• 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 20 - SincyStar and Day -9435

Settling on the floor in front of the ottoman, Tail hunkered down for another scientific pursuit. She had collected all of the tools she would likely need for this job. Her in-home junkbox also found its place at her side, and within the tattered cardboard confines, there were a plethora of electronic components that she could use if her first invention needed more serious maintenance.

Between Tail’s sprawled hind legs, a colt-sized gold and black keyboard synthesizer awaited the touch of its creator. A metal-plated plastic logo showed its wear as patches of black battled the chrome SincyStar. “He’s held up pretty well considering how long you’ve been toting him around. Dad really did an amazing job with the casing.”

“Yeah, he did,” Sincy added, leaning over the cushiony top of the ottoman after he claimed it as his perch. He briefly sucked on the inside of his cheek as his horn lit, and in a few seconds, he had a bright-blue hairbrush hovering over Tail’s mane. “And you did an amazing job with everything else.”

Only the two of them remained in the living room after Amora made a retreat to her own space. This was one of the few times brother and sister got to bond on the same plane of existence, and Tail was silently thankful that she didn’t have to make an awkward conversation out of it.

“I did my best,” she answered before flipping the power switch. A pair of speakers barely hidden beneath the plastic grill crackled to life, and Tail pressed a few of the piano-style keys while her ears swayed to the synthesizer’s incredibly smooth timbre. She closed her eyes once Sincy guided the bristles into her mane, and she lightly hummed as soft pops pattered along the pulled fibers. “Keys feel okay, and the notes still sound alright. What do you want me to do with him?”

Bashfully chuckling, Sincy rubbed his head as his magic kept the brush dutifully attending to Tail’s mane. “I think I’m out of the smooth, jazzy phase. I want to explore a hotter sound to go along with Barley’s guitar work.”

The pegasus carefully flipped the synthesizer and yoinked one of her screwdrivers from the assortment of tools. With the removal of six screws, Tail had exposed the interior electronics. She pursed her lips at the scene, a clustered jumble of components shoved into breadboards—and a spider’s web of wires to boot. “Are you sure you don’t want me to redo all this? I could solder something—”

“No,” Sincerity cut her off as he guided the brush through another section of Tail’s messy mane. “I know you could make something better now, but that’s not the point. This gift got you your cutie mark. It’s been here for me my entire career. Besides, why would I ever replace my boy’s heart and soul when I can always use him as an excuse to drag the nerd out of her lab?”

Tail’s sights raked over the circuits. As a six-year-old, she had actually done a fairly decent job organizing the components in a way that made future service easy. The 4.5-volt bias rail was fairly accessible, and there were plenty of open sockets on the breadboard to wire something between the signal input and the speakers.

“I guess it would also make getting the hair brushies more difficult if I had to fiddle around with a soldering iron every time. You’ve also taken good care of SincyStar, seeing as how we’ve yet to have a component fall out during any of your travels.” Rummaging around the box, she plucked out a couple op-amps, three potentiometers, four 1N4148 diodes, and a crapton of resistors and capacitors. “Why don’t we try a Lord Loud Blues Breaker setup then?”

“How do you just know what to grab?” Sincy asked incredulously. His voice shot up the scale, and his attention to Tail’s manecare plummeted while he gawked at his sister’s speedy snatching.

“Sweety, please. Even my filly self knew that my cute wittle baby brother would grow up to be a star. That’s why I put it in the name.” Her teasing inflections yielded to a low purr that rumbled once Sincy resumed the gentle strokes. “I know because I researched the diagrams for every amplifier distortion circuit I could find. Ponies change, so do tastes. I didn’t want to look like an idiot when you came knocking. We also made a promise.”

Day -9435 — Tail slowly shuffled her way from the backyard shed towards a small brown-brick home. She could only use three hooves for this daunting journey across the green blades of grass that stood between her and the back porch. Her fourth leg was too busy holding onto her first real invention.

Boisterous, joyous laughter emerged from the towering frost-blue stallion at her side. “You got it to work all by yourself!” he hollered with an infectious pride that made Tail’s heart pound. “Sync is going to love this. I’m so proud of you.”

Tail pouted from the heat that poured into her cheeks. She didn’t like stepping under the spotlight—at least not when she didn’t earn it—and in this particular instance, she hadn’t even given the gift to her brother yet. She certainly hadn’t built it all by herself. “You helped too, Daddy, but I hope he likes it,” the freckled pegasus answered. Her volume dwindled as she spoke, and the careful shuffling continued until the moss-covered planks of the porch presented the most troublesome challenge thus far.

Thankfully, as the little tinkerer pondered the next move, her father took action, cradling the filly in his magic before he carted an eeping, chirping young scientist into the house.

Whatever surprise plan Tail had intended to execute at that moment went out the window—and was lost to history. Sincy was already firmly entrenched in the middle of the room in a fortress of striped cushions that rose above the barren landscape of a grey rug. Of course, the second the newly minted four-year-old spotted Tail, he burst from the castle in an explosion of black, white, and gold.

“Is it ready?” he asked, his r sounding a whole lot closer to a w. His brown eyes shimmered in anticipation as he watched his dad gently place his sister down on the carpet.

