• Published 10th Mar 2020
  • 425 Views, 20 Comments

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 4: At the End of My Rope

The last thing Applejack saw before impact was the glow of Spectra’s horn.

As the rooftop lit up in a cacophony of explosions, she and the soldiers restraining her were thrown backwards into the elevator. The initial detonation was deafening, the shock wholly disorienting. It took a few seconds for Applejack to regain her senses. When her hearing and vision returned, she saw a lifeless face lying inches away from her own. The Madame.

But this wasn’t the Madame. Whoever this mare really was, she had sold Applejack and Pinkie out to Spectra. Her final message of sympathy, however, relayed instructions to seek out the real Madame, whoever she may be, in Equestria.

Applejack struggled to stand and realized she was pinned under the bodies of the two guards. With a powerful heave, she grunted and shoved them aside. As she rose, she saw one of them lay dead and the other just barely breathing. She faltered taking her first step, having forgotten her hooves were still shackled together. As she stumbled out of the elevator, she watched over the destruction the explosion had wrought.

Those closest to the blast were obliterated on impact. Most of the remaining squadron was thrown clear off the tower, sent in a freefall to the street far below. Those few who remained were lying by the edge, injured and dazed.

Applejack frantically looked around for Pinkie, praying she’d survived. Patches of flames still burned, illuminating the devastation. The air was filled with the noise of torrential rain, creaking steel, and violent winds. The far end of the roof, where the starship was docked, had been split open by the blast. The ship was perched precariously at a steep angle, ready to fall if the rubble beneath it gave way.

Then the ship’s entrance ramp swung shut and its engine hummed to life. Spectra was making her escape, with Pinkie in tow.

Applejack growled and tried to charge at the ship, but immediately stumbled, unable to get far with her hooves bound. Two still-conscious soldiers, noticing her, lifted themselves up shakily and trained their blasters on her. She quickly steadied herself and took a deep breath.

“Time to get my money’s worth.”

Her side panel lifted outward, and from the opening, a tense loop shot outward at the mare on her left. Before she could fire, her blaster was ensnared in the lasso. Applejack chomped down onto the end of the rope and gave a powerful tug, snapping the weapon right off her frame. In one swift motion, she swung the rope all the way around and straight at the soldier on the opposite side, striking the blaster bluntly against the side of her head.

Satisfied with one enemy disarmed and the other knocked out, Applejack retracted the lasso back into herself and continued scrambling towards the ship, only to trip once more and fall in her fervor. Acting quickly, she flipped her Stetson off her head and caught the brim in her teeth. Craning her neck back as far as she could, she whipped her head, releasing the hat and sending it flying in a circular arc towards the ship’s thrusters. It gave a resounding metallic clang on impact and reflected back toward her. Still lying on her back, she raised her front and rear hooves in front of her. Just as it had clanged against the ship, the hat struck clean across her shackles, cracking them deeply enough for her to snap them apart.

Having broken free of her chains, she replaced her hat and rose once more. Her victory was cut short, however, when the building rumbled violently. The steel beams at the far end began screeching and cascading as the debris slid out from under it, knocking a whole section of the rooftop down. She watched in horror as the ship that held her friend slid and fell off the skyscraper towards the ground far below.

On her right, a second starship finally floated into view, this one much more familiar.

The Genesis.

Hovering above, the ship slowly descended towards the roof. Rainbow Dash nodded to her through the windshield, a determined look on her face.

Then came the sound of another set of rockets, slowly growing louder. Applejack turned back to the collapsed end to see fallen ship now rising past the roof, its thrusters having fired up just in time. The Genesis’ side door opened, and Rainbow Dash shouted “Get in!” over the roar of the ships’ engines.

As Spectra’s ship took off into the stratosphere, Applejack leapt off the roof and into the Genesis. She swung the exterior door shut and ran to the bridge. There, Rainbow Dash was pulling the ship higher, prepping for pursuit.

“Strap in,” Dash commanded, nodding to the copilot’s chair. “Looks like she’s fleeing the planet.”

Applejack hastily climbed into the seat. “She’s got Pinkie with her, I just know it.”

“We’ll get her.” Dash leaned in on the thruster controls, and the ship blasted forth into the atmosphere. “Gene, double-up the storm shields. We’re headed through the clouds and I don’t want to lose any klicks between us and her to turbulence.”

Gene’s hologram flickered up on the console between them. “Rerouting internal power to the static wicks.”

Applejack looked on as their ship ascended through the storm. Once they barreled through the thick clouds, she spotted the tiny glowing dot they were pursuing, far off ahead of them.

“You sure you can catch up and stop her?” she asked tensely.

“Oh yeah. She’s in a scout-class. No way she’s outrunning or outgunning the Genesis.”

“Atmospheric pressure dropping,” Gene reported.

“You know what to do. Phase down the twin thrusters and ramp up the ion drive.” Dash smirked over to Applejack. “Been a while since I’ve had a deep space chase.”

“Yeah, well, I hope your skills ain’t rusty. It’s Pinkie’s life on the line here.”

“Please! It’s like riding a lightcycle. You never forget.”

Once the ion drive ramped up to full capacity, Dash slammed forward on the controls, hitting them both with a massive acceleration force. As they charged deeper into space, they gradually bridged the gap between them and Spectra.

Gene read out updates every few seconds. “Target is 48 klicks out. At current rates, firing range will be attained within 74 seconds.”

“Firing range?” Applejack repeated, sounding a little worried.

Dash didn’t reply, instead focusing on the controls.

“Target is 4— Hold a moment, something’s amiss,” Gene reported. “Our scanners just lost the target.”

“What?” Dash shouted incredulously. “What do you mean ‘lost it’?”

“Target must have enabled a cloaking array. I’m not picking up any heat signatures within range.”

“No!” Dash slammed on the controls in frustration. “Track her last-known trajectory and fire out flare rockets.”

“Mistress, if they’ve engaged stealth mode, they’ve likely already performed evasive maneuvers, I don’t think flares are the most prudent opt—”

“Do it! She’s not that clever! She’s not a pilot, I can tell!”

“Of course, Mistress.”

Several glowing rockets fired out from the sides of the ship. Applejack watched as they raced forward in the direction Spectra was headed. After a few seconds, they scattered and exploded in a dazzling display, hazily burning across a giant area of space. Off towards the left, she saw a faint but unmistakable shimmer. The cloak was faltering ever so slightly as it passed through the flare.

“There!” she exclaimed, pointing to it.

“Deadeye, Jax! Gene, slap a homing beacon on her, quick, before she gets out of the flares!”

