find the bartender in front of her once again. Upon seeing Applejack in the formerly-vacant stool beside her, she fell out her seat in surprise.

Applejack blankly stared at her lying on the floor for a second, then turned back to the bartender. “Whisky,” she muttered.

Pinkie climbed back into her seat, now noticing her drink in front of her. Taking a swig, she looked back at Applejack. “What are you doing here?” she asked sharply. “Back to boss me around some more?”

Applejack sighed. “Look, I ain’t here to argue. Let’s just take five minutes, shut up, and drink in peace.”

The bartender set down a glass of whisky on the counter, and immediately Applejack downed it in one gulp.

“Wow,” the bartender said, slightly amused. “You sure look like you’re drinking to forget.”

“If only that were possible,” she mumbled.

“Right, right. I gotta say, we get our fair share of cyborgs passing through these doors, but I’ve never seen a full-on android set hoof in here.”

“We ain’t from around here. And we don’t plan on stayin’ long.”

“Really? I just figured you were one of the Madame’s rescues.”

Pinkie perked up instantly. “Madame? Rescues? Milkshakes?”

“You got a hearin’ problem?” Applejack asked. “She ain’t never said milkshakes.”

“I guess the mind hears what it wants!” Pinkie shrugged, taking another sip. “I don’t know what’s in this juice, but keep ‘em coming!”

“Pinkie, that ain’t juice.”

“Yuh-huh!” Pinkie nodded emphatically. “She said ‘order some juice’ so I chose the pink one!”

“I said order some booze,” the bartender said, bemused by her naiveté. “Not juice.”

“Huh.” Pinkie frowned. “Maybe I do have a hearing problem!”

“How’d we even get on this?” Applejack turned back to the bartender. “Who’s this Madame?”

“You don’t know her? I find it hard to believe a couple of cyber ponies landed in Lux Valley without her help.”

Applejack tapped her hoof firmly on the counter. “We’re gonna need details. Now.”

The bartender glanced around the room hesitantly before pulling out a notepad and scribbling something down on it.

“Look, I’m not trying to get mixed up in anything, but you’re obviously not cops, so I’m throwing you a bone. Just go here.” She slid the note across the counter with an address hastily scrawled upon it.

Applejack grabbed the note and dropped a few bits on the counter while she read it. Pinkie picked up her glass by her teeth and gleefully gulped down the rest of her drink, before setting it down and hopping off the stool.

“Come on, Pinkie.” Applejack reattached her hoof and headed back outside.

“See, I told you! Pinkie sense!” she boasted, following Applejack through the door. “Oh, hang on a sec, I want to check something!” She popped her head back through the doorway and quickly scanned the bar.

“Huh. Never mind.” Shutting the door, she caught up with her friend marching down the sidewalk.

“From the sound of it, this Madame shelters cyber ponies. If there’s anypony who’ll hear us out, it’ll be her.” Applejack trotted along resolutely, navigating by the street signs.

“I wonder why Rainbow Dash and Chassis didn’t know about her.”

Applejack scoffed in contempt. “Will you forget them already? Those two are a couple of no-count scoundrels. They wouldn’t know the first thing about helping other ponies if it came up and hit ‘em on the head.”

Pinkie groaned wistfully. Her impulse was to defend them, but not wanting to pick another fight, she held her tongue.

It was very late into the night at this point, less than a couple hours before dawn, and the streets were beginning to thin out. They passed only a few pedestrians on the way, as well as a few police rovers on their patrols. Each time one drove past, they tensed up anxiously, only to be relieved when they left.

“I don’t like the way they’re lookin’ at us,” Applejack muttered, after the third rover drove by. “They leave us be like we belong here, but they watch us like they know we don’t. Gives me the willies just looking them in the eye.”

“Maybe cyber ponies are allowed here! They probably hate stallions more than us.” Pinkie paused, pondering it. “I wonder what they’d think about cyber stallions.”

“But have you seen a single cyber pony since we got here? Nah, something’s fishy. Even if it’s perfectly legal for us to be out walkin’ this late at night, we’re fugitives, remember? Most powerful corporation in the galaxy supposedly wants our heads, and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of ‘em in two weeks.”

“We’re super sneaky spies, remember? Nopony can keep us down.”

Applejack smiled faintly in agreement. “Nopony keeps us down.” Stopping outside the massive tower bearing the address on the note, she stared up at the sign in disbelief. “I… don’t believe it.”

Pinkie followed her eyes and audibly gasped in excitement upon seeing the familiar neon sign: ALL-MARE REVUE. “I told you I told you I told you!” She bounced around Applejack in jubilant vindication.

“Aw, hush it. You just wanted to check out the smut show.”

“Nope! Pinkie sense.” She tapped her head pridefully.

