• 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 33 - Quartermaster Starts with Q

Scuffed and tired, Tail and Barrier trudged their way towards the Castle Quartermaster’s Office after their training session had come to an end. Day 125 had proceeded in a manner similar to their first executor engagement. Lots of magic, lots of lightning, and lots of punches had been thrown.

“I’m starting to think that we should have done this in the morning instead,” Tail mumbled. Her protected hooves produced hard and heavy steps as she stomped along the corridor. The mare’s feathers flicked with each movement, and her nerves twitched to the continual reminders that damp fur sat trapped behind Sally’s padded plates.

“Definitely a miscalculation,” Barrier replied before the two passed through the gaping door frame that separated the pair from its destination.

Upon first inspection, the room itself was a rather bland affair with beige walls completely devoid of decoration. Though, a few cheap cushions had been thrown about the floor if a pony were so inclined. The most interesting aspect of the office proved to be its far end, where a gigantic slab of cherry wood formed the largest desk Tail had ever seen. Of course, the physicist—much like she had been during her visit to pick up Sally—was far more drawn to the enormous warehouse enclosure that lurked behind two grey double-hinged doors.

“Oh hello!” a dull-brown unicorn called enthusiastically from behind the desk.

Tail scrunched her muzzle and lifted her brow in confusion as she stared at the pony. The white-maned stallion who occupied the quartermaster station was definitely not the Quartermaster. At least, he was certainly not the same pony who she had seen when she last took a stroll to this part of the castle.

The stranger slowly leaned as he returned Tail’s gawking gaze with crimson eyes that appeared disturbingly jaundiced. “Confusion, tiny equine, can be a marvelous thing,” he serenaded while waggling his snowy eyebrows. With the next syllable out of his mouth, the unicorn tossed his foreleg against his head and gasped. “Fear not! The Quartermaster has gone on an oh-so-perilous mission to the frozen tundra to help another interesting pony figure out some exceptionally boring things. I’m his replacement. Temporary, I assure you. I don’t think I could handle all of this”—he dramatically gagged—“beige for long.

“You can call me Q, or D.Q. Hmm, ice cream does sound nice. If I pair it with cake, then perhaps Goodie McPrincessface won’t blow her gaskets, but that’s definitely not why you’re here. I can’t help but notice that you’re sporting last season’s drab Celestial model. Let me tell you that Luna’s house colors are all the rage with the colts this year. Something, yadda yadda, edgy, you know how it is, I’m sure.”

“Are you Pinkie Pie in disguise?” Tail questioned after stretching her neck and squinting. The rambling jumble of statements certainly reminded Tail of the perky pink pony.

Suddenly aghast, the stallion shifted his foreleg from his forehead to his chest. “Do I look like some sort of roadshow clown? Well, I never! To think that I came all this way to help you in a time of need, and you treat me like this? What will Fluttershy think when I tell her, hm? You might just get The Stare. Such a shame.” Q began piling different bits of Night Guard armor, which seemed to appear out of thin air, atop the desk. “See! This is how helpful I tried to be.”

“Discord,” Barrier flatly spoke with his serious, cutting tenor before he held up a sheet of paper. “She needs armor like mine, enchantments and all, with the measurements listed here. I find it hard to believe that Celly or Luna put you in charge of Forge’s office. When will he be—”

Out of a blinding flash, the draconequus emerged sprawled atop the desk with Barrier’s list in claw. “Well, we’re fresh out of that!” he exclaimed before slamming the piece of paper down on the cherry wood.

Tail squeaked when the mischievous creature teleported again and wrapped his coiling body around both ponies. Her feathers twitched to the sensation of Discord’s coarse coat pressing against her trunk, and her eyes widened to the surreal sight of the draconequus’s head comically smushed against hers.

“You science types are all the same. Logic this, and logic that. Where is the fun? Where is the excitement?” For a moment, one of his eyes physically wandered leftward to absorb the full majesty of Barrier’s consequential deadpan. “And now you want that kind of armor for her? Typical.

“You’re quite sweaty, by the way. Didn’t you learn at a fancy school that hydration is important? As Twilight knows, all it takes is a teensy glass of water. Though, that’s actually a lie. It takes much more than that, but who cares? The most important question really is: why did you not invite the Lord of Chaos to sit in and watch you spar? Normally, I find war insufferable. It’s the wrong kind of chaos. Why waste a good explosion on a net-loss game? If the ponies aren’t around for the aftermath, what’s the point? Now, what you’ve done out in the yard, on-the-other-hand, hoof, claw, whatever, has been absolutely exhilarating!”

“Uh, because I didn’t know you wanted to come, and I don’t have permission to invite others?” Tail answered, still attempting to gain some semblance of separation as her brow furrowed. “And just what do you mean, ‘You science types are all the same’? Are you a grumpy boy because you don’t think we appreciate your talents? Sweety, I’ve taught Chaos Theory for Undergrads. You want to experience something hilarious, then you can come to sit in on that.”