“Plotting course… 23 klicks. Just within range.” Gene fired off a tiny missile in Spectra’s direction while Dash veered the craft to catch up with her. “Almost… almost… there! Beacon has successfully latched on. Uploading coordinates now. I’ll pull up the radar on your status display.”

They rocketed through the field of flares, watching the blazing lights zoom past the glass. Once they exited out the other side, Dash began hammering away at the console frantically.

Dash glanced over at Gene. “See if you can overlay a projection of her onto the HUD. Stakes are too high, I don’t want to fly by radar.”

“I’ll do what I can, but it’ll take some time to draw up a simulation.”

“You’ve got about twenty seconds before we’re in range.”

Applejack looked over at Gene’s hologram on the console. He was visibly navigating through different programs and processes, working rapidly to fulfill Dash’s request. She wondered how necessary the display was, considering he was just part of the ship’s computer. As far as holograms went, he looked like any other pony, tapping away, hard at work. She figured it had to be at least partially superfluous.

“I’ve got it,” Gene declared. “Hopefully, that’s enough.”

A crude rendition of Spectra’s ship flashed onto the windshield. Applejack moved her head side-to-side. From her angle, it looked all distorted. But from Dash’s, it perfectly outlined the invisible ship’s position, factoring in depth and all. It steadily grew larger as they drew ever nearer.

“Alright, Gene, prep the pulse gun and give me control.”

Applejack stared at her in shock. “Pulse gun? No, you can’t!”

“Relax. I know what I’m doing. Gene usually handles the weapons but it’s gonna take a steady hoof to pull this off.”

“You can’t shoot while she’s in there!” she snapped. “You’ll blow her to bits! I won’t let you go and hurt her!”

“Ugh. Gene, secure her.”

Applejack’s restraints tightened, pinning her down into the chair.

“I promise I won’t let anything bad happen,” Dash assured her. “I’ve been doing this for years. This is the safest approach, I swear.”

Applejack grumbled, discontent that she now had no choice but to watch the scene unfold.

Rainbow Dash took control of the weapons system and aimed at the outline of the ship. Pacing it carefully, she timed out three pulses in succession straight at the target.

The first one struck true. Applejack watched the cloaking shield slowly ripple, revealing the formerly-invisible craft. Right at the moment of peak distortion, the second pulse struck, chaining the ripple effects to create destructive interference. The third pulse soon followed once the cloaking waves were maximally disrupted. That was the ace in the hole. The shield immediately burst, leaving a misty vapor trail behind the now fully-exposed ship.

“Ha!” Dash exclaimed. “Didn’t I tell you, Gene? Three’s all it takes if you space ‘em just right.”

“Celebration may be premature, ma’am. It appears the target is deploying their chain gun.”

“A chain gun?” Dash laughed mockingly. “So old-world! She might as well be shooting confetti. Show her a real weapon, pull up the plasma cannon.”

“Rainbow…” Applejack started, growing uncertain.

Dash glanced over at her and gave her a steadfast look. “Hey. Trust.”

Applejack hesitated a moment before returning a slight nod.

Suddenly, they heard a pattering sound as a barrage of tiny projectiles struck the ship.

“M-Mistress!” Gene stammered. “The damage rate is nearly double what I projected. Target is doing significant damage to the hull.”

Two bullets struck the windshield, leaving tiny cracks. The torrent of projectiles was causing the entire craft to tremor violently.

“What?” Dash shouted in disbelief, fighting to keep the ship flying steady. “How’s she even doing that?”

“Spectral analysis indicates she’s utilizing uranium slugs in lieu of conventional lead bullets.”

Uranium? Where’d she get depleted uranium from?”

“Mistress, I must insist, we’re simply not equipped to take this caliber of projectile head-on. You must pull back to a safe distance.”

“No!” she yelled. “Not an option! Cut all non-essential power and throw up the bow shields, that’ll at least buy us some time.”

“Are you certain? That would entail diverting power from my—”

“Of course I’m certain! Gene, just do it! We’re taking damage!”

“As you wish.”

Applejack felt her restraints loosen as she watched Gene and his console flicker off. Once it had completely powered down, a shimmering force field trickled across the glass in front of them. The bullets stopped pattering against the ship’s frame, now leaving small blips as they bounced off the shield.

“Jax, we don’t have much time,” Dash uttered, now struggling to tap away at various panels while steering. “I’ve never flown a combat mission without Gene before. He’s my copilot, he handles the backend. Without him, I’m gonna need you.”

“What? No! I-I can’t—”

“This is the only way we’re getting out alive! I can’t run all the systems manually in a fight like this! We’ve got a minute— maybe two— before the shield gives out. I’m gonna talk you through everything, just do what I say, okay?”

“A-Alright.” Applejack looked down at the instrument panels in front of her. “What do you need?”

“There’s a display. Go through the menus and find the plasma cannon.”

Applejack tapped away at the controls, scrolling through the ship’s systems until she found the arsenal. “Grapple line, pulse blaster, railgun… Geez, how many— Here! Plasma cannon, now what?”

“Now there should be an option to lock— Oh, shoot!” Dash winced as one of the slugs penetrated the shield and pierced the glass halfway through. She stared speechlessly at the bullet lodged in her windshield for a split-second before snapping back to reality. “Lock onto the beacon’s coordinates. Switch the ion cloud to ‘dissipate’. On your right there’s a big yellow dial, turn it all the way up.”

Applejack followed her instructions and turned back to the display, reading the blinking text upon the screen.

TARGET: (18653.23944, -39094.22345, 93507.01639)

She looked up from the screen to the ship ahead. The ship that held her only ally, her only friend. In that moment… she froze.

“Well?” Dash yelled. “Is it set to fire?”

The ship began to rumble once again. More and more slugs were making it through the shields, clanging as they struck the hull.

“I… I can’t,” Applejack murmured.

“We’re running out of time!”

Another slug lodged into the windshield.

“I can’t do it!” she cried. “Pinkie’s in there!”

“She’ll be fine! You have to trust me!”

A particularly rough hit shook the ship violently. Dash struggled to steer evasively while keeping close pursuit, but the artillery was unrelenting.

“I can see it right here!” she yelled, starting to hyperventilate. “You’re trying to trick me, trying to make me blow her to smithereens! I-I won’t kill! NO! I WON’T I WON’T I WON’T!” Applejack labored pants turned into wails of turmoil. Her mind spun out of control as reality blurred. The chaotic blasts and vibrations were only disorienting her more.

“Jax, please! What do you want me to say? I came back for you! I’m trying to save you here, and you’re going all into panic mode, you’re not thinking straight!”

The shield finally gave way, leaving them totally exposed to the rain of hellfire upon them.

“We’re out of time! Jax, for once in your life, take a leap of faith!”

