• Published 10th Dec 2020
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No Longer Alone - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving shipping! Postage paid! The gruff captain put a certain pegasus professor to the test and learned that she just couldn’t quit. Now come the hard parts: an actual relationship and maybe a villain or two.

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Chapter 18 - Workbench 8

A twirling pegasus danced around one of her workbenches and practically chirped in delight as she repeatedly settled her rapidly shifting gaze upon Barrier’s masterwork. He had expertly produced enough sets of coils that she could easily spend the entire day testing them all. While in Las Pegasus, Tail had never been able to make such requests. There was no one there who could control augurite to this extent, but now, Barrier had given her a whole slew of coil densities and spacings to examine.

“I think I’ll start by making a few T-shells for this,” she commented, immediately skipping off towards one of her waveguide-equipped desks. Her mane and namesake bounced to every hop, and she glanced over her shoulder again to share an appreciative smile with the far more stoic stallion. “It’s definitely easiest for me to extract my own innate magic. Though, I am going to have to deal with the smaller size of these waveguides again. I would ask if you could manipulate thaumium too, but I can’t let you do all the heavy lifting in my own laboratory.”

“Heh, wouldn’t dare question your drive,” Barrier spoke before he trotted forward and plopped down at Tail’s side. “Proved that point quite a while ago.”

Snickering triumphantly, Tail started arranging her space. She plucked a metal vice from the corner of the tabletop, moved it front-and-center, and slotted one of the thaumium crystals into the grip. Quartz-like in shape, the glassy gem radiated a bluish light that beckoned the physicist closer as it pulsed.

Of course, Tail obliged. Her hoof corralled a maroon toolbox from the right edge of the bench, and her head drifted towards the clamped jewel. Without looking, the scientist slid the lid off of the battered container and rummaged around until she managed to acquire varying scraps of sandpaper. “The game has just begun, my sweet thaumium,” she cooed, blepping at the crystal before she brought the coarsest grit to bear on the exposed surface.

Like a cat preparing to pounce, Tail primed her limbs. Her wings flared as she pushed the sheet against the gemstone, and then, it happened. Her hoof oscillated at a blistering pace, which produced waves of thaumium powder that collected around the vice. Occasionally, she reined in the debris by sweeping the bits into an accumulating pile near the center of the desk.

Barrier’s muzzle opened as he took in the spectacle. He loosed a rumbling groan and gawked at the mare’s leg. “Zacherle, you weren’t kidding about heavy lifting.” A buildup of static electricity arced between Tail’s feathers, prompting Barrier to lean away from the dangerous-looking display. “And is that normal?”

“Perfectly normal,” Tail tittered, grabbing a small water bottle to wet one of the finer-grit papers before she resumed. “I keep building the charge as I go so I have a reserve to fill the shell once it’s ready. The plus side is that I’m a lot stronger now than I was the first time I did this. Probably due to this hot captain I know.”

“Well, I’m sure he’s a fine, upstanding pony if you’re giving him that kind of credit. I would say you should introduce us, but I might get jealous.”

Briefly halting her sanding, Tail lowered her eyelids, curled her lips, and fashioned a sultry stare. “We’re way past introductions, Feather Boy, and given the number of dates we’ve had, you’ve reached dad-joke status far too quickly.”

The stallion straightened his posture, driving the mischievous curl of Tail’s smile to grow even more. “Well,” he coughed, “I guess that means we’ll just need another, which kind of fits with that surprise I need to put together.”

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Tail answered happily before she resumed her sanding and polishing. She hummed as she went, periodically rotating the crystal in the vice or swapping in a different grit paper to use. In the span of a few minutes, the speedy pegasus had transformed the jagged structure into a smooth cylinder that looked more like a glass rod than a gemstone.

She lifted the finished product with her hoof so Barrier could get a better view. With thin bolts of electricity still dancing along her feathers, Tail giggled until she stifled the building melody by biting on her lower lip. “Maybe I’ll polish you just like this after I win one of those duels.”

“Just as confident as the day you told me you couldn’t quit. Though, given your hoof action, I may have to go all out to preserve my health—or at least consult Dr. Amora for a high-quality lubricant.” The captain took a precautionary sidestep to give those sparking wings of Tail’s some deserved respect.

