• 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 45.1 - The Mavericks’ Wild, Part 1

Once again in her complete gear set, Tail scrambled along one of the castle corridors with Amora, Bonecrusher, Indar, and Wing. Still in the subterranean depths, Tail took in the underwhelming decor of these rarely used passageways. Small tapestries depicting the sun and the moon hung over large stone bricks that looked more polished by time than hoof—or perhaps it was all a parlor trick played by the emitting diodes in the low ceilings and the lingering humidity.

She locked her stride with the intelligence officer as the group swung a right into another hallway. Somepony had the courtesy to chalk SB5 on a few stones at the junction, and the labelling tugged at Tail’s memory.

“This will take us all the way to the Armistice,” Wing explained to the group in wavering pitches that shifted to the beats of his cantor. “The arterial transformation sequence should have opened the backdoor by now, which means Batsy should also be able to pop a hatch for us.”

Amora puffed as she kept up the brisk trot down the narrow path. “Are you going to actually explain to the uninitiated what the Armistice is, or are you just going to keep us in suspense until we see it for ourselves?”

“Not going to lie,” Tail added over the dull clanking of her kit, “the documentation didn’t make it all that clear. I mean, it’s obviously some sort of transport system, but the capabilities weren’t really included. Also, the details of what the arterial transformation sequence is were definitely lost on me—”

“Something got by Civvy?” Bonecrusher sarcastically scoffed from her position at the rear of the column. “Just when I thought I’d witnessed enough incredible bullshit in one day.”

Wing’s sights trained on the blackened void at the end of the hall. It seemed as though the rear entrance to the ramp had been opened during the transformation, and the confirmation brought a smile to the flier’s face. “The Armistice is the fastest airship ever built. Rocket-boosted, equipped with a thaumium-integrated reactor, has a dragless coating. You name something useful for a vessel? We probably put it on there. Best part! The move let us give Colonel Tail her lab along with all those spare bits. I needed a bigger space, namely most of the mountain, to construct a launch tunnel. It’s the A.T. that opens the exit, causeways, and exhaust vents to the rest of the world.”

Beneath her closed helm, Tail blinked a few times while her wings fluttered to her accumulating disbelief. “You turned Mt. Canterhorn into a rocket launcher for the fastest airship ever built? And that’s how you were able to give me everything I needed to finish the revolver I’m about to take with me on the same critical mission? Do you have any idea what the odds of that are?” The increasingly flustered physicist flicked her shortened namesake while her brain tackled the necessity of crunching those numbers.

“Hmm, I’d wager about the same odds as a pegasus professor developing magical munitions, surviving B.C.T., getting caught out of her element, and falling madly in love with her C.O.” For a moment, the makings of a mischievous smirk flirted with the stallion’s expression as though another witticism had already been loaded by his cocked tongue. That merriment did not persist. In a blink, the playfulness vanished. Wing staggered sideways, frowning as he nearly cut Amora off, and he had to prop himself up against the wall to prevent an unplanned rendezvous with the floor.

“Wing? What in Tartarus—” Amora’s line of questioning got interrupted by the intense sidelong glance the case-toting director threw over his shoulder.

Even amidst the dark-blue surroundings of Wing’s Wonderbolt attire, the harsh line drawn by his eyebrow stood out. He regained his balance, tightened his grip on the brown hardshell, and unbridled his gait to sprint down the hallway. “We need to leave right fucking now!”

Tail’s legs churned soon after she registered the cracking timbre that haunted Wing’s speech. Desperation had drenched his tone, and each of the notes drilled the same message into her thoughts. He’s running for someone he loves. The clapping hooves of her squadmates trailed close behind as they darted towards the unknown.

The corridor opened up into a massive cave that dwarfed Tail’s laboratory. What she had perceived as a darkened zone at the end of the line had actually provided a camouflaged glimpse of a hyperbolic ramp that gradually pitched skyward. Lined with evenly spaced fluorescent lights on the floor and ceiling trims, the boxy metal tunnel looked like a setting straight out of a science-fiction novel.

A matte chrome railing bounded the elevated, grated platform that marked the transition between the castle proper and Wing’s project. It also effectively guided Tail’s attention to the left, and her gaze quickly found a new draw in the sleek contours of the aforementioned airship. The scientist struggled to keep up her hurried pace while her curiosities prodded as many things as her darting eyes could corral.

Painted a deep, royal blue, the Armistice appeared about fifty meters in length in Tail’s first estimation. Though it was hard to gauge from the rear flank of the craft, the pegasus decided that the fuselage resembled some architectural crossbreed of teardrop and spearpoint shapes. This central structure connected to a triangular wingspan, which—based on symmetry arguments—sported four rocket boosters and their stabilizers.

That tally failed to include the four additional exhaust ports that ran out of the fuselage’s stern. Wing stood atop an opened ramp that had been placed a couple meters in front of the engine nozzles and between the hefty partitions of the undercarriage.

“Yep, it’s a four-and-four design,” he interrupted Tail’s internal ruminations. “Combined-cycle jets and the rockets to boot. Technically, the boosters can be jettisoned for staging, but again, not really a lot of time to go into the details on that. We can get some caffeine after this is over. For now, Batsy and I need to get everyone strapped in.”

With Amora, Bonecrusher, and Indar bunching up behind her, Tail pushed forward to follow Wing down the aisle once he entered the airship. The stallion stowed his carry-on in a bright-yellow locker positioned right off the top of the incline, but that particular source of vibrancy paled in comparison to just about everything else Tail could see.