Time slowed to a crawl. Applejack heard the voice in her head clearly, now more than ever.

Faith, Applejack. You need to have faith.

Applejack looked down at the blinking confirmation prompt in front of her and pressed Y.

Immediately, the ship thundered as a massive cloud of plasma rocketed out towards their target. A blinding corona surrounded Spectra’s ship as the cloud collided with it. Applejack squeezed her eyes shut, too terrified to watch. For all of six seconds, the cloud glowed fantastically, before gradually dispersing into the surrounding space.

Dash held her breath, nervously awaiting the results. Applejack slowly opened her eyes to find the ship still drifting ahead of them, apparently unharmed.

“Wait for it…” Dash muttered. “Wait for it…”

A tense silence hung in the air as the two watched the silent ship ahead.

“There!” Dash exclaimed, pointing to the hatch on its hull swinging open. From within, a familiar pink figure shot out, sent barreling into the cold depths of space. Immediately, Spectra’s ship took off in the opposite direction.

“Get her! Quick!” Applejack frantically urged, watching her friend tumble away from them, deeper into the void.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Dash said, veering her ship away from Spectra’s and over toward Pinkie. They moved behind her, tracing her trajectory as she continued to drift. Within a few seconds, they caught up to her, and slowed down avoid colliding. Applejack undid her restraints and pressed her face against the glass, anxiously watching Pinkie’s lifeless body.

Dash set the controls to match Pinkie’s speed and path, keeping her a short, fixed distance in front of them. “Jax, you’re going to have to go out and get her.”


“This is a small cruiser, I don’t have tractor beams or tethers with airlocks. I can’t open the doors without depressurizing the whole cabin.”

“Okay,” Applejack agreed, dragging herself away from the glass. “Anything to pull her out of there, just tell me what I gotta do.”

“There’s a floor hatch in the main deck. Go inside, make sure you shut it securely behind you so I don’t suffocate, and I’ll open the exterior hatch. I’ll do my best to bridge the gap nice and slow so you can reach her. You hang onto the ship, lean out, grab her, and pull her in.”

“I’ll do you one better,” Applejack replied, climbing out of her seat.

Still catching her breath, she approached the hatch in the deck, twisted the valve to open it, and climbed down inside. Swinging it shut behind her, she sealed herself inside the dark, cramped crawlspace. Flashbacks of the mines shrouded her thoughts. The claustrophobia, the long hours, the sense of dread that accompanied knowing at any time a cave-in could bury her…

She pushed it from her mind, determined to rescue Pinkie. Crawling forth to the other end, she reached the exterior hull. A pneumatic hiss sounded, and she felt the entire cavity lose pressure. Then the exterior hatch swung open, revealing vast open space, dotted with twinkling stars. In the center of it all, Pinkie floated along, drifting in a peaceful slumber.

Applejack stood as best she could in the cramped space, and opened her side panel. Pinkie was still a good fifty feet away. She positioned herself oddly to get the right angle, and fired her lasso.

“Whoa!” Dash’s impressed shout faintly reverberated through the metal Applejack stood on, her sensors just barely picking up the sound.

“Did I get her?” she shouted back, unable to see outside from her contorted position. As soon as the words left her mouth, however, she remembered they didn’t carry through the vacuum of space. She groaned and retracted her lasso, the lack of resistance indicating she failed to snag Pinkie.

Standing upright once more, she mentally lined up her shot and returned to her contorted position. Firing again, she felt the lasso catch and lose slack. Readily, she stood back up and gripped the end in her teeth. As she clung to the wall, one powerful tug was all it took to shift Pinkie’s momentum towards her. Slowly, she floated to the hatch, guided inside by Applejack’s steadily retracting lasso.

With Pinkie safely in her grasp, Applejack tapped the crawlspace ceiling twice. Dash promptly sealed the exterior hatch, while she dragged Pinkie back towards the deck.

Rainbow Dash met them at the other end. She swung the floor hatch open for them and helped lift Pinkie up. Applejack climbed out of the tunnel to see Gene had returned, his full-size hologram eagerly awaiting her.

“Can you wake her up?” she asked him, tilting her head toward Pinkie.

“Most likely,” he responded. “If you hook her up to my systems, I’ll have a look.”

Dash grabbed a cable from the holotable and plugged it into Pinkie’s neck. Gene then flickered off to root around in Pinkie’s brain.

His voice returned through the loudspeakers. “Seems as though they’ve induced some form of hyper-stasis, a lockdown to ensure she can’t awake of her own volition. I can bypass it, but it will take some time.”

“Chassis had to do the same thing for you after the prison,” Dash told Applejack. “She didn’t have nearly as much processing power as Gene does, so hopefully it shouldn’t take two days this time.”

Applejack hoisted Pinkie’s body gently onto the holotable, pushing away the clutter to make space for her. “And where is that friend of yours?” she asked.

“She didn’t come. Whatever debt I owe you guys, she has no part of it.”

“Mmhmm,” Applejack snorted. “You mean she’s a coward.”

“Hey, man, I did what you wanted. I came back and saved both your flanks. Anything I do for you from here on out is charity.”

“We wouldn’t have needed saving if y’all had a conscience and didn’t abandon us to begin with!”

“I’m sorry! I made a mistake, but I’m here now! What do you want? You want me to take you to Equestria? You want me to catch up to that Twirell egghead and blow her ship to bits?”

Applejack gazed over to the bridge, looking out the windshield into the depths of space. “No. Let her scamper on home with tail ‘tween her legs. I don’t want her dead. No, I got something else in mind for her. Just get us movin’ for now.”

“Guess I’ll plot a course for Equestria while Gene works,” Dash said, heading back to the bridge.

Applejack looked back to Pinkie, tenderly brushing her mane off of her face. Thankfully, she’d been mostly spared from the damage caused by Rainbow Dash’s rooftop ambush. Once again, though, she’d been rendered comatose. It seemed like she spent more time under than awake these days.

Applejack returned to the bridge and climbed into the copilot’s chair while Dash punched away at her console. “How’d you know?”

Dash kept working, not looking up from the panel. “How’d I know what?”

“That she’d ditch Pinkie like that and run off.”

“Just a little trick I picked up while bounty hunting. You fire off a plasma pulse, but you let it scatter off the hull instead of scorching the insides. It overloads all the sensors, makes ‘em think the damage is critical, but really, you haven’t left a scratch. Now she’s inexperienced, scared, and desperate. So she dumps Pinkie to buy enough time to get out of there, just like I knew she would.”

Applejack didn’t respond. She didn’t fully understand it, but it had worked, and that was all that mattered.

“So, uh, you wanna talk about what happened back there?” Dash asked. “When I asked you to fire on her?”

