Equestria's first warp drive

by CCC

First published

The Enterprise pays a visit to Equestria. Luna decides to go and see what this new thing in the night sky is.

Every schoolfilly has heard of the Federation - the tall, mysterious, magicless beings from another world, who visit only rarely and briefly; waiting, they say, for 'stable planetary political unity'.

This is the story of when they first visited Equestria; of early contact between the Princesses and the Federation. It is also the tale of how Princess Luna, with some help from the House of Sparkle, managed the first fully Equestrian warp jump; and of how Spike became the first dragon in space.


Additional note: There is an alternate ending for this story, which can be found over here. It follows on directly after the chapter titled Further Communications (and there is a note in the author's notes for that chapter to that effect, with another link).

The reasons for the split are contained in the comments to this story. (Note: Said reasons contain spoilers)

Prologue: Luna's Busy Night

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Captain's log, stardate 41582.9

We have reached orbit around the planet tentatively identified as M-Class Number 390-epsilon. Long-range imaging suggests that a number of primitive species inhabit this planet, in a largely agricultural society. Therefore, the Prime Directive prevents us from attempting to establish any communication with the local lifeforms; furthermore, we will need to keep any cultural disruptions to a minimum. We have a team of anthropologists aboard, who will be cataloguing the natives, and attempting to reach an estimate as to how long it will take them to reach warp capability. Also onboard, we have a team of subspace engineers, here to study the subspace anomalies which first attracted our attention to this area of space.

Unfortunately, relations between the two groups of scientists, and the crew, have been less than cordial throughout the mission so far. It is my hope that the data gathered by the scientists will give them better things to do than to pick fights about whether or not Lieutenant Commander Data is alive.

End log.

“What, prithee, is a 'stardate'?”

Captain Picard jumped. He spun his chair around, and was quite shocked to find himself nose-to-muzzle with a large, black, horse.

A horse with decorative clothing – a tiara, some sort of fancy horseshoes, and another piece of decorative metal across its chest. A horse with a mane that looked like a starry night; black, with specks of light scattered here and there like stars – a mane that blew impressively in the non-existent wind. A horse with a long, sharp horn protruding from its head.

Yet, despite all that, it was still a horse. And it was in his ready room. For Captain Picard, diplomat, explorer, there was only one phrase that he could use at this point...

“What are you doing here?”

The horse raised an eyebrow. “We had come,” it said, “to ask of thee that selfsame question.”

The door to the ready room hissed open, revealing Worf and two security men.

“Captain.” said the Klingon, keeping his phaser trained on the horse.

“Stand down for the moment, please, Mr. Worf.” said Picard. He turned back to the horse; there was one question that had to be answered before anything else. “You said 'we'.” he pointed out. “Are there any other of your people on board ship?”

“NAY!” said the dark horse, with sudden volume. She spread previously unnoticed wings, in what was likely intended to be a threatening gesture. “WE ARE PRINCESS LUNA, MONARCH OF THE NIGHT! THOU SHALT TELL US WHO THOU ART, AND WHAT THY PURPOSE IS IN OUR NIGHT SKY!”

Picard winced. “In a minute.” he said, standing up and backing away slightly. “Worf?”

“We detected a subspace disturbance in your ready room, Captain.” said Worf. “We did not detect any other such disturbances.”

“Thank you.” said Picard, then turned back to the Princess of the Night. “Princess Luna, I must apologise for the delay. You caught us rather by surprise. I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the starship Enterprise, belonging to the United Federation of Planets. We are here on a peaceful scientific mission, and our intent is merely to observe. May I offer you a cup of tea?”


“Indeed.” said Picard, wondering if the loud Princess would be insulted were he to back away a little further. Ignoring the replicator in his ready room, and the com badge on his shirt, he turned to one of the security personnel at the door. “Johnson, could I ask you to fetch us some tea? Earl Grey, one pot, two cups, on a tray. No milk.”


Picard simply nodded, once.

“Yes, sir.” said Johnson. He knew the rules; aliens of pre-warp societies were not, under any circumstances, permitted to find out about more technology than was absolutely necessary. In this case, Luna had stretched the law almost to breaking point by – somehow – appearing in Picard's ready room (which suggested that she most likely was from a post-warp society, with the worrying possibility of the Q Continuum); but until they were certain, the bare minimum of technology was to be used in her presence.

Which meant that Johnson had to walk four metres, to the nearest replicator that was out of sight of the Princess, and order the tea from there.

* * *

“The Captain has just sent one of the security detail for tea, Commander.” said Data.

“Acknowledged.” replied Riker. “Do we know how the alien got there yet?”

“Sensor logs suggest some sort of subspace fold, Commander. I have done some preliminary work, based on earlier observations; it appears to be a form of transportation optimised for short distances.”

“Short distances, hmm?” asked Riker. “How so?”

“The power requirements of the subspace fold grow more rapidly as a function of distance than our own transporters, Commander. The energy required for transportation is equivalent at a distance of approximately three point zero one nine four three kilometres.”

Riker raised an eyebrow. “Approximately?” he asked.

“I have only a single teleportation event to draw inferences from, Commander. It is unavoidable that I should be making a few assumptions under these circumstances. I will be able to draw better inferences should the sensors be in a position to pick up a second event at close range.”

“I see. Well, now that you know what it is, can you stop it?”

“Yes. The simplest and most reliable method would be to activate the warp drive; the subspace stabilisers will then prevent the formation of the subspace fold.”

“Interesting. But that'll stop it everywhere within a certain radius of the warp core, am I correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Alright, then, can you stop it selectively? I don't want to cut Luna off from her ride home, but I would rather like to prevent her from exploring any of the more secure areas on board ship.”

“Very well, sir. May I modify our shields for this purpose?”

“You may, Mr. Data.”

* * *

“I must apologise, Luna,” said Picard, “I don't believe that our teacups are quite suited for your physiology.”


“Customarily, it is the host who pours the tea.” stated Picard, lifting the teapot and pouring for all five cups.

Picard had often considered himself very lucky in his crew. By now, he had no doubt, Data was monitoring the room, ready to step in should anything go wrong. Riker would have control of the ship, taking care of any other emergencies that might crop up.

But, right now, what bought a small smile to Picard's face was the sure and certain knowledge that, by this time tomorrow, people would be quietly passing around a video file of Worf politely sitting down at a tea party.

Of course, he wouldn't officially Know about it unless it was specifically bought to his attention.

Then the Princess Luna's cup floated up to her lips. Johnson, the security guard, who hadn't had diplomatic training, almost spat out his tea at the sight. Picard, who had had diplomatic training, simply swallowed his own mouthful of tea.

“That is – a most intriguing capability.” he said. “Might I ask how it is done?”

“MAGIC!” replied Luna.

“...Ah.” said Picard. “If there is some cultural taboo against discussing it, then I apologise -”

“THERE IS NO TABOO! THE MAGIC IS FOCUSED THROUGH THE HORN” - Luna raised her left front leg to indicate her horn - “AND INTO THE TEACUP, LEVITATING IT.”

“...I see.” said Picard, who didn't.


Picard considered his options for a few moments, then decided to go with the truth. “Two things.”he said. “Firstly, we wanted to see whether – well, whether we could safely contact your people.” He took a sip of his tea. “We have had some... bad experiences in the past, and we have therefore crafted a list of criteria which a – civilisation must meet, before we open a conversation with them. The first of these criteria is the development of the warp drive – faster-than-light travel. Have your people ever experimented with this?”


Picard was suddenly very, very glad he'd been cautious about displaying modern technology.


Picard saw no reason to deny it. “Yes.”


And, with that, Luna was gone.

Worf immediately put down his still-full teacup, and stood at attention.

Picard hit his combadge. “Picard to bridge. Did you see where she went?”

“Yes, Captain.” answered Data. “The subspace distortion took her to the planet's surface. We have shielded the engine room and all sensitive areas against subspace intrusions, with the exception of your ready room. Should I seal that now?”

“No.” said Picard. “There's nothing in here she hasn't seen already, and I'd like to talk to her again. For the moment, try to keep track of her location.”

“Are any of the science crews aware of what's been happening in here?”

“No, Captain.”

“Good. Keep it that way for the moment, I don't want to get mobbed. Did you see how the alien levitated that teacup?”

“Yes, Captain. It appears that the alien has some biological mechanism for directly manipulating subspace. Captain, the alien lifeform has teleported itself off our port bow. It is accompanied by another alien lifeform. It appears to be waving at us.”

“They can survive in vacuum?”

“Unknown, Captain. They are currently encased within a bubble of air, which is held in by a forcefield. This forcefield appears to be generated and maintained by the new lifeform.”

* * *

Shining Armour was not feeling at his best. Being woken after a mere hour-and-a-half sleep would leave anyone cranky; it hadn't helped that Princess Luna had told him that she wanted him to put up a small forcefield, but not why.

The fact that he was planning on proposing to Cadance, his sister's old foalsitter, on the next day was not helping his mood at all.

And now Luna had teleported him up to some terrible height, and all he could see was the ground rushing by, so terribly, terribly far under him, so distant that it didn't appear to be getting closer at all.

Shining found himself wondering how long it would be before he hit the ground.

Then he felt Luna reaching out into his shielding spell, and twisting it in some unfamiliar way...

...and then the ground was gone, and there were just stars everywhere.

“HUZZAH!” cried Luna. “WE HAVE DONE IT!”

“Done what?” asked Shining Armour, suddenly very wide awake. “What have you done to Equestria?”


* * *

“I have to admit,” said Picard, from the shuttlecraft's copilot seat, “that was by far the fastest development of warp drive that I have ever seen. And to do it so many times in a row is even more impressive.”

“It is not an easy trick,” puffed an exhausted Luna, too tired to shout, “and it is extremely hard to steer.”

“Who – if I may ask – are you two?” asked Shining Armour, keeping a wary eye on the strangers.

“I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the starship Enterprise, belonging to the United Federation of Planets. And the pilot, here, is Lieutenant Commander Data, of the same starship.”

“I thank thee for the rescue.” said Luna. “No doubt out sister will have some harsh words for us, for requiring one.” She took a deep breath. “Dost we thus meet thy criteria for a meeting?”

Picard considered his answer for some time. “You are... unique.” he said, finally. “And we are a cautious people. There is much that we stand to learn from you, and we might be able to teach you something, as well. But – for the moment – I would prefer to keep our meetings small, and controlled.”

Luna took a deep breath. “Thou said earlier that thou camest to observe two things.” she said. “What was the second?”

“Ah. Your... solar system is... odd. The sun moves around the planet; that's very rare. We came here to observe that, to see what might be causing it.”

“Ah!” said Luna. “That I can answer for thee!” She took a few more moments to finish catching her breath. “It is moved by my sister, Celestia. We invite thee to the Summer Sun festival, to be held three days hence in Manehatten, that thou mayst see this for thyself.”

The Flim Flam Brothers meet a Ferengi

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Six months later

“Greetings, good sir!” said the first pony.

“Greetings, I say!” added the second

“Ah, greetings.” said the alien being. “I am Pog, of the Ferengi, and I have come a long way, looking for certain... rare goods.”

“Well, you've come to the right place, my good... Pog.” said the first pony.

“Indeed you have.” said the second. “What do you say, brother of mine? Should we give him the catalogue?”

“I would prefer your names, first.” said Pog. “I like to know who I'm dealing with.”

“Of course!” said the first pony. “Our sincerest apologies. My name is Flim.”

“And I'm Flam.” added the second. “Together, we're -”

“The World Famous Flim Flam Brothers!” say both ponies in chorus.

“Indeed. And as to your wares?”

The two brothers glance at each other, and promptly burst into song.

We have genuine Cloudsdale cloud,
Of which we are quite justly proud,
Rubies and sapphires and emeralds as well,
Or perhaps you'd prefer a crystal bell?

If you want it we can get it,
You won't need to ask us twice,
We have sources through Equestria,
Everything has its price!

Of cider we have plenty,
Would you buy a cup or twenty?
If books you wish to choose,
we have much you can peruse.

If you want it we can get it,
You won't need to ask us twice,
We have sources through Equestria,
Everything has its price!

We have -

“All right, all right!” interrupted Pog. “I'm a busy Ferengi, I can't sit around listening to songs all the time. Anything, you say?”

“With one exception.” said Flim.

“One exception indeed.” added Flam.

“We don't deal in livestock.” said Flim.

“Which we take care to clearly mention in the fourth verse.” concluded Flam.

“Well, that's a pity.” groused Pog. “Half of what I was after was livestock. Wild animals.”

“Can't be helped, I'm afraid.” said Flim.

“It's just too much trouble, you see.” added Flam.

“Not to be worried,” continued Flim, “we sell much you'd find useful.”

“An illustrated manual,” said Flam, presenting it, “on Equestrian creatures and their habits.”

“Traps and bait,” said Flim, “should you wish to hunt them yourself.”

“All the equipment you could require,” added Flam.

“Or alternatively, the address of a reputable huntsman for hire.” finished Flim.

“Right.” said Pog. “For a start, then, I'll take that manual and look over the bait. Now, as for the other half of my list – you do stock plants, right?”

“Those we can get for you.” said Flim.

“Seeds or saplings?” asked Flam.

“Seeds.” said Pog, firmly. “Better for long-term storage. I have a list.”

The pony brothers took the list, hovering it over with their telekinesis. They quickly glanced through it.

“Ah, we can get these for you.” said Flim.

“Indeed we can.” said Flam. “We can have them by tomorrow.”

“Which leaves us with only one point we should raise.” said Flim.

“We will need to know, how you intend to pay us.” said Flam.

“We'll take barter or bits, half in advance.”

Pog nodded his head back to the cart that floated behind him on antigravity technology. “I'll offer this cart.” he says. “Anti-gravity, rated to carry up to half a tonne, and the power supply will last at least ten thousand years with moderate usage.”

Flim and Flam looked over the cart.

“I say, dear brother,” said Flim, “I do believe we can deal.”

“For a cart that works,” continued Flam, “without need for wheels.”

“Of course we will need -”

“- to drop some of these seeds -”

“As it is, my dear Pog, you'll be getting a steal.”


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Of course, everypony had heard of the strange bipeds from space who had first visited Equestria six months ago. But almost nopony had seen one before. The description that most ponies had heard was 'sort of like a minotaur, but shaved, and without the horns'.

Pog took shameless advantage of the fact that Ferengi also matched this vague description.

Everypony knew that the mysterious Federation had the Princess' approval. But nopony knew to be cautious of certain other races.

So Pog took the train from Canterlot, towards Ponyville, chasing a rumour; and no-one paid him a second glance. They were even helpful; yes, there was a baby dragon living in Ponyville. A suitable gift for a dragon? Well – probably a gem, of some sort. Pog was somewhat surprised to find that dragons ate gems... but if a gem was required, then a gem would be obtained.

There were four beings that Pog wanted to meet in Ponyville. One was the dragon. The other three – given the name of the settlement, Pog expected the other three to be easy to find. And they were.

All Pog had to do was wait outside the local schoolhouse.

* * *

“Are you an alien?” asked the orange one, the one with wings.

“Indeed I am.” said Pog, forcing a grin. “My name is Pog. What are your names?”

“I'm Scootaloo!” said the orange one.

“Mah name's Applebloom.” said the yellow, wingless, hornless one.

“And I'm Sweetie Belle.” said the white one, with the horn.

“Well, good day, Scootaloo, Applebloom, and Sweetie Belle.” said Pog. “I am very glad to meet you. Do you know, I was hoping to meet three little fillies just like you?”

“You were?” asked Applebloom.

“Indeed I was,” replied Pog, “for I have three little gifts for three little fillies right here.”

“You do?” enquired Scootaloo, eagerly.

Pog nodded, his fake grin stretching a little more. “That's right.” He reached into his pocket, and produced three little clips. “One decorative maneclip each.” he said. “With lights on.”

“Coooooool!” chorused the three fillies.

“Oh, but there are just two conditions.” said Pog.

“...what conditions?” asked Applebloom.

“First of all, you've got to wear them all day.” said Pog. “Just for today.”


“No problem.”


“And secondly... I hear there's a baby dragon in this town?”

“You mean Spike?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Can you tell me where I can find him?”

“Oh, that's easy. He lives in the library. Down this street, then take a left at the Carousel Boutique, and continue down the road. You can't miss it, it's in a tree.”

“Well, then. One clip for each of you. Let me just put them in...”

Pog took some care with this step. First Scootaloo, then Sweetie Belle, and finally Applebloom. The maneclips were simple enough to attach; and the little power light on each clip remained green, showing that they had enough battery power for at least two more weeks.

Pog didn't expect to need more than two hours. But one does not show a profit by being careless.

* * *

There was a knock at the door of the Ponyville library.

“Spike!” called out a voice from inside. “Can you get that?”

“Sure, Twilight.” called out a second voice.

There was some sound of movement from inside the tree, and then the door opened. Pog found himself facing a small, reptilian creature – purple, with green spikes.

Spike took one look at the alien, and turned around. “Twilight!” he called out. “It's for you!”

“Coming!” called a voice from further in the tree.

“On the contrary,” said Pog, “I am here to speak with you.”

“You are?” asked Spike, as a purple unicorn trotted up behind him.

“Indeed. You are a dragon, right?”

Spike looked up at Pog, and blinked, twice. “Um, yes?”

“Excellent. I have heard such a lot about dragons(1), but this is the first time I have ever met one.”

Behind Spike, Twilight rolled her eyes and went to reshelve the fiction section. It wasn't the first time that someone had turned up, just to look at Spike (though most ponies had got it out of their system by now).

“Well, yeah,” said Spike, “most dragons are kind of solitary, I guess.”

