• Published 10th Dec 2020
  • 3,880 Views, 372 Comments

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 43 - The Doctors Are In

Thin whimsical orange filaments dangled off the outer rim of Aurora’s Eye while Wing kept vigilant watch over the lattice pad. Another diode on his transceiver box illuminated, sharing its green glow with the E.I.S. team and the royal hosts. The black cube also vibrated atop its position on the 12-o’clock point, which served as the far more useful indicator to the engrossed director.

“Odd Squad, invert your polarities. Our guests are knocking at the door,” Wing barked as his namesakes slightly unfurled. The pegasus clenched his jaw and grimaced before he glanced at Celestia. “They’ve engaged, Callie. Sombra separated from his army to investigate the extraction.”

Celestia’s feathers fluttered as well, and she inched closer to the stallion. “How are they doing?” she asked, anxiety showing on her lifted brow and quivering lips.

“He’s hardcore focused on the fight at the moment, so it’s difficult for me to grab many details through passive data exchange. But it sounds like the angry dipshit talks too much, and Philomena’s an absolute champ, so at least there’s that.”

The Triggerish witticisms did manage to lessen some of the tension that afflicted the alicorn’s visage, and she exhaled a long sigh after absentmindedly holding her breath through the entirety of Wing’s response.

A droning hum emanated from the augurite strips after the Transceiver Team executed Wing’s command, and the spell-infused metal promptly regained the strategist’s attention by sharing its vibrant shine.

In the seconds that followed, three crystal ponies appeared at the center of the inscribed circular formation. The smaller two of the trio spun around atop the plastic mat. Their sights shot skyward, taking in the spectacles of the vaulted ceiling and throne room chandeliers, and the first signs of true joy slapped broad smiles upon their muzzles that conquered the fur-clinging remnants of frozen tears.

Smoky Andes, however, set his gaze upon the Princesses of the Sun and Moon and knelt. “Forgive me, Your Highnesses, for both my vulgar appearance and my inability to protect my empress.”

“The apology should be ours,” Luna replied after a short bout of hesitation, and she frowned while she examined the hideous state of their armors. “We were the ones who failed to stop the obsession of our captain. There is no need for you to kneel here. Please stand and take your liberties. Those kits look like nightmares to me, and certainly, there must be some comforts we can provide you after your ordeal.”

Celestia nodded in agreement. “My sister is correct. It is our fault that you are in this predicament, and even now, others are fighting for their lives in the name of The Crowns. Allow us to look after you all for the time being. It is rather complicated to explain, but you’re now standing in the heart of a city that didn’t even exist the last time the Crystal Empire was free.”

“That means, what Princess Mi Amore Cadenza said was true?” Smoky splayed his ears after he rose to his hooves. “Just how long has it been since Captain Sombra came?”

Taking another step towards the lattice pad, Celestia softened her expression as her magenta eyes remained locked on the Crystal Empire’s lieutenant. She lowered her head until she effectively compensated for the difference between their heights, and she spoke to the golden-maned stallion in a motherly tone, “My little pony, it has been just over a thousand years.”

A violent vibration in the transceiver box caused Wing to jolt from his rubber mat. He swiftly stretched his namesake out in front of Celestia and swept her away from the pad. A scowl furrowed his brow, and his lips thinned while he dashed over the augurite star to corral the recent arrivals. More and more red diodes began to brighten and strobe on the cube’s wobbling topside, and the Director of the E.I.S. started wailing again. “Sorry! Sorry! Everyone clear the pad! Transceiver Team! Abort! Abort! F.C.R. Overload Protocol! Lock it down! Lock it down, right damn now!”

Splintering cracks formed in the augurite strips after Wing had made it merely a few steps off the plastic. The material hissed and squeaked as fumes began to rise through burned portions of the coating, and the members of the Transceiver Team figuratively circled the wagons after the alicorns, their director, and the crystal ponies had escaped any potential harm. They all lowered the tips of their illuminated horns and surrounded the entire assembly in a rainbow-colored shield that absorbed the blast that shredded the black box and swaths of the lattice.

