• Published 29th Nov 2012
  • 4,799 Views, 107 Comments

Polarity: A Tale of Two Sisters - Shinzakura

Prequel to All-American Girl. Derpy Hooves must face a number of sudden important life decisions

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Chapter Three: Serene Velocity

All in all, Derpy mused, I could get used to this. The trip to Appaloosa would take a day and a half by airship, and as a government dignitary Derpy was entitled to a stateroom. This was confirmed a few seconds later when the ship’s master, a rough and tumble pegasus named Bowsprit, came down to introduce herself. “If there’s anything you need aboard the Serene Velocity, all you have to do is ask and my crew is at your command…uh, may I ask what your title is, ma’am? I’d like to inform the crew, so they don’t get it wrong.”

Derpy thought about that for a second. “Just ‘Derpy.’ I’m…rather informal. Technically I have doctorates in engineering, non-alchemical chemistry and non-thaumaturgical studies, but…well, I always think of my father when anyone says ‘Dr. Hooves.’ Well, that or my cousin, but Time Turner prefers to use a W in front of his name for some reason.” She waved it off. “Anyway, just Derpy is fine.”

The Fleet officer thought about that for a moment. “Dr. Hooves it is, then. I’ll inform the crew.” Derpy could only give a wan smile as Bowsprit departed, giving time for Derpy to sit down and mouthwrite out a quick note. She then held it over a nearby lamp in the room. The letter quickly turned into ash and blue smoke, which quickly disappeared into nothingness. The note was to let Cadance know that she’d embarked the Serene Velocity safely and that they were on the way.

A few seconds later, Sparkler burst into the room, followed in short order by their bodyguard, Silversteel. “Miss Derpy! Miss Derpy! We got to see the ballers room, an’ the forksail an’ th’ howsir spade says!”

“I think she means the ballast room, fo’c’sle, and hawser spaces,” Silversteel said. “Then again, I’m Guard, not Fleet, so I still can’t make heads or tails of the naval terminology.”

She gave him a smile. “You’re right on all that. I think. Bear in mind I’m just going off my memory and nothing fresh.”

“If half of what I’m told is true, I should probably trust just your off-hoof memory more than the experience of anyone on this ship,” he said with a smile.

Great, he’s flirting. Cadance, we’re really going to have to talk about this. “Listen, Silversteel, I think we should—” She then turned to Sparkler and said, “It’s going to be a long flight, Sparkler. Would you like to take a nap?”

A flash of fear momentarily flitted over the filly’s face. “You two are gonna yell at each other like Mommy and Daddy?”

Derpy bent down and gave the filly a comforting kiss on the forehead, but it was Silversteel who smiled at her gently and said, “No, and that’s a Guard’s promise.”

“Okay!” she said, the incident forgotten. She yawned slightly and that was the cue to take a nap. Now guided by the need to sleep, Sparkler went over and lay down on the bed – well, bunk in nautical terms, Derpy reminded herself – and was soon fast asleep.

“Thank you,” the pegasus told her bodyguard. “Her family has been going through some rough times lately and so I wanted to get her away from that.”

“That’s very sweet of you,” Silversteel said. He then added, “And…look, I know what you’re going to say already. The fact is…yes, I already know why I was sent to do bodyguard duty for you and it has nothing to do with my particular individual talents. And honestly? I just broke up with my fillyfriend a couple of weeks ago, and knowing the lieutenant like I do, he’s probably trying to fix me up with a friend of his. But…I’m…sigh…look, I’ll just lay it out flat: I’m not interested in a relationship, Derpy. No offense or anything, but…I always thought that Exotic Beauty and I would tie the knot someday; we’d been together since, well, forever. And as you can guess, that didn’t happen.”

“What happened, if I may ask?”

He laughed bitterly. “She got blinded by fame and fortune and ended up going with some other guy. Never found out who it was – she didn’t even tell me that much in her goodbye note – but a mutual friend hinted that it was a rich noblestallion. As for me, well, I’ll never make that mistake again, I guarantee – next mare I date I’m going to make sure doesn’t care about glamor or fashion or riches or status or anything like that.” Silversteel then added, “I guess that’s why the lieutenant tried to fix me up with you.”

Derpy wasn’t sure how to read that comment; on one hoof, it could be read as a compliment, but at the same time it sounded like one of her sister’s typical insults. “Thanks. I think.”

Silversteel facehoofed. “No, what I meant was…. Arrrgh!” he grunted, then continued. “I mean, he mentioned a lot that you were very smart and that you’re cute, too – he’s right about that – but that you’re a down-to-earth kind of gal.”

She smiled warmly. Yeah, that’s something he would say. “Well, if it makes you feel better, I’m not looking for a relationship now myself, either. So, friends, right?” She offered a hoof.

He took and bumped. “Of course.”

With that misunderstanding out of the way, she continued. “Okay, next question: what was the real reason things are moving so fast? I figure that from logistics and preparation, a ship this big shouldn’t be ready to go in less than a day unless it was already prepped to go. Which probably means that there were no real plans for flight escort, which means….” She shook her head, then muttered, “Shining, I swear, I’m gonna kick your flank….”

“Beg pardon?” Silversteel asked.

She groaned. “Just your boss outmaneuvering me. He knew I was going to say yes and put all these plans into action ahead of time, didn’t he? Or did Cad…I mean, her highness, Princess Cadance?”