Applejack stared at her, smiling expectantly.

“Okay, maybe that too,” she conceded, “but it was mostly the Pinkie sense!”

Applejack chuckled and headed inside with Pinkie. The large entrance foyer was majestically adorned in crimson drapes and golden trim. An imperial staircase led up to the next floor.

An usher sat in the ticket booth, mindlessly scrolling through a data pad. “Sorry ladies, show’s over tonight. Come back tomorrow.”

“We’re looking for the Madame,” Pinkie piped up.

“I don’t know an—” The usher froze mid-sentence when she looked up from her screen to see the two cyber ponies in front of her. She dropped her data pad on the counter and scrambled out of the booth, hastily charging through the door behind her.

“Uh… what?” Applejack glanced uncertainly at Pinkie.

The two looked around the empty foyer for a minute, unsure of what to do now, when a figure appeared at the top of the stairs.

A regal older mare with a pompadour mane confidently strolled down the steps, her long evening gown trailing behind her. She was followed by the usher, who looked much less composed in comparison.

“Ah, now this is quite the surprise.” The mare stopped on the landing halfway down and smiled at the two cyber ponies. “Welcome, my dears, to Le Grand Théâtre. What have you come for?”

Applejack stepped forward. “Yeah, er, somepony told us that this Madame lady could help us out. I reckon that’d be you?”

The mare simpered. “The Madame helps those most in need of help. If you are already here, then you have no need.” She turned away from them and began ascending the stairs.

Pinkie charged forward and yelled out to her. “Wait! You have to help us! We don’t have anypony else to turn to! We need to get to Equestria!”

The mare stopped suddenly. “You wish to go… to Equestria? Pourquoi?”

Pinkie opened her mouth to answer, but Applejack quickly shoved her hoof over her muzzle to stop her.

“Unfinished business,” she said. “Let’s leave it at theat. So would you kindly help us out?”

“No,” the mare turned her nose up in the air. “It is a fool’s errand. A death sentence. It would be a waste of valuable resources. I bid you adieu; now, leave my théâtre!”

“No!” Pinkie shouted, shoving Applejack’s hoof away. “That’s not fair! I’m not going anywhere until you at least hear us out.”

Her noble aura of composure shattered instantly. “You… refuse orders?” she inquired.

“Yeah, lady!” Pinkie threateningly stamped her hoof, cracking the tile beneath her. “Nopony tells us what to do!”

Looking down at Pinkie’s hoof cannon, she found herself suddenly captivated by the cyber pony’s weapon and autonomy. “Very well. Come upstairs. We shall discuss.” She turned and headed back upstairs, motioning for them to follow.

The pair shared a confused glance before ascending the staircase. The usher returned to her booth, watching them curiously as they passed.

Upstairs, they were led to a large office overlooking the stage. Sitting down at her desk, the mare lit a cigarette and instructed them to take a seat, to which they complied.

“If you are truly— how you say— autonomous… then the Madame should take great interest in you.” She exhaled a puff of smoke. “Where is it you come from?”

Applejack frowned. “Listen, ma’am, I don’t mean offense or nothing, but we’re a little wary when it comes to blindly trustin’ strangers. All I’ll say is we’ve got some ponies after us and we’re trying to get to Equestria.”

“Twirell.” She smiled conceitedly.

“Whoa… how’d you know?” Pinkie asked.

“It is most assured that you did not come to Caelia peaceably. You must have left a trail of destruction in your wake, did you not?”

“Something like that,” Applejack replied.

“There is only one enemy so deeply invested in the oppression of the cyber race. Your makers. The Twirell Corporation.”

“Well, when you put it like that, it’s almost too obvious!” Pinkie threw her hoof in the air. “Way to spill the beans, Jax! So much for super secret spies.”

“Well you are lucky then, yes? For you have found the one true safe haven for cyber mares across the galaxy.” She took a drag off her cigarette and stood up, leaning over the balcony railing, watching the empty stage below. “The Madame has made her life’s work out of granting salvation to cyber mares in places like Equestria.”

Pinkie leaned in towards Applejack. “Why does she talk in the third person like that?” she whispered.

Applejack just shrugged, equally perplexed as she was.

Merde, Equestria!” she continued. “A shadow of the empire it once was. Such a vile land it has become.” She flicked her cigarette off the balcony and returned to her seat. “And you seek to return there! For what reason?”

“If you care about cyber ponies as much as you say you do, you’ll help us,” Pinkie declared decisively. “We’re taking the fight to Twirell! To free all the cyber ponies throughout the galaxy.”

Her attention piqued, she tapped at her desk apprehensively, then let out an exasperated sigh. “The Madame knows Princess Twilight, what she is capable of. It would senseless for you two to attempt to take her on alone.”