“Will you accept a gift as a token of the great esteem in which I hold your species?” asked Pog, presenting Spike with a large ruby.

Would I?” asked Spike, his eyes shining.

Twilight promptly trotted up behind Spike. “Now, Spike,” she said, “be careful.” Turning to face Pog, she added “My apologies, but dragons have to be very careful accepting gifts. It can trigger their hoarding nature.”

“Yeah,” said Spike, still staring at the gem. “Happened to me once. I kinda... lost control.”

“Indeed?” asked Pog. “But surely – a single ruby won't -”

“Nah, that'll be fine.” said Twilight. “He'll just eat it. Now, Spike, say thank you to the nice... um... creature.”

“Thank you.” said Spike, taking the ruby. “It looks delicious.”

“Ah, yes.” said Pog. “I had heard that you ate gems. I must say, I had never heard of such a thing before. I do hope that you will enjoy the flavour of this absolutely delicious ruby.”

Spike tossed the ruby into the air, catching it in his mouth, and swallowing it all in one gulp.

“Excellent.” said Pog, grinning. “Now, if you don't mind, I have an appointment to keep...”

He rushed away, down the street.

“Huh.” said Twilight. “That was odd.”

“Odd, but delicious.” said Spike.

Inside Spike's stomach, insulated temporarily from his stomach acids by a protective coating of ruby, a little power light glowed green...

* * *

Ferengi light commerce cruiser, in orbit above Equestria

A glimmer of orange points appeared in the air, shifting and resolving into the form of Pog.

“Welcome back.” said the other Ferengi in the room. “Did you place the transmitters?”

“All five, Frem.” said Pog, nodding.

“Good.” Frem grinned, widely. “We are going to make such a profit from this trip...”

“Indeed we will, Frem.” agreed Pog. “Indeed we will. Now, if you would be so kind as to beam up our new trade goods...”

* * *

“Spike? Do you know where my copy of Magical Theory for the Advanced Student Volume III is?”

“Right here!” said the dragon, pulling the book from the shelf. Twilight's magic pulled it from his claw and floated it down.

“Thanks, Spike.” she said, the pages flipping in front of her.

“No problem, Twi – hey, what...”

Twilight looked up from her book just in time to see Spike abruptly dissolve into nothingness.

“Spike?” she asked, shocked. “Spike! SPIIIIIIIIIIIIIIKE!”

(1) Half a page and one illustration in “Equestrian Beasts and Where to find them”, together with ten minutes talking to an armoured stallion at the Canterlot train station


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Emergency checklist no. 51; What To Do In Case Of The Apparent Sudden Death Of Spike

- If Spike's body can be found, teleport to hospital. Bring checklist 51-a (Dragon Medical Care, Extended) and notes on dragon anatomy.
- If hospital is unreachable, refer to checklist 51-b (Dragon First Aid) immediately. Enlist Zecora if available.
- If Spike's body cannot be found, refer to checklist 51-c...

Twilight dropped checklist 51 and picked up checklist 51-c instead.

Emergency Checklist 51-c: What To Do If Spike Is Missing Presumed Dead

- Use Rarity's gem-finding spell, from Spike's last known location to try to locate as-yet undigested gems in Spike's stomach.

Twilight's horn glowed, briefly. Nothing.

In case of success, retrieve Spike's body and refer back to checklist 51.
- In case of failure, enlist Rarity's help in casting it again.

There was a pop as Twilight teleported away, followed by another one as Twilight reappeared with Rarity in tow. There wasn't time for detailed explanations... “Gem-finding spell! Now! Look for partially-digested gems! Spike!” would have to do.

In case of success, retrieve Spike's body and refer back to checklist 51.
- In case of failure, consider any nearby terrain features (rivers, slopes, etc.) that might have moved Spike's body. Follow these terrain features with the gem-finding spell.
- If in the Everfree Forest, consider the possibility of Spike's body being moved, or eaten, by a wild animal. Begin standard two-person search pattern with Rarity.

“I can't find any sign of him, darling. What happened?”

“Spike! Disintegrated! Checklist!”


“Right there! On the ladder!”

- If in a city or town other than Ponyville, consider the possibility of Spike's body being moved by other ponies. Have everyone except Dash interrogate passing ponies using Standard Five-Pony Search Pattern.

- If in Ponyville, consider the possibility of a helpful neighbour moving Spike's body back to the library. Return to library and use gem-finding spell.

Twilight's horn glowed again for a moment

If successful, refer back to checklist 51.
- Write a letter, detailing circumstances, to Princess Celestia. Have Rainbow Dash carry it. Request advice.
- Should Spike later be found to have survived, update checklist 51-c with new procedures.

* * *

“-s happening?” asked Spike.

He was, he noticed, suddenly elsewhere; a small, metallic room, containing a thin, ragged blanket on the floor, a bucket in one corner, all three Cutie Mark Crusaders, and a grown unicorn on some sort of floating cart. It would have looked like a prison cell, except there weren't any bars – there was just a gap in the wall where one might expect the bars to be.

On the other side of where the bars would have been had there been any, was a creature very much like the one who had given Spike that delicious ruby. With the exception of the alien, everyone looked somewhat surprised.

Behind the alien was a similar room, containing a pile of wood. Again, there were no bars.

“What's going on?” asked Spike. “Where are we?”

“Good day,” said the alien, reading from a script. “To answer the inevitable questions, you are our prisoners, you can't escape, no-one will come looking for you, we will be selling you to a slaving ring in Orion so it is to our benefit to ensure that you are healthy, therefore any information that you can give us regarding diet, allergies, medical care and so forth will be noted down and used at our discretion. My name is Frem, and -” Frem paused to manipulate some sort of rectangular object for a moment, and the cart under the unicorn stallion suddenly dissolved and vanished, dropping him unceremoniously onto the ground - “we'll take that hovercart back now. And...” A few more taps on the slab, and the stallion's hat and coat vanished as well.

The pile of wood behind the alien twitched, and began to move about.

Frem looked up at the group of prisoners, with a little smile. “Any further questions?”

“Yeah,” said Spike, marching forward, “what -”

As he reached the area where he'd expected the bars to be, he walked directly into a perfectly solid but entirely invisible forcefield. It crackled somewhat as he hit it, delivering enough of a shock to make his skeleton briefly visible and leave his scales smoking.

“Ghzhzzhz.” said Spike.

Frem frowned slightly. “It's only a pity,” he said, “that you don't wear much in the way of clothes. That could've had some novelty value, at least. Still, I'll leave you lot to get acquainted. Don't fight too much over the blanket, it's a loan, not a gift.”

The pile of wood behind Frem suddenly leapt up, reforming into a timberwolf. It crouched, bunched up its hindquarters, and leapt towards the alien...

...only to smash into a forcefield of its own, and collapse into a pile of wood again.

Frem jumped nervously at the sound, and looked around behind himself, at the pile of wood. “I'll, uh, I'll just leave you lot to get, um, acquainted, shall I?” he said, shuffling sideways, and not taking his eyes off the timberwolf's cage.

He wasn't quite running when he stepped out of Spike's sight. Not quite.

Spike stepped cautiously forward and tapped the forcefield with one claw. It crackled. Spike stepped back again.

“Right.” he said. He looked over his fellow prisoners. “Does anyone have any ideas?”

The stallion raised a hoof. “Hi, my name is Flam...”

“Ah remember you.” said Applebloom. “Ya tried ta steal away mah family's farm!”

Flam cleared his throat. “We, ah, would not have left you without employment.” he said. “We don't really know anything about managing a farm; if we'd won that bet, we would've simply hired your family back to run the farm and kept the profit from the cider. Anyhow, that's not important at the moment; we'll have to work together to get out of here.”

“Heeey, that's right.” said Spike. “I remember you now. There were two of you, weren't there? You and your brother...”

Flam nodded. “My brother Flim.” he said. “There was a fellow who looked very much like that Frem, name of Pog, bought some seeds from us...”

“That sounds like the fellah who gave us these maneclips!” said Applebloom.

“And he gave me a ruby to eat!” said Spike.

“...do you think that's got to do with how they got us?” asked Sweetie Belle.

Spike nodded. “Probably.” he said.

With expressions of disgust, the Crusaders ripped off their maneclips. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo threw theirs into the corner of the room, while Applebloom flung hers onto the floor and jumped up and down on it until only a few shreds of metal and plastic remained of the strange device.

Spike stared up at one corner of the cell for a few minutes. “This Pog,” he said to Flam, “he bought those seeds from both of you?”

“Yes?” said Flam, wondering where this was going.

“So... your brother Flim, he would have seen Pog as well? He'd be able to describe him?”

“Yes...” said Flam, cautiously.

Spike grinned. “I know exactly what to do.” he said. He picked up the thin, ragged blanket, and prepared his claws.

* * *

“...the morale of the citizens of Canterlot is of course of paramount importance...” Blueblood's voice droned on, explaining why it was that a recently-commisioned statue of himself needed to be placed in the main square. He was in the second hour of a speech which could probably have been compressed into no more than fifteen minutes, when the thin, ragged blanket arrived in a familiar curl of green fire. It dropped to the ground, in front of Celestia.

Prince Blueblood stopped, staring for a moment at the sudden item Princess Celestia picked it up with her magic, shaking it out and holding it up. “Please, continue.” she said. It's not as if I was really listening all that much anyway, and if he stops how then I'll no doubt have to go through the whole thing again later... hmmm. It's got slices in it, almost like writing...

Prince Blueblood cleared his throat. “As I was saying, Your Majesty -”

It was at this point that a rainbow appeared, swooping in through the balcony and landing on the floor of the great hall. Where it touched the floor, there stood, quite suddenly, Rainbow Dash, holding a scroll in her mouth. She spat it out.

From outside, came the distant rumble of a sonic rainboom, accompanied by the confused shouts of a group of pegasus guards who had not been able to react fast enough.

Celestia raised one hoof to silence Blueblood. “What's going on?” she asked.

“Spike's – dead, your highness.” said Rainbow Dash, with a bow. “Disintegrated.”

A group of pegasus guards rushed in the window, surrounding the rainbow-maned pegasus. Their body language clearly indicated that Dash wasn't about to get past them a second time.

“Just a moment,” said Celestia to the guards. “Dash, how long ago?”

“Auntie,” said Blueblood, “I must protest th-”

“Shut. Up.” said Celestia, firmly. The scroll that Dash had dropped floated up in front of her, and unrolled.

Blueblood stepped back slightly. “I -”

Celestia turned her head to face Blueblood, her anger enough to force him several steps further back. “When the Bearer of the Element of Loyalty approaches in such urgency, Blueblood, I owe it to her to hear her out. Dash, how long ago?”

“Ten minutes?” she guessed. “Maybe fifteen?”

“Then Spike's not dead.” said Celestia, holding up the blanket. “This arrived in his dragonfire less than a minute before you did.”

“Oh, well, glad that's over with then -” began Blueblood.

Celestia silenced him with another glare.

Dash hovered slightly in the air, and then flipped upside down, looking at the lines clawed into the cheap material. “Flim,” she read out. “Pog. What does that mean?”

Celestia turned the blanket over, and looked at the words herself. “I don't know.” she said.

“Flim...” Dash frowned. “There was a pony by that name that I met once. A cider salesman. There were two of them, Flim and Flam...”

“Captain.” Celestia addressed the nearest guardspony. “Take every spare guard, from every garrison. Cancel all leave. Use all necessary resources. Search Equestria. When I get back, I want Flim, Flam, and anypony called Pog, here, waiting for me.” Dash's scroll rolled up again. “Prepare a report for my sister. Include everything that happened here, and include this.” She tossed the scroll to the guard. “If I am not back within two hours, wake my sister, give her the report, and take her orders.” She took a deep breath, and used the Royal Canterlot Voice. “LADIES AND GENTLECOLTS! DAY COURT IS TEMPORARILY CLOSED! URGENT BUSINESS IS HEREBY DEFERRED TO PRINCESS LUNA; ALL OTHER BUSINESS IS DEFERRED UNTIL TOMORROW!”

“Back?” asked the guardscaptain. “Your highness, where will you be?”

“Ponyville.” said Celestia. With a snap, the blanket rolled up. “My faithful student needs me. Dash, come here.”

Dash stepped forward; and the two of them vanished in a flash of white light.


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“Oh, don't get me wrong, it's an innovative use of dragonfire.” said Flam. “I just think that the message could have been phrased a little better.”

“Seemed fine the way I had it.” said Spike, balancing on his tail and preparing what was known as 'jack-hammer digging' (1).

“Well,” said Flam, “it would no doubt have been sufficient, if there were any chance of your correspondent -”

Flam stopped for a few minutes, while the sound of Spike's diamond-tipped tail thumping rapidly against the metallic floor drowned out all possible conversation. After some time, Spike stopped.

“- if there were any chance of your correspondent actually finding my brother.” finished Flam. “We're not – well – not always the most popular of ponies, and after my sudden disappearance, Flim would probably have gone to ground. And when my brother goes to ground, well, Celestia herself would have trouble finding him...”

Spike looked down, and frowned. “Hmph. Not even scratched.” Then he glance up, and grinned widely. “Wanna bet?” he asked.

“Wait, are ya saying ya don't know where Spike's letters go?” asked Applebloom.

“I'm sure that they go to somepony extremely important to him.” replied Flam. “But not even the most important of ponies could get an audience with Celestia in any less an hour, and even if she offers a few guardsponies to join in the search, it wouldn't be enough. Flim is very good at hiding.”

All three of the Cutie Mark Crusaders picked that moment to fall over, laughing.

At this point, there was a thumping sound from the wall of their cell.

“Hello?” called a voice. “Somepony there?”

* * *

Princess Celestia and Rainbow Dash appeared in the Ponyville library in a flash of white.

“Princess Celestiaaaaaaaa!” cried Twilight, burying her face in her teacher's shoulder and staining Celestia's coat with tears.

“Twilight.” said Celestia, wrapping one wing around her faithful student. She glanced up, and saw that the other Element-Bearers were already there. “Twilight, Spike lives.”

This... had not been what Twilight had been expecting. “What?” she asked.

Celestia held up a slightly torn blanket. “This arrived via dragonfire,” she said, “not two minutes ago. Via Spike's dragonfire.”

“So... he's alive?” asked Rarity.

“He was,” said Celestia, “two minutes ago.”

“So we can have a you're-not-dead-after-all PARTY?” asked Pinkie.

Celestia rolled out the blanket on the floor of the library. “I don't know where he is, but from the looks of this, he is in some trouble. I would like all of you to look over this blanket and tell me what, if anything, you can tell from it. Wherever Spike is, he needs our help, and we need to find him.”

“Horribly low thread count.” said Rarity. “Poor quality – but for that, a strangely... regular weave. Low-quality materials made with high-quality methods. And...”

She took a closer look.

“I've never seen fabric like this before.” she said. “I thought I knew every type of fabric in Equestria... this must be something new. I can't even recognise the threads...”

“Flim.” said Applejack, pointing at the upper name. “Tha's the name o' one o' a pair o' unicorn salesponies tha' once tried ta take over mah farm...”

“Rainbow Dash recognised that name as well.” said Celestia. “The royal guard are out looking for them as we speak.”

* * *

Alright, Shining Armour, you can do this. The stallion took a deep breath, and looked deep into the eyes of the mare next to him. She was perfect, in every way, and he knew it; if it hadn't been for the headaches he kept getting lately, he'd have asked her this question well before. As it was, he'd finally taken a day of leave from his guardsduties, and taken her to the finest restaurant in Canterlot...

He knelt down next to her, and asked, “Princess Mi Amore Cadenza,” he said, “will you marr-”

“Captain Shining Armour!” interrupted Lieutenant Bright Hooves, grabbing him by the shoulder. “Emergency. All guards' leave has been cancelled, by the order of Celestia herself.”

“And... what emergency, exactly, is this?” asked the pretty pink alicorn princess, nervously.

“Ponies wanted for questioning, ma'am.” said Bright Hooves. “Three of them. One Flim, one Flam, one Pog. Little but the names to go off, unfortunately. Apparently two of them are unicorn salesponies.”

“Really?” asked the mare. She closed her eyes for a moment, and listened to her swarm. She didn't care one way or another about the missing persons, but she did care – a lot – about Shining Armour asking her a certain question. And so if she could just clear some minor obstacle out of the way first...

'...world famous Flim Flam brothers!' sang out the pair of unicorn stallions; the viewpoint was that of a changeling in the crowd, chanting 'Cider! Cider!' along with the rest.

Now Chrysalis had a pair of faces to go with the names. She sent the faces out into the mind of the Swarm, with one instruction... locate.

In mere seconds, the reports came back... the most recent one being only half an hour old. Flim and Flam, at a small stall in the Canterlot open market, selling goods with a song and a dance. Another instruction - Find. Track.

And again, a name went out to the Swarm – 'Pog'.

Response – only singular, which was surprising – 'captor'.

Follow-up query: 'location'

Response – 'unknown'.

That was mildly worrying.

The pretty pink alicorn princess opened her eyes again. “Wouldn't the Canterlot open market be the best place to look for salesponies?” she asked, carefully.

Bright Hooves and Shining Armour glanced at each other. “Yes, ma'am, I guess it would.” said Bright Hooves.

“Oh, excellent.” she said, with a predatory grin. “I'm going to look there, then.”

Shining Armour and Bright Hooves rushed towards her. “No, wait -” said Shining.

“You can't -” tried Bright.

She simply ignored them, hurrying to the door and concentrating on the Swarm. Honestly, being this polite and helpful was getting on her nerves, she could hardly wait to be able to change her behaviour and blame it on pre-wedding jitters...

...target located. Heading for east balloon port. Nervous, hurrying. Trying to hide.

