• 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 23 - The Birth of the Bullet Flash

“Are you done?” Tail asked Amora as the medic fiddled with the scientist’s right foreleg. An apple rested in Tail’s left hoof, and the mare repeatedly waved it around the white unicorn’s head. “The idiom is bullshit. I’m trying to eat, Ams. Come on, I haven’t even hit my limit yet.”

“Fillies and gentlecolts, a Ph.D.,” the M.D. retorted, tightening her hold on Tail’s limb as she combed the appendage for any sign of wear or tenderness. “You’re halfway through Week Two, so now is the perfect time to check. And don’t even think about shifting the axes on your best friend. You might be a ways away from your stamina cap, but you’re at the high end of your frequency spectrum.”

“And she still hasn’t managed to get the better of my spell,” Shining quipped before biting into his own red apple with an aggressive chomp.

The group had gathered in the shady walkway behind the arches to collectively enjoy a meal. Though, the degrees of enjoyment proved to be markedly varied. The Captain of the Royal Guard had continued his new tradition of ribbing Tail well into Session Five, and the glare the pegasus offered up in retaliation made the mare’s opinion on the subject more than known.

“Captain Armor,” Amora flatly answered, not even bothering to turn to face the stallion as she continued her thorough examination. “If you keep harassing my patient, then I’ll start writing you fake E.D. scripts that I can conveniently leak to your wife.”

“Don’t fuck with the medic, Shiny,” Barrier chuckled. “You should know better than that.”

Amora sustained the same nonchalant tone after releasing Tail’s appendage. “He should, but let’s be honest, he’s a doofus.”

Humming quietly, Tail continued to eye her current nemesis before she spoke up. “The only thing doofusy about Shining Armor is his Pouch Beasts deck. His magic is something else entirely, but”—she pointed at the unicorn—“I haven’t been sitting on my ass all week, Captain. I’m done with my scan. It’s time to try something new.”

Observing Shining’s raised brow, Tail basked in the confusion before biting into her apple. She devoured the fruit, reached for her helmet, and glanced towards Barrier—who met her gaze with perked ears and a grin. I think I am about to put your mathematics to a real test, Dr. Secret, Tail thought.

She slipped the helm onto her head, pivoted towards the field, and marched out onto the grass with a sway in her hips that beckoned her stallion to watch. But which technique should I try first? All that scanning, and I still don’t really know the fundamental structure of Shining’s magic. Though, the lack of a response to frequency shifting could mean that he’s been clever enough to overlay time dependencies in a constructive way.

A short shrug preceded the claimed decision. “The direct approach it is then.” Tail spun around and planted her rear hooves into the turf. She rocked forward, stretching her hind legs while her wings unfurled and flapped. A momentary tension enveloped the physicist’s muscles in a bittersweet warmth that evaporated the mealtime rust.

Across the yard, Shining made his way out from under the covered, stone path. Cocky confidence manipulated the contours of his face, and his smug smirk managed to outlast a preparatory neck roll. The mage maintained his steady pace until he reached the center of the pitch. Once there, he stood still, effortlessly summoning the rose-tinted bubble that had been the bane of Tail’s progress for a week and a half.

Wiggling in her armor, Tail crouched. Her wings, once again, swept outwards to reach their maximum span. Carefully, she lifted her right forehoof and allowed her weather magic to guide water vapor over the limb.

“I thought you said the scan was done,” Shining remarked once Tail had condensed the accumulated vapor into a cloud-tuft form. “You’re not trolling me, are you, Colonel?”

“Not my style, Captain. At least, not here,” Tail shouted in response. Her wings quivered, and her facial muscles strained as she sought to overcome the skepticism with innovation. The sideline gazes from Amora, Barrier, and Trigger weren’t lost on the mare either. The tides of change were churning, and more of the same wouldn’t be enough.

Tail’s eye twitched. Her hoof shifted, and her pegasus magic prodded the small tuft. The cloud began to rotate and stretch as though a greedy filly were pulling a strand of cotton candy out from the maker machine. Its shade grew darker and darker until the black thread that remained suddenly transformed into a glowing amber needle of manifested lightning.

Crackles erupted from the scientist’s wings when she slammed them towards the ground and sprang forward. Spurred by the thunderous sprint, arcs danced across her body as the distance to Shining Armor rapidly diminished. Entering the final leap, Tail braced the attack with her left foreleg and aimed the blow by adjusting her right.

From her fighting lungs, a battle cry emerged that echoed off the castle walls. Tail drove the electrical dagger forward—slamming it against the outer shell of Shining’s shield. Peering with a fiery scowl through the barrier, Tail panted heavily. She watched as the captain’s focus produced a nearly cross-eyed, dumbfounded expression that had to be completely entranced by the miniature pike that Tail had thrust at his defenses.

While Shining’s cast had neither shattered nor disintegrated, the faint discharges that overtook the inner surface of the magical bubble provided enough evidence to wipe the smirk off the unicorn’s face. Like the dome of a plasma toy that a slick parent would get a scientifically-inclined foal, the shield was assaulted by rather excited electrons.