“You know what? I’ve changed my mind.” Discord crumbled in front of the couple before his individual pieces marched behind Forge’s desk and reassembled themselves. An obnoxiously large scroll appeared on the wooden surface in a mound of parchment that spilled onto the floor. He daintily picked up Barrier’s note, and with an exaggerated degree of care, the draconequus placed the sheet over the pile. “You’ve moved to the top of my list!”

To Tail, the third executor session with Barrier simultaneously felt like she had sprinted to new ground and backpedaled to something she should have picked up in B.C.T. Both ponies had cast aside their armor kits for the day to tackle the essential topics of pressure points and how one exploits them.

The scientist battled a sickening sensation in the pit of her stomach as Barrier put a little more strain on her foreleg. His grappling hold was doubly threatening in the sense that he could likely break the bone with a swift motion, and the force applied to the targeted cluster of nerves was less than pleasant to the vulnerable physicist.

“It’s not a great experience,” Barrier commented as he kept the mare pinned to the ground—and his hind legs wrapped around her shoulder. He pulled his forehoof off Tail’s elbow, much to her internalized delight, and he chuckled as one of her wings thumped against his side. “Yeah, that will always be a bigger target since there’s less protection there for an attacker to worry about, and the tactical benefits of getting a natural flier out of the sky are pretty obvious. But, we also covered all of the sensitive spots on your wings after the gala.”

Slapping his flank with her wing again, Tail huffed. “You’re tempting fate, Captain. Don’t give me a reason to spontaneously explore the sensitive spots on your horn. It would be a serious breach of protocol.”

Barrier snickered before he gently tapped around Tail’s elbow and wrist. “You can disrupt grip and stability with these if openings are presented. They certainly will be if you’re going up against someone with a modern armor kit. Imagine being hoof-to-hoof with an earth pony like Bonecrusher. A few seconds in which you can capitalize on an opportunity to strike could make all the difference. As a Blanket Bonus Fact, these weaknesses had a lot to do with where we put the spikes on our gear. Some in the executor squads liked direct coverage, and others preferred to bait with pairs that were offset. Point was the same though. If you wanted a tender spot, you were going to have to work for it.”

Flexing her released appendage, Tail curved her spine and stared at her captain. “Does that mean we’ve covered them all now? After playing an equinnequin all day, I think I’m ready to deliver a lesson of my own.”

“That’s pretty much all of them. Again, I don’t think I need to explain the leverage points on wings to a pegasus, and since you mentioned it, a lesson on the sensitive spots of a unicorn’s horn would actually be pretty brief. A strike to a horn could disrupt a spell, but the risks generally outweigh the benefits. You’re dealing with a sharp object that can deal physical damage, and the move itself is analogous to kicking a wasp’s nest. You’d better be sure you can one-shot it, or you’re going to have a pissed-off mess on your hooves.”

After rolling off the stallion, Tail stood up and grunted. “That makes sense, and it’s probably a good thing to know.” Her lips curled into a smile as Barrier looked up in her direction.

“So what lesson does my favorite trainee want to deliver before we call it for the evening?” Barrier asked as he started turning to push himself upright as well.

Tail dove at the stallion the instant she recognized that one of his planted forehooves served as the pivotal column in his attempt to stand. She brushed against the nerve cluster at his elbow and discharged a small electric shock that sent the numbed leg skidding out over the grass. Barrier’s barrel thumped against the ground, and as soon as it did so, Tail straddled the charcoal-coated unicorn and pressed her elbow against a sweet spot at his withers.

Barrier unleashed a heavy breath that whipped the nearest blades of grass, and he squirmed beneath Tail once the mare pushed her hind legs against his flanks.

Maintaining her commanding leverage over all of the tactical positions she had targeted, Tail slid her muzzle next to one of Barrier’s ears. She attentively listened to the surprised sounds that dripped from his mouth, and eventually, she began to speak in a voice drenched in desire. “I just wanted my sweet perch to know that I’ve committed his lesson to memory, and that, the next time we duel, I plan to win.”

The mounted stallion shuddered in the middle of the pitch while he miraculously pieced together a staggered response. “Sweet Zacherle above!”

Motivated to invite the princesses for a demonstration before the week was over, Tail headed into her laboratory to get a little weekend work on the books. She had moved her comfortable swivel chair from Workbench 8 to 10, and a delighted grin took hold of her countenance as she gazed down upon the table’s surface.

With Barrier’s help, she had managed to fabricate almost all of the parts needed to construct her revolver design. A routed stainless-steel chassis, a little shorter than the length of her foreleg’s cannon, sat amidst a swarm of augurite and iron. Compared to the more conventional shapes of the A0 rifle’s core componentry, the piece that now garnered the physicist’s attention looked like it came from a completely unrelated field of study.