An unexpected fermata suddenly hung atop Wing’s tactical score. The bustling sounds of the castle submitted to a high-pitched ringing that drilled into the stallion’s ears. Around him, members of his crew checked on Smoky Andes and company. Luna had pulled her elder sister away from the charred debris, but Wing threw his disconnected dismay directly upon the wreckage and whispered, “They need you now more than ever.”

Wing remained in that trance until an iron-clad forehoof pressed against the sweet spot between his withers, and his head immediately popped up before he turned to gawk at the grinning, guard-kitted Autumn Tea.

“Whoa! What in the hay was that?” the raspy voice of a certain cyan pegasus cracked from the opened doorway. “And why wasn’t I invited to the party if there were fireworks?”

“I don’t know, Darling”—a more refined tone reached out to tug upon Wing’s ears—“but a proper lady should not be draping herself over an officer of the Equestrian Royal Air Force, especially not while said officer is clearly on duty.”

Peering into Tea’s gold-ringed, emerald eyes, Wing caught his mental stride and smiled. He pivoted and shifted his attention from the maroon-maned mare towards the front of the house—where the Element Bearers, and their young dragon friend, gathered in a swarm of confusion, brashness, and shyness. “I see you got them all here in one piece. Quite the accomplishment when one considers that bunch. Though, I do wonder how much longer Spits will tolerate all that.”

“Princess Celestia! Princess Luna!” Twilight Sparkle shouted while she sprinted across the glossy floor towards the alicorns. “I’m so sorry it took us this long to get here. We came as soon as we could! The girls and I are ready to go! We all went through the briefing scroll in advance!”

With their respective brooches proudly displayed, the other members of the lavender unicorn’s company rushed forward to be at her side. Well, at least they did once Rainbow Dash was pried off the unamused Spitfire by an exuberantly bouncing Pinkie Pie.

“We sure did, Princess!” the orange-coated Element of Honesty added after she tipped her hat in respect. She glanced around the room and started pawing at the floor once she truly observed the chaotic state of the chamber. “But I’m guessing things went a bit afoul?”

“Indeed they did, Applejack,” Celestia answered, carefully dragging her sights over each of the seven creatures before she homed in on Wing, “but I do believe there is a plan in place, despite the commotion. My sister and I realize that you’re taking a big risk by accepting this mission, and while I would love to spend more time acknowledging that sacrifice, time is of the essence. Sir Wing, is it time for Plan B?”

The pegasus sized up the Element Bearers. Twilight Sparkle, the bookhorse that she was, expectedly looked at him with her undivided attention. Pinkie Pie seemed repeatedly preoccupied with Smoky Andes’s strange gear, but at least she tried, which was more than could be said for her fashion-designer friend. Given Rarity’s horrified visage, her jaw might as well have fallen off the alabaster unicorn’s face. Rainbow Dash and Applejack both held competitive scowls that Wing read as ready for asskicking, and the demure Element of Kindness partially hid behind her yellow wing while Spike tried to comfort the pink-haired caretaker.

“Princess Celestia, please send the order to evacuate Mt. Canterhorn and start the arterial transformation sequence. The Armistice should be already primed by now, thanks to Bats, so everything left is tied up in clearing the slope and opening the launch doors. Personnel assigned to Waves 2 and 3, listen up! We’ll be taking the C5 Corridor all the way to its end. When you get there, you’ll know where to go. Find a seat, strap in, and prepare yourself. I’ll give you more details on the way—”

A thunderous rumble shook the castle windows, and the accompanying slap made most of the ponies present jump into the air. The Crystal Empire civilians shrieked and cowered in fear of another attack while poor Fluttershy practically coiled around the expressionless dragon. Rainbow and AJ blurted counters about how neither of them had been actually scared. Pinkie just kept hopping to the beat even after the reverberations had subsided, but Twilight’s curiosity remained attracted to Wing.