The mare flinched slightly. That would take an obvious detour to reach from here; the best way to hear and accept Shining's proposal would be... yes...

She sent another command to the Swarm. Herd him. To... the nearest Royal Guard. Don't attract too much attention, he tastes nervous enough to flee from a shout. Try 'Flim', or 'Flam'. When the Royal Guard gets him, make sure they know who he is, then let them take him.

With any luck, Shining will regain the rest of his leave, and we can put our schedule back in order.

* * *

It took only three minutes for Flim to ran right into Vigilant Watch, a young unicorn guard. Vigilant would have let the hurried unicorn go without a second glance, but fortunately, a tan earth pony called the unicorn 'Flim' a mere few seconds later.

* * *

“What about 'Pog'?” asked Celestia. “Does that word mean anything to any of you?”

“No.” said Applejack.

“Nope.” added Rainbow Dash.

“Nope-arooni.” said Pinkie.

Rarity and Twilight contented themselves with merely shaking their heads.

“Then,” said Celestia, “I can only pray that it means something to Flim. Anything else?”

“Um...” squeaked Fluttershy. “I mean... why would Spike send a message on a blanket to begin with?”

The ponies all considered this for a short while.

“'Cause he couldn't find any paper?” asked Pinkie.

Twilight nodded. “Yes...” she said. “Yes, that might be it...”

“Well, um,” said Fluttershy. “Princess Celestia... um... no, it's silly. Never mind. I'm sure you thought of it already.”

“I'm not, dear.” said Rarity. “What were you going to say?”

“Well...” Fluttershy ducked behind her mane closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and continued. “...you can send letters to Spike, right? Can you send him blank paper?”

There was a moment of silence. Then Celestia looked around the room. “Blank paper.” she said.

“Here.” Twilight's magic aura grabbed one of her desk drawers, and pulled it out – fast enough to smash into the wall opposite, scattering blank paper throughout the room. Celestia pointed her horn at one sheet; it wrapped itself up in a ribbon, and promptly vanished.

“Could y'send him a quill an' ink?” asked Applejack.

Celestia shook her head. “Liquids can't be transported by dragonflame.” she explained. “They dry out. And a quill could get caught in Spike's throat, choking him. He can scratch out a message with his claws if necessary.”

(1) Named after Jack Hammer, the pony who had first officially described it in scientific literature. The several hundred dragons who had used the technique before, in some cases thousands of times before, were somewhat upset when they found out.


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“Who are you?” asked Flam, putting his ear to the cell wall.

“My name's Red Dawn.” replied the voice from the neighbouring cell. “I've been here a little over a week now.”

“Really?” asked Flam. “I don't suppose you've got relatives on their way to rescue you, by any chance?”

“If I don't even know where I am,” asked Red Dawn, “how is anyone supposed to find me?”

“That's a very good point.” Flam nodded. “Are they -”

“Ask her where she's from!” whispered Applebloom, in the sort of penetrating, highly audible whisper that children are very capable of.

Flam frowned at the filly, asserting grown-up authority. “Are they treating you alright?” he asked

“I've been... a little bit hungry. But things are looking up.”

Flam looked horrified. “They were starving you?” he asked.

“Nothing like that.” replied Red Dawn. “Just... I have a very, um, specialised diet. Medical reasons. I had some trouble getting hold of the right food.”

“Ask her where she's from!” whispered Applebloom, even more penetratingly.

Flam gave her another glare. “Treating you alright otherwise?” he asked.

There was a crashing sound from the cell opposite as the timberwolf reformed and tried to walk through the forcefield again.

“More or less.” said Dawn, ignoring the timberwolf. “They won't let me out, but aside from that I've been alright. And to answer your friend's question, I'll tell you where they got me if you tell me where they got you, alright? And then we can get through the rest of the introductions.”

“Fair enough.” said Flam. “My name is Flam, and I am a travelling salesman, most recently in Canterlot.”

“Ah'm Applebloom, from Ponyville.”

“I'm Sweetie Belle. I'm also from Ponyville.”

“Scootaloo, Ponyville.”

“I'm Spike. Also from Ponyville. Does that wolf do that often?”

“Constantly. I don't think it learns. My name's Red Dawn.” said Red Dawn. “And I'm from Manehatten.”

“Really?” asked Applebloom. “Hey, do you know mah Aunt an' Uncle Orange? They live in Manehatten!”

“Manehatten's a big place, little filly.” said Red Dawn. “I've never met your uncle.”

“Ulp!” said Spike. “Urrrrrrp!” And in a wash of green flame, a scroll burst from his mouth. He whipped off the ribbon, dropping it to the cell floor, and glanced at it.

“Huh.” he said. “It's blank.”

Flam, meanwhile, was staring at the seal on the ribbon. “Is that... is that Princess Celestia's personal seal?” he asked.

“Eeeeyup.” said Spike. “Told you my correspondent would be able to find your brother.”

“You're – quill-friends with – Princess Celestia?”

“He works for Twilight.” explained Sweetie Belle. “She's Celestia's student.”

“But why would she just send me a blank sheet of paper?” asked Spike. “I don't get it.”

“It's probably a request for information.” said Flam. “She wants you to write something on it and send it back.”

“Hmph. Makes sense. Hey, Scoot can you -”

There was the hiss of a door opening. In a matter of seconds. Flam dropped to the ground, lying on top of the ribbon and seal; he pushed Spike to the ground on the far side of him, so that neither the baby dragon nor his sheet of paper were visible from outside the cell. By the time Frem stopped outside their cell, the only sign of anything unexpected having happened in the cell was that three fillies were all trying far too hard to look innocent.

Frem ignored this. He was quite certain that the Ferengi cells were inescapable. “Everyone comfortable?” he asked. As he did so, there was a sudden lurch through the whole room. There was a shimmer in the air, and a loaf of bread appeared next to a bowl of water. Another shimmer, and a large ruby joined them. “I do hope that's a suitable lunch.” he said. “Anything else you need?”

Spike stood up, looking over Flam's back. “Can I have a glass of orange juice?” he asked. “A glass a day is really important for the growth of healthy scales.”

“Orange juice?” asked Frem. He tapped rapidly at his pad, and frowned at the result. “Hmmm. I guess there's no harm in it...” He tapped again, and a glass of orange juice appeared.

“Thanks.” Spike walked cautiously to the glass, and took a small sip; then he swallowed half the orange juice in a single gulp. He picked up the ruby and gave it a suspicious look. “This one isn't going to take me anywhere, is it?”

“Nope.” said Frem. He tapped a few more buttons on his pad, and different types of food appeared in all the other cells.

“If I may enquire,” asked Flam, “just what exactly was that lurch?”

“Warp drive coming online.” said Frem, with a wide grin. “We're on our way now – if anyone's even noticed you're gone, it's too late for them to follow. There's no rescue on the way.”

* * *

It had been the work of a moment for Celestia to return to Canterlot with the Element-bearers, and hammer on her sister's door. “Luna!” she called. “Luna, 'tis a matter of great urgency!”

There was silence from within the moon princess' chambers. Celestia knocked harder. “Luna! 'Tis not the time to sleep!”

Twilight turned around and slammed both rear feet into Luna's door; the door separated from its hinges and flew into the opposite wall with a bang!

“AAAAAAH!” screeched Luna, leaping out of bed. “We art under attack!” She leapt up, tangled in her blanket, and promptly crashed to the floor.

“Luna!” said Celestia, firmly. “You are not under attack. I need your help.”

Luna's blanket moved about for a moment, and then Luna's head finally emerged, her horn glowing. “'Tis the middle of the day.” she said. “What is of such importance that -”

“Spike's been kidnapped.” said Twilight.


“Have we any visitors in orbit at the moment?” asked Celestia.

“There was one yesterday.” Luna said. “Some sort of trader, has been there for a few weeks...” She closed her eyes, and her horn glowed brighter for a bit, as she tracked the position of objects in Equestria's sky. “He... he hath left.”

Celestia frowned. “This is not good.” she said.

“What would Pog want with Spike?” asked Luna.

“Pog?” said Celestia. “The trader's name was Pog?”

“Why, yes. Be that of import?”

“Spike sent a note.” explained Rarity. “It included the name 'Pog'.”

“Luna,” said Celestia, “I'd like you to go to the throne room, please. Try to reassure the nobles. Tell them that someone I care about very much has been kidnapped, and that Canterlot isn't being invaded. I sent the guard looking for a pair of traders called Flim and Flam; I suspect that they might know something. If you need us, I and the Bearers will be in my tower. I need to talk to the Federation about this.”

* * *

Spike waited until Frem left, and then counted to a further twenty before he did anything further. Then he strolled back to the hidden sheet of paper, with half a glass of orange juice in hand.

“Scoots,” he said, “can you come here a moment? I need a feather...”

“Orange juice as ink, I guess?” asked Flam.

“Yep.” nodded Spike. “The dragonflame will heat and dry it in transit, so it'll be readable when it gets there. Until then, it's invisible ink...”

“Are you still alright in there?” Flam asked, knocking on the cell wall.

“Oh, yes.” replied Red Dawn, drily. “Wonderful.”

“Do you happen to have a way out?” enquired Flam.

“No.” said Dawn. “I don't even know if these rooms open, no matter how to make them open. Did somepony on your side say something about dragonflame?”

“Yes.” confirmed Flam. He glanced over to where three fillies were gathered around Spike, making suggestions about what to write. “We can get a message out for you, if you want.” he offered. “Anyone you want to send anything to?”

There was a long silence on the other side of the wall. Then Dawn asked “Dragonflame's a kind of one-target messaging system, isn't it?”

“Yes,” agreed Flam, “but in this case the target's pretty highly placed in Canterlot. Probably one of the Princess' personal secretaries. I'm sure we can get something put in the mail for you.”

There was another long silence. “No.” said Dawn, after a while. “There's no-one I'd like to send a message to.”

“That's... very sad.” said Flam, quietly.

“I have my reasons.” said Dawn, on the other side of the cell wall. “It's not like I don't have any family, you understand.” she said. “It's just that I can't send them a message through Canterlot. They... wouldn't be easily found.”

Flam nodded. “I quite understand.” he said, thinking of his brother's skill at hiding from royal guards. “I'm in very much the same place myself.”

Dawn raised one black, chitin-covered leg and inspected the holes. “I'd rather not talk about it.” said the changeling, quietly.

The Admiral

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The device in Celestia's tower, in a small antechamber near to her bedroom, looked like a large metal trunk with a window in it. There was nothing to be seen through the window; it was just dark. There were a number of switches and toggles below it, including one particularly large green one.

Celestia reached out with one hoof, and pressed the large green button. There was a crackling noise from the device, and then a ping.

“Ooooooooooh.” said Pinkie, peering closely at the window. Then, suddenly, it cleared; showing a strange creature sitting at a desk. It had smooth, dark brown skin on its hands and face, with possibly a light coating of fur (the rest of its skin was either behind the desk or covered in clothes); it had tightly curled black hair; it had very small eyes, placed near the front of its face, and a tiny little nose. The ears were low on the head, towards the sides. Two limbs were visible; they reminded Fluttershy of Iron Will's arms, though they were not as muscular. With a squeak, she dived and hid behind Rainbow Dash.

“Good morning.” said Celestia, who had evidently been expecting this creature. “May I speak to the Admiral? It is a matter of some urgency.”

The creature glanced down at the desk, tapped something twice, and then looked up at Celestia again. “You may indeed.” he said. “I shall transfer your call immediately.”

The screen flickered, and suddenly another, very similar creature behind a rather more ornate desk was visible. This one's skin was paler, and its hair was a sort of reddish-orange; but the shape was similar to the earlier creature.

“Admiral,” said Celestia, “I would like to ask for your help. One of my citizens has been kidnapped.”

The Admiral frowned. “We really can't interfere in the internal affairs of an independent -” he began.

“The prime suspects fled in a warp-capable ship.” continued Celestia. “The same ship in which they had come to the planet, claiming to be merely traders.”

“Ah.” said the Admiral. “I see. Then it's not exactly an internal matter anymore.” He looked down at his desk, and tapped on something several times. Then he looked up at Celestia again. “What sort of aid would you request?” he asked.

“My aim is to get anyone who may have been kidnapped rescued, and safely returned to their friends and family.” said Celestia. “I do not know what resources you can bend to this task; whatever resources are available, I urge you to use them. They would have left the solar system within the last fifteen minutes; we do not know in which direction.”

“Left the solar system?” asked Twilight, horrified. Celestia extended one wing over her faithful student in a quick hug.

A dark mist suddenly rose from the floor, solidifying into Princess Luna.

The Admiral tapped at his desk a few more times, and then said “The nearest ship we have can't get to you any sooner than three days from now. By that time, the warp trail will have faded beyond our ability to follow it. However, if you can give a bit more of a description of the suspects, perhaps we can track them down and find the victims?”

“There were but two of them on the ship.” said Luna. “They gave to themselves the names Pog and Frem, and claimed to be of the Ferengi. I had assumed that to be some sort of tribe, or clan...”

“It's a race.” said the Admiral. “A very... mercantile people. They judge everything in terms of profit and loss. Not warriors, on the whole. I don't suppose you have a picture?”

“Nay,” said Luna, “but there is a unicorn downstairs who has met with Pog recently. He will likely be able to draw for thee a picture. Furthermore, thy warp drive does leave a very distinctive trail; I can craft a spell that can be used to follow it, e'en after three days.”

“You ponies are just full of surprises.” said the Admiral, calmly.

“Then if you could be so good as to lend us a ship, and a crew to fly it,” said Celestia, “then we can provide navigators, and a rescue team, and hopefully retrieve any victims safely.”

* * *

“Okay.” said Spike, wrapping up the scroll and drinking the last of the orange juice. “I think that's everything we need to say.” He took a deep breath and blew at it, letting the scroll catch alight and sending it to Celestia.

The room immediately lurched.

* * *

“What was that?” asked Pog, as the entire ship suddenly lurched.

“I don't know!” said Frem. “A sudden instability in the warp bubble of some kind!”

“Of what kind?”

“I don't know!”

The ship lurched again.

“Either there's some sort of subspace disturbance on the inside trying to get out,” said Frem, “or all our focusing arrays are out of focus!”

“Shut the drive down.” said Pog. “They can't follow us without a warp-capable ship in any case, and we can certainly afford to take twenty minutes to refocus the focusing chambers before the entire ship blows apart.”

“Shutting down.” said Frem.

* * *

“Did ya feel that?” asked Applebloom. “It's stopped.”

“What's stopped?” asked Scootaloo.

“Dunno, but whatever it was, it was makin' the floor vibrate jus' a little.”

“I suspect,” said Flam, “that it had to do with whatever mode of transport we are in. I think we've stopped.”

“Why?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Did my letter make us stop?” asked Spike.

“The timing does seem to suggest it.” said Flam. “I have no idea why, but... perhaps we should include that in a future letter?

* * *

Finally released from the warp bubble that had held it in, the subspace distortion that carried Spike's letter flew rapidly to Celestia. It appeared in front of her, in a puff of greenish smoke.

“Ah,” she said, “a letter from Spike.” To the Admiral, she added “He's the one who was kidnapped.”

The Admiral raised an eyebrow at that.

Celestia proceeded to read the letter aloud:

Dear Princess Celestia

I have been kidnapped, along with all three of the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

“MY SISTER!” yelled Rarity. “I'LL RIP THEM APART!”

“Eeeeeasy there, sugarcube.” said Applejack, laying a hoof on her shoulder. “Gotta find 'em, first.”

There's also a unicorn called Flam and somepony called Red Dawn from Manehatten. We're all in one cell, except Red Dawn for some reason, who's in the cell nextdoor. Dawn says she's been here for about a week. There's also a timberwolf across the corridor. The cells don't have bars, it looks like you can just walk out but when I tried there was this invisible wall that shocked me.

“Forcefield.” said the Admiral.

It doesn't seem to block unicorn magic,

“Really?” said the Admiral. “That's... interesting.”

but the only thing outside the cell that can be moved around is the timberwolf, and it's in the cell opposite. It keeps throwing itself against the invisible wall, and then collapsing and re-forming.

“Re-forming?” asked the Admiral.

“Timber wolves can pull themselves together if they get injured.” said Applejack. She had one foreleg laid comfortingly over Rarity's shoulders, but her face was set in a way that promised trouble for a certain crew of Ferengi should she ever catch up to them.

They said something about selling us to a slaving ring in Orion,

“Orion's a big place,” said the Admiral, “but I can certainly have people there before the Ferengi can get there.”

and so they're keeping us all fed. The visible walls are all metal and very hard; I can't dig through them (I tried). Tell Twilight we're all okay. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle say they miss their big sisters,

Rarity grabbed Applejack with both forelegs, and just hugged her.

and Scootaloo says Dash will come and save us, even if Frem says she can't.

Rainbow Dash was sitting very still, wings half-unfurled, head slightly lowered, eyes narrowed. She didn't say a word, but she seemed almost to be vibrating on the spot.

Flam says he doesn't think you'll find his brother (but when I told him you were the Princess he said maybe you would, so I don't know). Red Dawn says she doesn't have anything to say. Could you tell Twilight that I didn't get a chance to reshelve the reference section yesterday? I was going to do it this afternoon, but now I can't, so I thought I should apologise.

Your faithful dragon,


Three Days

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It was a long three days, in Equestria.

Celestia tried to send another letter to Spike. There was no reply.

Rarity spent the first day pacing, back and forth, back and forth, in the room the Princess had provided for her.

Rainbow Dash took to the air and flew. She didn't care much for where – she just flew, caring only for speed. There were no less than fifteen sonic rainbooms that day, spread through Equestria, and rumours abounded.

Applejack sat on the balcony, and watched the skies.