“You shelter cyber ponies here, don’t you?” Applejack asked. “They can join us!”

Frowning dejectedly, she rose from behind her desk. “Come with me, mes amies.” She took them downstairs, through a service hallway, eventually leading them backstage to a vast dressing area.

Here there were more than twenty cyber mares, dressing down from their performance. Pinkie and Applejack observed the ladies, some removing their scanty costumes, some cleaning off their makeup, some just chattering away happily.

“All my lovelies sacrificed everything to come here.” She led the two across the room, helping out the performers with little tasks here and there.

“They come here to dance around in them skimpy getups, just for organic ponies to leer at ‘em?” Applejack asked skeptically.

“It is art, not perversion! Besides, they much prefer dancing for mares over their bondage back home. They are happy here. They are safe. And these are just the ones fortunate enough to have forged papers. There are many more not-so-fortunate ladies who must be kept of out sight from the inspectors. None of these ponies are blessed with freedom in the way you are. Were they to receive an order from an organic pony, the poor babies could not refuse. You are severely misguided thinking they can fight; you ask too much. They are not fit to be your soldiers. The Madame has spent years building an underground railroad to save what few ponies she can. To help you now, is to risk it all.”

“Maybe they can’t help us,” Pinkie said, “but you can. Just get us to Equestria. Please. If you can find it in your heart to give us that, I know that we can make a difference.”

“If only it were that simple…” she started. Just then, the usher returned and whispered a message into her ear. She then turned back to the two to excuse herself. “It seems there is a small matter that needs attending to. Please wait here a moment.”

Applejack stood with Pinkie for a few minutes, watching the cyber mares get changed. “This feels weird, just standing here watching ‘em.”

“Speak for yourself,” Pinkie mumbled.

Applejack turned to see her eating popcorn and watching them intently. “Wha— where’d you get that from?”

Pinkie pointed to a garbage can by the door. “Why? Want some?” she offered.

“No, dang it, keep your trash food away from me.” She pushed Pinkie’s snack away. “This Madame’s a real character. I got a bad feeling ‘bout her.”

“You say that about everypony,” Pinkie retorted, still chewing.

“D-Did you say the Madame?”

The two turned to see one of the dancers facing them, a few feet away.

“Yeah,” Applejack answered. “Why?”

“She saved my life. If it weren’t for her, I’d be nothing. Back in Equestria, I was nothing.” Her voice trembled as she spoke. “I… had to do horrible things there. Memories I wish I could erase.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that,” Applejack replied.

“I know a thing or two about erased memories,” Pinkie said. “Or, I used to know? But then, wouldn’t I keep knowing? Or did I forget that too?”

Applejack loudly cleared her throat, trying to pump the brakes on Pinkie’s train of thought before it derailed.

Anyway,” Pinkie continued, “I know you probably hate every second of whatever happened to you. And you’d totally be right to! But, that doesn’t mean you were nothing. You were still just as much a pony then as you are right now. You wanna know how I know?”

“Sure,” she answered, a little intrigued.

“Because you beat it! Maybe the Madame helped get you here, but what you did was sooo much braver. You survived. You didn’t let those organic ponies crush your spirit. And now look at yourself! You’re one of the prettiest dancers I’ve ever seen!”

“Oh!” She blushed, not expecting the compliment. “Thanks…”

Pinkie pulled her in for a friendly hug. “Seriously, I love your mane! It’s so cute. You probably have a fancy stylist here, don’t you?”

“No, not exactly!” She visibly perked up. “We girls do each other’s hairdressing here. We take care of each other, you know, in light of everything we’ve been through.”

“Oh my gosh, you all must be so talented. Everypony here looks like a fashion model!”

Applejack smiled warmly as she watched Pinkie Pie chat away with the formerly-apprehensive stranger, cheering her up like it was nothing. She really had a knack for making ponies feel better, even if she behaved a little erratically at times. In all the chaos of today, Applejack had briefly forgotten why she felt so staunchly loyal to her in the first place. This was a nice reminder that, beneath it all, she truly was pure of heart.

“Hey,” the dancer nodded to Applejack. “If you see the Madame, will you tell her Hazel Heart says thanks for everything?”

“What?” Applejack asked, confused by the request. “Why can’t you tell her yourself?”

“Huh? I—”

Très bien, mes amies!” A hoof grabbed ahold of Applejack, dragging her away from the conversation. “Business is all taken care of, we talk now.”

The dancer waved goodbye and rejoined her friends at the stage door.

“Wait just a dang minute, what in tarnation is going on here?” Applejack charged, swatting her hoof away.

“Oh? Whatever do you mean?”

Pinkie hopped over excitedly. “She means, have you decided if you’ll take us to Equestria?”