The instant the interrupting explosion had boomed over the palace grounds, his sights shot to a mundane spot on the wall. Aurora’s Eye brightly gleamed in the moments that followed. A perplexing, situationally inappropriate grin stretched across his muzzle, and the magical light of an effervescent inferno reflected off his brown irides. “Tea, please make sure the Element Bearers get to the Armistice, and tell Batsy that I’ll be coming in the back way.”

Autumn Tea snickered in response. “Will do, but for the record, I’m telling Trigger that you applied his good-boy grin in the middle of an operation.”

Chuckling, Wing waved his feathery appendage at the unicorn and commenced his exit. The Director of the E.I.S. found some swag in his strut, and he quickly closed the distance between himself, Amora, and Spitfire. His namesakes playfully fluttered once he detected the medic’s subtle muzzle scrunches, and he began to speak in a teasing timbre reminiscent of a close sibling. “Ohh Amora! Would you like to join me on a field trip to bedrock? It’ll be like old times! Squad 1 and all that.”

“Why in Equestria would you want me to go on a random field trip with you?” Amora grumbled right as Wing met the small group. “Shouldn’t I go with the rest of them? Considering that I am the source of medical support on this one—”

“Thanks, Spits,” Wing interrupted his old squadmate after he tugged the case Spitfire had been carrying under his namesake. “Fleety, Soarin, it’s good to see you too. We should, uh, try to start meeting up outside of disasters? Anyway, just stick with Tea. She knows the lay of the land.”

Amora’s coat bristled. She aimed a wide-eyed glare at Wing’s unguarded flank, and a prodding cobalt-blue beam soon zapped one of his haunches. “Stop being a cryptic dick and just tell me. What are we doing?”

“Wooo!” Wing squeaked. Effectively stirred to giddy-up, the pegasus resumed his trot around the Wonderbolt line. His head motioned for Amora to follow, but his concluding statement proved to be far more persuasive. “Major, you and I are going to make sure that the last chess pieces get on the board. That thing that just put everypony on edge like half a minute ago was magically sparked, and it originated from a place on the castle grounds that you’re really familiar with. You know, a place like the Feather Flu Ward.”

“What the fuck was that for, Civvy?” Bonecrusher wailed from behind a set of shimmering umber shields that had been hastily constructed by Indar. “Are you out of your damn mind?”

At first, the pegasus did not acknowledge the presence of her squadmates. The fact that she had just unleashed a pressure wave that blew out the window of her hospital room and echoed across Canterlot eluded her awareness. Instead, her fiery stare homed in on her outstretched foreleg, the yellow-cream feather that she held, and the crackling mix of blue and amber auras that enveloped her limb.

The beige blanket that had covered her body had been unceremoniously thrown off the end of the bed the instant Tail had woken up. Gazing at that feather, she certainly felt more energetic than she had initially expected. Her wings no longer ached—thank Celestia—and her mind crisply clung to every message that she had received throughout her stroll in the Sea of Reverie. “Stronger together.”

Tail sat up as the surrounding glow faded, and her frizzled mane avalanched over her crest and shoulders in a rather gross mess. While she shuddered at the greasy sensation, her sights darted between the unopened crate, her squadmates, and the broken glass. A sheepish smile pulled the corners of her lips once the scientist started connecting dots, and Indar gradually lowered his defenses.

“So are we just gonna fucking ignore all that shit then?” Bonecrusher blurted after a few seconds of awkward silence. “We have some weird, spontaneously shared daydream and get a summons from the bucking Director of the E.I.S. about deploying to the Crystal Empire, and now, we’re just gonna stand around like dumb shits in Medical?”

“No, I’m going to answer the call.” Tail tucked Ember’s feather by her ear and hopped out of bed. She snatched her ribbon off the top of the crate and carefully examined the engraved black bars before she clutched Barrier’s note with her wing. “I was supposed to already be there with them. I was supposed to be a key piece in the fight, and now I’m late. Barrier needs me.”