Peering at the frame’s irregular trapezoidal profile with its routed side in view, Tail could finally picture the entire compact layout with ease. The rightmost area would house the augurite hammer, the pawl, associated springs, and birdies within its angled confines. Immediately to the left of this compartment, a large rectangular aperture indicated exactly where the cylinder would go, and several tiny holes had been punctured into the bordering metal surfaces to facilitate the mechanical stops, the pawl-ratchet interface, and the oft-forgotten-always-important drainage.

Tail’s sights moved more leftward, taking in the hunk of steel that encased the barrel and the backup coil. A shallow channel had been cut just under the barrel so the cylinder’s ejector rod would have someplace to go, and below that, a deep, dark groove extended from the bottom strap to fit the rods and springs of the trigger assembly. This feature contributed the most to the frame’s atypical shape. From the front view, the slab of metal looked an awful lot like a blocky J drawn by a colt in the midst of a robot phase.

Eventually, Tail’s focus drifted to the region of the frame beneath the gun’s muzzle. There, a series of three holes waited to be filled by crucial bits of equipment. Two would house screw-capped sockets for the RC loads of the resonator circuit, and the leftmost one would serve as the trigger mount. At this point, the critical steps on Tail’s list were becoming far more manageable.

“Install the internals,” she mumbled as one of her forelegs hovered over the hammer, “secure the pins, all the latches, get the trigger mechanism in, and seat the cylinder crane. Hooking up the sockets might be a bit of a drag, and I still need to get this beautiful frame mounted on my gauntlet and wired up to that augurite-mesh stuff. But all that leaves is fabricating the actual trigger and putting the cover plates on. C’mon, Tail”—she slapped her cheeks with both of her forehooves—“you’ve got this! Let’s go!”

The magical bolts on the laboratory doors clunked, driving Tail’s ears to stand upright. She kicked her hind leg against the floor and used the acquisition of angular momentum to rotate her chair so she faced the entryway. “Who’s it going to be today?” she pondered aloud while her mind went through the names of those who had access to her workspace.

“G’morning, Blanket,” Barrier called when only a sliver of his physique was visible through the crack in the opening gate.

The research-prompted grin that had been present on Tail’s muzzle paled in comparison to the beaming expression that bloomed once she recognized the answer to her question. She waited until Barrier slipped into the room before she waved, and a melodious greeting leapt from her tongue. “Morning, Sweety! Was it Amora who told you, or have you just gotten that good at reading my whereabouts?”

“Had a hunch. You were extra feisty yesterday, and with a self-imposed deadline for that test of yours, wasn’t much of a guess. I also had a feeling that you might be needing this.” Smirking, Barrier held up a rich red cardboard box that Tail instantly recognized as a 12-pack of WNS. “Caffeine source for the fizz-needing physicist.”

Tail’s chocolate-brown eyes sparkled. She floated off the chair after her wings unfurled and flapped, and she smoothly moved towards the stallion through an easy glide. “You brought me caffeine?” she purred, not waiting for an answer before throwing her coat-covered forelegs around the stallion.

Ensnared by a thankful kiss, Barrier grunted. A ripple meandered through his magical aura, and the levitating beverage case wavered in altitude until a steadied limb found refuge across Tail’s withers. “Mm, that makes me think I did a good.”

“Oh, you definitely did,” Tail replied, carefully pulling away from her coltfriend after enjoying several seconds in his embrace. “I figured that an extra day would guarantee that the demo can happen sometime this coming week. After looking over all the parts, I’m doubling down on that position. The only meaningful fabrication work left for me to do involves how the revolver will sit on my leg, trigger included. After that, it all comes down to making sure the circuit contacts are secure, but that system is fairly robust by construction. The mesh that Wing included in the crate will provide the primary current I.O., but I plan to solder backup leads onto the gauntlet pieces just in case. I also made spring-up contacts for the ends of the barrel coil, which I should probably put some stoppers over, but you get the idea. Redundancy!”

Punctuated by the large blue metal slabs slamming shut, the drone from the doorway’s machinery came to an abrupt stop. Barrier glanced to his right at the coat rack Tail had set up for their protective gear, and the hints of a smile formed in the aftermath of the scientist’s surprise kiss. “I’ll get my lab coat on,” he said in a tender tone. “I have another hunch that a lot of science will be happening today.”

Tail wildly panted as she soared through the air over the castle yard. Her glare cast downward and absorbed every photon that reflected off Barrier’s battle-hardened body. The stallion had just succeeded in sneaking through her defenses, and the end result had been a leg drag that sent him rolling over the grass—and her tumbling into the sky.