“Truthfully? It was the captain himself – Old Soldier – at her majesty’s discretion. I don’t mean to be the one to start rumors, so please keep this in confidence.” He leaned closer and said, “They say that her majesty Princess Celestia is extremely concerned about all of this. In addition to the 37th Combined and the Serene Velocity, there are four other cohorts and three heavy airships on standby for immediate deployment to Appaloosa. I already admitted that I think this is all overkill – I mean, we’re just talking about a bunch of overweight ponies in robes running around shouting prayers to the moon and threatening to take over Equestria – but once they started talking mercenaries, that got my attention.”

“I see,” Derpy said, now suddenly not feeling as sure about coming out here on this assignment – or bringing along Sparkler, for that matter. She looked towards the bed and the small lilac furball snoozing softly, and a stitch of worry went across her face.

“I’ve had better days,” Autumn said to himself as he approached Berryville. All in all, things at work were improving, and both Fluttsy and Orange got a full night’s sleep, which meant they’d be okay to sleep in their own beds again soon. In fact, the only thing that hadn’t improved was – surprise, surprise – his relationship with his wife. Of course, even that had a bright side: she came home that night, wanting to spend time with her daughters. Of course, she’d wondered where the third foal was – honestly, she didn’t even know how many foals she’d birthed? Now that was a scary notion – and Autumn had to remind Ditzy of that.

But they’d talked. And she told him that she loved him. And, maybe even in an attempt to show it, she’d stayed the night. He wasn’t sure if that was for the girls’ sake or his. And, of course, by morning she was gone. But things between them had become even more complicated than previous and there was little chance of that ever changing. And he needed someone to talk to. Even if it was just her. And even if it was just nothing but talking.

Landing in front of Derpy’s house, he was surprised to find another mare in front, watering her plants. “Oh, are you here to see Derpy?” the mare asked. “Hi, I’m Raspberry Scone,” she replied, offering a hoof. “And you are?”

He returned the greeting. “Autumn Mist.”

Her face scrunched up in a frown. “Ah, I see – well, you arrived a little too late to chew her out, but I promise you that all of her friends did. And we tried. Really. But, you know that mare: when she gets her mind set on something….”


Sconey just gave him a look he was well familiar with: the kind of look that said somepony did something stupid. “I mean, she’s pregnant with…whatername’s foal…August Wind, I think? Yeah, and she goes and does this.”

He tried to keep the panic from his face. Oh, Derpy, what have you done? “I’m…sorry, I don’t understand.”

“She….” A thought suddenly crossed Sconey’s mind: what if he’s related to August Wind? “I don’t think…ah, nevermind.”

Panic was really starting to set in now. “Look, miss, I really need to know what happened to Derpy. You see….” He tried to think of an excuse that would work – or at least one that was believable. “Uh, her sister Ditzy – my wife – needs to see her and it’s rather important.”

Sconey gave him a lidded look. “Now I know you’re lying. I’ve met Ditzy, and I know she’s such a tail-lifter that…look, you can’t be Ditzy’s husband. I’m not stupid, okay? Who are you, really?”

Autumn facehoofed; apparently his wife’s predilections were far more known than expected. “How do you know my wife?”

“Your…‘wife.’ Right. Yeah. Sure. Well, not that it’s any of your business, but that freak tried putting the moves on me! Hell, I wouldn’t touch her even if I was a stallion! Then again, if you were really her husband, you’d be into that kind of….” Sconey’s eyes narrowed. “Well, maybe you are, you creep.”

“What did I say?”

Sconey grinned, a confusing sign that she hadn’t meant it. “Look…it’s obvious that you tried to pull a fast one on me about Ditzy, but I know better. And…look, I’m just worried about Derpy, okay? I don’t want her to get in trouble. You really aren’t married to August Wind, are you?”

Wait…I thought August was male. Unless she…. He was getting a headache from all this. So instead, he decided to just go along with this whole thing. It might just make even less sense then, which seemed to be de rigeur for the moment. “Okay, yeah, you got me. Actually, I’m her…cousin. From Sunhillow – I was on the way to Canterlot and decided I’m come swing by to see her. My aunt and uncle…her parents…said she’s had a rough time lately, so I’d thought I’d check on her. And I don’t know who August Wind is. Probably a cousin from the other side of her family.”

The red mare sighed in relief. “Good. She’s a really good friend of mine and she’s got enough problems as is. Thing is, she was hired for a special government project, so she’s going to be gone for a week or so out to the warzone.”


She thought about it for a second. “Heh, and I thought we in Berryville were provincial. You guys in Sunhillow must not get any news, huh? Anyway, not too long ago some demon spawn army attacked Appaloosa and Princess Celestia decided that only Derpy, using the power of science, could defeat the forces of evil, rescue the princess and save the day. Or…wait…was that the book I was reading the other day?” She gave him a slightly embarrassed smile. “Uh, nevermind. Anyway, though, Derpy’s off on some government business and she’ll be back in a week. It’s just…well, I know Castor told her not to go, but like I said, you know her.”

“Do you know where she went? I think I should check up on her.”

“Only if you’re a Guardspony. Otherwise, real hush-hush stuff from what I’m told. Look, I’m sorry you went out of your way to see your cousin and took this trip for nothing, but…are you hungry? I just finished up watering her plants, and before I get back to my farm I was going to stop by Sandwich Harry’s, if you’d like to come.”