Trapezoidal alcoves extended the available space into the halves of the wingspan, and they had been put to incredibly good use. In each bay, a pony-sized thaumium crystal had been set into a circuit of augurite, platinum, and gold. Five smaller crystals, still the size of Tail’s hoof, were seated into similar cradles, bringing the total count acknowledged by the suddenly heaving physicist to twelve. “And at the cost of a billion bits!”

“That’s what I said!” Twilight Sparkle wailed from the front of the vessel after Tail’s exclamation echoed throughout the cabin. “Not to mention the work they must have put in to create the augurite matrix for the dragless-coating array! Why didn’t I think of that? You’d think I’d have come up with something similar after reading all the works of—whoa!”

Still residing on the centerline of the Armistice, Tail came to a stop amidst the swarm of seated ponies. She lifted her visor and glanced down at the expressive lavender unicorn, who had found a perch atop one of the strangest seats Tail had ever seen. Anchored to a metal frame, mango-colored cushions formed a large saddle that kept the occupant firmly supported. With the additions of a high cantle, leg hooks, and head guides, the accommodation was clearly constructed to keep a pony in place through significant accelerations.

The Element of Magic cast her aptly sparkling purple gaze upon Tail’s armor. “You must be Professor Tail. Oh my gosh, Shiny and Cadance have told me so much about you. We should compare notes! Is it true that you’ve been exploring Electromagical Unification Theory? I told Wing that Electroauguric sounded better but—”

“Twiggles!” Pinkie screamed from two seats over, much to the dismay of the startled, sandwiched Fluttershy. Pinkie’s coiling tail was undergoing some crazy, unnatural movements that made Tail quirk a brow after the pink ball of chaos had successfully snagged everyone’s focus.

“Tarnation, Pinkie, was that really necessary?” Applejack asked from the second row. The earth pony had immediately glanced towards Rainbow Dash in search of an affirmation, but the cyan speed demon kept snapping her sights from the smugly grinning Spitfire to the fully suited Wing.

“I told ya so,” Spitfire whispered. “That egghead was in charge of the Wonderbolt Combat Division before he took over the E.I.S. The armored egghead once kicked my ass too, so you might want to stay on your hooves—if you ever want to be a Wonderbolt newbie, that is.”

Dread-induced respect yanked the corners of Dash’s lips outwards, and an amazed stare briefly held her countenance before she rested her chin on her cushion.

Wing ran through the roll call himself while eying the creatures present. The Elements of Harmony had been strapped in. Spike was also secured in a special chair fit for a dragon, and the young reptilian flashed Wing a helpful claws-up when the eye contact had been noticed. The Wonderbolts were in place, and Autumn Tea—and Smoky Andes?—seemed ready to go.

With that, Wing turned to the cockpit controls of the Armistice, brought up a holographically generated terminal, and started frantically coding on a keyboard that he had pulled out from under the console. “Get the others locked in, Bats. I’ll give the briefing. C.B.D.s closed, vents opened, and launch clearance confirmed. T.R.I. is at one-hundred percent. Sixty-second countdown, active.”

Batsy immediately scrambled towards the new arrivals. She shepherded the four ponies to the rear row, and she got to work guiding Amora into her seat before making sure that all of the cushion placements were appropriate.

“You’re now on the fastest airship ever built. If you ever wanted to know what Dash feels when she hits a sonic rainboom, you’ll find out in less than two minutes. Don’t try to move your body. Don’t try to lift your head and look around. Just keep facing forward, and stay in your damn seat until we hit our target. To our new crystal pony friend, please stick with the white, maroon-maned mare. You’ll be providing support to the city.”

Tail decided to shave a little time by climbing into her own saddle once Batsy had moved onto Bonecrusher. Even through S.B. Sally’s iron, the pegasus could tell that the padded foam packed some firmness. I don’t think this would be comfortable to be in for a long time, she pondered, but I imagine it gets the job done when you’re riding a rocket. Her ears flicked against the inside of her helm while Wing continued.

“Not mincing words here. Something happened with Trigs. We’re needed A.S.A.P. I’ve reprogrammed the flight path. Wave 2 will descend in an aerial drop on my mark. Bolts, take care of the non-fliers. Tea, keep the special guests on board until the ship circles around to the northeast. Standard color flares will go up for input. Wave 1 is a few klicks south-by-southwest of the border. If shit really hits the fan, evac.”

“Thank you,” Batsy mumbled in Tail’s ear. The batpony mare flashed a sheepish smile as she fiddled with some levers on the base of the chair.

Some quick adjustments to the cushions followed, and Tail cooed at how nicely held she actually felt.

“I think that’s a sign of approval, Boss!” Batsy giggled, giving the final checks on the safeties of the four ponies. She swished her mariner-blue tail, bounded up to her co-pilot seat, and wiggled her way into its snug grip. “We’re all set!”

A yellow glow crept forward from the rear of the ship, and the deep rumbling thrum of the crystal array massaged Tail’s knowing ears. The intensity of the light that enveloped the interior of the craft grew brighter and brighter—until the features Tail could see began to have their finer details washed out by the blaze.

Wing accompanied the fleeting spectacle by counting down aloud from three. The instant he hit zero, the overbearing brightness yielded the spotlight to a cacophonous roar and the pull of multiple g’s.

I’m coming, Barrier.

Author's Note:


Pssst, thanks for reading, as always....

But seriously, Thurrrrrssssday...

P.S. I'm not leaving an AN after 45.2. I think that chapter will speak for itself. So apply advanced thanks. :3

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