“No,” she replied curtly.

“I mean, what was that? You went all in a frenzy thinking I was asking you to kill somepony.”

“I’ve had some bad experiences, alright?” she answered sharply. “I’m a free mare now, but just ‘cause I can kill don’t mean I should.”

“Okay,” Dash relented. “Just seemed like you were talking about something else back there.”

“I don’t take kindly to kill orders,” she grumbled. “That’s all there is to it.”

“Oh, shoot, you’re not a… battle droid?”

“No! T’ain’t no such thing. All’s I’ll say is that Twilight went to some awful lengths to make sure I didn’t kill.”

“She didn’t, like, torture you, did she?”

“I told you I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Sounds like post-traumatic stress disorder. Seen in a couple mares myself, soldiers who came back from battle. Killing does weird things to the mind.”

“I just said I’m not a killer.”

“Yeah, but, it’s not just killing. Any sort of trauma can change a pony, and if you ask me, you had a bona-fide episode back there.”

“I don’t know ‘bout you organic ponies, but us cyber folk can’t catch your petty illnesses, so how’s about you just drop it?”

“It’s not— ugh, never mind.”

A frigid tension hung in the air between the two of them as they sat in reticent silence. After several minutes, the stillness was interrupted by something slamming straight into the back of Dash’s seat.

“Wha— Hey!” Dash shouted.

“AAAAHHHHHH!” A familiar high-pitched voice screamed out excitedly. The newly awoken mare glomped onto Rainbow Dash. “I knew you’d come back! I knew it I knew it I knew it I knew it!”

Dash sighed in relief when she realized who it was, patting the hoof wrapped around her. “Hey, Pinkie, yeah, I’m back, alright.”

Applejack stared ahead through the windshield aloofly, her forehooves crossed. “Glad you’re alright, Pinkie.”

Pinkie turned to her, noticing the indifference. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Dash answered. “She’s still mad at me.”

“Aw, come on, Jax,” Pinkie prodded, climbing off Dash’s seat onto the console between them. “She came back for us, just like I knew she would!”

“Yeah, Jax,” Dash jeered.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “That might be good enough for you, Pinkie, but I ain’t so quick to forgive. The only reason we were on that roof was ‘cause she hung us out to dry.” She shot Dash a cold glare.

Pinkie sat perched atop the center console like a bird. “Come on! We’re all together now, let’s throw a pa— Hey, where’s Chassis?”

“Didn’t think we were worth helping,” Applejack groused.

“That’s not true!” Dash argued. “She was sympathetic to you cyber ponies! She spent two weeks helping you, it’s just that she had too much to lose to take up the fight!”

“Guys, it’s okay!” Pinkie shouted, trying to keep the peace between them. “We’ve got three ponies now, that’s a pretty nifty start.”

“Four, actually.” A tiny hologram of Gene appeared atop the console, right between Pinkie’s legs.

Glancing down at the source of the voice, she immediately yelped and scrambled back in fear. She fell straight off the console, recklessly crashing down onto her back. Dash and Applejack couldn’t help but share in a snicker at Pinkie’s display.

“Who are you?” she asked, standing back up and peering in at the tiny hologram.

“I am Gene, a state-of-the-art decentralized neural network, fitted for parallel modular processing. I’ve been integrated into this craft to assis—”

“Yeah, yeah, Gene, she gets it,” Dash said. “If you don’t stop him, he just goes on like that.”

“Hi, Gene! I’m Pinkie Pie!” she greeted, extending her hoof up to him.

Apprehensively, he placed his own miniscule hoof against hers, as well as any incorporeal hologram could. She snorted in delight when his outline fuzzed at the point of contact.

“If Chassis’ out, we’re gonna need somepony else,” Applejack said, returning them to the matter at hand. “A techie, somepony who can handle repairs. It ain’t wise to charge into Twirell blind.”

Pinkie gasped. “I have just the pony in mind!” She dug around in her mane and plucked Nano out. “You still got your home coordinates, dont’cha, lil’ buddy?”

She placed the cybersprite down on the console beside Gene, who stared awkwardly at the similarly-sized device.

“Gene, you can get a read on his coordinates, can’t you?” Dash asked.

“Certainly,” he replied. “Right this way.” He motioned for Nano to follow him to the front end of the console.

Pinkie giggled as she watched the tiny pair interact.

“Up on here.” Gene pointed to a small RFID reader, which Nano gleefully rolled onto. “Pulling the coordinates now… It appears to be nothing more than a deserted waste planet. That can’t possibly be correct, can it, Ms. Pie?”

Pinkie nodded eagerly as she retrieved Nano.

“Very well then,” he responded. “Charting a new course now.”

The voyage took just under three weeks. In the interim, the crew had to stop briefly on an exoplanet to refuel. They didn’t linger for fear of exposure. Rainbow Dash simply stepped out to procure a tank of xenon propellant, and then they were off once again. During the trip, relations between Applejack and Rainbow Dash remained strained. The Genesis was a small craft, capable of sustaining two organic ponies comfortably in the long-term, and the close quarters did little to ameliorate the tensions.

On the nineteenth day after fleeing Caelia, they were finally on approach to the desert planet where Pinkie began her journey.

Pinkie poked her head into the bridge, excitedly bouncing with anticipation. “Are we close yet?”

Rainbow Dash pointed out to the vast expanse ahead of them. “Almost. See that tiny orange speck out there?”

“Eeee, I can’t wait!” she said, squealing in delight.

Applejack turned back to face Pinkie. “Tell me about this fella. You said he was an engineer and that he helped you, but can we really trust the guy?”

“Of course! Cyrus is my friend, why wouldn’t we?”

“For starters, you said he works for Weyland-Yutani.” Applejack paused. “You saw for yourself what the company does to cyber ponies— what they did to me. I’m just wary, is all.”

“Well, he doesn’t like them, either. He was the one who told me about how cyber ponies are treated, and he sure wasn’t happy about it. I trusted him with my life before, and I’d do it again! And maybe even a third time!”

“He a unicorn?” Applejack asked.

“Nope! Earth pony! Why?”

“Just plannin’ logistics. We got to round out a team if we’re hoping to take on Twirell, and that’s a mighty big niche to fill. An engineer’s helpful and all, but we could sure use at least one unicorn, and another pegasus for when Rainbow jumps ship again.”

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “I’m right here, you know. When are you gonna lay off? What’s it gonna take for you to trust me?”

“When you give me a reason to trust you, I’ll let you know. Maybe try helping us out of a jam you didn’t force us into!”

“What’s the point? You talk a big game about wanting to be equal, but you don’t see me as an equal. Pinkie gets trust, but you, you think every organic pony is out to get you. You’re totally paranoid!”