Pinkie got into the castle kitchens, and began to bake. And bake. And bake. After the first three hours, one of the royal cooks quietly sent some of the guard out for more flour, sugar, and eggs, and the Princess ended up sending the extra cakes out to close on half on Canterlot.

Fluttershy calmly took the train back to Ponyville. She arranged for her animals to be fed and cared for, over an indefinite period; informed the Cakes that Pinkie would be away for a while; hung a 'Closed' sign on Rarity's door; talked to the mayor about a temporary substitute librarian; and told Big Mac (over supper) what was going on, and that Applejack would be a while.

Twilight Sparkle studied. In the afternoon, she studied under Princess Luna, learning how to modify a shield spell into a space-twisting warp drive, and how to track it once it had passed.

In the morning, Princess Luna and Princess Celestia had had an argument.

* * *

“I do not see why.” said Luna, coldly.

“Because,” said Celestia, “I need you here.”

“Thou art able to raise both sun and moon.” pointed out Luna.

“Yes.” said Celestia. “That's not why I need you to stay. It's a matter of security.”

“Thou hast kept Equestria secure for a thousand years without our aid.” said Luna. “What is it that hath changed so in the short interval since that time?”

“The Elements of Harmony found new bearers.”


Celestia sighed, and looked out over the balcony. “Do you remember Sombra?” she asked.

“Ruler of the Crystal Empire? Was he not destroyed?”

“By the Elements.” said Celestia. “Do you remember Obsidian?”

“Aye, I recall that he was defeated -”

“By the Elements of Harmony. Do you remember Discord?”

“Aye, he -” Luna stopped, as she realised what Celestia's point was.

“Was turned to stone, by the Elements of Harmony.” finished Celestia. “We both thought he was dead. And then, once they had new Bearers, he broke free to terrorise Equestria again.” Celestia took a deep breath. “The Elements have been used, Luna, and used often. It may be – in fact it is likely – that all of those defeated by the Elements have been destroyed permanently. But what if they are not? The Elements and their Bearers, Luna, are about to leave this entire solar system. If any one of these threats raises itself again, I may not be able to handle it on my own. And I can't ask the Bearers of the Elements not to go; not with Spike, and their younger sisters, among the victims. I need you, Luna. I need you to stay here with me.”

Luna glared at Celestia for several minutes. Then she asked, “Who will track this 'Pog', if I am to remain?”

“I need to ask that you teach what you know to Twilight.” said Celestia. “In three days, I am quite certain that she could master it.”

* * *

On the second day, the Royal Guard reported to Celestia that there was no sign of anyone called Red Dawn having gone missing in Manehatten a week ago.

Rarity sat in the same room as Luna and Twilight, trying to understand how the warp spell worked. It was quickly clear that she was very, very far out of her depth.

Rainbow Dash, thoroughly exhausted, spent most of the day asleep.

Applejack had moved from the balcony to the top of Canterlot's tallest tower. She watched the sky.

Pinkie Pie managed to bake, and decorate, even more cakes than she had made on the previous day.

Fluttershy said her goodbyes, and took the train from Ponyville to Canterlot.

Twilight, much to Luna's surprise, managed to find a correlation to Starswirl's Third Law showing that magic could not penetrate a warp bubble. This explained why nothing more had been heard from Spike. She also managed to create a very small, approximately one-millimetre diameter warp bubble, which took a small puff of air almost as far as Fillydelphia before collapsing.

* * *

On the third day, five of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony stood on the roof of the tallest tower, staring at the sky, and waiting.

The sixth, Twilight, continued her studies, gathering a selection of some books to bring with, in case there was time for further research on the way.

Celestia spoke to the Admiral again, confirming the arrival time of the promised spaceship.

It was a long three days, in Equestria.

* * *

It was a long three days, in a Ferengi prison cell.

Much to Spike's dismay, there was no further word from Celestia; no letters arrived. Frem returned, on occasion, always holding a rectangular device; a few taps on it caused another meal to appear in all the cells, and emptied the bucket.

Dawn would sometimes talk with Flam, or the Crusaders, or Spike; but never while Frem was in the room. And Frem never tried to talk to her. Flam found himself idly wondering how Dawn had persuaded their captors that she was not intelligent, but he had no wish to end the strange charade. After all, it might be helpful later.

Whatever strange engine was vibrating the floor continued to do so.

Applebloom spent most of her time kicking at one spot on the back wall. She didn't have the strength of her older sister, but perhaps if she kept going, she could knock something loose.

Following her example, Spike tried turning teeth that could casually chew diamond to the wall.

After three days, the wall was unchanged, unmarked.

Flam spent most of his time sitting quietly, observing.

It was a long three days.

The Pursuit Begins

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Flam knocked, quietly, on the wall separating his and Dawn's cells. “Dawn, are you awake?”

“Yes.” said Dawn, also quietly.

“Good.” said Flam. “I wanted to talk with you while the fillies and Spike were asleep. I didn't think you'd want them to hear this, but we need to discuss it.”

“...I'm listening.” said Dawn, with a small yawn.

“You're not a pony.” said Flam.

Dawn sat up, suddenly very wide awake.

“You're a buffalo, or a griffin, or something.” continued Flam. “You've been playing dumb anytime Frem's around, and so he thinks you're just some sort of animal.”

I can work with this. Dawn quietly told herself. I can take a buffalo shape if I need to. Not sure I can manage a griffin, though.

“Quite frankly, I don't care what you are.” continued Flam. “Or where you're really from, or what you do for a living. I don't always follow the strict letter of the law myself; I know what it's like, to fear that anyone might turn on you, to worry that everyone knows what you've done. And what I want to say is, I don't care. I don't care what you've really done, or where you're really from, or anything of the sort. What I care about is getting back, safely, and meeting my brother again.”

Flam took a deep breath.

“It's been three days.” he continued. “It's clear that, whoever Spike's letters went to, they're not sending help; if there was anyone on the way, they would have caught up to us already. So tomorrow, I am going to escape. I plan on taking the fillies and the dragon with me. When I do so, would you like to come along?”

There was a long silence, as the changeling tried to absorb Flam's words. “I, um...” she said, hesitantly, and then stopped.

“I have no intention of turning you in to Celestia.” Flam continued. “On that front, by the way, would you expect her to recognise you if she sees you? It'll be a lot easier to smuggle you past if she doesn't give you a second glance, after all.”

“No.” said Dawn. “No, Celestia won't recognise me. And yes, thank you very much. I would love to escape. To get back... home.” To get back to the Hive. To the mind of the Swarm. I didn't realise I'd miss it so much, until I got cut off...

“Then it's settled.” said Flam, still quietly. “When I break out, I'll open your cell as well.”

There was silence for a long while. Flam had lain down, and almost fallen asleep, when a voice quietly said “Thank you.”

“Mm?” asked Flam.

“Thank you... very much.” said Dawn. “For, well, for thinking of including me in your escape.”

“Oh, no trouble at all.” said Flam. “No trouble at all, my dear.”

* * *

“Captain Anderson.” Celestia nodded at the small screen on the communication device Starfleet had installed in Canterlot Castle.

“Hiya, lady.” said the Captain. He was nowhere near as neat as the Admiral had been; his uniform was creased and rumpled, he slouched in his chair, and he had a generally unkempt look and a line of just-visible fur running along the underside of his chin. “You're the alien Starfleet's been on our backs about transporting?”

“No.” said Celestia. “That would be my student, and her friends. I am merely calling to finalise the arrangements.”

There was, again, a fraction-of-a-second delay. Celestia knew that the signal was being routed from Equestria, to the impossibly-distant Earth, and back almost the entire way; to have kept that communications delay down to a fraction of a second was truly a masterful feat of technology. Not for the first time, Celestia wondered just how the Federation's communication technology worked.

“Well, as I understand it,” said Captain Anderson, “I'm supposed to pick up a few high-and-mighty VIPs off of your world, drag 'am off wherever they want to go for some-or-other urgent reason, keep the bureaucrats back on Earth informed of just where it is we're going, and then offload said dignitaries onto a 'proper Federation vessel' as soon as it catches us. And for this, Earth's paying a handsome sum of credits into my account. That right?”

“I believe you have the essentials.” said Celestia. “Permit me to fill in the fine details. The ponies you will be carrying consist of seven individuals, six mares and one stallion.”

“Okay, hold it right there.” said Anderson. “We've only got proper berths for five, we weren't expecting more than that. Don't want to have VIPs sleepin' on the floor, it ain't neat.”

“That will be sufficient.” said Celestia. “The mares would all be more than willing to sleep on the floor if it would get them to their destination more quickly.”

“Why not just wait for the Federation ship?” asked Anderson. “They got hundreds o' berths, and a higher top speed. This little merchant ship o' mine can't do above Warp Four.”

Celestia closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “I believe the operative word here, Captain, is 'urgent'.” she said. “These individuals must reach their destination as quickly as possible. The Federation's exploratory ship will only be able to reach Equestria two days after you do; that will be too late.”

“I see.” said Anderson. “You're hoping to save a day or two on transport.”

“Yes.” nodded Celestia. “This day or two is incredibly important to us; hence the amount that you are being paid to provide us with it.”

Captain Anderson shrugged. “Well, hey, I can't argue with that.” he said.

“And one further thing.” added Celestia.

Captain Anderson frowned. “Yes?” he asked.

A large, gem-encrusted necklace floated up next to Princess Celestia. “We are given to understand,” she said, “that an item such as this will have some monetary value to your society, as a work of art?”

Anderson straightened up a little more. “Indeed it would.” he said.

“In addition to the credits given to you by the Federation,” she said, “I will be sending fifteen similar necklaces, including this one. The necklaces are a gift, a token of the appreciation of Equestria for your help in this difficult time. Furthermore, should you ever return here after this task is completed, know that you will have the favour of the Crown, and with it, an exemption from all import and export taxes, for as long as you live.”

Anderson looked at the necklace, then at Celestia, then at the necklace again. “On top of what Earth is paying?” he asked.

“On top of what Earth is paying.” confirmed Celestia.

Anderson looked at the necklace again, then at Celestia. “What's the catch?” he asked.

“All I ask,” said Celestia, “is that you take my faithful student and her companions where they direct you, as quickly as possible.”

“Lady, the amount I'm being paid, I can afford to go Warp Four all the way.” Anderson assured her.

“And to start as soon as possible.” added Celestia.

“And to start the moment your little team is onboard.” nodded Anderson. “We're only a few minutes away from your world, so once we have a transpo-”

“My sister will be bringing my team onboard,” said Celestia. “May we have permission to board the moment your warp drive stops? I can assure you that your ship will be well in range.”

Anderson shrugged. “Fine.” he said. “I guess it saves a couple minutes...”

Celestia smiled. “Thank you.” she said.

“Which only leaves the question of diet.” said Anderson. “I don't know what your species can and cannot eat; some of our foods might be poison to you, and vice versa...”

“A valid concern.” said Celestia, nodding. “My student will bring with her four day's worth of rations for the group. I am given to understand that your technology is capable of analysing and duplicating most substances?”

“Yeah...” said Anderson, nodding. “...most substances. Organics tend to be difficult.”

“If necessary,” said Celestia, “my team will be happy to subsist on hay. We are herbivores; we can eat many types of plant, and do not have complex nutritional needs. I am certain that suitable arrangements can be made.”

“...if you say so.” said Anderson. “Ah, I see we're about to enter orbit -”

There was a brief moment of static on the display.

“What the -” asked Anderson.

* * *

Luna grabbed all six of the Bearers, and Flim, and their luggage, all in a single teleport. The human ship had a room on the front, behind a large window; this was Luna's target.

There were seats, a few semi-transparent images along the walls, and of course, a large window near the front. Luna vanished as quickly as she had appeared; it would not do for her to be dragged along as well.

What there was not, was any sign of humans. The room was conspicuously empty.

“Formation, girls!” said Twilight. “No time to waste. Flim, try to find the humans, we need to get going as soon as possible.”

The inclusion of the unicorn salespony had been a last-minute decision; Flim had simply arrived atop the tower and announced that he wanted to go too, since his twin brother had been among those taken. It had taken only a brief discussion for Celestia to support Flim's decision.

None of the Bearers had bothered to contest it. Not even Applejack.

A voice crackled to being in the room, as a rainbow light glowed around the Bearers of the Elements, and their Elements glowed with power. “Good morning, and welcome to the Flight of Fancy.” said Captain Anderson's voice. “Most guests turn up in the transporter room or the shuttle bays, you know, not the forward observation deck. So, I understand you lot are going to be giving me a destination. Which way?”

Twilight rose slowly into the air. Her eyes opened; and they were orbs of bright, white light.”

“I do believe, dear sir,” said Flim, calmly, “that the answer to your question -”

“Follow the rainbow.” interrupted Twilight, as a path of rainbow light sprung into being. It left orbit a little behind and to the left of Anderson's ship, stretching out into interstellar space. Even as it did so, the rainbow light around the Bearers faded, and Twilight sank to the ground. The glow of the Elements faded, and in moments the only thing left glowing was Twilight's horn.

“Follow the rainbow.” she repeated.

“On the way.” Captain Anderson assured them, as the warp drive started up once more.

Pursuit, Part II

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As he had every one of the last three days, Frem approached the cages with a small, hand-held device. “Meal-time!” he said, sounding annoyingly cheerful.

Flam's horn began to glow.

Aside from being a salespony, Flam was a magical engineer; it was his mind that had conceived of, and designed, the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000. And every magical engineer knows that a complicated device will only work as long as the internal crystals are properly aligned. Throw the alignment off, and nothing will happen.

So he reached out his telekinesis to the inside of the slab that the Ferengi was holding, grabbed some delicate internal component at random, and tugged on it. Hard.

There was a crunch from the slab and, for some reason, a wisp of smoke escaped. Frem's annoying cheer vanished in an instant.

“Oh, come on! We're only one day out of Orion!” he yelled. Grumbling, he dropped the useless data slab and walked towards the cell, reaching for a control panel not visible from the inside.

So that's where the manual controls are.

Once Frem had sent in their food and left, taking with him the broken data slab, Flam reached his telekinesis into the wall behind the control panel, and started doing his best impression of an angry minotaur in a china shop.

* * *

“Twilight?” Rarity tapped her friend on the shoulder. “Twilight, it's been four hours. It's the end of your shift. Let me take over maintaining the spell, and get a bit of rest, okay?”

Twilight nodded. Rarity leaned forward, touching her horn to Twilight's; the magic glow flowed from Twilight's horn to Rarity's, and Rarity staggered.

“Oh!” she said. “Darling! You've been holding this up for four hours?”

“I can take it back, if I have to...” said Twilight, nervously.

“No, darling. I'm still fresh. Go get yourself something to eat, visit the little filly's room – you won't believe how strange the facilities in this place are, by the way – and take a bit of a nap. I can hold this up – nnnn – as long as I need to.”

“Could I perhaps help?” asked Flim, from behind the other two unicorns.

Twilight turned to look at him, and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I am a unicorn, after all.” he pointed out. “And I'm not entirely unused to keeping a pre-cast spell going. I don't know how difficult that particular spell is to maintain, but I could keep a piece of machinery running for several hours at a stretch. And if it helps to save my brother...”

“You can take the shift after Rarity.” said Twilight. “I'm going to get something to eat, and then I need to go and talk to someone...”

* * *

“Well, it looks pretty awesome.” said Rainbow Dash, looking over the giant, swirling warp core. “You say this thing is what move this whole... building thing?”

“Yes, um, ma'am.” nodded Jorge Trent, the second human on the ship. He was officially the head of engineering, the first mate, and the second-in-command. Since he was also the entire engineering division and half of the crew all on his own, most of these titles were rather empty.

Dash looked again at one of the pinnacles of Federation technology, and gave her final verdict. “It doesn't look all that fast.” she said. “Awesome, yeah, but not fast.”

There was a hiss as the turbolift opened, and Twilight stepped out. She had half a dandelion sandwich floating in front of her.

“Ah, Mr... Jorge, is it? Captain Anderson said you might be able to help me with a few questions.” she said.

“Ah? Um... maybe?” he said..

“Why is the warp bubble spherical?” asked Twilight.

“Um... what?”

“The warp bubble.” repeated Twilight. “Why is it spherical?”

“Oh, well, um, you see...” He took a deep breath. “Warp bubble geometry is a fairly complex field, but in short, with only a single warp core creating the bubble, a spherical warp bubble is the stablest configuration. Other geometries are possible but would require further warp cores to anchor the effect to; a prohibitively costly exercise.”

“But it's not all that streamlined.” pointed out Twilight. “Wouldn't a more streamlined warp bubble be faster?”

“In theory yes.” said Jorge. “But, in theory, a faster engine can be created by simply diverting more energy into the warp core, as opposed to trying increasingly more complex bubble geometries. Our core can't handle it; feeding too much energy into the warp coils would leave us stranded here, unable to pass lightspeed. With our technology, energy is cheap; warp cores are not. Oh, and it's Mr. Trent, or Jorge, not Mr. Jorge.”

Twilight swallowed another bite of her sandwich. “My apologies, Mr. Trent.” she said. “If there were some way of changing the warp bubble geometry, would that damage your engine?”

“That's impossible without completely stripping and rewiring the entire core.” said Jorge. “It would take weeks, unless you happen to have another warp core on hand.”

“And if I do have another warp core on hand?” asked Twilight.

Jorge gave Twilight a sceptical look. “Well,” he said, “that could work, but I know for a fact you didn't beam any warp coils on board with you...”

“No,” said Twilight, “but I think I have an idea. Dash, can you fetch the girls, please? I'll need them all in the forward observation lounge.”

“Something wrong, Twi?” asked Dash.