“I’m surprised you’d go to Ams for that,” Tail retorted before her giggles continued. She rolled around the side of the table and pulled a brass shell from her tiny tool chest. The crystal snuggly fit inside the metal vessel, which appeared to have thin, bare wires protruding from its unsealed end. “Figured Princess Cadance would be your go-to for something like that.”

“You’re not wrong,” the unicorn answered as he watched Tail turn her attention to the nearest waveguide. She disappeared behind the silvery bar that composed its primary structure, and within a few seconds, a heavy thunk momentarily derailed Barrier’s train of thought.

The mare popped her head above the boxy device and waggled her browline. “I feel like there’s a but to that statement. Also, I seated the shell to the output end of the guide, which means, we’ve reached the fun part again.” She shuffled along the length of the contraption, guiding her foreleg over the glinting rail. It curved once she passed the long end of the workbench, and that is where things got interesting.

The boring rectangular pipeline widened to join a dozen copper toroids laid out in series. Just as she had done for the downstream end of her apparatus, Tail allowed her foreleg to ride the crests and troughs of the RF-cavity until she reached the input terminal. The dark, gaping hole greeted the charged physicist. Its yawning expanse begged for energy, silently wishing to be put to the test.

Tail checked a couple levers that jutted out from beneath the nearest toroidal segment. Her hoof tugged on the black knobs that crowned shimmering chrome rods, and she released a grunt of approval before returning her focus to the cavity’s opening. Tail exhaled, closed her eyes, and carefully pulled her right foreleg towards her body.

Bands of vapor condensed and spiraled in the wake of the retreating limb. Her wings flared, provoking the accumulated charge to form streams that followed the ley lines of her weather magic. After a few seconds, the wisps coalesced into a single tuft that hovered just in front of Tail’s reach. With a gentle shove, the mare dumped all of her accumulated electrical energy into the puffy mass and forced the teeny, zapping companion into the first segment of the waveguide.

Yellow light poured from the opening until Tail threw the first lever into the upright position. A high-pitched buzz sprang into existence and quickly descended the frequency spectrum before a low purr penned the final note of the transfer process. After waiting a few seconds, Tail lifted the second lever and trotted to the output end of the pipeline.

“And, just like that, we’ve got a T-shell,” she announced triumphantly, hoisting the fully jacketed crystal to a height where Barrier could take in the view of his bubbly, leaping physicist.

Barrier smirked as his eyes trailed Tail’s hopping motions. “Why do I get the feeling that the science has only just begun?”

“Just hold still,” Tail commanded, approaching Barrier with a scheming smirk etched onto her muzzle. She had decided to don her lab attire after relocating to Workbench 8 with one of Barrier’s coils, the completed shell, and a box of miscellaneous trinkets. There was, however, something else on her mind that needed her immediate attention.

She watched the stallion, who, to his credit, did not shy away from the weight of her challenge. Nonetheless, the slight head tilt betrayed his curiosity, and the physicist used the opportunity to strike. With a whoosh of her wing, she revealed an unfurling lab coat that she draped over Barrier’s back.

He blinked as the fabric settled atop his withers, and he turned to acknowledge each of the leg sleeves that fell rather uselessly to his sides. Capt. M. Barrier had been embroidered with a blue thread that resembled the stripe in his mane, and Tail pointed out the labelling by pressing her hoof to his covered chest.

“I thought about going with Magic Bear,” she added through a quiet chuckle once the unicorn met her gaze, “but something told me that this was more professional.”

“I’m going to have to wear the goggles again, aren’t I?” By the time Barrier had slipped his forelegs through the pair of sleeves, the goggles in question were dangling from the tip of Tail’s other wing.

“You know it, Sweety. Lab bureaucracy was bad enough in Las Pegasus. The paperwork I’d have to fill out in Canterlot for a safety violation might just put grant applications to absolute shame.”

“Heh,” he grunted, retrieving the protective eyewear with his own namesake. “Might want to be careful around the nobles. They could easily give you as much paperwork for having an employee working off the books. I think you’d be surprised at how often payroll comes up in the—”

Tail snatched the fringes of his coat collar and pulled herself closer until her lips found his muzzle. With nothing left to hold, her feathers were free to flutter as she melted into a kiss of her own making. In that instant, he was a living contradiction—soft to the touch, firm in posture, a stud in white, and yet downright adorkable.

Her tactical retreat followed, fully accompanied by a brush of her tail that dragged along the underside of his muzzle. She could feel him lean into it as though he yearned for more.