“Watch it!” Applejack growled. “If I got concerns about you or any of your kind, believe me, they’re well-earned. We needed you, and you ditched us. That’s the plain truth, nothin’ to it!”

“I was scared, okay?” Dash yelled back, starting to choke up. “Happy? Is that what you want to hear? I liked what I had, and I didn’t want to risk it. I spent so long trying to be like my mom, and I couldn’t let go until you told me I had nothing to prove. And you know what? You were right! I don’t have anything to prove to you, so just— just lay off!”

Speechless, Applejack climbed out of the copilot’s chair and left the bridge.

Pinkie, at a rare loss for words, took her seat. She’d given up on trying to smooth things over between them a few days ago.

After a minute, Rainbow Dash spoke up. “Pinkie, I don’t know if I can do this. She doesn’t want me here, she’s never going to trust me. I think when we get to Equestria, we should just go our separate ways.”

“No!” Pinkie objected. “You can’t! Jax was right, we need a pegasus on our side. You can help us! She’ll come around, I promise. She has a good heart. Or heart simulator, or whatever! The point is, we’re friends, and friends stick together. No matter what.”

“Okay,” Dash acquiesced reluctantly. “I’ll stick with you, but only because I want to help cyber ponies. Not because I owe her anything.”

Pinkie watched Dash somberly pilot the ship. She was excited to see Cyrus again, but her friend’s spirits were low, and she didn’t want today to be anything but happy.

“So, you’re from Caelia?” Pinkie asked.

“Yeah,” Dash answered half-heartedly.

“And everypony there’s a mare?”

“Every single one.”

“So, does that mean all the mares there are…”

Dash glanced over to Pinkie, who had an insinuating look on her face. “Wha— no! Of course not, it doesn’t work that way. Sure, some of u— them— like girls, but most don’t.” She paused. “Romance is overrated anyway.”

“Don’t they get lonely?” Pinkie asked, trying to mask the subtext of her question.

“I don’t know, I guess. Some of them keep virtual husbands at home, kinda like Gene here. That stuff’s allowed, there’s a market for it. But any pony with a body, cyber or not, has to be female. That’s the way it’s always been, and it’s not like anypony’s complaining.”

“You left home before though. Ever find a cute colt?”

“Uh, no. Every stallion I’ve met was either a jerk or a target.”

“So you’ve never been in love?”

“I— there was one time I thought I loved somepony, but— No. No, I haven’t.”

Pinkie leaned sideways in her chair, her head dangling over the armrest. “That’s funny. Organic ponies are always going on about how special love is and how it makes them different from machines. I figured you guys would love each other like crazy!”

“Are you really not capable of love?” Dash asked, deflecting the question.

Pinkie shrugged and stared at the ceiling. “I dunno! I’ve never loved anypony, but I haven’t met many ponies. I sure hope I can, though, ‘cause it sounds super cute!”

“Well, do you like mares or stallions?”

“Both!” Pinkie exclaimed, shifting to sit upside down. “Or, neither? I like you! And Jax, and Cyrus, and—”

“I mean, when you look at a mare or a stallion, which one makes you, er, tingly?”

Pinkie sat up straight and looked at her. “I’m always tingly!”

Not knowing how to take that, Rainbow Dash just chuckled and dropped the subject. This mare was beyond figuring out.

“It’s almost time for descent,” Dash said, feeling a little better. “Let Jax know, will you?”

Pinkie turned back to the windshield in surprise. Somehow, without her noticing, the tiny speck of a planet had grown to a huge landscape before them. Enthusiastically, she climbed out of her seat and went to tell Applejack.

The ship gradually descended through the atmosphere. Pinkie watched the familiar barge ships drift across the skies, dumping electronic waste onto the surface. Soon, she could make out the crater where Cyrus was stationed.

“There!” She pointed to the small tower in the center.

Rainbow Dash steered towards it, bringing them closer. Carefully, she landed the Genesis between two of the massive docks, just a stone’s throw away from the tower.

“Gene, get me an air reading,” she said.

“Certainly,” he replied. “Initial composition analysis indicates low breathability. You’ll need at least a rebreather, though I’d recommend a full atmospheric suit in the event that meteorological conditions shift.”

“Thanks, buddy.” Dash turned to Pinkie and Applejack. “Give me a minute to put on my suit, and we can head out.”

When she left, Applejack took a moment to test her lasso.

“Whatcha doin’?” Pinkie asked, growing concerned. “You’re not gonna hurt him, are you?”

“Not unless he gives me a reason to,” she responded. “Look, Pinkie, I’ll level with ya. You ain’t been here in a while. We were due back here after escaping Servos 6, ‘cept we never showed. Now, we don’t know what’s waitin’ for us in there, for all you know, we could be walking straight into another trap. I won’t have any of that, not again. Even if everything’s fine and dandy, when we get in there, I’m keeping my wits about me, and I reckon you should do the same.”

Pinkie groaned uncertainly. She just wanted to reunite with Cyrus, not have to watch out for danger at every corner. But excited as she was, she knew Applejack was right. There just wasn’t much room left for fun in her new life.

Rainbow Dash returned, wearing a full-body atmospheric suit. Pinkie giggled at her tiny wing nubs poking out of the suit.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Dash said. “Had this suit custom-tailored just so I could use my mech-wings with it. You know how much it cost me just to keep this thing airtight around the wings? What a waste of bits!”

“Let’s quit lollygagging,” Applejack told them. “We’re burnin’ daylight here.”

Dash opened the exterior airlock, and the three of them stepped out into the blinding sunlight.

“Burn all the daylight you want!” Pinkie said cheerfully. “The sun doesn’t set here.”

They made their way towards the tower cautiously, making sure to cover each other’s backs. As Pinkie passed the garage, she could see Cyrus’ rover still parked inside. The world around them was quiet. Slowly, the team circled the building, with Pinkie leading them around to the entrance.

When they finally rounded the corner, they saw the front doors busted wide open, charred black around the edges.

“No!” Pinkie cried out in fear. Breaking formation, she charged directly inside.

“Pinkie, stop!” Applejack groaned as she followed her. “Not again…”

Both sets of airlock doors had been blasted open, letting the inhospitable surface air spill freely into the first floor. Pinkie looked around Cyrus’ home to find nothing but destruction. The kitchen had been blown apart, all the furniture overturned, his possessions scattered about. The lights flickered weakly, and sparks shot out of exposed wires.

“Oh, geez,” Dash whispered as she stepped inside, ducking under a broken beam.

“He’s still here,” Pinkie muttered resolutely. Determined, she ran into the elevator.

“Hang on a dang minute!” Applejack called out after her.