“The trail's getting fainter.” she said. “We're not going fast enough.”

“Wait, trail?” asked Jorge. “What trail?”

* * *

With a pop and a fizz, the forcefield in front of the cage holding Flam, Spike, and three fillies suddenly collapsed.

“Spike, m'boy,” said Flam, “of all of us you're going to be the toughest. Would you please step out there and see if there's any little traps waiting?”

“Me?” said Spike, stepping backward. A flash of green light filled the corridor for a second, making Spike step even further back. “But... if there's traps there...”

Flam sighed. He picked Spike up in his telekinesis, and tossed the dragon through where the forcefield had been.

“Ooof!” said Spike, as he landed in the corridor.

Nothing else happened to him; no crossbow bolts flew, no swords dropped, no strange effects made him dissolve and reappear elsewhere. He just lay there.

“Well, then.” said Flam, stepping smartly forward. “Follow me, girls.”

He stepped out into the corridor, glancing both ways. Looking into the cell nextdoor, he saw what appeared to be a young buffalo maiden; with surprisingly well-kept makeup (including, apparently, false eyelashes), especially considering that she'd been here a week longer than Flam.

“Red Dawn, I presume?” he asked.

“The very same.” said the changeling buffalo.

“Excellent. If you'll just give me a few moments to work on this control panel... I think I'm getting the hang of this... there.”

With a pop and a fizz, the forcefield in front of the changeling's cell suddenly collapsed.

“Excellent!” said Dawn. “Now all we need to do is find the door leading out...”

“I doubt,” said Flam grimly, “that it's going to be anywhere near that simple to get out of this prison.”

“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER PRISON ESCAPEES, YAY!” yelled three loud voices right behind Flam.

Pursuit, Part III

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“Hey, Pog?”

“What's it now, Frem?”

“We've got a malfunction in the brig. Two of the forcefields are down.”

Pog suddenly sat up a lot straighter. In the slavery business, this was one of the phrases one never wanted to hear. There was only one thing that could make it worse.

“Which cells?”

“Um... the one with the giant insect in... and the one with the intelligent lifeforms.”

That was it. Intelligent, hostile lifeforms, on board his vessel, was Pog's worst nightmare.

“Well, at least it's not that wooden wolf thing.” said Frem.

Pog reached over and whacked Frem on the back of his head. “You idiot!” he said. “The wolf thing would have been a thousand times better!”

“Ouch! What was that for?”

“The wooden wolf thing, you bumbling imbecile, is just a bundle of instincts in a body. We tag it, transport is, and send it to a new cell, easy as stealing candy from a baby. A creature that thinks is bad news. A creature that thinks and has the demonstrated ability to break out of a cell is the worst possible news! They can sneak around. They can make plans. For all we know, they can get hold of a communication terminal and call for help!” Pog stalked angrily over to the locker on one side of the bridge, and slammed it open.

“So... what do we do?” asked Frem.

Pog tossed him a long, wicked-looking rifle. “We stop them.” he said. “Set that on stun. We'll knock 'em out first, then figure out how to keep 'em locked up for next time.”

* * *

There wasn't much to inspect, in the brig, aside from a short corridor leading to a door, with buttons at its side. Red Dawn reached for the buttons, only to be stopped by Flam. “No.” said Flam. “If I were designing this place, those buttons would make a bell ring somewhere, and let them know we're out. Let's not advertise our freedom just yet; the longer until they know we're free, the better.”

“Then where do we go?” asked Dawn.

Flam nodded at a grating next to the lift. A bit of telekinesis to spin the screws out of their sockets(1), and the grating floated aside. “Let's take the ladder.” he said.

“Iiiiiiii dunno.” said Dawn. “That ladder is really not designed with quadrupedal anatomy in mind.”

Flam shrugged. “So we can't go up.” he said. “Let's go down.”

“Let's jus' GO!” said Applebloom. “Even Ah know that hangin' around here's not the best idea if that fellah comes back!”

“I do believe that filly has her priorities in order.” said Flam, hopping onto the ladder, and managing to hook his forelegs loosely around a rung. “Come on, everypony, down we go! Let's move, move, move!”

* * *

“Flim,” said Twilight, “can you take the over direction spell for a few minutes?”

“You've only been... gah... ten minutes, dear.” said Rarity. “I can... hold it... some time still.”

“Not enough.” said Twilight. “The other ship is moving a good deal faster than we are. We need to speed up, and I'll need all you mares' help to do that.”

“If you say so, darling.” said Rarity. She tapped her horn to Flim's, transferring the spell.

Flim promptly dropped to his knees. “Good grief!” he said. “You – you were holding this for four hours?”

“Yes.” said Twilight. “Girls, formation, please. Now, what I'm about to do is a little theoretical, but it should increase our speed by a significant factor. Everypony, concentrate on your elements, please.”

“You got it, Twi.” said Applejack.

“Alright, now...”

* * *

Captain Anderson, on the bridge, tapped his com badge. “Jorge?” he said. “How exactly are we suddenly doing warp five with a warp four engine?”

“Oh, darnit, she's doing it already.” said Jorge, speaking from the engineering bay. “Captain, we'll probably get up to around warp six before they're done. There's no immediate danger to the ship, but I do need to talk to you, soon. Privately. In person. I'll be up there in a few.”

“You're sure there's no danger to the ship?” asked Anderson.

“Yes, sir. The speed improvement is due to one of our VIPs taking... steps.”

“Without my permission.” said Anderson.

“Yes, sir. I do believe I can explain why.”

“And why is it, Mr. Trent?”

“That's what I want to talk about, sir. In private. Face to face.”

* * *

The turbolift in the Ferengi ship hissed open, and a dozen randomly aimed stun bolts filled the corridor before anyone would have had a chance to react.

The corridor was empty. There was no sign of the prisoners.

“Be careful with that.” said Pog. “If you waste too many shots, I'll have to take it out of your wages.”

“But -” objected Frem.

“Tell you what.” said Pog. “I'll pay you a bounty of one strip of gold-plated latinum for every prisoner you stun.”

Frem grinned.

“And charge you one piece for every twenty shots you fire.” continued Pog.

Frem's face fell.

“Including those you just fired.” finished off Pog.

“But -” objected Frem.

“It's my stun rifle.” said Pog. “I get to set the terms.”

Frem sighed. “Oh, very well then.” he said.

“Now why don't you go and check whether our prisoners are hiding in their cells?” asked Pog.

Frem looked out at the two damaged cells. There was no way to see into the back of the cell without leaving the turbolift. “Why don't you?” he asked.

“Because,” said Pog, “I'm letting you use my stun rifle for a very reasonable price. Plus, I'm the one paying the bounty, so it's only fair that you should be the one who takes the risk. Don't worry, if they rush you I'll stun them from here.”

* * *

“Their sisters have been kidnapped.” said Jorge, very quietly, to Captain Anderson. “By a Ferengi ship with a three-day lead.”

“Huh.” said Anderson. “Ferengi ships can do... warp six, right? We'll never catch them.”

“Not at our normal speed, no.” said Jorge. “That purple VIP is doing something... it's like she's added another warp core into the circuit or something in the forward observation deck. No power worth mentioning, but she's changing the geometry of the warp bubble for extra speed.”

“Wait, she brought a warp core aboard? How did we not pick that up?”

“As far as I know, sir, no. She's somehow faking it, but however she's doing it, it's working. Anyhow, changing the warp bubble geometry can only speed us up so much. We won't be doing more than a hair above warp six, at the very maximum. At that speed, it'd take us several months to catch up with a ship doing warp six, and that Federation ship will be rendezvousing with us in just four days, even with our higher speed. And apparently they think the Ferengi are headed towards Orion...”

“Well, then we're going in the right direction.” said Anderson. “At warp six, let me see...Orion's only a few days away.”

“Yes, sir.” said Jorge. “We can't catch up. I didn't exactly want to tell them that outright.”

* * *

“Alright, Flim.” said Twilight, her eyes glowing as she, and the other Element-bearers, floated up in the air. “You can drop that spell now, thanks.”

Flim promptly did so. “My goodness!” he said. “I could hardly hold that spell up for two minutes!”

“Wha' exactly are we doin' here, Twi?” asked Applejack.

“Changing the warp bubble.” said Twilight. “Streamlining it.”

“Ah, so we go faster?” asked Dash.

“Precisely, yes.” said Twilight. “Even with the Elements of Harmony, we can't get anywhere close to matching the power output of that warp core, so this is the best way to speed us up.”

“Ah thought the Elements o' Harmony were the most powerful magic you could get.” said Applejack. “You say this warp core thing's got 'em beat?”

“Several times over, in raw power output.” said Twilight. “The warp drive doesn't have the flexibility of the Elements, but it's very, very good at the one thing it does do.”

“So... how fast are we going?” asked Dash.

There was a long moment of silence, then Twilight said “Faster than the ship we're chasing.”


“Only a smidgen faster.” continued Twilight. “It's going to take us a long, long time to catch up at this rate. Flim, we're going to need your help.”

“I, um, I don't think I can really help with that spellwork.” said Flim, nervously. “It seems very advanced...”

“Not with the spellwork.” Twilight assured him. “We can keep that up. But we can't leave. Sooner or later, we'll need you to bring us something to eat. Oh, and see if you can find a bucket.”

“Um... okay.” said Flim. “But... I can bring you food and stuff, and I can see how you can continue a spell while eating, but, um... won't you need to sleep at some point?”

“They took my sister.” said Rarity, venomously.

“Sleep,” said Dash, narrowing her eyes, “is for the weak.”

(1) Unicorns do not need screwdrivers. Earth ponies and pegasi, on the other hand, do.

Pursuit, Part IV

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“I must say,” said Flam, as their little group of escapees hurried along a corridor, “this place is a lot bigger than I'd imagined.”

“There's no windows.” said Dawn. “No doors. I think we're underground.”

“Ah don' think so.” said Applebloom. “The air's too fresh. It tends ta get a touch stale in caves, 'cos y'all can't get good venti- vento- whaddya call it when you mean the way air moves?”

“Wind?” asked Scootaloo.

“Ventilation.” said Sweetie Belle.

“Yeah,” said Applebloom, “venta... vento... what Sweetie Belle said. Y'all can't get good ventithingy in caves. Ah think we're in a giant airship.”

“Can't be.” said Flam. “Airships sway somewhat with the wind, like seaships. I think we're in an ordinary building that's not moving anywhere.”

“So...” said Spike, cautiously, “...Frem lied about us moving?”

“For obvious reasons,” said Flam, drily, “I don't trust Frem half an inch.”

“Did you hear that?” asked Dawn.

There was a sudden silence.

“Ah didn' hear anythin'.” said Applebloom, after a moment.

“Comeon,” said Dawn, opening the nearest door. “Let's get out of the open for a bit.”

“Capital idea.” agreed Flam, following Dawn into the cargo hold. “Come on, girls. And dragon. We need to consider the next phase of our escape.”

* * *

“Well,” said Pog, looking at the grating that was supposed to cover the service tunnel next to the lift, “I think it's pretty clear that they went this way.”

“Yeah,” said Frem, “but... up or down?”

There was a long silence.

“We could actually go and look more closely at the ladder.” said Pog, after a while. “See if there's some sort of tracks or something.

“Yeah, and if they're waiting in the shaft and they've found weapons somewhere and they shoot at us?” asked Frem.

“Let me put it this way,” said Pog, “you can go and look more closely at the ladder.”

“But, if they shoot at me -”

“Then I'll know whether they went up or down.” said Pog, firmly. “Now, go and take a look, or I'll have to charge you a fine.”

Frem gulped, nervously.

* * *

“That's a lot of seeds.” said Applebloom, looking over the hold.

“Ah, yes.” said Flam. “Pog purchased these from us before he kidnapped me. It includes representatives of most commonly available Equestrian species, and a few highly uncommon ones. You would not believe how much trouble we had securing -”

“Hey! Zap apple seeds!” said Applebloom, holding a hoofful of small, rainbow-striped seeds.

“You recognise them?” asked Flam.

“Sure, we grow them on th' farm.” said Applebloom, putting the seeds in her mane. “These'll come in mighty useful if Ah kin jus' get hold o' some soil.”

Flam sighed. “Spike,” he said.


Flam kicked the wooden box holding the seeds, shattering one side of it and spilling seeds all over the cargo bay floor. He tossed one of the scraps of wood to Spike. “Can you do that flame thing with this wood?” he asked.

“Send it to Celestia? Why?”

“Because it messes with this place.” said Flam. “Or at least with whatever keeps making the floor vibrate.”

Spike shrugged. “Okay.” he said, wrapping the scrap of wood in flame.

* * *

Just as Frem cautiously leaned over the service shaft, the entire ship shuddered. Frem screamed as he fell down the shaft. He caught himself quickly on the ladder, but the stun rifle slipped from his grip, clattering to the bottom of the shaft, far below.

There were a few moments of silence, then Pog leaned very cautiously over the shaft.

Frem grinned nervously up at him.

“If you've damaged my stun rifle,” said Pog, “then I am going to have to charge you for repairs. Now go down there and get it.”

“But what if -”

“They're not waiting for you down there, you idiot.” said Pog. “There's only one place they can possibly be right now.”

Frem thought for a moment, and then asked “Where?”

“Engineering, you lunkhead!” snapped Pog, angrily. “They're messing with the warp drive! Now get that stun rifle and get back up here. We need to get to the bridge and shut the drive off before those idiots blow up the ship.”

* * *

“So,” asked Captain Anderson, “you're seriously just going to stay there? For how long?”

“That depends.” said Twilight. “How long would it take us to get to Orion?”

“At this rate?” said Anderson. “About four days.”

“Then,” said Twilight calmly, “if it's all the same to you, we'd rather like to just stay here for about four days.”

“I thought we were going faster than these guys!” objected Rainbow Dash.

“We are, Rainbow.” said Twilight. “But not that much faster. And remember, they've got a three-day lead on us. The only way we're going to be able to catch up to them before they reach Orion is if they stop for some reason or another.”

“Oh, dear.” said Rarity, softly. “So... there's a chance that our sisters may get sent off in different directions before we can reach them?”

There was a long,uncomfortable silence as six ponies all quietly considered the question – if the kidnap victims were to do that, which pony – or dragon – would they go after first?

Applejack was the first to break the silence. “Ah sure hope they don't do that.” she said. “Ah wouldn't want ta not go after mah little sister first, and Ah'm sure Rarity feels the same way 'bout her little sister.”

“We'd have to split up.” said Twilight. “Applejack would go after Applebloom; Rarity after Sweetie Belle; Dash would follow up on Scootaloo; I'd go looking for Spike; that leaves Pinkie and Fluttershy, to track down Flam and Red Dawn.”

“I may not be as accomplished as you ladies,” said Flim, “but I would certainly prefer to put my efforts towards tracking down my brother.”

“Oh.” said Fluttershy. “Then I guess I'd go after Red Dawn. I don't think she has anyone else to look out for her. Um... if she is a 'her', I mean. I don't really know anything about her.”

“Then,” said Pinkie, “I guess it'll be my job to just help out wherever I can!”

“It would help to know exactly what we're getting into.” said Twilight. “Captain, could you tell us all you know about Orion?”

Captain Anderson shrugged. “It's a wretched hive of scum and villainy.” he began...


View Online

The cargo hold shook again, as another tremor shook the Ferengi ship.

“What's going on?” asked Red Dawn.

“The dragon's message magic interferes with some other magic that's here.” explained Flam. “Last time, they stopped it pretty quickly, but -”

“SWEET!” yelled Scootaloo, leaping up onto a small, hovering cart. The impetus of her little body pushed the cart slowly towards one wall.

“Ah, yes.” said Flam. “That cart was what those fellows traded -”

“It's got like a permanent flying spell on it, but no wheels!” said Scootaloo. “It's like a little cloud, only everyone can ride on it!” She stood up on her hind legs, resting her forehooves against the edge of the cart, which as still moving. “And it doesn't slow down! Do you know the sort of speed I could get out of this thing?”

Applebloom and Sweetie Belle nodded. They were quite aware of the speed their pegasus friend could get out of her wings.

“Speed?” asked Flam.

“Yeah!” said Scootaloo. “Everyone get in, an' I'll show you!”

The other two Crusaders hopped immediately into the hovercraft, followed more cautiously by Spike.

Flam looked at Red Dawn, and Red Dawn looked at Flam. “Well...” said Flam, after a moment's consideration. “We do need to find the exit as quickly as possible...”

“Be brave, Spike.” muttered the dragon, his claws gripping the side of the cart so tight that his knuckles were pale. “Be brave, Spike.”

He cautiously climbed in. Scootaloo hopped out of the cart, and hung off the back, her forelegs hooked over the edge and her rear hooves planted firmly on the side of the cart. “I can do quick!” she enthused. “Come on, Dawn!”

“I, um, how exactly do you propose to steer this cart?” asked Dawn. Spike's reaction to the idea was leaving her more than a little nervous; Changelings were not all that physically durable.

“Easy,” said Scootaloo, “if you wanna go left, just yell 'LEFT' and everyone leans to the left!”

“Ah kinda wish we had our helmets.” volunteered Applebloom.

“Are you sure that will work, for the steering?” asked Dawn.

“Sure!” said Scootaloo. “'Course, from here I can't see, so you lot in front will have to decide which way to go...”

“It can't be that much faster than walking.” said Flam. All three Crusaders rolled their eyes, but refrained from comment. “And it'll be less tiring. And we do need to find the exit from this place as fast as possible...”

The room shuddered again, causing Dawn to stumble, while the others, in the cart, remained unaffected.

“Oh, alright.” said Red Dawn, cautiously climbing aboard.

“Right!” said Scootaloo. “Let's go!”