When Tail pulled her hoof away, however, she saw just how effective her test had been. The lingering glow of the bolt caked the pinkish aura in a spray of amber, and at the center of the collision point, a small—yet present—hole had been bored through the bulwark.

“Fucking Tartarus,” Shining mumbled. He gaped at the tiny opening, plopped down on his haunches, and terminated the spell. “What the heck was that?”

Tail spread her wings to make a graceful landing in front of the seated Captain of the Royal Guard. Notes of Amora’s cheer reached from the peanut gallery to her ears, and for a moment, the pegasus swore that she could hear Trigger clapping and hollering. Her inferno gaze, though, had not yet swayed from Captain Armor’s physique.

“That?” she mused aloud. “That was me confirming that the divergence of the electric field is really related to the magic one.” When the unicorn blinked a few times at her explanation, a smile swept across Tail’s muzzle with the speed of a swift wind. “Then again, you did say something about me being the fiction in a comic book, so maybe I should give it a badass name and leave it at that. What do you say, Captain Armor? How about we call this issue The Birth of the Bullet Flash?”

“Is that the name of the superpower or your alter ego?” Shining asked without missing a beat.

The response might have come quickly, but Tail couldn’t help but giggle at the absentminded delivery. It was becoming more obvious to the mare with each passing second that her technique had successfully exploited a blind spot. In fact, Barrier had managed to walk all the way over to their position without Shining shifting his gaze or flicking his ears to indicate any sort of acknowledgment.

“Clearly technique,” Barrier answered, causing the younger stallion to jerk his head to the side. “I’ve been to too many dinners with you and Cady not to receive a dozen lectures on comic origins and backstories.”

Shining fiddled with his forelegs and nodded curtly. “Mm, fair point. It’s, uh, I still can’t believe she got through in under two weeks. We figured you’d pull off something, Tail, but that was a different sort of something.”

Tail beamed, closing her eyes at the behest of the reinvigorated smile. “I found a fascinating book in one of the castle libraries. It definitely laid the groundwork for me trying that method—and offered some exceptional insight into magic as a whole. There are actually two other options I put together that could challenge your shield, but my general feeling on them is that they’re more complex. Figured it would be best to see how the simplest approach went first.”

Barrier’s gunmetal armor rattled once he rolled his shoulders. He met Tail’s radiating enthusiasm with a softened expression that relaxed his jaw and eyelids. “I’ve already learned the lesson to not stifle your inquisitive nature. We can get to the more complex things a little later on, but I think we should probably focus on a couple issues with the technique you just showed.”

Class is in session! Instinctively, Tail flopped onto the grass and peered up at Barrier with her full, perky attention.

“Next session, we’re going to start spending mornings in the weight room to increase your punch strength. You got through, for sure, but if I were in your shoes, I’d start thinking about how to turn what you’ve got into something that can incapacitate right away. That’s going to require putting more than a little hole in Shiny’s spell.

“Shining, for the remainder of the time I’ve got you slated for, no more standing still. The days of simple defensive work are over.”

The Captain of the Royal Guard sported a wicked grin. He began to rub the uncovered portions of his forelegs together like a cliché supervillain would in the moments leading up to the unnecessary monologue.

Barrier gave a gentle snort and reaffixed his focus to Tail. “I don’t want to sell what you’ve done today short. Pulling something like that off after putting in the extra time is—well—you. There is just a big difference between outmatching magic that isn’t being actively supported and doing the same when under the threat of counterattack. The goal going forward will be to improve your consistency and efficiency”—he snickered—“because an army already got away with grinding down Shining’s masterpiece for two weeks without an interruption. And I just don’t think that’ll ever happen again.”

“Oh, piss off!” Shining wailed, immediately abandoning his comedic, bombastic posturing to stand. “I was being brainwashed by a changeling queen! Completely different circumstances...”

Propping up her muzzle, Tail cooed before she shot Shining a sidelong glance. “Don’t wig out on me yet, Captain Armor. There’s still plenty of daylight left for me to get in some more test runs. I’d like to tweak a few things before I have to think about handling counterattacks—and, if it’s alright with the two of you, I’d like to have some energy left over at sundown.”

The mare gradually leaned closer to the two stallions before she continued in a hushed whisper. “Amora’s weekend restrictions really put a hamper on my research. I’d like to keep tomorrow as a possible workday.”

Like now, I can’t explain, oh yeah…
Well! Well you!

“Well, damn,” Tail grumbled at the sight of smoke filling Barrier’s magically generated coil-testing enclosure. She drew a long breath and leaned back in her swivel chair to briefly lose herself in the lit panels of her laboratory’s ceiling. “That one was looking pretty promising.”

Ending her reprieve, the lab-coat-wearing physicist turned her attention to the right edge of Workbench 8. There, she had already entered a slew of data onto a neatly organized notepad, and the moment had arrived for her to add another row to the list. Grabbing one of her own shed feathers to use as a quill, she narrated as she wrote, “Coil class: Barrier 6-C. Breadboard circuit resistance: 12.5 Ohms. Breadboard circuit capacitance: 250 microfarads. Breakdown time: 42.0 seconds.”