Pinkie ignored her and pressed a button. The door slid closed and the elevator shot upward.

Applejack sank her head. No matter where they went, they couldn’t catch a break, and Pinkie’s hastiness risked putting them in more danger. But as she looked around, the scene looked despairingly grim, and she couldn’t fault her for being worried. Solemnly, she walked over to the elevator shaft and pressed the call button to go after her friend.

Pinkie stepped out into the comms room on the top floor, where she had first met Cyrus. She refused to accept any possibility beyond him waiting here for her. As she looked around, however, there was nothing awaiting her but more wreckage. Whoever was here made a point to cause as much damage as possible. The control panels and instruments were scorched by plasma burns, the exterior glass walls were cracked, and random papers littered the floor.

She dug through the room, hoping to find some indication of where he had gone. If he had fled, she knew he’d leave some kind of message for her. He wouldn’t just disappear like that. He would have thought about her. He would have wanted her to find him.

Nano leapt down to the floor and helped her investigate, crawling around the room curiously. But the more she searched, the less hope she had. There was nothing of interest anywhere, nothing beyond the aftermath of the unnecessary violence that unfolded here. On the verge of tears, she fell to the ground and buried her face in her hoof cannon. Nano curled up beside her and emitted a low, mournful beep.

She didn’t want to believe something bad had happened to a soul as kind as him. It was one thing to laugh in the face of fear for herself, but having her friend disappear without so much as a trace… there was nothing funny about any of this.

After a couple minutes, Applejack and Rainbow Dash arrived in the elevator and, upon seeing Pinkie laying despondently on the floor, quickly ran over to meet her.

“Hey, sugarcube…” Applejack kneeled down and put a hoof around her. “It’s alright.”

“He’s still here,” Pinkie insisted, sniffling.

Rainbow Dash sat in front of Pinkie, her breath fogging up the visor of her suit. “We checked the other floors looking for you. There isn’t anypony here.”

“He could be hiding,” Pinkie murmured. “Scared that whoever did this might come back.”

Applejack stroked her gently. “The whole building’s flooded with the surface air. This place just ain’t livable anymore.”

“At least there’s no body,” Dash piped up.

Applejack shot her a glare.

“What?” she asked. “It means they took him alive!”

“We don’t know what happened,” Applejack stated matter-of-factly. “For all we know, he could’ve left of his own will. Don’t go on speculatin’ when we ain’t seen a dang thing to tell us what went down here.”

“I was a gun-for-hire, remember?” she retorted. “I can read all the signs. Look around you. Whoever did this didn’t paint the walls with plasma for fun. They’re trying to send a message. And unless this guy had some gambling debts Pinkie didn’t tell us about, it’s a message for us. If they killed him, they wouldn’t go through the trouble of turning this place upside down, they’d just dump his corpse here for us to see.”

Pinkie broke out into tears once again.

“Read the room, dang it!” Applejack scolded her, before going back to comfort Pinkie.

Dash’s arrogance melted away into remorse. “Oh, shoot, I— I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“We’re gonna find him, alright?” Applejack whispered into Pinkie’s ear. “Just hang in there, darlin’.” With that, she stood up and took Dash aside.

“This was that Twirell lady,” Dash told her in a hushed tone.

“We don’t know that for sure. You said it yourself, no way her ship could have beat us here.”

“We spent two weeks on Caelia without hearing from her after we ditched her on the moon, and Pinkie hasn’t been here in, like, two months. Could’ve been her, or just her goons. We don’t know how long ago this mess went down.”

“It just don’t make sense to me. Spectra’s right vicious, but she goes by the Twirell playbook. Weyland-Yutani’s the biggest buyer of cyber ponies out there. No way Twirell would risk that kinda relationship by lettin’ one of their lackeys kidnap a Wey-Yu engineer and trash their station.”

“You explain it then,” Dash said.

“I can’t. Something stinks here, but we’re still missin’ a few pieces of the puzzle.”

“If he’s alive, then he’s got to be in Equestria. We can’t let them get away with this. I say we stop screwing around and go after Twirell once and for all.”

Applejack smirked faintly. “That’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard come outta your mouth.”

Pinkie, still crestfallen, trudged over to them with Nano at her side.

“We’re goin’ to Equestria,” Applejack told her. “If your friend’s there, we’ll get him, don’t you doubt it.”

“Thanks, guys,” she whispered.

The three decided to dig around the building for clues a while longer, but the search turned up nothing. Whoever had done this left no indication of who they were, where they’d gone, or what they’d done to the engineer that resided here.

As Pinkie followed her friends out through the front door, she heard a crinkling sound beneath her hoof. She looked down to see a depleted uranium pellet, left over from the reactor that saved her life, poking out from under her cannon.

Cyrus was still out there. She knew it.

The trip to Equestria was marked by a somber air amongst the crew. For a while now, nothing had been going the way any of them had hoped. Each of them faced their own personal obstacles, a set of hostile circumstances that brought them together, here, at the confluence of their destinies. None of them seemed to be handling it particularly well. Applejack was on edge, her confidence beginning to wane as she neared the object of her vengeance. Rainbow Dash found herself questioning her choices most nights, as the reality of the cause she had taken up gradually set in. And Pinkie, poor Pinkie, whose only goal now was to see her friends happy, grappled with the fact that none of them were, and may well never be. All of this trouble had come about because of her. She’d contrived this situation in order to discover herself, but that objective had taken a back seat when she became attached to these ponies. Now, it was about seeing their individual goals through, and giving them peace. Helping Applejack find closure, finding Rainbow Dash a sense of validation, keeping Cyrus out of harm’s way.

As they progressed, however, it became clear to her that no matter what she did, she was powerless to save them all. There would come a time when she’d be forced to choose, whether between the good of cyber ponies, the well-being of her friends, or even herself. In these coming days, her faith would be tested, in no small capacity. Because now, they were drawing ever closer to the place that held all the answers they sought. The place that Princess Twilight Sparkle had urged her not to come. The place that, if all went well, they’d walk out alive from.

They’d arrived at Equestria.

On approach to the planet, Rainbow Dash summoned them all to the bridge. They’d been blindly stumbling along ever since they’d met each other, always talking about coming here, but impeded at every attempt to do so. Now in orbit of the homeworld of all ponykind, it was time to plan a course of action. They’d been putting it off long enough, none of them willing to admit they were clueless at how to proceed. With their destination now in front of them, they could procrastinate no longer.

Each of them stared through the glass at the impending blue-and-green planet.

“Twirell, Wey-Yu, all those fancy mega-corps are based in the capital,” Applejack said. “That’s about all I got. Rainbow, you ever been there?”