“I appreciate the offer, but…I really should get going,” Autumn said, his heart sinking. “I wasn’t planning to stay long anyway. But I’ll take a raincheck on that, okay?”

The rest of the day Derpy sat in her cabin, reading up on a few science journals. Sparkler kept herself busy with coloring or reading, and Silversteel…she turned to look out the corner of her eye and there he stood, by the room’s door…er, hatch, trying to be the perfect picture of military readiness and bearing. He’d emulated being a statue for hours on end, pausing only to use the head or grab some food from the mess decks.

Finally, as the ship rang four bells on the first watch – Derpy’s mind quickly calculated that as around ten in the evening – she turned to look at him. “Uh, aren’t you exhausted by just standing there all day?”

“As your bodyguard, I cannot afford to falter. I must ensure your safety at all times.” However, his stance was a little less imposing than it had been during the day. The armor was clearly wearing him down.

She gave him a disarming smile. “Even on a warship?”

He sighed. “I just…look, the lieutenant asked me to look after you and I promised I would do so. So I have to do my duty.”

“How about you do your duty outside of the berthing, and inside you can just relax, okay? I already know you’ll do everything to protect me and Sparkler, but you can’t do so if you’re wound up all the time. Besides, you’ve been in uniform all day and that barding has to be heavy.”

He nodded, grateful for her concern. “Thanks.” With that, he took off his barding and just slumped down on the floor. As he did, Derpy quickly turned around. He was far more handsome than expected and…yes, because I need yet another complication in my life right now. She’d said she wasn’t interested and it was best to stick to that.

If he noticed her sudden change in mood, though, he didn’t say anything about it. “So, what are you reading?”

She went back to the pile of papers on the desk. “Some research journals and texts that I requested from the Royal Canterlot Library regarding the situation. Most of them are about Appaloosa and the surrounding bison tribes – it’s a sad fact that we ponies haven’t treated them entirely with the respect accorded a fellow sapient species – but a few are regarding this Nightmare Army. For some reason, most of the texts I needed are locked up in a secure section of the library with only a few having access to it. They’ll try to get the documents for me and then speed-courier them to the Appaloosa garrison, but I’m not hopeful.”

“Well, I know I’ve said this before, but I’m amazed at how smart you are. I’m surprised you’re just a mare living in a small town instead of a tenured professor at the Royal Canterlot University or head of the research labs at the Mage Guild’s science wing or something.”

“My eyes,” she said with all-too familiar resignation. “Because of my eyes.” She looked away a little; he’d clearly been kind enough not to mention them and now all of that was going to go away.

But instead, he did something else. “For what it’s worth, I never really noticed,” he admitted. “I mean…oh…you’re going to think I was just looking at your flank if I say anything else, won’t you?”

She laughed. “You know, you’re the first stallion I’ve met that said something and was afraid it was going to sound really feathered up. Thanks. I appreciate that. So you’ve got nothing to worry about, Silver. And I appreciate the compliment. Even if I know you took a look once or twice.”

He had the decency to blush and it warmed her heart a little. “I…uh….”

“Thanks. It makes a girl feel special, even if I don’t want a relationship.” She looked outside the portal, seeing the few stars that poked through the evening clouds…and the spikes outside. Wait…spikes? “Where are we?”

“Well, if I remember the briefing correctly and the plotted course, we were going to head on a due course roughly following the Lusitano River and over the Lake Vanner area. That’s why we needed the extra half-day of travel, in order to travel a safer path. Why?”

She pointed out the porthole. “That doesn’t look like any lake I know of!” He rushed to the window and noticed the same thing instantly. “C’mon, let’s get up to the bridge. I’m wondering what the heck’s going on, as well as where we are.”

It was that exact moment that Sparkler decided to wake up. “Miss Derpy, Mister Silversteel, is something wrong?”

“No, muffin,” Derpy responded. “Silver and I have to go up to the bridge to meet with the ship’s master. We’ll be back soon.”

She yawned slightly before asking, “Can I go?”

“No, little one. It’s past your bedtime.”

“Nuh-uh! I always stay up this late, since…since Mommy and Daddy yell at each other all the time so it’s hard to go back to sleep,” she said, sounding both sad at the unhappiness in her home and proud that she was able to stay up late like a big girl.

“Well, if I let you go, you have to promise that you’ll go to bed afterwards. I’ll be going to bed soon too, and you’re just gonna have to keep me company, okay?”

“Plus,” Silversteel said with sudden seriousness, “if you don’t get some sleep when Derpy says so, I have been fully authorized by her majesty Princess Celestia to administer tickles.”

Sparkler looked on in awe. “Really?” she asked.

“Regulation 3241.P of the Royal Equestriani Tickle Code,” he said gravely.

The filly looked at Derpy who shrugged. “It’s the law, Sparkler. My hooves are tied.”

“Okay,” she said, sounding a little worried – of all the ponies she didn’t want to get in trouble with, the princess was high on that list. She shuffled her forelegs nervously, as if she was in trouble already.

Derpy noticed it and scooped the filly up in a hug. “You’ll be fine, muffin. I promise.”

“Can I bring my Smartypants doll?” It was one of the filly’s cherished objects. On one of the occasions that Shining Armor had visited her, Derpy had been babysitting Sparkler. On a whim, he went down to the toy store and came back later with the “Jeweled Majesty Smartypants” dress set and Sparkler had cherished it ever since.