Her tiny wings vibrated until they were but a blur...

* * *

“They can't be up here, Frem.” said Pog, marching firmly towards the bridge. “Not if they were down in engineering, messing with the focus crystals.”

“Yeah?” asked Frem. “What if they split up?”

Pog was silent for a long moment. Then he said, “Good point. Keep an ear open.”

With great care, the two Ferengi walked slowly along the corridor; until the corridor suddenly shuddered again, almost making them lose their balance.

“Why would they do that?” asked Frem.

“Quadrupeds.” said Pog. “I bet they have less trouble with stability than we do. And I'd bet they don't know they can cause a warp core breach with that stunt, either. Come on. We've got to get to the bridge, or everyone dies.”

“Wait, what's that?” asked Frem.

There was a distant sound of screaming. Both Ferengi took a cautious guard position, aiming their stun rifles down the corridor.

The screaming got closer. It sounded like there were words in it.



Frem turned around, just in time to see his hovercart approaching at some speed from directly behind the Ferengi. With a scream, he dived at Pog, even as Pog fired his stun rifle; the door behind Pog opened, and the two Ferengi clattered into the room beyond(1) in a heap.

Pog's stun beam, however, hit; it struck Flam directly on the horn, and the unicorn collapsed. Red Dawn grabbed him, as he fell over to the right; the sudden shifting of weight spun the cart unexpectedly, flinging Spike from his seat and sending the cart through a nearby door.(2)

Pog scrambled to his feet, dragging Frem up by one arm. He shoved the side of his crewman's head into the earprint scanner by the door, and said, triumphantly, “Lock!”

“What the -” asked Frem, fighting to get out of Pog's grep. “What was that for?”

“That,” said Pog firmly, “was why I am the Captain and you are not. Despite your interference, I have managed to recapture all but one of the slaves, and at the cost of only a single stun bolt!” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder at Spike, who was shaking his head dazedly. “I'll leave the last one up to you.” he said, smugly. “You could do with that one-latinum reward.”

“But, but, but they're trapped in my room!” whined Frem. “Where will I sleep?”

“I'll rent you the couch in the mess hall.” suggested Pog, with a grin, as he headed off towards the bridge. “Three latinum a night.”

* * *

“Somepony needs to clean up!” said Sweetie Belle, looking over Frem's room. “This is more of a mess than my sister's inspiration room!”

“Where's Scoots?” asked Applebloom, looking around.

“Here.” A little orange hoof waved in the air, from just behind the crashed cart. “Where's Spike?”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked around the room. Spike was nowhere to be seen. “SPIKE?” yelled Sweetie Belle.

“He fell out just before we turned in here.” said Dawn, helping Flam onto the unmade bed.

“Oh my!” said Sweetie Belle, peering at Flam. “Is he okay?”

“He's fine.” said Dawn, pretending to take his pulse(3). “Just out cold.”

“Hey!” said Applebloom. “The door won't open!”

“Spike!” called out Scootaloo. “He's gonna be facing those two alone!”

“An' they got knockout guns!” added Applebloom. “He's got no chance!”

* * *

Out in the corridor, a third stunbeam hit Spike. He didn't even bother to try to dodge this one; it had just as much of a lack of effect as the first two had had(4).

“That all you got?” asked Spike, contemptuously. He grinned, widely. “You wanna see what I can do?”

He took a deep breath, and blew a short burst of flame, barely enough to singe Frem's trouser knees. The Ferengi crewman screamed and ran.

One latinum was not enough to deal with a stunproof, firebreathing alien.

(1) A small emergency locker, containing an air tank, a small two-way radio, a pressure sensor, and slot on the wall in which one had to insert pieces of gold-plated latinum to activate the air tank.

(2) This one led into Frem's room. It was not particularly tidy.

(3) She didn't want to explain that she knew Flam was fine because she was still feeding off his sympathy. She also didn't know how to take a pulse.

(4) Ferengi stun beams, as it turns out, are not all that effective against a being who can go for a nice, relaxing dip in molten lava.

Further communication

View Online

It had become a tradition for Princess Celestia to have tea with the Admiral at regular intervals(1). The exact times had been a matter of some negotiation, since the Equestrian day was half an hour longer than the Earth day(2); and so it was inevitable that at least one of them would not be taking tea at the same time every day.

Nonetheless, the occasional quiet chat over tea was, in the opinion of both leaders, an excellent way to learn more about the other in a friendly and non-threatening way. And it was inevitable that, sooner or later, the conversation would turn to the kidnap rescue mission.

“I'll be able to have some people in Orion within a few hours.” the Admiral said. “I can't be sure whether the Ferengi will arrive first or not, and I can't be sure where they'll go, but we'll keep a lookout.”

“Thank you very much.” said Celestia. “You have taken a lot of trouble over this matter.”

“Least I could do.” said the Admiral. “Taking children and selling them is one of the lowest, most despicable crimes I can imagine.” He took a sip of his tea. “You seem to be taking the whole business pretty calmly, all things considered.”

Celestia nodded. “Yes, I suppose I am.” she said. “It helps that I know that Twilight Sparkle is on the rescue mission. She's a truly amazing mare, and I am quite certain that she'll succeed.” She sipped her tea. “Did I ever tell you about Disqord?”

The Admiral considered the question, as if every video frame of this communication wasn't being stored in Federation archives and pored over by legions of xenobiologists, xenopsychologists, and subspace engineers. “No,” he said, “I don't believe you have.”

Celestia nodded. “He was a strange creature.” she said. “We called him a draconequus, because we'd never seen anything of the like before; and we called him Disqord because of what he did. He was... chaos incarnate. He made cotton candy clouds that rained chocolate rain; he changed the grass into a checkerboard design of purple and white; he took the sun and moon, and made day and night last mere minutes each. It seemed that he could do anything he wanted with a mere snap of his claws.”

You called him Disqord?” asked the Admiral, putting down his teacup.

Celestia nodded. “That is correct.”

“Then what did he call himself, if I may ask?”

“He called himself Q, at first.” said Celestia. “It didn't last long, however. He quickly decided that he much preferred the name Disqord.”

“Hmmm.” said the Admiral, picking up his teacup again. “The Q. We've met them before.”

Celestia lowered her teacup to the table. “Them?” she asked.

The Admiral nodded. “Them.” he said. “A whole race of near-omnipotent beings, all of whom call themselves Q. Somehow, they can tell which Q you're taking about when they hear the name, but the rest of us can't. Troublesome and, usually, very irritating to deal with. I take it Twilight dealt with this one?” He took a sip of his tea.

“Yes.” said Celestia. “She turned him to stone.”

The Admiral spat out his tea(3).

“She turned a member of the Q Continuum to stone?”

“Oh, yes.” said Celestia, calmly. “He's still in my statue garden.”

* * *

The turbolift door opened, and Pog hurried onto the bridge. An alarm warbled through the room – Warp field instability detected – and, with a quick series of taps on the relevant console, Pog shut the warp drive off.

This let out the piece of wood that Spike had sent out; and, at the same time, it let in several other messages.

* * *

Spike hammered on the cabin door. “Hey!” he called out. “You guys okay in there?”

“We're fine,” called back Sweetie Belle's voice, “but we can't get the door open from this side! How are you?”

“I'm great.” said Spike. “Their – whatever those things were – didn't work on me, and then the Ferengi ran away. What did they do to Flam?”

“Made him fall asleep.” called out Dawn. “Is there any way to open the door from the outside?”

“Not that I can see.” said Spike. “One of those Ferengi hit the other one into the wall and said 'Lock'.”

“Try sayin' 'Unlock' and hitting the wall there?” asked Applebloom.

“It's too high,” said Spike, “I can't reach.”

“What happens if you just say 'unlock'?” asked Dawn.

“Unlock!” said Spike. He waited a while, and then said “Nothing.”

“Maybe that's the wrong word.” suggested Sweetie Belle. “Try, um, 'Open'? Or 'Unfasten'?”

“Open!” said Spike. “Unfasten!”


“Hey, I got a letter from the Princess!”

“Oooooh!” cried all three Cutie Mark Crusaders. “What's it say?”

My dearest Spike

First of all, let me assure you that we are doing everything in our power to rescue you. Twilight, and the other Bearers, will be on their -


“What?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Another lett-” *BUUUUUURP!* “There seem to be a few -” *BUUUUUURP!* *BUUUUUURP!*

There was a long silence.

“Ooooh.” said Spike, after a bit. “I think that's all for now.”

“Could you read them out?” asked Dawn.

“Sure,” said Spike, reaching out for one of the scrolls at random and reading it aloud.

Scoots, it read, I'm coming. - Dash.

“Is that all that one says?” asked Dawn.

“Uh, yeah.” said Spike.

“It's all it needs to say.” said Scootaloo. “If Dash says she's coming, then she's coming.”

“What's the next one?” asked Sweetie Belle.

Spike picked out another letter.

My dearest Spike

First of all, let me assure you that we are doing everything in our power to rescue you. Twilight, and the other Bearers, will be on their way as soon as possible. However, there will be some delay. You are on a starship -

“A starship?” asked Dawn. “What's a starship?”

“Says here it's a 'vehicle to navigate between the stars'.” replied Spike.

“What, like some kind of night-only airship?” asked Dawn.

“I, uh, I dunno.” said Spike.

You are on a starship, a vehicle to navigate between the stars at an unimaginable speed.

“It can't be faster than Dash.” volunteered Scootaloo.

It is thousands of times faster than even Rainbow Dash can travel, read Spike. He frowned at the letter, and added “Surely that can't be right? Nothing can travel that fast?”

“Yeah!” agreed Scootaloo. “Rainbow Dash is the fastest thing in ever! Nothing can go faster than her!”

“Nah,” said Spike, “lots of things are faster than Dash. Light, for one. Twilight told me once that -”

“Twilight can't prove that light is faster than Dash!” objected Scootaloo. “I bet if they raced, Dash would win!”

There was a brief silence. Spike decided not to press the issue, and cleared his throat. “Anyway.” he continued.

and by now you will already be outside the solar system.

“Oh.” said Spike. “That's what 'starship' means.”

“What's a solar system?” asked Red Dawn(4).

“The sun,” said Spike, “and the moon, and the entire planet of Equus all together.”

“You mean we're in space?” asked Scootaloo. “Coooool!”

We have made arrangements to obtain another starship in which to pursue you, but it will not arrive for three days. If there is any way that you can slow the Ferengi, without putting yourselves at risk, then that will allow the Bearers to reach you all the sooner.

The invisible wall at the front of your cell is called a forcefield. It is dangerous, and I advise you not to touch it as far as possible. Look after each other, and above all, stay safe.

Princess Celestia

“It doesn't say anything about breaking out of our cell and running away.” said Spike.

“We've bin travelling for three days?” said Applebloom, nervously.

“Um, yes?” said Dawn.

“An' this things faster than Dash? Like, thousands o' times faster?” she continued.

“That's gotta be wrong!” insisted Scootaloo.

“So...” said Applebloom, “even if we find a door leadin' out, how long would it take us ta get back?”

This question was greeted by a long silence.

“Are we sure we've been going all the time?” asked Spike.

“The floor's bin shakin' for almost alla those three days.” said Applebloom. “It stopped jus' a little afore ya started getting' yer mail. Ah bet that's the whatever makes this place go.”

“Could you read one of the other letters?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Oh, right.” said Spike, picking one out at random.

Hey, girls. And Spike. And Flam. And I don't know if Dawn is a girl or not, so hey, Dawn.

Don't worry, okay? We're gonna come and rescue you, and nothing's gonna stop us. I've packed my party cannon and I've done a whole lot of baking. When you all get back to Canterlot, we're going to have the biggest party EVER!

Got to go now. The ship will be here in a few minutes, and then we're coming to rescue you.

You haven't forgotten us, have you? I'm the pink one, just in case you have. Except Dawn, you can't forget us because I'm pretty sure you never met us, so if you think you remember us then it might not be your memories that you're remembering, and if that happens, then please give them back to whoever they came from, okay?

Pinkie Pie

“Any others?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Two more.” said Spike.


No apology necessary. The reference section is entirely unimportant at this juncture; Fluttershy's arranged for a temporary substitute librarian.

I have no idea how long it'll take for us to catch you, as it depends on the relative warp factors of two unknown starships. But rest assured that we will catch up with you.

It seems that the warp drive interferes with magic. I'm not sure whether you'll get this message at all; you might get it as soon as the warp drive shuts down, or you might not. You won't get it while the drive is online though, that follows as a minor corollary to Starswirl's Third Law. That also means that you probably won't be able to send any more messages back to us until the drive is off again.

So the fact that you have received this message implies that you are most likely at Orion already. See if you can leave a trail for us to follow, and pay attention to where everypony else goes. Rumour is a trail as much as anything else; be visible as much as is safely possible.

We will find you.

Twilight Sparkle.

“Anything else?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“One last one.” said Spike.


There was a thump as Sweetie Belle dropped to the floor. “My sister didn't send anything?” she asked.

Spike cleared his throat.


I'm coming for you, little filly. Stay safe, stay calm. Rescue is on the way.

Give those Ferengi a good kick in the teeth for me.

Tell Sweetie her sister's on her way, too. I think she's too angry to write.


(1) Or, at least, for them each to have tea while on opposite sides of the same subspace video link.

(2) On average, depending on how Princess Celestia was feeling. On one memorable occasion several years back, Princess Celestia had become engrossed in a particularly gripping novel, and the Equestrian day had been a full three hours longer than usual.

(3) It is worth noting that there are three races known to Starfleet where the sudden spitting out of liquid is a declaration of war; four where it is a marriage proposal; and one (a reptilian species with poison glands in their cheeks) where it is an assassination attempt. As a result of this, Starfleet's diplomatic corps go through significant training to try to repress this instinct; actually spitting out one's tea while talking with an alien representative was punishable by being sent on a three-week refresher course with a roomful of rookies. For a highly-ranked officer, the only thing that could possibly be more embarrassing is having the original tea-spitting moment recorded for posterity in Starfleet archives and seen by legions of xenobiologists, xenopsychologists and subspace engineers.

(4) Changelings are not known for their astronomy.


View Online

“My sister didn't send anything!” complained Sweetie Belle.

“Hey,” said Applebloom, “ya heard what Applejack said. She's too angry.”

“She's probably angry with me!” said Sweetie, despairingly. “She prob'ly thinks it's uncouth to be kidnapped or something!”

“Um, well... she is coming to help rescue us?” said Applebloom, tentatively reaching out one hoof to Sweetie Belle.

“An' then she's prob'ly gonna ground me forever for being uncouth!” despaired Sweetie, collapsing dramatically onto the floor. “How'm I ever gonna do anything if I'm grounded for life? I'll never be a famous fashion designer if that happens!”

“Uhhhh...” said Applebloom, hesitantly. She looked over at Scootaloo, and poked the pegasus with one hoof.

“Dash is coming!” volunteered Scootaloo, cheerily.

Applebloom frowned at Scootaloo. “Yeah.” she said, drily. “Ah know that.” She pointed at Sweetie Belle and tried to indicate, via a complex series of gestures, that she needed supportive friends right now.

“No,” said Scootaloo, “that's Sweetie Belle. That's not Dash.”

Applebloom rolled her eyes, and trotted back to Sweetie Belle. “Ah'm sure she's not really angry at ya.” she said.

“You don't know my sister like I do!” sobbed Sweetie Belle. “I'm what she always gets angriest at, 'specially if I get lost an' she has to come and find me!”

“I, uh...”

“I once met a mare,” volunteered Red Dawn, “who had lost her foal in a busy market. She was rushing around frantically, worried beyond belief(1). She asked everypony if they'd seen the foal. It was only once she'd found her foal that her worry turned to anger(2). And, though she shouted, most of her anger was not directed at the foal; most was directed at herself, for having let the foal out of her sight.”

Sweetie looked up at Dawn, wondering what the point was.

Dawn knelt down next to Sweetie, and looked her in the eye. “When a parent,” she said, “or an older sister, or any other caregiver, gets angry when someone gets lost, do you know why? It's because she's thinking what would happen if I never found my little sister? And it's because the answer to that question is something that's too scary to think about. Little unicorn, I do not – not for one minute – believe that your sister feels anything but the greatest of love for you. She's not angry at you – she's angry at the Ferengi. And I would not like to be them when she finds them.”

There was a long moment of silence. Then Sweetie Belle reached out her forelegs, and grabbed Dawn in a hug.

“Thank you.” she said. “Thank you so much.”

Dawn licked her lips(3). “I'm just glad to have helped.” she said.

Spike knocked on the door from outside. “Uh, guys? I don't want to interrupt, but do any of you have any idea what we're supposed to do now?”

* * *

Frem's pocket played a jaunty little tune. He reached into it, and pulled out a small, rectangular device. He tapped it, just once.

“Frem?” Pog's voice sounded from the device. “Did you get that last alien?”

“I, um, I shot him three times?”

“Hmmm. A bit wasteful, but you're paying for the shots. Where did you put it?”

It's immune to stuns!”

“...oh. Oh, dear. So, you set the phaser rifle to kill, right?”

There was a long silence.

“Oh, come now!” said Pog, exasperated. “If he's immune to stun, then he's likely at least partially immune to kill! It's just a matter of turning the power up and shooting until he goes down!”

“He breathed fire at me!” objected Frem.

“Well, tell me at least that you haven't lost sight of him.” groaned Pog.

“Um... last I saw him, he was outside my room.” said Frem, nervously. “I, um, I thought I could go and get those focusing crystals re-aligned...”

There was another long silence. Frem's nervousness increased with each passing instant, as he imagined Pog being more and more angry all the time.

But when Pog next spoke, it wasn't in tones of anger. It was in tones of fear.