“Canter City? Nah, real high-society place. Total snobs, they won’t let in anypony who’s even a little bit mechanical. No augmented ponies, definitely no cyber ponies. There’s security checkpoints and everything, and they shoot on approach if you don’t identify.”

“Looks like the direct route’s a no-go,” Applejack replied.

Pinkie leaned over Dash’s seat. “How come they don’t let cyber ponies in if that’s where Twirell is?”

“Dunno,” Dash answered. “I don’t keep up with the politics. But real estate’s not cheap on the mountain, they might have their offices there but the factories somewhere else.”

“That’s a good starting point, then,” Applejack said. “What’s the closest city to the capital?”

“Ponyville. Never liked the place, it’s a real hole.”

“Even so, it’s our best shot at sneakin’ into Canter City.”

“Alright, Ponyville it is. Strap yourselves in, I’ll take us there.”

Applejack and Pinkie returned to their seats in the main deck while Rainbow Dash initiated descent. Peering through the small windows, they could see the vast Equestrian continent below, with its lush plains and mountain ranges. There was far more to this world than the single landmass, of course, but the pony race had become so prolific, and its power so consolidated here, that the land’s name had become synonymous with the world. Only semanticists and spiteful creatures referred to the planet by its technical name.

As they descended through the atmosphere, their destination city emerged into view. Ponyville was an immense megapolis, spreading far wider than the already-massive Lux Valley they’d come from. Though the city spanned hundreds of square miles, only a small single district was comprised of towering skyscrapers. The rest of the area seemed more like, from far above, a patchwork of concrete-and-steel plains, with rudimentary metal buildings and smog-churning factories extending ever outward.

“Gene!” Applejack called out, still watching through the window.

His hologram appeared beside her.

“Gimme a rundown on this place. Sure is a lot to take in.”

“I can provide a brief history. A traditionalist-society-turned-metropolitan, Ponyville was once one of the last bastions of conservative civilization. For centuries, they were sanctioned the right to self-determination, and voluntarily remained entrenched in the simple ways of life, flying in the face of burgeoning technological progress. Around stardate 32380, however, the Equestrian legislature, under pressure of the recently-merged Weyland-Yutani Corporation, revoked the autonomy of several city-states, including Ponyville. At the time, it was a widely-debated political move that, while successfully consolidating power under the federal umbrella, caused a rift and the eventual off-splintering of other minor factions. As an aside, one such faction, out of contempt for the Equestrian government, went on to form the initial colony of Caelia B6P. After assuming control, the federal government promptly laid the groundwork for urbanization. In a matter of mere decades, the city shifted from a quaint village to a colossal megapolis. The city was never granted the opportunity to grow organically, rather, this urban sprawl was induced artificially to serve the needs of Weyland-Yutani, which has resulted in various strains on the populace here.”

“That was the short version?” Pinkie asked.

“I meant more like a layout of the place,” Applejack said, staring blankly at him.

“Well, ma’am, Ponyville is divided into four boroughs: West Orchard, East Orchard, Everfree, and the Old Town.”

Pinkie pointed to the section with towers. “Which one’s that?”

“That’s the Old Town, site of the former Village of Ponyville, which was razed and rebuilt on government directive. It serves as the city’s political, economic, and cultural epicenter.”

“Must be a lotta ponies livin’ here,” Applejack mumbled.

“Nearly 6 million in the city proper alone, by the latest census. Another 10 million in the surrounding zones. Inexpensive public housing stimulated the rapid influx of residents, subsidized to bring in lots of cheap labor for the corporations. It is, by no small margin, Equestria’s single largest metropolitan area.”

“Get ready for landing!” Dash yelled from the bridge.

The Genesis descended into the city as she brought them in towards a landing zone in East Orchard. Slowly, the ship landed on the lot, and Rainbow Dash joined them on the deck.

“Gene, when we head out, take the ship and set her down in the outskirts,” she said, grabbing her data pad from the holotable. “I’m not paying city rates for starship parking. You take charge, I’ll call you to pick us up. And keep the alarm protocol on, I don’t want some junkie trying to break into my ship.”

“Understood, Mistress.”

“Great. Let’s head out.” Dash hopped out of the exit hatch, emerging into the urban beast that was Ponyville. The other two followed her out, shielding their eyes as they adjusted to the sun.

“So where do we go?” Pinkie asked, watching the Genesis take off without them.

“I’m just as lost as you,” Dash replied. “I know a couple ponies here, but not well enough to trust them. Who knows how many eyes Twirell has? They might already know we’re here.”

“You know anything about a pony that goes by the ‘Madame’?” Applejack asked. “Supposedly, she can help us. At least, that’s what the lady at the theatre told me, right before Spectra blew a hole clean through her.”

“Yeah, she runs the whole underground here. Real secretive lady. That’s all I got, though.”

“Then that’s where we’ll start. You think you can ask your contacts ‘bout her?”

Rainbow Dash pulled her data pad out of her bag. “Sure thing. I’ll link up to the city network right now.”

“Good.” Applejack pulled Pinkie aside while Dash pawed away at the pad. “Remember, Pinkie, this is Equestria. No more funny business, no more runnin’ off without so much as a warning. Can’t risk even a tiny slip-up here. We get caught one more time, that’s it for us. Unplugged. Game over. Got it?”

Distracted, Pinkie craned her neck, taking in all the odd details of the dilapidated city around her, until Applejack grabbed her head and made her look her in the eye. Smiling apologetically, she nodded affirmatively. “You got it, Jax. I’ll stick to you like glue!”

“Uh, guys?” Dash called out to them. “You’re gonna want to see this.”

Applejack and Pinkie joined her around the data pad on the ground and read the news report on the screen.

UNPRECEDENTED: PRINCESS TWILIGHT SPARKLE INDICTED FOR TREASON. In a shocking revelation, Princess Twilight Sparkle has been formally charged with high treason. The Equestrian legislature refused to explain the nature of these charges, but a leaked report from the Princess’ own Twirell Corporation, where she sits as President and Chief Engineer, suggests that an ongoing internal investigation is the basis for the accusation. When contacted regarding this investigation, the Twirell board of directors declined to comment. At this time, the board has voted unanimously to remove the Princess from her presidency. Whether the Equestrian legislature will convict her and remove her from the throne, or even has the authority to do so, shall be seen in the coming weeks. This is a true watershed moment for the nation; never before has a Princess of Equestria had formal charges laid against her.

As she read on, Applejack’s mouth hung agape. “What the hay is this?” Stepping away to process the news, she quickly found herself lost in thought. She had arrived fully expecting Twilight to turn Equestria against her, not the other way around. Exacting vengeance on Twilight, along with liberating the cyber ponies, was her whole reason for coming here in the first place, and now the situation had become infinitely more muddied.