“Only if you want,” Derpy said before Sparkler rocketed over to the bed to go get it. As she did, Derpy looked at Silver, a smile on her face. “Tickle Code?”

He flashed her a smile. “Believe it or not, it exists. Apparently a couple of centuries ago a captain of the guard had no idea how to control his unruly foals. So he wrote this Tickle Code with a whole bunch of regulations and such, allowing a guardspony to tickle a foal until it got him or her to behave. Somehow, Princess Celestia found out about it and with a royal proclamation made it legal and Guard enforceable. Granted, it’s not exactly anything in active usage nowadays, but it makes for a fascinating piece of history – as well as a good way to control foals,” he added with a flourishing bow.

“That’s great. I’ll have to keep that in mind,” she said as Sparkler duly returned with Smartypants. Derpy placed the filly on her back and giving a quick nod to Silversteel before the duo left the berthing space, walked into the passageway and towards the bridge.

Ditzy stood outside the door to the home, its lights on. In the window Autumn Mist played with his foals, hugging them, holding them close. Unaware she was doing so, Ditzy reached out towards her home, not quite touching it but stretching out towards it as though it was a goal perpetually removed from her grasp. Tears burned in her eyes as she tried to take a step several times towards the house, only each for each footfall to never complete and for her to remain in place.

Why can’t I go in? That’s my house. That’s my husband. Those are my foals. Flutt… and…the other one and – what’s the name of the third one? At the recollection of that, or rather lack of, she walked away. She couldn’t remember her foals’ names. A mother – a real mother – would have remembered such things. Sorrow turned to anger as she realized something else: Derpy would have remembered – Derpy always remembers. Her features contorted into anger as she became infuriated. Derpy was always better. Despite Ditzy having so many advantages, Derpy always seemed to come out on top. And she sure as buck didn’t deserve it, not with those stupid eyes and that haughty attitude! A shame, too: if her sister hadn’t been such a deformed weirdo, she could’ve been a nice pony to hang with. Maybe they could’ve been friends, as twin sisters were always supposed to be, instead of being just a freaky-eyed arrogant harridelle.

Ditzy instead took to wing, and flew for a long time. She wasn’t sure. She finally landed in a town; it took her a few seconds to recognize as Moorglade, about 120 miles east of the frontier and the edge of the Andalusia plain. For a second, she wanted to find a bar so she could get drunk enough to fly to her sister’s place, confront her and snarl and rage that Derpy wasn’t so much better, that she sweated and crapped and pissed and banged – okay, maybe not that last one – just like any other mare and holding herself on a pedestal to laugh at her sister wasn’t going to be tolerated anymore. But in a town this small, the bars were the kind that even Ditzy best avoided.

She was about to take off and head somewhere else when she heard someone call out, “Ditzy? Ditzy Doo?” The gray pegasus turned around and there was a stallion, a unicorn. Light brown, his mane a soft set of dark brown waves that brought out his citrine-colored eyes.

“Hello, Mahogany,” Ditzy said, smiling; Mahogany was an old friend and playmate, along with his wife Lily Blossom. But a couple of years ago they’d gotten out of the “scene” when they decided to settle down and start a family. “What’re you doing here?”

“Just getting off of work. Late night,” he replied; as a Guild mage, he was in charge of the Guild office in town, he explained. “What brings you to Moorglade? You’re usually not in this part of the country.”

“Bored,” she said, aloofly. “How are you and Lily Blossom doing?”

“Still trying for foals. We just haven’t quite gotten there yet.” He shrugged as he said, “She’s kinda shy now that we’re no longer ‘running in the meadow’ on a regular basis.”

Ditzy gave him a nonplussed look. “Lily? Shy in the sack? You’re kidding, right? She’s entertainment for hours and hours.”
He paused for a second and said, “Well, I figure if I didn’t give you an incentive for joining us, then you might change your mind.”

“I thought you were done with that kind of stuff.”

He gave her a grin. “We are, but…well, you’re an old friend, and we haven’t seen you in a while and…y’know, just for old times’ sake. Besides, that thing you do with your tongue? Drives me wild.”

“Well,” she said, looking at him, “She and I can be the warm up act, and then if you want to join us….” She said nothing further as he kissed her and then pointed with his horn in the direction of his house. She brushed up against him sensually as they walked towards his home.

As she entered, Lily was standing there, a wide smile on her face. “Ditzy! It’s been so long! How’ve you been?”

“Missing you,” she said, leaning forward into a kiss. The two went at it for a few minutes before Ditzy broke off and said, “I see you haven’t lost your touch.”

“You neither,” Lily said, blushing. “You still do that thing with your tongue?”

Ditzy nodded. “What about you and the wings?”

“Just for you and Mahogany. I save it just for you two, since you two like it so.”

“Well, ladies, shall we get started?” Mahogany smiled.

“Absolutely,” Ditzy agreed before turning to Lily and said, “So, shall we?”

“Anytime, cousin, anytime.”

As Derpy, Sparkler and Silversteel walked on the bridge, the wheelhouse was a dance of nervous energy. Various fleetponies rushed to and fro, taking care of various things while Bowsprit had a long discussion with an oil-stained unicorn stallion. He saluted and raced down another set of stairs – “ladder”; sooner or later I’m going to get used to these nautical terms, Derpy told herself – and the bridge had an air of tension about it while the fleetponies got back to their duties.