Also dressed in the appropriate protective attire, Barrier loosed an amused grunt as he cleaned out the dust and debris. “Most of that is still meaningless to me, Blanket, but at least I can wrap my head around the 42-second bit.”

“That just means my favorite assistant has grasped the most important part of this experimentation. The other numbers will be more critical when I do the fine-tuning, but it’s the breakdown time that sets the bar for confidence.” Giggling, she lifted Barrier 7-A from the box of coils and offered it to the stallion after he had re-readied the testing apparatus. “I’m running the circuit here longer than I’d need to in the field. Essentially, we’re gauging how long and how well we can push the swing before it gets tired and shits the bed.”

Barrier grasped the device, set it onto its stand, and connected it to the breadboard circuit while Tail prepared her body to endure another round of electrical charging. “Are you looking to reach a certain bar, or is the plan to rinse and repeat to find a winner?”

“Both,” Tail chimed. She promptly stretched one of her wings and pointed towards Barrier with the wingtip. “It takes me about ten seconds to probe and prime a shell I am not familiar with. If I have some prior experience, that number drops to around three. Keep in mind that the probing part of the process doesn’t drive the circuit at the same power that the priming part does. Frankly, if I find a coil that can handle a priming oscillation for 300 seconds or more, I’m not going to lose sleep over the possibility of it breaking on me when I need it. The longer it goes beyond that, the happier I get with the design.”

“I think I’ll have to take your word for it on this one,” Barrier sheepishly replied. The glow of the magical aura around his horn brightened while he adjusted the safety goggles strapped to his head. “But, at the risk of exposing myself to more science, is there any particular reason why the coils fail, or is it just dumb luck?”

Sweety, you can expose yourself to me any— Nope! Serious question! Tail shunted the thought and pushed it directly into the designated mental gutter. A slight flush frosted her lavender muzzle, but the pegasus managed to nimbly shake it off. “Yeah, unfortunately, that’s a bit technical. Some of it is dumb luck. There can be impurities in the augurite that mess with things in pretty catastrophic ways, but it’s the coil design that plays the biggest role. The spacing and sizing matter a lot, and if things are wrapped so tightly that there is a solid contact between the loops, then you can get cracks in the oxidation layer that will lead to shorts. For those types, I’d generally apply an additional coating, but we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.”

Tail reached for a water jug on the other side of the table, and she began to extract vapor to put to use. Smiling as her weather magic constructed microclouds, she continued in a purring voice, “I know it’s a lot, but you have been an incredible help to me. If it weren’t for your skills, I’d still be sweating out the production stage. The fact that we’re already hitting this exploratory work is fantastic, and”—she moved her hoof to rustle a box of new, shiny components—“you freed up whole days for me to make these.”

It was Barrier’s turn to feel the flustering burn that overtook his charcoal fur, and Tail had to giddily smirk at the view. Glancing away, the stallion corralled a silver stopwatch with his sorcery, but the way he bit his lip and fiddled with his forelegs indicated that his mind was definitely someplace other than the pending analysis.

“So, I confess this is a bit last-minute, given that it’s been over a week since we talked about it, but I may have arranged everything for that special surprise date on the day after tomorrow.” He paused when a spontaneous ripple of current arced over Tail’s wingspan. “I don’t think it’s anything too over the top, and it definitely depends on you being free for dinner.”

“Of course I’m free, Barrier,” Tail replied with a haste that made her shuffle with surprise. She started to lean towards the stallion—but jerked back when she remembered her body’s present state. “Uh, I’d be way more affectionate if I weren’t loaded with charge. Just let me know the time, and I’ll file it with my secretary to make sure Amora is as far away as possible.”

Author's Note:

I had to continue with the Sync & Barley musical lines. Hall & Oates parody.... yessss. I'm going to drop some more details than usual with this note since we're in some gritty science.

First, Happy Tuesday, everyone. Today's festivities include the Birth of the Bullet Flash. It has been forged from the power of math to challenge Shining's smug smirky goodness. For the math fans in the audience (or the generally curious), the first equation in that block I showed at the end of the previous chapter is the divergence proportionality condition. All the fancy triangles tell us here is that the strength of the magic field source is related to the strength of an electrical one. It also tells us that the slope matters. And an electrical needle felt like a nice way to ramp that slope.

One thing that I really dialed into while writing Tail's education set was stressing incremental gains. She's learning a lot. She's getting challenged with some monumentally heavy tasks. Completely wiping Shining's shield off the map after a couple weeks? That's what I (and many others) would call bullshit. Teeny hole while all he does is stand there and take the hits? Far more promising. I think you can see how Barrier's mind is turning. Shining on the attack will be fun.

Extra details complete! That being said, thank you as always for reading, taking the time, and commenting. Discord server has also been chill. You folks are the best. Have a great week, and we'll see you for the next one.

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