“Bonecrusher, help the colonel with the contents of her package,” Indar spoke after he watched the pegasus absentmindedly flick her namesake a few times. The taupe unicorn ventured towards the opposite wall and began to rummage through the drawers. “I think you misunderstood Crusher’s question, Colonel. We’re going to the battlefield with you. We’ve been through a bit together, and he’s done a lot for our careers. Captain Barrier needs his squad”—the lieutenant grinned as he levitated a pair of scissors above his sunny mane—“and if you’re going into real combat, you need a haircut.”

The lime-green earth pony gleefully tore the pine top off the crate, and she actually giggled in response to the percussive pops that ravaged the splintering wood. “Should consider yourself lucky, Civvy. Indar’s one of the best in the barracks at quick— Fuck me!” Bonecrusher abruptly exclaimed. She eagerly started pulling out the polished pieces of Tail’s gunmetal armor and laid them upon the mattress.

The corporal brazenly ogled the kit, particularly the strong lines that defined the breastplate and the spikes that covered the knees and wither guards. Though new, the gear bore a striking resemblance to Barrier’s ancient issue, with a few notable exceptions. Slots had been cut into the barrel piece to facilitate wing movement, and some type of dark leather material padded the gaps.

When Bonecrusher lifted the right-foreleg cannon guard, however, she flinched and bombarded the physicist with an incredulous glare. “What in Tartarus is this?” she shouted, shaking the metal cylinder up and down to draw attention to the large slot a smith had willingly carved into the iron. “The City and Royal Guard designs are nothing compared to this thing. You’ve gotten nearly full-body coverage with this piece of perfection. Why would it get ruined with a gaping target slapped on the leg?”

Laughter bubbled from Tail’s muzzle, and the pegasus raised her limb to rub her watering eyes. She shared an amused smirk with her squadmates as she thought about what Silver Dust and River Styx had told her. In her hour of need, the concealed kindness of a stoic pony and a power of brute force had both come to meet her.

A familiar tingle nipped the scientist’s ear ahead of her reply, and she jerked her hoof to Ember’s feather. The silly expression on her face blossomed into a giddy, beaming smile before her coat stood on end to a rising tide of truth. That familiar touch came from Barrier’s magic, and the meaning hidden within the repeated message of her personal drecht emerged through the fog. With the quill, she could pen something new. You two are stronger together.

“What it means is that we should get through the haircut and suit-up asap. The slit is there because I need to run to my lab.”

Tail felt like a juggernaut in Serious Business Sally. Carrying the additional metal certainly exceeded the heft that she was accustomed to wearing, but the months of combat, weight, and survival training produced a pegasus who was more than up to the task. The spunkiness generated by her short, punky manecut didn’t hurt things either, and the presence of Barrier’s pins loosely tied around her neck yielded all the fuel needed to keep the mare motivated.

The instant Bonecrusher and Indar had helped strap her in, she was off to the races, leaving behind the bland abode with all of its new messes. Amora would probably yell at her later for shattering the window, even if it was not completely her fault. Random injections of arcane power sources seemed outside the boundaries of culpability. Though, she did also leave the bedding on the floor and pieces of an emptied crate strewn about. Tail squinted behind her lowered visor and flapped her wings. Okay, those kind of were.

Before the trio made it to the end of the hallway, Tail skidded to a stop as staticky cracks of emergency radios clicked along the corridor. Her padded plates briefly rattled from the maneuver, and the physicist pressed her ears against the slotted interiors of their pointed, protective caps. She leaned to the right, gently pitching the smooth silvery surface of her helm to snag a better listen.

“My dear and faithful subjects,” Princess Celestia’s voice erupted from every available speaker on the castle grounds, “by royal decree, Canterlot is now under a mandatory stay-at-home order. All civilians are to shelter in place until further notice. Everypony and every creature must evacuate the barren slope of Mt. Canterhorn. Arterial transformation will commence in two minutes. I repeat. Arterial transformation will commence in two minutes. Royal, House, and City Guard, please report to your designated A.T. Zones immediately. If you have not been assigned a designated area, report to a documented safe-haven structure. I urge all Canterlot residents to remain calm during this procedure. However, this is not a drill.”