“Is there something wrong?” Derpy asked Bowsprit as she approached the white pegasus.

“Ah, Dr. Hooves. Good that you came to the bridge; I didn’t want to have to wake you up. We’re having a slight problem with the levitation crystal, and—”

“Levitation crystal?” Derpy asked. “One, as in singular?”

“Yes. It’s a Certified Mage Guild levitation crystal in the engineering spaces; it’s of the newest design and I’m told it does the work of three of the old-fashioned ones. In any case, my chief engineer, Capstan, noticed the crystal wasn’t fitted properly and now it’s developed internal cracking as a result. It’s nothing serious, but just to be on the safe side, I’ve ordered the ship to dispense with the previous course and to take us over the Agate Spires.

“Is that safe?” Derpy asked. As a pegasus, she was warned about the Agate Spires just like every other flyer. Just as the Everfree Forest grew out of control due to the wild magic that had been cast during the Moonfall War, the Agate Spires were another place that suffered from the after-effects of that ancient conflict. Once a massive “rock farm” – or what would nowadays be referred to as a quarry – the lingering effects now caused the area to become a forest of needle-sharp, dangerous spikes that one could easily impale oneself on. Worse, just as the Everfree resisted taming, attempts to blunt the Spires led to injuries, maiming and in more than a few cases, death. It was far easier to avoid flying over the 277 square miles of the Spires than it was to risk death by flying over it. Even nowadays, it was more common to redirect air traffic over the Andalusia plain to the north or the forested expanse of Lake Vanner to the south. Flying over the Spires was only done in the case of expediency or emergency, and it was turning out to be the latter.

Bowsprit shook her head. “Truthfully, I’d rather not risk my ship and my crew, but that crystal will give out in a couple of days, if I know my lev-crystals. By going over the Spires, I can cut the trip by half a day and that will give us some lead time so I can get her to the air docks at Port Gayoe. Just, as the senior governmental person onboard this vessel, I thought you needed to know, Doctor.”

“Does that mean we get to Appaloosa faster?” Sparkler yawned, hugging her Smartypants doll as she balanced on Derpy’s back.

The gray pegasus craned over and gave the filly a kiss on the cheek. “Yes it do—”

The ship suddenly shuddered and listed hard to left, throwing everyone off balance. Sparkler was tossed violently off Derpy’s back, with the pegasus having no time to react; fortunately, Silversteel dived to catch her. But just as he did, the ship jolted to the other side, throwing the crew in the opposite direction. Bowsprit unfortunately picked that exact moment to forget she was a pegasus and went sliding back, crashing into the binnacle with a sickening-sounding snap. The bos’un noticed immediately and shouted into a horn, “First Mate to the bridge! Medic to the bridge!”

Derpy rushed to Bowsprit’s side, noting that she was knocked out, and the crack had been her wing breaking from the impact. But as she did that, she got a good view of the panicked looking face on the helmspony. “What’s up?”

“Ma’am, we’re losing altitude. Something’s wrong.”

Before Derpy could ask a further question, a shout came over the broadcast crystal on the roof of the wheelhouse: “Skipper, this is Engineering! We have a problem – the cracks in the lev-crystal were deeper than we expected and it shattered. We are without power, repeat, we are without power.”

“Capstan, how long will it take before you can fit a spare?” That came from Marlinspike, the ship’s first mate. Behind him a medic, a unicorn, rushed into the room, taking stock of the situation and wrapping Bowsprit in a protective aura before teleporting back to sickbay.

“What spare? We’re the newest ship in the fleet, so we’re not scheduled to receive a backup for another two months!”

“Any possible way to repair it?”

“Yeah, if you can somehow magically make me a Guild mage with a specialty in lapidimancy, sure,” Capstan said, dripping sarcasm. "Otherwise, no can do.”

“So we’re going to have to evacuate?” Marlinspike asked. “How are we going to pull that off?”

“Don’t know, sir. But I’ll do what I can down here – I’m just not sure it’s much. Capstan, out.”

“Is there a problem?” Derpy asked.

Marlinspike faced her, his face ashen. “Well, ma’am, I’ll put it to you bluntly: yes. This ship crews 500. With bringing the 37th onboard, we have an extra complement of 1000 ponies to worry about, minus the 250 pegasus combat troops that were sent ahead – so we’ve got 750 ground-pounders here. Which leaves us a grand total of seventeen pegasi – two of which are you and our now-injured skipper – to somehow ferry nearly 1250 earth ponies and unicorns to safety. And before you ask: this warship was recently ensorcelled with a nullification spell that counters the natural pegasus ability to negate weight for anything they touch; that was done in case the Nightmare Army has combat-able pegasi of their own.”

“Plus,” Silversteel added, “the unicorns onboard are either engineers, medics or Guard, not Guild mages. They won’t have the range to teleport us out of the Spires and I’m not sure what else we can do.”

“So you’re saying we’re going to d—” Derpy cut herself off from finishing the sentence; Sparkler was too young to be exposed to this.

He shook his head. “Ma’am…you’re a civilian. If things come to, take your daughter and get out of here, abandon ship. I’ll send the other pegasi with you to provide escort to Appaloosa as ordered. The rest of us, well…it’s something that we knew was a potential risk when we joined our respective services, but we’ll go out with the honor of military ponies, I promise you that.”