“Oh, destitution!” he swore. “Frem, get to engineering at once. We need that warp drive back and we need it back now!”

* * *

“Well, unless we can find a way to get through that door, Flam and I are stuck here.” said Dawn. “But I don't think the same is true for the three of you.”

She leapt up onto the bed and bucked a ventilation grill. Then she turned about and stuck her head into the air duct, both to see what was in there, and to take the smashed grill out. “It's too small for a full-grown pony,” she said, “but it looks like a little filly will be just about able to fit through there. Now, I want the three of you to be very, very careful, okay? Remember that the Ferengi can't fit into the air ducts either, so as long as you stay in there, you'll always have an escape route.”

“We'll be careful!” said Scootaloo, hopping onto Dawn's back and from there, into the duct.

“We promise!” lied Sweetie Belle, as she followed. Something to do was just what she needed.

“Yeah!” added Applebloom, rounding out the group.

“Now wait just a minute!” said Dawn.

Three little filly's heads crowded the space the grill had been removed from. “Yes?” they asked.

“We need to talk about what you're going to do.” said Dawn. “You need to start off by finding Spike and rendezvousing with him.”

“What's rendezvous?” asked Scootaloo.

“Meet.” said Sweetie Belle.

“He's small enough to fit in the ducting with you.” Dawn said. “And then you need to see if you can find some way to stop this starship from going anywhere so your sisters can catch up, okay?”

There was silence for a few moments while the Crusaders considered this, then Scootaloo said “Yeah! Cutie Mark Crusaders Starship Saboteurs are on the job!”

“Y'all can consider this here starship thoroughly stopped!” said Applebloom.

“Just be careful,” warned Dawn, “there's probably fans in there that could cut you up. Watch where you're going, okay?”

She waited a few minutes for them to leave, before green fire wrapped around her. Her buffalo form vanished, replaced by the shape of a young alicorn filly(4), no bigger than the Crusaders.

With a buzz of her wings, she flew up into the air duct and started heading in the direction opposite to the Crusaders.

The Ferengi weren't going to recapture her, if she could possibly help it.

* * *

On the bridge, Pog looked again at the giant ship that had snuck up on them while he and Frem were busy trying to round up their prisoners.

“Oh, destitution!” he swore, again, as the other ship hailed him. Audio only.

Numbly, he flicked the switch to play it, although he already knew what it would say.

We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

(1) Delicious. Not as healthy or nutritious as love, but sweet and useful for a sudden rush of energy (though it can be unpleasant when it wears off).

(2) Savoury, with hints of cinnamon.

(3) Gratitude is both delicious and filling, though quite difficult to find a good long-term source of.

(4) She couldn't decide whether access to magic or flight would be more useful, so she went for both.


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Pog looked again at the Borg ship, through the viewscreen. It was huge – at least ten times as tall as his tiny trading vessel, and more than fifty times as long – but it didn't have the cubical shape common to all the Borg ships he'd ever heard of. It was a smaller, flatter craft, probably holding thousands of drones... and it had seen them.

If it actually attacked, Pog knew, they wouldn't have a chance. Their only hope was to flee and hope that they could pass – and outpace – a more tempting target on their way...

“Frem!” he yelled, into his comm. “Why isn't that warp drive working yet?”

* * *

Translator's note: The Borg refer to other species by number only (for example, the Ferengi are referred to as “Species 180”. For ease of reading, all occurrences of the phrase “Species 180” in the following document have been replaced by “Species 180-FERENGI”, and similarly for other species.


Species 2187-PONIES is subdivided into five known subspecies:

Species 2187-A-ALICORN: Greatly valued as potential Borg drones for their subspace manipulation abilities, flight, weather control abilities, durability, and physical immortality. No currently assimilated specimens. Assimilate with priority A+++.

Species 2187-B-UNICORN: Greatly valued as potential Borg drones for their subspace manipulation abilities. No currently assimilated specimens. Assimilate with priority A+.

Species 2187-C-PEGASUS: Greatly valued as potential Borg drones for their flight and weather control abilities. No currently assimilated specimens. Assimilate with priority A.

Species 2187-D-NEGASUS: Greatly valued as potential Borg drones for their flight and weather control abilities. No currently assimilated specimens. Assimilate with priority A.

Species 2187-E-EARTH-PONY: Greatly valued as Borg drones for the possibility that Species 2187-A-ALICORN, Species 2187-B-UNICORN, Species 2187-C-PEGASUS or Species 2187-D-NEGASUS DNA can be extrapolated from their genetic information; and for their physical strength. No currently assimilated specimens. Assimilate with priority A-.


ATTEMPT I: Foiled by class-Q entity Disqord

ATTEMPT II: Foiled by time-travelling entity Dr. Whooves

ATTEMPT III: Foiled by Species 2187-A-ALICORN entity Princess Celestia

ATTEMPT IV: Commencing: Examples of Species 2187-B-UNICORN, Species 2187-C-PEGASUS, and Species 2187-E-EARTH-PONY successfully lured off-planet.

Class-Q entity Disqord: ABSENT
Time-travelling entity Dr. Whooves: ABSENT
Species 2187-A-ALICORN entity Princess Celestia: ABSENT

Note: Examples of Species 2187-B-UNICORN, Species 2187-C-PEGASUS, and Species 2187-E-EARTH-PONY are present only in very small numbers, and the ship in which they are travelling is small and fragile. The assimilation process must therefore take more care than usual, to ensure that specimens are not unduly harmed prior to full assimilation.

Two members of Species 180-FERENGI are also present. Species 180-FERENGI only has an assimilation priority of C---. Damage to, or failure to assimilate, these specimens is acceptable.

No other species in this area of space have an assimilation priority greater than B-.

* * *

“The focusing crystals look untouched!” Frem said. “Whatever those prisoners did, must have been really subtle. I'm going to have to refocus them manually, and that'll take -”

“No time!” argued Pog's voice, from the communication link. “They look fine, great, I'm turning the warp dive back on again!”

Frem screamed in frustration. “If the focusing crystals aren't properly aligned we'll all die! And we've been running at a loss!”

“We're worse than dead if we stay here!” objected Pog, as the warp drive warmed up.

“What, why?” asked Frem.

“Borg.” said Pog.

Frem screamed louder, this time in fear. He started flicking off the safety switches, allowing the warp drive's power curve to rise at dangerously unsafe speeds...

And it was at this point that the Borg probe's beam hit. It did no physical damage to the ship, but the warp core suddenly lost all power, and the ship was forced to switch to emergency power; barely enough to keep life support, lights, and artificial gravity running.

* * *


The grating shook as something hit it, hard, from the inside. It dented, but it held.



On the third kick, the grating finally flew from the wall, the latches that had held it in place finally giving way and snapping. A pair of small yellow hooves drew themselves back into the gap, and after a moment, a small yellow filly's head appeared in its place.

“So?” asked Sweetie Belle, from further in the duct.

“Ah dunno.” said Applebloom. “It looks like someone's room. There's a door, but Ah can't see if it'll open or not.”

“Well, go and see!” called out Scootaloo, from further in. “I'm sick and tired of this air duct!”

“Ah dunno if Ah'd be able ta get back in here.” said Applebloom. “It's quite a bit down...”

“Oh, come on!” objected Scootaloo. “This air duct is horrible! Anywhere would be better than being stuck in here!”

“Yeah,” said Applebloom, “but at least here, we got a way ta move on. If we can't get back in here, we might not be able ta get outta that room. An' then we'd be stuck. Ah say we go on ta the next one, an' try there first.”

There was some muttering from inside the tunnel, and then Scootaloo's voice said “I vote that as soon as we get a place with a bit more space, we make Applebloom go in front.”

“Yeah,” agreed Applebloom, “that would probably be better.”

“Hey,” said Scootaloo, “did anypony else notice that the breeze stopped?”

* * *

There was a clatter in the cells as a pile of wood re-formed into a timberwolf. With a snarl, it leapt at the space where a forcefield had been...

...but the forcefields were not powered by emergency power. The Borg's beam weapon had drained them.

For the first time since appearing on the ship, the timberwolf completed its leap, landing in the corridor. It howled triumphantly, and then looked about at the wider spaces now open to it.

Scent... there was the scent of delicious ponies in the air. They had left some time ago, but the scent trail led... that way.

As the timberwolf trotted past the cell that had once held the changeling (on its left), there was a growl to its right. The timberwolf turned to look, and met the gaze of a fearsome manticore.

Caution was evidently advised. A manticore was one of the creatures capable of knocking a lone timberwolf into kindling with relative ease, after all. But, for some reason, this particular manticore seemed unwilling to step out of its cell(1).

The ponies' scent trail didn't lead into the manticore's cell. With a cautious growl, the timberwolf began to shuffle along the corridor after the delicious scent, hoping to bypass the manticore. Both animals tensed up, ready to fight or flee at the slightest provocation...

It was at this point that, without warning, a Borg drone teleported into the corridor; several metres away from the timberwolf.

(1) The manticore had only had to walk into the forcefield three times to learn to avoid it. Unfortunately for it, this meant that once the forcefield was down, the manticore was still trying to avoid it.

Wildlife, Part I

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The Ferengi ship contained a grand total of eight forcefield-shielded cells, in a short corridor that ended in a dead end on one side and a turbolift on the other. The original inhabitants of each cell, as was the case on leaving Equestria, were as follows:

On the left, as one steps out of the turbolift, the first cell contained a manticore.
On the right, the first cell contained a changeling.
On the left, the second cell contained a very stubborn timberwolf.
On the right, the second cell contained four ponies (three fillies and Flam) and a baby dragon.
On the left, the third cell contained a snow leopard(1).
On the right, the third cell contained a pheonix.
On the left, the fourth cell held a cragodile.
And finally, on the right, the fourth cell held a very nervous cockatrice(2).

By the time the Borg drone arrived in the corridor, the ponies, the dragon and the changeling had already made good their escape, and the timberwolf was on its way out.

Naturally, the Borg did not know which cell the ponies had been kept in. The drone thus ignored the various creatures in its vicinity, and proceeded to check the cells, one by one.

The Collective briefly considered the question of order, and concluded that it would be best to look in the cells closest to the turbolift first; in this way, should the ponies be hiding in any of the other cells, they would have to pass the drone in order to exit the corridor.

This involved walking between the timberwolf and the manticore. The Collective didn't think it would be a problem.

And even if it was... well, drones are expendable.

* * *

The upright, bipedal creature approached the timberwolf. It was only slightly larger than a diamond dog, and smelt of flesh and metal. The timberwolf mentally classed it as 'prey', and, for the moment at least, ignored it in favour of keeping an eye on the manticore. The prey smelt delicious; but if the timberwolf turned to eat it, then the manticore could leap upon it from behind, and steal the prey!

That would not do.

And then the prey creature stepped between the timberwolf and the manticore!

What joy! Now it could attack the prey without taking its eyes off the manticore! Perhaps it could even drag the prey off to a safe place before the manticore took it away!

* * *

As the timberwolf leapt, the drone raised a hand, perfectly positioning it in the path of the timberwolf's nose.

Borg drones are slowed when walking, due to the extra mass of their implants; but those implants come with certain other advantages, as well. For one, the Borg are surprisingly, even incredibly, strong.

The drone's hand didn't even move as the timberwolf's nose struck it, and the wooden beast was once more scattered into kindling. Some of the pieces clattered through where the manticore's forcefield had been, much to the manticore's surprise.

The drone didn't even interrupt his stride, as it stepped into what had once been the changeling's room.


The drone turned around, at the same time as the manticore realised that the forcefield was gone. The manticore roared, spreading its wings and flourishing its sting.

***Manticore. Carnivorous beast. Unintelligent, therefore unworthy of assimilation. May pose a threat to beings of Species 2187-B-UNICORN, Species 2187-C-PEGASUS, and Species 2187-E-EARTH-PONY. Prepare personal shielding for kinetic impact. Destroy.***

It took the drone four point eight seconds, and one punch, to kill the manticore.

***Cell contains body of manticore, some parts of reanimating timberwolf. No sign of Species 2187-PONIES. Timberwolf may pose a threat to potential Species 2187-PONY drones. How can it be permanently disabled?***

A half-dozen more drones beamed into the brig. Each picked up the largest unclaimed piece of timberwolf they could find, and held it still, far away from each other. Magic crackled between the pieces of timber as they tried, unsuccessfully, to combine.

The original drone calmly walked to the cell that had originally contained the timberwolf.


And on to the cell that had originally contained the ponies.


And then to a new cell.

***Cell contains pheonix. Source of heat and light. Feral, may pose a threat to potential Species 2187-PONY drones. It can be easily killed if it can be caught.***

* * *

Fortunately for the phoenix, she was not easily caught. She ducked below the drone's first strike, then flew up and flashed into bright light, enough to blind a dragon; though the drone's ocular implants recovered within a fraction of a second. It made another grab for the phoenix, which dived down, dodged around the drone's legs, and swooped out of the cell, into the cell opposite.

The snow leopard in there did not appreciate a visit from a creature of flame. He roared, sending out a blast of freezing winter air. The phoenix did an abrupt u-turn back out into the corridor; the Borg drone inside its former cell had just turned around, and there were six more by the lifts. So the phoenix dived to her left, away from the turbolift, and then turned left again, disturbing the cragodile and finding yet another room with no exits. She spun about again, leaving the cragodile's cell (noting in passing that the last cell didn't appear to have any exits either, but failing to notice the cockatrice trying to hide in the corner).

There was clearly only one exit(3), and it was on the other side of seven Borg drones and a snow leopard. Fortunately, neither borg drones nor snow leopard could fly; and though strong, the drones were slow enough to evade. Even more fortunately, the snow leopard and the nearest drone were fighting between themselves; it was clear that the phoenix's only chance to flee was to try to dodge past the others in the narrow corridor, and head for the exit.

* * *

***Snow leopard has attacked. Creature is belligerent and likely to pose a threat to potential Species 2187-PONY drones. Creature deforms easily under kinetic impact, but quickly reforms once again after impact.

Memories gained during Species 2187-PONY assimilation attempt III suggest that a snow leopard can be best destroyed by exposing it to a significant source of heat, melting it. Seeking suitable heat sources... suitable heat source located. Calculating trajectory...***

* * *

The phoenix zipped over the drone fighting the snow leopard. The six ahead of it could pose a problem if they dropped those bits of timberwolf and all grabbed for her at once, so she fired off a burst of light to try to blind them before zipping past...

And then half a snow leopard quite suddenly hit her from behind. The sudden weight, not to mention the shock of the cold, hit her and knocked her to the ground. She thumped into it and slid, the melted snow making the floor slippery; she only stopped moving at the addition of a sudden weight on her neck. She glanced up, to see that the weight was the foot of a drone; enough to firmly hold her there, but not enough to break her neck and kill her.

After the shock of the snow leopard, it took her a few moments to restart her natural flames. For some reason, the drone let her do it; and did not remove its foot even when the flames licked its ankle.

Then the drone bent down, holding out the piece of timber it held, and let it catch fire...

(1) An Equestrian snow leopard is, of course, a leopard made entirely out of snow.

(2) A cragodile, consisting as it does entirely of rock, is immune to a cockatrice's stare; in fact, it is the major predator of cockatrices in the Everfree Forest. The cockatrice, having seen the cragodile in the opposite cell, had immediately taken every effort to hide from the fearsome predator; of all the creatures in the cells, it was the only one that had not yet discovered the forcefield in front of its cell.

(3) The grating by the turbolift, having been removed by escaping ponies.


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“I don't care how you do it, Frem,” yelled Pog into his communicator, “if we don't get warp now and I mean now we're all going to be serving the Collective! For free! Try inverting the polarity of something, that always seems to work.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Frem asked from Engineering, “You want me to connect the power up backwards? How would that help?”

“How should I know, I'm not an engin-”

Pog caught sight of a reflection in the control panel in front of him; a reflection of a humanoid shape, one arm out stretched. He turned around, just in time for the assimilation tubules to strike him in the neck.

“Resistance is futile.” the drone assured him, as he collapsed on the bridge.

* * *

An air vent rested in the wall. Some force took hold of the screws holding it in, and turned them, one by one. The vent fell to the ground with a clatter, revealing what appeared to be a small white blank flank alicorn filly.

Red Dawn flew down to ground level, and walked out towards the door. Since it was not locked, it opened immediately. She grinned and stepped out, her escape now securely in her chitinous hooves; within ten minutes, no-one would be able to associate her in any way with a certain escaping buffalo identity...

“Hello. Who are you?”

She'd forgotten about the little dragon, still waiting outside Frem's room.

“Um, I'm...” think quick, there are only three genuine alicorns, everyone knows Celestia, everyone knows that Luna is dark, that only leaves... “Princess Cadence?”

Spike frowned. “Twilight's old foalsitter?” he asked. “No, you're not.”

He would be the only dragon in the world to be on first-name terms with the real thing, wouldn't he? Just my luck...

Dawn sighed. “No.” she admitted. “But I like to pretend. I'd be a pretty princess in a pretty castle and... um...” what do pony foals do? I bet it's not the same as changeling larvae... “um... play with my pretty pony dolls all day long?”

She grinned, putting every ounce of innocence and guile that she could find into that facial expression.

Spike looked sceptical. “And what are you doing here?” he asked.

“Oh!” said Dawn. Good, an easy one. I can even tell the truth – at least, part of the truth. “There was this thing, like a diamond dog but shaved, and he shot me with this dart thing, and then I was suddenly in here, and I had to crawl through the air ducts, and now I can't find the exit and I just want to go home and I miss my mommy!”

She burst into well-practiced tears.