Plopping to her haunches, Tail nodded and set up the SincyStar on the floor. After spending a moment adjusting the annoying double braid that her mother insisted she wear, Tail flicked the power switch and timidly pressed a few of the keys to show her younger brother that the instrument could generate all those piano sounds he had grown fond of over the last year.

The colt squeed and immediately made grabby hooves for the toy of his dreams. He squeed again when he read the silvery letters glimmering atop the synthesizer’s front plate. “Tail, this is so cool! And it has my name on it and everything!”

His hooves could not descend on the keys fast enough. The instant Tail had spun the contraption around for Sincy, he pounded away with a reckless, happy abandon that made the pegasus wince with every strike.

“Sync,” their father spoke with enough sternness in his voice to prod both of his children to look up. “Your sister put a lot of work into that for you. It’s not like the other pianos you’ve played. This one is one of a kind, so you should treat it with care. You wouldn’t want it to break now, would you?”

As much terror as a four-year-old could muster assaulted the colt’s countenance. His muzzle dropped and his eyes widened until his pupils looked like the teeniest of pinpricks in a mostly white field. “You’ll fix it for me if it breaks, won’t you, Tail?” Sincy sounded as though he were on the verge of tears. “I’ll treat it better than I’ve treated anything! I promise! But… if something happens, how would I fix it?”

Tail blinked at her flustered brother.

“I’ll sing anything for you!” he pleaded with her when she didn’t respond with words.

“You’d sing for me anyway, Sincy. You’re a little rock star. That’s why I put it in—”

“I need to know you’ll fix it for me!” the borderline cry made Tail recoil, and she instinctively flicked her namesake in response. Seemingly waiting for an answer, Sincy maintained his stare until the shared anxiety forced Tail to fuss with her mane again. “I’ll brush your hair if I need to bug you about it!”

Tail stepped forward and ruffled her brother’s mane. “Just be gentle with it, but if you need me, I’ll be here.”

The colt pushed up with his hind legs and wrapped Tail in a hug. She flapped her wings for balance as the duo embraced over the instrument. “You’re the best sister ever,” he mumbled into her lavender coat. “You’re so smart, and we’re going to keep this deal forever, and I’m going to write a million songs on your present! Just you wait and see!”

Tail seated the output cable and smiled. She’d managed to clean up some of the chaotic wiring on the breadboard, and in her mind, that made up for the lack of solder or a more professional-grade P.C.B. Of course, that whole notion was made rather pointless by Sincy’s strong argument. The two had struck a deal, and the pleasant pricks of the bristles through her mane provided evidence for the agreement’s success.

“I wonder if I could deploy combat-ready sockets,” Tail mused through a quiet mumble as she extrapolated the breadboard concept to a more sturdy option for her revolver’s augurite layout.

“I know my fans are a bit crazy, Sis, but I don’t think SincyStar needs combat equipment,” the colt countered as he shifted the brush to comb the hairs that ran towards her crest.

Feathers flicked and Tail’s ears perked as she squeaked. “Uh, right, definitely not relevant. I started thinking about work again, and my mind wandered.”

“Heh, don’t wander too far, or else I’ll never hear a word about this amazing stallion you’re dating.” Halting his speech, Sincy quickly moved the brush from Tail’s mane once he saw his sister leaning for a permanent marker. Once she returned to an upright position, the fermata broke to a taunting, singsong tenor. “So, spill the deets! I promise I won’t tell Mom!”

“Please, that just means you’ll tell Dad right away, and he’ll be the one that tells Mom.” She eyed a string of little notes her previous selves had written onto the underside of the plastic lid. Six, ten, sixteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty-five… Her younger versions had all done what they could to keep her gift going—to help her brother explore sound in a way that wasn’t unlike her pursuit of science. She purred as she jotted something down and set about closing up the little synthesizer.

“Well, without going too deep into work stuff, some of the higher-ups in the E.D.F. were not too thrilled about me. They tried to weed me out by having me go through basic combat training to solidify my commission, but Princess Luna pulled some strings to up the ante. Passing my B.C.T. meant my work became mine.”

“Whoa, that sounds kinda brutal,” Sincy added while he continued to masterfully maneuver the bristles through strands of Tail’s mane. “Guess it explains why you look so toned now, but it still doesn’t explain who this guy is or how you met him.”

“I’m dating the captain who trained me.”

Sincerity drew enough air to audibly gasp. The brush fell from his magical grasp, and he leaned across the furniture to greet the turning Tail with a jaw-dropped, gaping maw. “You’re dating a guard captain!? What the heck? Whatever happened to the nerdy science partners?”

Gagging, Tail squinted and shook her head. “Never again,” she blurted. “Every single one of those relationships turned into the kind of competition that wasn’t fun. There was also never an escape from the job. Every date descended into talking about the grind. There was no growth, no narrative, no story. With Barrier, there are more words than I know what to do with.