Derpy’s mind raced. I can’t let them die – if Bowsprit said I was the senior person onboard the ship, ultimately they’re my responsibility, even if I’m not in the military. But what can I do? It’s not like I can replace the crystal. She walked outside, to the bridge wings, looking at the ground, looking at the speed of the ship, and the hull, doing quick calculations. Ballpark guess: three hours left before crashing, and that’s if any of the Spires aren’t higher – hard to see in this cloudy evening.


Cloudy evening. The gears in her mind started turning at a furious pace. A project she’d first worked on at MIT with a couple of other students. It was one of the few times she couldn’t picture something, but they’d done it and proved her wrong – and she was never happier to be proven wrong, because it taught her a few life lessons. Lesson One: never give up – thanks, Professor Lever Pulley. Lesson Two: be the Hooves you want to be – thanks for that one, Papa. And Lesson Three: always see more than my eyes can ever see. Thank you, Mama.

As she walked back in, Marlinspike began with, a “We’ve got a hair over three ho—”

She cut him off. “That’s three hours I can save this ship in, Mister Marlinspike. I want all capable pegasi to meet me on the bow in twenty minutes.” She turned to Silver. “Do you have any light pyrotechnic unicorns and weaponsmiths with the cohort, Silversteel?”

“I’ll talk to the warrant officer. I’m sure we do, why?”

“Have them meet me down in the engineering spaces in five minutes. I also want the mess cooks down there as well.”

“The…mess cooks?” Marlinspike looked at her as if she’d lost her mind.

“Mister Marlinspike, I’m the seniormost government official on this ship right now. I don’t know where that puts me in the chain of command, but I do know this much: if I’m going to save lives, I’ll bully my way through everyone like I was Commander Hurricane himself, got it?” She then turned to Sparkler, giving the filly a comforting smile. “I’ve got the most important job for my number one assistant, okay?”

Sparkler nodded. “Uh, huh, Miss Derpy!”

“Good. I want you to go back to our room and grab my green bag. You’ll have to use your magic to carry it, and that means you’ll have to leave your Smartypants behind, but it’s important. Can you do it?” She nodded eagerly and scampered off, ready to get the job done.

“Now then, how do I get to Engineering?” she asked Marlinspike.

“Fourth deck, amidships. Entrance is via the portside passageway,” he responded.

“Get busy, gentlestallions,” she told them, before heading to the ladderway that took her belowdecks. Unfortunately for her, Sparkler had closed the door as she’d departed and with Derpy’s eyes, she misjudged everything, walking right into the door and smacking into it painfully. She collapsed down the ladderway, body parts colliding with each step until she clattered on the ground, crumpled. But she was used to it and called back up, “Whoops! My bad!” before she rocketed down the passageway, heading to the engineering spaces.

The group of fleetponies looked at where the previously-inspiring pegasus was a second ago. She was gone now…and so was the inspiration. “You’re telling me she’s going to save us all?” Marlinspike said, aghast.

“Eyup,” Silversteel said, noting her thinking under pressure and charismatic nature…and wondering if he should revise his thoughts on not dating so soon after his breakup. “I believe sh…no, I know she will.”

The moment she entered the space, she noticed the broken shards of sky-blue crystal scattered around the room. She also noticed Capstan, trying to put them together in vain by using his magic to fuse them together; unfortunately his power wasn’t strong enough and he failed, the fused shards disintegrating into even tinier pieces. “We are soooo doomed,” he moaned.

She raced up to him and said, “I can fix this, but I’ll need your help.”

He looked at the newcomer with her walleyes and clearly unmilitary attitude. “Lady, unless you’re Princess Celestia herself, I don’t see how….”

Derpy shook her head. “And you call yourself an engineer? Please. Any engineer worth his wrench can fix anything in ten seconds flat. Engineers aren’t just ponies who sit down and wait for what comes next – we make it happen!”

You’re an engineer?”

She bowed. “Derpelle Jessica Hooves, Eng.D., Ph.D., Sci.D., at your service. Scored top in my class at the Maresechussetts Institute of Technology.”

He looked baffled for a second. “Wait, you went to….” He suddenly went silent as things clicked in his brain. “Wait – you’re that pegasus that was the first to go to MIT in generations! I was a freshpony there when you graduated!” A grin suddenly came up on his face. “Whatever plan you’ve got, I want to hear it!”

Just in time, Sparkler raced into the Engineering Room, bag in both teeth and aura. “Mith Therpy!” she mouthed before letting go of the bag. “I have the bag here!” She was enveloped in a hug as a reward, giggling at the attention.

“Good.” She pulled a scroll out of the bag, rolling out, saying, “I’ve been meaning to see if these things work on a large enough scale. I mean, the theory is sound, and the prototype is being built in Marechester.” She looked at Capstan and said, “I provided some consulting on it for a friend of mine.”

Capstan glanced over the plans…and his jaw dropped. “Holy Celestia…this…this is amazing!” He looked at her with nothing less than sheer awe. “You’ve got my 110% help, Doc!”

“Just ‘Derpy’ will suffice. I’m not hung up on titles.”

Hooves thundered down the steps and in walked two huge stallions, both unicorns, followed by an earth pony mare and a unicorn mare.

“Dr. Hooves, Sergeant Arbalest and Corporal Ironforge, reporting for duty, ma’am,” the slightly larger of the two military stallions reported. “They’re waking up Corporal Bright Ember – she’s our pyrotechnician and should be along shortly.”