“Two minutes?” Tail mumbled, furrowing her brow. She pulled the glimmering muzzle guard from her face and swung around to speak to the battle-ready Indar. “If they’re going to Plan B, then we don’t have much time. How well do you know the castle layout? Are you confident teleporting the three of us to some coordinates if I give them?”

“After scrambling through random homes during your final exam, Colonel, I think teleporting to castle coordinates qualifies as an easy task,” Indar said following a chuckle. “Where do we need to go?”

“Forty meters down from the G1 level of Stairwell 0, and ten meters to the northeast of the spiral’s central column. That should put us in the middle of a protected cavern. There are countermeasures in place, so we will get rerouted to a different location. That’s fine. Just let it happen.”

Once Indar nodded, Tail peeked at Bonecrusher. The earth pony snorted at the spotlight, and she habitually tapped the aisle floor with her golden-tipped hoof. The muscles in her busy foreleg bulged, and she sharpened her amethyst stare on the features of Tail’s helm. “What are you giving me that look for, Civvy? Are you trying to sneak a laugh in because you know I hate getting teleported around? I thought we were past that crap.”

“I also remember how much you hate flying, but no, I wasn’t trying to be sneaky. I was thinking about what you’ll see down there.” Tail swished her dramatically shortened namesake and pursed her lips when her brain threw an exception error. Blinking, the flier shook it off and continued, “You once got pissed at me because I told you it was classified. Now, we’re all going to go down together as comrades and friends.”

Tail shuffled closer to the duo before she wrapped her right foreleg around Bonecrusher’s crest in a clanging hug. Not leaving Indar out of the fray, she corralled the colt with her left wing and tittered. “But in all seriousness, all of my stuff is under D.P.O., so we’re forging a bond of trust here—”

“Go! Go! Go! Indar, she’s getting sappy. For Celestia’s sake, get us the fuck out of here!” Bonecrusher shouted, halfheartedly attempting to pull away from the embrace while the lieutenant’s spell shrouded the trio in its reddish-brown radiance.

Strong vibrations raked S.B. Sally’s iron as the armor’s enchantments firmly rejected Indar’s magic. Bonecrusher’s gear did the same, and for a moment, the ponies loitered in the ward until both non-unicorns provided little samples of their innate magic to trigger their respective overrides.

In a chaotic swirl of color and space, the image of the brightly lit hallway surrendered to the view provided by the damp, candlelit bottom of Stairwell 0. Mouths agape, both Bonecrusher and Indar gasped at the gargantuan blue-tinted doors. Tail joined them in holding her sights aloft, allowing herself to appreciate the phoenix that had been watching over her through so many steps.

Out of the shadows, find resolve. The pegasus pressed forward and opened the doors. To the tune of the heavy grind made by the large metal slabs, Tail strode into the more appealing confines of her lab. Some of the broken emitting diodes still needed to be replaced, but the scientist still found the better illumination, and presence of climate control, to be a far cry above the dank landing.

“There’s only one waveguide to use for this,” she muttered, making a direct line for Magic. She dumped her helm on the adjacent workbench and removed the gauntlet that had been paired with the modified cannon guard.

Tail’s guests had barely made it over the threshold before she threw the output lever on the guide into the open position and slotted an uncapped thaumium round. While her scientist side yearned to explain the details to her squadmates, this wasn’t a demonstration. This was a deployment, and others were counting on an applied sense of urgency. She wrenched the lever back into its closed state and locked the brass shell in place.

Performing her usual knob checks, Tail moved to the input side of the apparatus and rolled the closest lever into its horizontal alignment. She pitched her head as the awestruck Indar and Crusher drifted closer, and the unusual airiness and motion of her shorter, spiky mane sent a succinct chill over her exposed neck. Once again having to shrug it off, the physicist plucked Ember’s feather from behind her ear and held it towards the dark opening of the waveguide.