“No,” Applejack countered, “I mean—”

“After some thought, the Madame may be willing to help you in your quest. But the window to get there is very small. If you wish to leave, it must be now.” She led them through the aisle in a rush, taking them back to the foyer. “Inspectors are coming, you see? There can be no unregistered cyber ponies in the théâtre or they will shut us down. Come, quickly. We keep a small ship on the roof of the tower.” She hurriedly trotted over to the tower’s main elevator.

Pinkie grabbed ahold of Applejack and dragged her along excitedly. “It’s happening!” she cheered. “We’re finally going to Equestria!”

“Pinkie, wait! I don’t think—” she vainly fought to grab her attention, to take her aside and just talk to her a moment. But before she could even get a complete thought out, Pinkie towed her into the elevator, and the doors slid shut.

Now the three were sealed in the ascending elevator, with no privacy for Applejack to pull Pinkie aside. Pinkie bounced in place eagerly while Applejack bit her lip, growing more uncertain of the situation with every passing second. The counter that displayed the current floor flickered rapidly as the elevator shot upwards. Finally, it landed on 126, and the doors opened to reveal the roof.

The light drizzle of earlier in the night had now given way to a much more violent storm, the gales even stronger over a thousand feet up. In the distance, over the far-off horizon, the sun was just barely beginning to rise. They stepped uneasily out of the elevator, leaning against the powerful gusts and getting drenched in the pouring rain. In front of them was the aforementioned starship that would take them to Equestria.

“Come on!” Pinkie shouted impatiently over the roaring wind. She galloped over to the ship.

“I am sorry, mon amie.”

Applejack turned to the mare beside her to see, even in spite of the soaking rain, heartbroken tears streaming down her face.

“Mrrrgh! Hmph!”

Whipping back to face the ship, Applejack was mortified to see two mares holding Pinkie down. She thrashed, desperately trying to fire off her cannon, but they pinned her hoof to the floor. Beside them, a painfully familiar face strolled down the ship’s ramp.

Spectra.

Applejack frantically spun around to see various armed mares stepping out from hiding, weapons all trained on her. As they surrounded, she turned to her betrayer. All she could choke out was a distraught “Why?

She grabbed ahold of Applejack and hugged her tightly. “You must understand, they left me no choice. Please do not give up your fight,” she whispered into her ear. “If, by some miracle, you get to Equestria, find the Madame. Where I have failed you, she will not.” With one final squeeze, she threw Applejack to the soldiers, shouting “Take her! Take them both, and leave my théâtre!”

The soldiers quickly converged on the fallen Applejack, restraining her before she could even react. With her hooves shackled together, they lifted her up to meet Spectra’s eye level as she approached.

“You know,” Spectra purred, shaking her head, “it’s my fault, really. I was too easy on you.”

“Go choke on a tree trunk,” Applejack growled.

“I mean, I got what I needed out of your pretty little head. The whole story, straight from the horse's mouth. I don't think you'll ever appreciate just how much the news of your memories have changed everything. If only you could see Equestria now," she laughed, "the damage you've inadvertently done, the upheaval that revelation has created. You won't live to hear any of it, of course. You're nothing but a pawn in a game you can't even comprehend. Why, if it were up to me, you two would be dead before you ever saw us coming. But the powers that be deem otherwise.”

A bolt of lightning struck the tower across the street. In the flash of light, Applejack could have sworn she saw something in the distance.

Mon dieu, quit your gloating! Has she not suffered enough?”

Spectra scowled over at the conspirator still standing by the elevator. “And you…” She brushed past Applejack to address her. “The board’s directives have contractually bound me to our agreement, so I will not come down on your precious ‘refugees,’ as promised. But I am free to pursue other avenues…” She turned her back and gave the soldiers a slight nod.

Straight away, a barrage of lasers descended upon her, shredding through her evening gown and blasting her back into the elevator, leaving her just a smoldering corpse. Pinkie delivered a muffled shriek, crying out for her. Applejack, stunned, could only watch the violence unfold, her mouth agape.

“I have to admit, it’s always refreshing to stifle a nuisance,” Spectra crooned. “Looks like ‘Ze Madame’ won’t be defecting cyber slaves anymore.”

Another bolt of lightning briefly illuminated the dark skies. This time, Applejack definitely saw it out there.

“That’s mighty bold of you, Spectra,” Applejack murmured. “Sure looks like you won. Covered all your bases, took me and Pinkie down without so much as a fight. But I reckon there’s still one thing you’re forgetting.”

“Oh?” Spectra brazenly elected to humor her. “What’s that?”

Applejack smiled slyly. “There just ain’t no keeping a cyber pony down.”

She shielded her head as the rooftop erupted into a thunderous explosion.