“Cherry Berry here, ma’am,” the earth pony replied, “but I’m at a loss as to why I’m needed off the mess decks.”

“Yeah, and I was just making some pastries for midnight rations,” the unicorn mare replied. “I’m Kiwi Tart, by the way.”

Derpy looked at all of them, focusing hard so her eyes would straighten. It hurt like hell, but she needed them to not see her eyes for a change and blow it all. “Okay, here’s the plan. I…ow….” Her head was starting to throb; she never lasted long when doing this.

“Are you okay, Doctor?” Arbalest asked. While his concern was touching, she needed him to focus on other things.

“Unicorn’s curse,” she lied glibly. “Had it treated when I was a filly, but every now and then I get a magic spike. Anyways, I’ll need you to round up every piece of metal on this ship, I don’t care what it is. Afterwards, you’re going to reshape the metal following Capstan’s exact orders as to what shapes and sizes we need. I’m not going to lie; it’s not going to be easy. But it’s the only shot we have.” Turning to Capstan, she said, “Everything you need is either on the blueprints or my workbag. Talk to Sparkler here, she knows my bag inside and out.” Turning to the filly, she said, “Can you help Engineer Capstan, muffin?”

“Okie dokie loki!” Sparkler said in her most chipper voice.

“As for you two ladies, I need you to take apart all of your cooking equipment and bring the heating crystals here, all of them.” With that, she raced out the door. “Capstan, I’ll be back in twenty to check on your progress!”

“Wait, where are you going, Doctor?” Arbalest asked.

“To get some clouds, of course!” And with that, she was gone.

Arbalest looked at the location where the pegasus had been just a few seconds ago. “Get some clou…is she nuts?”

“Yes,” Capstan said, a wide grin on his face. “And if you want to live, you had better hope she’s as batty as the Princess herself.”

“You want us to what?” A pegasus mare, one of the bos’un’s mates, looked at her in shock. “We ain’t weather ponies, ma’am.”

“Then you’d better learn,” Derpy told the fifteen pegasi before her. Including her, all were present save for Bowsprit, who was still unconscious. “I need you to gather up all the rainclouds within a fifteen mile radius of the ship, set them on the deck here and make sure they stay here until I need them.”

“To what, wash the ship before we get turned into pincushions?” a second pegasus, a quartermaster, looked at her oddly.

“Just do it, please,” Derpy asked. “We pegasi are the only ones standing between the ship running aground and safely going home. I know what I’m asking you is weird, but it’s the only chance the others have.”

There was a laugh from an aged, weathered pony the same color as Derpy, one of the chiefs in charge of the deckhooves. “I don’ know whut yer up ter, but these ol’ wings were looking forward ter retirement. But I can’t walk off th’ brow, knowing I didn’t turn to in oder ter save my fellow Old Saltlicks. Ya wan’ those rainclouds, ya got ‘em.”

“But Chief Mizzenmast—” the second pegasi started, but was cut off by a nasty look from the aged pony.

“Shut yer pie hole, Dittybag. Doc Hooves here told ya t’ turn to,” Mizzenmast ordered, “an’ yer gonna turn to or I’ll keelhaul ya from stem ta stern, got that?”

“Aye-aye, Chief.”

“I can’ hear any of ya!” the chief bellowed.

“AYE AYE, CHIEF!” the fourteen remaining fleetponies said in unison, snapping to attention before launching into the sky, racing in every direction to find rainclouds.

“Thanks, Chief,” Derpy replied.

Mizzenmast laughed. “Worth it. I’ll pass t’ Fiddler’s Green a happy Old Saltlick just fer this last adventure. Ya got m’ thanks, Doc,” he said as he spread his haze gray wings and got underway into the deep blue of the night sky.

As the time rolled by, Derpy pushed herself harder than she’d ever done in her entire life; while she’d pulled many all-nighters working on various things, lives were on the line this time and she couldn’t afford more than a second’s breather. She raced back and forth, grabbing clouds and passing them to the two pegasi who offered to remain behind and keep them herded on the deck, then raced below decks to the engineering room to see how Capstan was coming along. To her relief, he’d gotten over his awe of her plans and was now directing the gang and getting things done, though he’d paused long enough to tell her, “If I didn’t already have my own gal, I swear I’d marry you, Derpy.”

“What’s she like?” Derpy asked.

“You’re on her. A fleetpony’s always married to the planks,” he said with a wink, eliciting a laugh out of her – but only for just a moment, as she returned back to her duties back on the deck. The pegasi were rounding them up by the dozens and Chief Mizzenmast even reported that one of them got enterprising enough to grab small loose rainclouds and pour the rain into ones closer to the size they were rounding up. “My lads an’ lassies, when they skylark they skylark with lubberly ways, but when they turn to, ya never seen such a bunch o’ hardworkin’ scallywags,” he said with pride.

Almost close to the time limit, she’d presumed there were enough clouds. She told Mizzenmast to call them in and he blew a shrill call on a type of whistle he called a boatswain’s call. “All right, ya lubbers, heave to and get th’ clouds passed, hoof ta hoof, down the hatch.” They got in line and started passing them, one by one just as Derpy raced down to the bottom.

At the bottom was Silversteel, standing next to Capstan and his engineering gang. “Derpy, are you okay?” he asked. If there was any sign of worry, he kept it to himself.