“Like blueberries,” Barrier quietly mumbled before the sensation of taking a step forward jarred him to speak up. “Payment received, Blanket. If there is more of that in store, I’m definitely willing to see what comes next.”

“Glad I can count on you,” Tail cooed. “We’re definitely at a stage where it’s nice to have another set of hooves—and an extremely capable unicorn.”

She plopped down in front of the bench and got back to work by maneuvering her hooves through the assortment of goodies. Like a kid rummaging through a chaotic pile of building blocks, Tail dug in. Her namesake swished faster and faster as her enthusiasm built, and from the jumbled mess, she began to construct order.

The test coil was installed into a U-bracket mount that had been stolen—unceremoniously ganked—from a university gyroscope demo kit. Tail clamped alligator clips onto the terminal ends of the coil before feeding the attached augurite wires to a breadboard that had clearly yellowed from age.

“I think you might have one of those,” Barrier commented, taking a seat at Tail’s side as her hooves launched a second attack on the kit of goodies. “Though, you might want to explain to said unicorn what all of this stuff is because it just looks like salvage to me.”

Tail flicked some parts out of the way as she searched for what she was looking for. “Attenuators, resistors, and capacitors for the magic-carrying circuit. I made a bunch of these myself from thaumium dust, which is why I save the powder, by the way. Just trying to find the ones that I used for my last tuning test.”

Barrier’s right ear lowered as he slowly turned his head to face Tail. He stayed silent for a few seconds before the lack of noise beyond the pattering of parts crept into her awareness. “And what exactly does that mean, Professor?” the stallion asked once Tail cast her gaze in his direction.

“Hm, remember when I gave the filly-on-a-swing analogy for you controlling Luna’s residual magic? It’s kind of the same thing. I use my weather magic to swing the shell, but all these coils and the things we attach to them have their own tendencies. I need to tune the circuit to optimize the output so it’ll give the best response without blowing up in my face.”

Tail unleashed a triumphant squeal as she plucked two prized components from the stash and slapped them into sockets on the breadboard. The small cylinders didn’t look like much. Their shiny surfaces had been dulled with time—like a sterling ring that had inevitably lost its luster—and yet Tail couldn’t restrain her still-swishing namesake and flaring wings.

Much like their trip to Las Pegasus, this was an opportunity to show Barrier why she had worked as hard as she had. Grinding out these tests was an essential part of her research, and without him here, it’d be the most dangerous.

“Mm, I don’t like the sound of that last bit, myself. Doesn’t sound all that pleasant.” He hesitated, watching Tail ram a pair of antennas into the plugboard. “This is what made the princesses tag Amora as your medic, right? I’ve been thinking about your executor training, and I might want her to be on the field during our sessions once they get more intense.”

Quick, repeated gusts came from Tail’s nostrils as she quietly laughed. “You’d probably have to convince her that your yard was yours. I don’t know how you’ll get her to take orders from you every day of the week, but she is the best at what she does.” Grinning with pride and admiration for her longtime friend, Tail fetched a hollow stainless-steel cylinder from the junkheap and promptly married it to her T-shell.

“I dunno,” Barrier casually retorted as Tail slid the new union into the coil he had made. “I could go with the tried-and-true method of pancake bribery, and I only plan to work you three days out of the week anyway. Off-days can be used for recovery—they’ll probably be needed at first—or lab time if you’re feeling well.”

“That sounds like a great plan to me, especially if you’ll keep serving as my lab assistant.”

“Heh, you came into my world and held your own. Only seems fitting that I return the favor. Besides, there’s something special about seeing you do your thing.”

Tail froze after his words drew out that familiar, burning sensation. It enveloped her cheeks and swept up her perked ears, and she completely forgot that her foreleg was still hovering above the desk—or that her namesake had shot upwards in the wake of his compliment. For a moment, the experiment on Workbench 8, and its underlying question, evaporated from Tail’s consciousness. It had been replaced with a question weighted far more by sentiment and affection. Where has this stallion been all my life?

Author's Note:

Happy Thursday folks! Wing here! It's a science heavy week! If you heard about a little experiment in the news studying muons, now you all know what I've been working on and scrambling over for the last few months/years. To celebrate... here is a Tailscience chapter with some adorable Barrier to boot. It wasn't planned this way, but the coincidence is perfect. Thank you for your continued readership, and see you next week for Chapter 19 — when I'll finally introduce one of my favorite new characters. :3c

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