“Wait a sec, this is from over a month ago!” Pinkie pointed out.

“Yeah, and still on the city network’s front page!” Dash responded, scrolling through the report. “But get this, it says she disappeared when they tried to take her in, and now she’s ‘abdictated the throne’. What does that even mean?”

“It means she ain’t a Princess no more,” Applejack stated, returning to them.

“Wowie,” Pinkie whispered. “Doctor Twilight Sparkle. That has a much nicer ring to it!”

“Makes our job that much easier,” Applejack continued. “Breaking into a palace is one thing. But findin’ a mare in hidin’? Shoot, without an army behind her, this’ll be a cake walk.”

“Cake walk?” Pinkie’s eyes flashed with excitement.

“Not that kinda cake walk.”

“Hey, one of my guys got back to me!” Dash exclaimed, picking up her data pad.

“What’d he say?” Applejack asked.

“‘Moron, you don’t find the Madame, the Madame finds you.’ Ugh. This is why I hate stallions.”

“Just what we need, more cryptic nonsense.” Applejack started walking off down the street.

“Where ya goin’?” Pinkie asked, bouncing after her.

“To find me a cyber pony who can tell me what the hay is goin’ on.”

Rainbow Dash scoffed and put her data pad away before following them.

Led by Applejack, the team wandered around aimlessly through the run-down streets of East Orchard, stopping every cyber pony under the sun to enquire about Ponyville’s underground. All of them claimed ignorance, even when pressed by Rainbow Dash. After a while, they were beginning to lose hope.

“Hang on,” Rainbow Dash said, stopping them, “I got another message.”

Pinkie and Applejack turned back to face her while she dug the data pad out of her bag.

“‘An evening with Angel Bunny will have you walking on air.’ Then… coordinates. Someplace in the city.”

“You don’t have to stop us to check your spam folder, silly!” Pinkie said.

“Yeah, I know,” Dash replied. “Only thing is, Chassis made sure to get my pad secure when I started taking contracts. This came from an encrypted address. It’s not an ad, it’s a message.”

“Think it’s another trap?” Applejack asked.

“Whoever sent this knows me. I keep a strictly private data address. It’s got to be somepony I’ve dealt with before.”

“And I’m supposed to trust the kind of folks you deal with?”

“Yeah, you are, because I’m putting my own life at stake just as much as yours!”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash stared each other down, only to be interrupted by Pinkie stepping between them.

“Well I trust her!” Pinkie declared, putting her hoof around Dash. “Lead the way, Dashie!”

Gladly,” Dash said, turning her nose up at Applejack as she brushed past her. “Oh, and don’t call me Dashie.”

As the sun began to set, they followed the coordinates to an address on the edge of the Everfree borough. It was in the red-light district, a veritable den of iniquity. The neighborhood bore a striking resemblance to the one they visited in Lux Valley, with its neon signs and shady characters. Eventually, they stopped in front of their destination… a brothel.

Applejack read the sign aloud. “Cyber mares of all shapes, built exclusively for your pleasure. Eugh, gross.”

“I was built for pleasure!” Pinkie responded.

“Again, not that kinda pleasure, hon,” she stated plainly. “Listen, girls. When we go in, be ready for anything. No matter what Rainbow says, we can’t trust anypony, ‘specially not some secret messenger.”

Pinkie gave her a salute, while Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. With that, Applejack pushed open the door, and the three stepped inside.

The interior was adorned from wall to wall in luxurious crimson velvet. While the concrete exterior was relatively unimpressive, the establishment seemed more like a mansion on the inside. A set of armed ponies stood on either side of the foyer, serving as security.

In the center of the room, the attendant mare stood behind a booth, welcoming them in. “Hello there! Looking for a relaxing evening?” she asked.

Applejack stepped up to the front desk, her friends behind her. “No, ma’am. We’re here looking for somepony. A ‘Madame’.”

“There’s no madame here, I’m afraid. The girls manage the house themselves. Would you like to take a look?” She slid a binder over to them.

Pinkie flipped through the book, inspecting the assortment of cyber mares within. There was a surprising variety; unique bodies, special limbs, even certain… attachments.

Applejack had flashbacks to the similar encounter she had at the theatre. Not to be stonewalled, she tried to come up with a way to elicit the truth out of her.

“Is there a girl you had in mind?” the attendant asked Pinkie, noting her interest in the catalog.

“Angel Bunny,” Dash interjected, stepping up to the desk. “I was told to ask for her. Is she in?” She carried an insinuating tone, hoping it’d come across.

“Yes, she’s available. The evening rate for her is 220 bits.”

“What? Can’t we just talk to her?” Applejack asked.

Without hesitation, Rainbow Dash pulled out her data pad and initiated a digital transfer. “Done.”

“Perfect. Which one of you will be seeing her?”

Which one?” Applejack questioned, getting irritated.

“I’m sorry, there’s a limit. One guest per girl. They’re delicate things, you see, we try not to strain them.”

Applejack stared back at her, completely exasperated. “Listen, lady, we’re not here to—”

“I’ll go,” Pinkie interrupted.

Applejack turned to her. “Pinkie, I told you we ain’t splittin’ up. I ain’t lettin’ you go off alone again.”

“I got this,” she said firmly. “It’s another Pinkie sense. I have to go up there.”

Applejack balked at first, but she realized she didn’t get this far without having faith in her friend, and didn’t want to challenge her like she had on Caelia. “Okay then. Just… be careful up there. Shout if you need us.”

“There’s, uh, no weapons allowed in the bedroom,” the attendant added, eyeing Pinkie’s hoof cannon.

“Hey, man, she needs the thing to walk,” Dash protested. “She’s not gonna use it.”

“No, it’s okay,” Pinkie grunted, detaching her only front hoof. “Just tell me where she is.”

“Room 6.”

In a sort of half-crawl, Pinkie trudged ahead past the guard and up the stairs. Before disappearing over the landing, she glanced back at her friends, who were watching her uneasily. She shot them a confident grin to reassure them and continued into the house.

Room 6 was at the end of the hall on the right. Sliding across the plush carpet, she propped herself up in front of the door and pushed it open. The bedroom was beautifully decorated, with a vanity table and dresser off to the side, a fancy sofa and loveseat, and in the center, a large canopy bed with its drapes closed.

Pinkie rolled over through the doorway and kicked the door closed with her hind legs. Standing up as best she could, she could see, through the sheer curtains enclosing the bed, the silhouette of a pony resting on the bed.

“Why, hello there,” the mare greeted her in a soft, breathy voice.

She pulled the curtains aside while Pinkie stood by the door, watching silently.

This mare was no cyber pony.