“Yeah, fine,” she said, dully. He knew that look. She was soaked from sweat and her mane was completely dripping down, drenched as could be. He noticed suddenly that she looked very, very sexy…then put the thought from his mind; it wasn’t something to think of just moments before he might die.

“Capstan, is everything in place?” she said to the unicorn.

“Followed your instructions to the letter, Derpy. We grabbed nearly every piece of metal we could afford to rip off the ship – hell, we even grabbed the figurehead of Serene Velocity herself off the bow – ship’ll look a little barren, but if history’s right about Serene, we’ll, she’d rip it off the bow herself to save the lives of fleetponies.”

She then turned to a fiery orange unicorn mare with a yellow and white mane, standing there. “You Bright Ember?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said, somewhat exhausted. “Been helping Capstan weld some stuff, but I’ll do whatever I can.”

Derpy pointed at the hole on the object she’d had Capstan assemble. “Okay, I want you to fire your most powerful ignition blast at the cooking crystals, and I don’t want you to stop until I say so, okay?”

“Is this really going to work, ma’am?” Bright Ember asked.

“Yup – you’re going to make it work,” the gray pegasus said with a cheer.

“Roger that,” she said, and her horn flared with a bright blue hue. Steeling herself, she fired the beam into the cooking crystals. Thinking she might need help, Arbalest and Ironforge placed their horns on hers, offering their magic as well.

Meanwhile, Derpy turned to the nearest pegasus. “Topsail, right? Start shoving every one of those clouds you’re getting into that chute next to you on the double!”

“Aye-aye, ma’am!” Topsail said, starting to shove the rainclouds in.

Derpy meanwhile raced over to the speakerbox and slapped it. “Bridge, this is Engineering. It’s now or never! Give me readings, helm!” Derpy said, motioning for Sparkler to come next to her. If this didn’t work, she’d have seconds to race to the weatherdecks to take to the air. But she believed in her own hooves.

Silversteel walked up to them. “Derpy, if you’re going to go, now’s the time,” he said.

She shook her head. “No. I know this’ll work.”

He gave her a smile and a quick nuzzle. “I believe in you.” The gesture was rather forward, but Derpy was so focused on the situation, she instead absently nuzzled him back.

From the repeater the call came back:

“Twenty-five feet until impact…twenty feet until impact…fifteen…ten…nine…eight….”

The room went silent, save for a gasp from Bright Ember as she girded herself for the challenge of her life.


Finally sensing something was wrong, Sparkler went over and hugged Derpy. Derpy reached down and shielded the filly with her wings, whispering to her, “I’ll protect you, muffin. I’ll always protect you.”

“…three…two…one…. IMPACT! The ship shuddered and jolted as the Serene Velocity’s keel impacted against the Agate Spires. Bright Ember’s horn blazed even brighter, filling the room with a sky-blue glow as the mare was putting everything she had into it, sucking the magic out of her fellow unicorns who offered their support.

“Derpy, take your foal and go!” Capstan shouted.

“I believe in you!” Silversteel whispered, though whether it was words of comfort or a hasty prayer he was constructing to Celestia he wasn’t sure.

“Miss Derpy?” Sparkler said, looking at her guardian.

“Yes, muffin?” Derpy said, reaching down to kiss the filly.

Sparkler giggled and said, “You’re the best!”

The ship shuddered again…then stopped.

A new call came from the bridge, shouts of joy in the background. “Gaining altitude! Five feet! Ten! Twenty! You did it, Doctor! You did it!” The bellows from the bridge were soon drowned out by the shouts and cheers from throughout the ship as Derpy’s hastily-built invention – the first large-scale steam engine in Equestriani history – replaced the magically-embued air with heated air, forcing the airship out of harm’s way and into the safety of the skies.

Derpy looked at Bright Ember and smiled feebly; suddenly she felt very dizzy and weak. “Okay, you can relax now,” she said, her words starting to slur. “Just keep the crystals charged and we’ll be safe. Capstan, follow the directions on the scroll labeled ‘Thrust Calculations’ and you should be fine. As for me? I’m going to pass out now,” she said as the last of the adrenaline drained from her body and she passed out, spent.

“C’mon, Sparkler,” Silversteel said to the young unicorn. “I think Derpy needs some sleep.”

“Me too,” she said, yawning.

“So do the rest of us,” Kiwi Tart said, and the group laughed.

“Thanks for helping me carry them back to the stateroom,” Silversteel told Dittybag as both females were placed on the bed.

“Private, she just saved the life of every hoof on this ship. For that, I’d carry her to the moon and back if I had to,” he said in awe. “She’s a special gal.”

“She’s a very special gal,” he replied, pulling the blankets over both. Derpy held Sparkler close to her, just like a mother would, the earth pony stallion noticed. To him, it was a beautiful and heartwarming scene.

Dittybag found Silversteel’s tone odd, then put two and two together. “Your gal, I take it?” He clapped his fellow stallion on the back and nodded in approval, then silently left the berthing, closing the hatch.

Silversteel stood there, watching both females for the longest time. Now safe and removed of clouds, the sky was clear and moonlight streamed through the porthole, alighting on Derpy’s face, giving her an angelic, ethereal glow. She suddenly looked more beautiful than any mare he’d ever seen in his life.

He reached over and kissed her on the cheek, thinking of the words he’d just heard a second ago: Your gal, I take it?

He gave himself a small smile. “Maybe,” he said, as he lay down by the door and let himself fall into sleep.