“Please keep your distance,” she instructed the duo before her full focus fell upon the feather. At first, barely visible vapor slowly meandered around the quill, but Tail’s weather talents rapidly turned those faint white wisps into scintillating amber bands of harnessed lightning. “You carried her with you for so long, Magic Bear. I can feel it, and I know that’s why she showed me. Your warmth is in every fiber of this feather, and we’re going to come home, together.”

Barrier’s light-blue aura poured out from the plume after yellowish sparks danced along the stem. Like a gaseous nebula in Luna’s sky, the essences swirled around one another to create a complex of stars that washed out the details on Tail’s breastplate. She coaxed the lustrous cloud from the feather’s tip into the waveguide, and once the input chamber began to overflow from the flux, Tail cranked the nearest lever.

Her setup buzzed and whistled, and after a short delay, Tail lifted the next switch. She carefully placed Ember’s feather atop the desk before she whisked around to the output end of the waveguide. There, Tail pulled the release and held up the first hybrid shell in existence. “BT-type,” she mumbled and bounded over to Workbench 10.

As Trigger had spoken, her revolver remained right where she had left it. Tail set the fresh round on the tabletop and gently brushed the stainless-steel barrel. She cradled her creation with her left foreleg, and she held up the weapon after she looked over towards her squadmates. “This is why I needed to go through B.C.T. I invented a weapon system that allows me to wield the magic of others, and it’s really damn effective at doing exactly what I designed it to do.”

“Are we having another crazy dream?” Bonecrusher asked while Tail forced the augurite-infused mesh over her hoof and fetlock. The corporal gestured wildly with one of her lime-green limbs, and she glanced in a variety of random directions that repeatedly made her sights fall on another one of Tail’s contraptions. “This is insane, Civvy. I knew you were a smart-ass.”

“Really explains that classified quip though, doesn’t it?” Indar commented during the physicist’s continued fussing.

Tail grunted, finally seating the revolver properly so it would play nice with the slot in the guard. She opened the lockable drawer and gathered two C-shells and three L-shells from her collection of ammunition. “We’re not in the middle of a dream,” she replied, freeing the cylinder latch to load the first five chambers with the alicorn rounds. She put in the BT-shell last, and Tail rotated the cylinder upon raising it to guarantee that the special ammo would be her final shot.

Turning back towards the door to get her gauntlet and helm, Tail immediately froze. Amora stood on the threshold of her laboratory with an eyebrow raised in sheer dismay. The medic pursed her lips and tilted her head while she gestured towards the pegasus with a rapidly undulating leg. “You cut your hair!”

The physicist craned her neck as shock forced her own browline to more excessive heights. Repeated gasps fled her opened mouth as she pointed her wing at the space beside Amora.

Casually waiting there with a large brown case in tow, a stallion decked out in a dark-blue, black-bolted Wonderbolt uniform greeted Tail with a simple wave. With a light-lavender coat, black mane, and brown eyes, the guy could have been the scientist’s gender-swapped reflection. “Heh, sorry it took me so long to come down and meet you, Colonel Tail. Duty called and all that. My wife and kid thought you made a great first impression though, and Trigger thinks nothing but the best of you. However, their opinions won’t mean much of anything if we don’t act, so I guess I’ll just move this introduction along. I’m Wing, and I heard you needed a ride.”

Author's Note:

"Hey Wing, you and Sober have been writing together for five years, and you've had these characters around in your head for, in some cases, decades. How many times have Wingpon, Amora, and Tail been in the same place at the same time?"

Chapter 43 of NLA. The Doctors Are In, indeed, but there is more.

As always, thanks for spending your hard earned time reading yet another installment. Next week, another long-standing NL thread gets its time in the sun in Chapter 44 - A Knight's Reverie.

S.B. Sally!

Art by mykegreywolf.

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