“When I started training”—Tail humphed as she tightened the final screw against SincyStar’s backplate—“things were so different. I trotted into a world with no experience, and nothing there was given. The struggle was real, and the number of times I got my ass beat or outclassed by my squadmates would make you cringe. But after spending two months with Barrier, something about being with him just clicked.”

“She wants to fuck him!” Amora shouted from her room, sending the pegasus into a sputter of random syllables and flailing feathers.

“You literally told him as I was walking in the door that you don’t gossip to little brothers!” The mare plopped her head into her forehooves and sighed. “I swear. Sometimes, it is impossible to believe she is an extremely qualified medical professional.”

As waves of laughter flowed down the hall from Amora’s domain, Sincy shrugged off the exchange and moved around the ottoman to take a seat at his sister’s side. “That’s fine and all,” he commented in a more subdued tone. “I want to know how he makes you feel.”

A brown iris peeked out over a fluffy fetlock, and for a while, Tail simply gazed at her brother. There were many ways she could fashion a response. The subjects of quitting, the battle with Bonecrusher, the outings at the Phoenix Fire, and the exam preparations all paint a clear picture. She watched as Sincy tilted his head more and more through the silence. His ear started twitching as though his need to be filled by sound soared to new heights.

But he won’t learn from a list… The scientist emerged from her self-cocoon and shifted her gaze from Sincerity Chain to the SincyStar. She reached out, flipped the power switch again, and positioned her hooves to hit a G5 chord. The distorted notes emerged with an edgier bite, and instantly, Sincy jerked forward and brightly smiled.

“Wow! You really hit the sound right on the head. Maybe we can tweak the pots and get even more out of that new addition.” He glanced up at the ceiling and pushed both of his forehooves through his mane. “I don’t know how you do it every time.”

Ignoring that line of thought for the time being, Tail tested both a D and a Cadd9 before she gave the colt a brief look. She kept cycling between the three chords, and by the third repetition, the physicist started singing with enough sass etched onto her voice to match the overdriven synthesizer. “Well, you put your shields up when others couldn’t collect—those burdens endured commanding my respect. Now I’m reaching out... ‘cause you’re no longer displaced.”

Sincy froze with his hooves still pressed against his head and his back arched. Tears welled up as the musician absorbed what Tail had offered. “You started composing again,” he breathed before awkwardly slouching over the furniture like a cooked noodle, “and that fight in your singing voice carries so much weight. You’ve got to let me help you with this, and I have absolutely got to meet this guy.”

It was Tail’s turn to jolt—twice, in fact. The first came from the thought of working on a musical piece with her brother again. For the shortest of moments, a relatively unpleasant memory came to mind. That spotlight was his, after all, and the only time she tended to step into it came when she got exceptionally drunk.

The second jolt was driven by a far more pressing matter. A sheepish smile tugged on the corners of Tail’s lips as she passed the SincyStar towards the colt. “About that,” she shyly tittered, “Barrier is actually coming over tonight.”

“Oh my gosh, be normal!” Tail shouted as she opened the door to let Barrier inside. Her ears immediately drooped once her brother crowded the landing and practically draped himself over her back. “This is definitely not normal…”

“Tail!” Sincy cried as his sparkling eyes met Barrier’s icy-blue gaze. “You said he was a captain! You didn’t tell me you were dating an adonis!” The frost-blue stallion teleported to the top of the stairs, and a pair of aviator-style shades suddenly sat atop the bridge of his muzzle. “Hey there, Stud. I see you’re a unicorn, but I’d guess pegasus because only angels have wings.”

“Sweety, that’s not even factually accurate!” Tail groaned as her wings began to rapidly flap. “And hitting on the colt I’m going out with—or whatever the fresh hell that was—is still not normal. You’re acting even worse than Ams.”

Barrier’s sights wandered between his agitated Blanket and the stranger at the top of the stairs. “Do I even want to know?” he whispered to Tail. “I brought the cherries and baking supplies as an offering…”

“He’s just— I— I don’t even know. I tapped into some emotional nerve, and now he’s high on the mere thought of meeting you.” Exhaling slowly, Tail puffed her cheeks and homed in on Sincy with an anguished scowl. “Barrier, this is my little brother, Sincerity Chain. Most ponies call him Sync for short, and I promise, most times he’s not like this. Sincy, this is Captain Magic Barrier. I’d like to continue to make sweet music with him, so if you wouldn’t mind cutting the hyper overdrive, I’d appreciate it.”

Sync pulled the shades from his face and grinned wildly. “Sorry about that, Sis. The vibes are strong, but I’ll do what I can to keep ‘em in check.” The colt tapped his hind leg as he slightly pitched his snout in Barrier’s direction. “And it is a real pleasure to meet you, Captain. Tail made it very clear to me how much she values your company.”

Author's Note:

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Here we are, Chapter 20. I've been waiting for this round of beetus for a long time. These siblings have a powerful relationship. As Amora says, "Same cloth, different stitch." Time to celebrate our quasi-Thursday with another upload. As always, thank you very much for your continued readership and comments. Honestly, it brightens my day. I hope you're continuing to enjoy the magic. It's hard to believe that in the NLD days, this chapter would have been like 3/4 of the way through the story, but here, we're still not even half way done.

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