Though, the subject material for Day 130 of Tail’s combat adventure offered a straightforward explanation for her sluggishness. To prepare for a fully encasing suit, Barrier had set a new stipulation: she could only use her Bullet Flash and Synchrotron techniques if she could create them over spots covered by Sally. For the pegasus, doing the deed wasn’t so much the problem. While one fight was being waged with Barrier, Tail had drawn another line against Father Time.

Vanishing before he completed his rolling motion, Barrier launched into his next attack with a teleport. The pegasus steadied herself by shifting her wings, and her focus darted to the four current loops that sat atop the metal plating that covered her shoulders and haunches. A buzzing rattle across Sally’s surface alerted the pegasus, but by the time the signal meandered through Tail’s feedback mechanism, Barrier’s hoof rammed a pressure point between her withers.

Even with the protection afforded by her armor, the overwhelming strike pushed Tail into the ground with a thud. The wind rushed out of her lungs along with a shriek, and Barrier’s magic rapidly coiled around her wings and legs to keep her pinned beneath his sturdy, straddling frame.

“Not working,” she heaved. All of the mare’s efforts went towards getting air back into her agitated lungs, so she simply relaxed in the gripping confines of Barrier’s hold. “Need a new idea. Just too slow.”

Barrier relaxed his posture and brushed his muzzle against her unprotected ear. “As a captain and a coltfriend, I think it’s time for a little turnabout. The most valuable lesson there is—is that Colonel Tail always thinks up something.”

“So not fair,” Tail muttered after her cheeks had reddened. Her namesake flicked, and her feathers splayed and wiggled once Barrier loosened his spell. She continued her cadence of calming breaths, and when a sufficient number had done the job, Tail pursed her lips and uttered a whistling sigh. “Relying on the sounds made between the current loops and the armor is never going to be fast enough. I need a thread to a nerve, but the only way to achieve that without breaking your rule would—”

Tail’s eyes lit up, and her namesake swished with renewed vigor. It’s not like there’s an absence of moisture under there. Might be a little weird, and the sizes might need to be different. “I need a receiver! Instead of just a detection loop, make it a pair, and keep one ring between my armor and my body.”

Snickering, Barrier kissed Tail’s ear before he climbed off of his marefriend. “Never any doubt. The perfect blanket will always come up with something in the moment, so let’s get back to it and see if it works.”

Rising to her hooves, Tail sported her determined, fiery stare. Once again, small current rings began to faintly glow just above her armor kit as she concentrated, but she worked her real magic beneath the golden metal. Head tilted and brow quirked, the scientist found herself captivated by one thought as she began to shape cloud toroids in the tiny, sweaty space. This is way easier than I expected.

Admittedly, Tail briefly shuddered once she had started pumping charge through the trapped rings, but the sensation of retaining an intimate contact with her birthright quickly became par for the course. She positioned these larger receptor loops beneath their visible counterparts and nodded to herself once the edges of said rings settled relatively close to her spine.

As soon as she crouched into her ready position, Barrier disappeared from his spot on the field. Upper left, 160 degrees, Tail thought after a strong shock jarred her left flank. Jumping forward, she glanced over her shoulder to see the unicorn pounce the place where she had stood. He bounced off the grass and immediately proceeded into the second link of a teleport chain, which Tail also read.

She plopped onto the ground before the coming flash illuminated her right side, and Tail grinned as she watched Barrier’s projected shadow follow his trajectory over her barrel. Spell after spell followed, and each time, the physicist felt the impact on the differential signal between the visible and hidden sensor rings.

Upon completing twenty consecutive teleports without landing a hit, Barrier returned to his standby location. A wave of laughter burst from his muzzle that nearly drowned out his reply. “Guess we know Trigsy will be proud. Though, seeing all of that dodging, I have a couple of questions. What are you going to do to counter? And why bother with the external loops at all?”

“Clever boy,” Tail cooed. She lifted her foreleg and started pawing the air while she explained. “Keeping the external partners makes reading through the metal a little easier. I don’t know if it’ll be more difficult with your style of kit, so while it could be less efficient to do it this way, I think I’m testing the conservative case. Also, it lets me do this.”

A mischievous grin abruptly claimed Tail’s visage. The glimmering toroid that floated near her left shoulder rapidly rotated and stretched. Before Barrier’s scrutiny, the piece of the Synchrotron Flicker technique morphed into a spiral and then transformed into a Bullet Flash spike. “That’s how I’m going to counter.”

Author's Note:

Well, well, another Tuesday, another post, and on a schedule. Not very chaotic at all, but I guess we all have to get our daily dose of chaos from the first scene. :P

As always, thank you for our readership, time, glorious comments, likes&subscribeslol.

I'm so excited that we're finally in the 30s. Though, it's a little bittersweet that we're closing in on the end.

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