Spike walked hesitantly towards her, and patted her gingerly on the head. “There, there.” he said, nervously. “I need to find the exit, too. I'm just waiting for some friends, and then we'll all look for the way back home together, okay?”

*sniff* “Okay.” whimpered Red Dawn. More than anything else, she found herself wishing for somewhere nice and unobserved, to switch to a less confining disguise; magic shouldn't be uncomfortable to wear, but this filly form was definitely several sizes too small...

* * *




Again, it was on the third clang that the grating flew from the wall.

“What's in this one?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Dunno.” said Applebloom. “Lotta chairs, some windows – hey it's the middle o' the night, Ah can see some stars out there.”

“Can we get out of this stupid air duct now?” asked Scootaloo, sounding more than a little annoyed.

“Sure, Ah don' see why not.” said Applebloom. “If we gotta go back, we can push one o' them chairs under the vent(1). C'mon, let's go rondey-voo Spike.” She hopped out, dropping to the floor with a solid thump.

“It's rendezvous with.” said Sweetie Belle, landing more quietly. “We're rendezvousing with Spike, not rendezvousing him.”

Applebloom gave Sweetie a suspicious glance. “Y'said it meant the same as 'meet'.” she said.

With a buzzing of tiny wings, Scootaloo lowered herself to ground level. “Oh, at last!” she said.

“Yes,” said Sweetie Belle, “it does. We're going to meet with Spike.”

“I'd just started getting a cramp in my left wing!” said Scootaloo.

“We're gonna meet Spike.” said Applebloom. “So we're gonna rondey-voo Spike.”

Sweetie Belle sighed.

“Do you girls have any idea how good it is to be able to stretch again?” asked Scootaloo. “That vent was way too tight!”

“Rendezvous isn't that sort of verb!” insisted Sweetie Belle. “It's, well, okay, technically it's a noun, taken from Fancy...”

“Ah could speak Fancy once.” pointed out Applebloom. “Ah bet Ah'd know how ta' rondey-voo Spike properly!”

* * *

“Thank you, Captain. That information will come in very useful later, I'm sure.” said Twilight. “But I think it's best if we stopped here.”

“Really?” asked Captain Anderson. He and Jorge had been taking alternating half-hour shifts reading to these mares from the publically accessible computer files for several hours now.

“Yes, really.” said Twilight. “I know I'm starting to find it harder to concentrate; and right now, it's more important that we keep this spell going than hear more about Klingon-Betazoid relations. And I'm the Element of Magic; I think some of my friends must be getting a bit tired.”

Behind the glow that filled her eyes, Twilight glanced surreptitiously at Rarity, on her left; and then at Dash, on her right. Both were staring at the rainbow trail outside the forward observation port with single-minded intensity, as if the combined intensity of their gazes could somehow shorten the length of that pathway.

“...or maybe not.” Twilight conceded.

She didn't notice, behind her, Fluttershy trying to conceal a tiny yawn.

(1) They couldn't, as it happens; the chairs in a Ferengi forward observation deck are bolted to the ground. The last thing one wants in a spaceship that's making sudden turns is loose furniture flying around.

Wildlife, Part II

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The pieces of timberwolf began to flare as they caught fire from the phoenix's flame. The drone with its foot on the phoenix's neck ignored that fire getting brighter, hotter, more intense... until suddenly, the pheonix burnt itself to a neat pile of ashes in a moment.

The drone did not appear to care. The nanoprobes in its bloodstream repaired the burn damage to its foot, while it carefully took the burning piece of timberwolf and used it to set the other pieces of the creature alight.

Further down the corridor, the remaining (unmelted) half of the snow leopard had managed to re-form itself into a snow leopard cub; a tiny feline whose only aim now was escape. But between it and the conveniently removed grating by the turbolift, there were several Borg drones carrying burning branches; its instinctual fear of fire held it back from that escape route, as it desperately searched for another way out.

A little further down the corridor, the drone that had killed the first half of it seemed fairly disinterested in finishing the job; it approached one of the last two cells, instead, and investigated the interior.

***Cell contains cragodile. Stone-based feral lifeform, unworthy of assimilation. Carnivorous. May pose a threat to potential Species 2187-PONY drones. Destroy.***

* * *

The cragodile's tail lashed as it leapt forward, jaw wide, ready to show this interloper who was in charge. The interloper was large enough for a decent meal, but not so large as to appear a threat; and since a cragodile's teeth are made of diamond, there is very little that it cannot eat, if it can but get its jaws about them.

The drone didn't even bother to dodge the cragodile. It just raised one arm and one foot, as if its pitiful size afforded it the strength to hold the cragodile's jaw open. Had the cragodile been just a little bit more intelligent, it would have scoffed at the gesture; had it been a lot more intelligent, it may have experienced a moment of uncertainty.

Instead, it just bit down on the offered limbs.

And the borg drone held the cragodile's jaw open.

This... did not happen. Aside from dragons and constellation beasts, there was nothing in the Everfree with the sheer physical strength to hold a cragodile's jaws open; and those creatures were far, far larger than this strange, half-metallic beast.

The cragodile responded the only way it knew how; by redoubling the effort it was expending in closing its jaws.

The drone began to force the cragodile's mouth further open.

After that, the cragodile survived only another nine point four seconds. It took two punches before dying.

* * *

***Investigating final cell. Cell -

* * *

The cockatrice was not, by nature, a pleasant creature. Its gaze could turn one to stone, and it could then reverse this effect at its leisure(1).

And it was very, very frightened, and thus ready to react to any disturbance by attacking.

The Borg drone only saw the cockatrice as it was turning to leave the cell; and the cockatrice met its gaze instantly. The drone's ocular implant allowed it a range of vision that would make any pure organic creature envious; it could see in any part of the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays, and at magnifications that would make a microscope manufacturer jealous. With the aid of a little pilot light installed near the implant, it could even see in absolute darkness.

When faced with a cockatrice, all this simply meant that it was all the more vulnerable to the cockatrice's unique magic. The drone's organic portions were turned to stone in an instant; the nanoprobes in its bloodstream froze in position, trapped in a statue; the implants in its brain and spinal cord were unable to interface with stone, and transmitted only the emergency code that meant ***Drone offline***.

It didn't even get a chance to warn the Collective of what had been in the cell.

* * *

Out in the corridor, a half-dozen drones carrying burning timberwolf branches had been advancing on a snow leopard cub, herding it into one of the cells, when quite suddenly one of their number simply stopped existing.

This was a matter of some concern; the loss of a single drone was negligible, but the loss of a single drone to an unknown form of attack required an immediate response.

***Potential Species 2187-PONY drones may have had the capability to destroy a Species 1853 drone. The cell in question likely contained either a species of Equestrian wildlife, or the potential Species 2187-PONY drones.

Course of action; one drone shall approach but not enter the cell. A second drone shall maintain visual contact with the drone. The Collective will observe this attack, and learn to adapt to counter it.

If the potential Species 2187-PONY drones are found in the cell, they will be assimilated. If any other species is found within the cell, the individual shall be assimilated; it clearly possesses biological or technological capabilities unknown to the Collective.***

Unfortunately, this meant allowing the snow leopard cub enough of an opening to escape; but the threat posed by it was minor, and there was a high probability that the Species 2187-PONY drones would be found in the final cell.

The snow leopard cub took full advantage of the drone's distraction, and ran for the grating. It leapt, and fell, landing at the bottom as a pile of snow.

Taking advantage of the same distraction, a small heap of ashes suddenly burst forth as a younger, healthier phoenix, and flew as fast as it could towards the same grating. Unlike the snow leopard, the phoenix sought altitude; it entered the shaft and climbed, looking for a way out further up.

The Borg ignored both of these, moving rather to confront the more serious threat. The nearest drone approached, and looked into the cell...

...and was instantly turned to stone.

The cockatrice slithered out of its cell, hissing angrily, and swept the corridor with its deadly gaze. The remaining Borg, their artificially enhanced vision tracking every movement of the dangerous creature, were easy prey. In a brief two point nine seconds, the cockatrice had turned every drone in the corridor to stone.

(1) Usually, that meant when it was hungry; and usually, it restored its victims piecemeal, one bite at a time. However, should a cockatrice manage to stone a creature just about to leap forward and attack, it would often place such statues near its nest; restoring them completely whenever some predator passed in front.

Assimilation, Part I

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“Pog?” crackled the communicator on the bridge. “Pog? Are you there, Pog?”

A hand reached up over the side of the console; a Ferengi hand, but with a Borg implant already growing out of it.

“Pog?” asked the communicator. “Are you going to try to turn on the drive now? Because if you're not, then -”

There was a *crunch* as the hand crushed the communicator. Then there were no more words.

Only the voices in his head.

* * *

“- I can try to re-align the -” Frem stopped, and looked at the communicator in his hand. “Signal lost?” he asked. “How on – where in this ship could Pog go and lose the signal?”

* * *

“So you're Celestia's daughter?” Spike asked.

“Yep.” said Dawn, nodding. “Mommy doesn't talk about me much. I don't think I'm actually supposed to mention it.”

“Who she's never mentioned to anyone?” continued Spike.

“Some ponies know.” said Dawn. She was hoping that the idea of scandal would justify the fact that Spike had never heard of her.

“Such as her faithful student.” said Spike, flatly.

“Um...” said Dawn, frantically trying to remember anything she might have heard about Celestia's student. Her horn glowed greenish, as she tried to pry the name from Spike's brain

“The one who only helped to save the world from Nightmare Moon and save her sister Luna.” clarified Spike.

“Oh, right!” said Dawn, remembering some vague rumours, and, more importantly, picking up a name from the forefront of Spike's thoughts. “Auntie Rarity!”

Spike fell over laughing. “Do you honestly expect -”

“Spike!” called Scootaloo, leading the other Crusaders at a run around a corner in the corridor.

“Girls!” said Spike. “You're here, good. This is -” he pointed at Dawn - “apparently an alicorn who doesn't want to talk about anything.”

“Hey!” said Sweetie Belle, pointing at Dawn's flank. “You don't have a cutie mark!”

“Er... yes?” said Dawn, hoping that alicorns weren't born with the things.

“Ya oughta totally join the Cutie Mark Crusaders!” said Applebloom, grinning.

“Um...” said Dawn. She could only taste suspicion from Spike, but even so... “What's the Cutie Mark Crusaders?”

“That's -” began Sweetie, as a large, bipedal creature stepped around the corner behind them.

“We are the Borg.” it said. “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

“I think we kinda should get moving.” said Spike, grabbing the nearest scroll and backing away from the drone. “This guy doesn't exactly look friendly...”

“Yeah.” agreed Scootaloo, stumbling backwards several steps ahead of Spike.

“Stop wasting your breath,” said Dawn, firing a bolt of green energy at the drone, “and just run!”

* * *

The cockatrice hissed at its selection of statues. None of them were familiar shapes, but it had been some time since it had had a proper meal...

It picked one at random, opened its toothy beak, and prepared to release just a small piece of the drone from the stony enchantment – when there was a sound from nearby.

The cockatrice turned to look, and saw four Borg drones beaming in, surrounding it. It stared at the drones, preparing its magical attack.

But these drones just had a band of blank metal where their eyes should be. With no eyes – they were blinded, but immune to the cockatrice's magic.

The cockatrice hissed in consternation, and every drone turned to face the sound. Each drone raised its right hand, and a pair of tubules shot out in the direction of the hiss; the cockatrice was able to evade them only by ducking quite suddenly, falling to the deck with a thump.

And, at the sound of the thump, all four sets of tubules bent downwards.

The cockatrice could not dodge all four sets. One stung it, leaving only a brief moment of pain.

Then it was gone, and four blind Borg drones vanished a moment later.

The cockatrice looked around the corridor. It hissed, a long, slow, confused hiss, sounding like air deflating from a tyre.

It would be at least five minutes before it started to hear the voices.

* * *

“Is it following us?” asked Sweetie Belle.

Spike glanced back. “No.” he said. “It's, uh... it's unlocked that door. It's going after Flam and Dawn!”

“A unicorn and a buffalo.” explained Applebloom. “They were helping us escape.”

“Right, well.” said Dawn. “Any help that they could have helped with will be wasted if we don't get out of here!”

“Hey!” argued Scootaloo. “We've gotta help them!”

“And the best way to help them is to get out of here and get some help!” objected Dawn. “What're four fillies and a baby dragon gonna do?”

“Uh, guys?” said Sweetie Belle, pointing at the door. “He's coming out of the room again.”

“Well, he can't have had time to do much in there.” said Spike.

“Yeah, see?” said Dawn. “Flam'll be fine. Now let's get running!”

“Whatever those things are,” said Scootaloo, “at least they're slow.”

“Can anyone see anything I can use for ink?” asked Spike. “I think I've got a lot to write about.”

“Is that really the best thing to do right now?” asked Dawn.

“If I can write it down,” replied Spike, “I can send it to Princess Celestia. She might know how to stop these things.”

Dawn thought about it a moment, stopping to fire another green bolt at the slowly pursuing drone. “Alright,” she conceded, “maybe in this situation asking her is justified. I could write with my horn, just light up the end and burn the message in, if you like...”

A Brief Historical Intermission

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Princess Celestia was not the only alicorn who had occasional tea with the Admiral; though in Luna's case, the Admiral had to stay up late(1).


“Several hundred lightyears.” said the Admiral, quietly turning down the volume on his speakers.


“Exactly, yes.” nodded the Admiral.


“Um... blocky?”


“...ah. That's a limit of the technology; we make the blocks so small that we can't tell them apart individually. They're called pixels, and if you can see them so easily, you must have very good eyesight.”

There was a knock at the door. “Luna?” called Celestia's voice from outside – with the volume on his speakers turned down, the Admiral failed to hear it.

“Ah, Celestia! Come in, dear sister!”(2) Luna opened the door and stood aside for Celestia.

“Thank you,” said Celestia, stepping into the Admiral's view(3). “And good evening, Admiral. I would not disturb you but for the fact that I have just received news of my little ponies from Spike. Tell me, please, Admiral, have you ever heard of a people who call themselves the Borg?”

“The Borg?” asked the Admiral, feeling very glad that he hadn't had a mouthful of tea when Celestia had asked that question. He decided a quick sip to steady his nerves was probably in order.

“I have met those scoundrels before.” said Luna(4).

“Really?” asked Celestia. “When was this?”

“'Twas just over a thousand years ago.” said Luna. “Didst thou never seek out the source of my armour, the identity of the entity known as Nightmare Moon?”

“I did,” said Celestia. “I didn't find anything.”

“Who,” said the Admiral, “or what, is Nightmare Moon?”

Both alicorns turned to look at the screen. “Thou didst not inform him?” asked Luna.

“I thought that was your tale to tell,” said Celestia.

“Ah, I see.” said Luna. “In that case, perhaps I should tell thee both the tale of how Nightmare Moon came to be, a thousand and a one years ago...”

* * *

“A thousand and two years ago,” Luna related, “I was about my duties as the Princess of the Night, seeking out nightmares among my subjects and aiding them in dealing with that which distressed them.”

“Wait... nightmares?” asked the Admiral. “You mean, as in... bad dreams?”

“Quite.” said Celestia. “My sister has the ability to travel through dreams. It is a part, as she says, of her duties as Princess of the Night.”

“As I wandered about, through the dreams of ponies,” continued Luna, “I felt a far larger dream, albeit a dim and distant one. Nonetheless, it was an unquiet one, and so I reached for it, and found myself inhabiting the dreams of the Borg. They are... strange. Many beings, forced mostly against their will into a single mind. I did not, of course, understand immediately the nature of these beings; I knew only that the dreamscape in which I had found myself was vast indeed, and shuddered with a deep terror that I could not at the time name. And 'twas mere moments later that I met her; one of those who did not merely obey the Borg hivemind, but gave it direction, a voice. The Borg queen.”

Luna took a deep breath. “I had some slight resentment toward my sister at the time; for our subjects froliced and played in her day, but hid themselves indoors during my night. The Borg Queen did discover and play upon this resentment of mine, leading me by small steps from a slight resentment to a greater one, and thence to considerations which shame me to this day.”

Celestia extended one wing over her sister, and hugged her.

“Though 'tis true that the Borg Queen showed me the path,” said Luna, “'tis my everlasting shame that I didst walk upon it of my own will. Still, the Queen spoke to me with an offer; that I could partake of something that she offered me – I believe she called them 'nanoprobes' – and thus gain the power to impose my will by force upon thee. She told me that it would grant me also dominion over a number of her people; that I was one of the few worthy to become a Borg Queen myself. I expressed hesitation, and she modified her offer; she said that she could prevent the nanoprobes from taking effect until such time as I gave a signal, by causing an eclipse with my moon. I... confronted you... in our throne room...”

“Shhhhh. I remember.” said Celestia, nuzzling Luna.

“I caused an eclipse.” said Luna. “And 'twas at that moment that the nanoprobes did take me. I found the thoughts of the Borg did impinge upon mine own thoughts; I considered only power and conquest. From that moment, I was one of them – a part of a larger, more powerful mind, and all through mine own resentment. I... I attacked you...”

“Shhhh. I know.”

“Had thou not turned the Elements of Harmony upon me, I would have doubtless conspired to ensnare our own subjects in the same trap in which I had found myself,” continued Luna. “The Borg had ships which sailed through the eternal night between the stars, and they would have taken us in... and there would have been no more Equestria. No more Griffonia. No more dragons, no more cockatrices. We would all be absorbed by the Borg; and our memories, our very identities, would have been wiped away. All through my fault.”

(1) Due to the slight difference in the length of a day between Earth and Equestria, in about a month's time the Admiral would be having tea with Luna during his day and tea with Celestia during his night. Both alicorns found this a source of amusement.

(2) The Royal Canterlot Voice is never used when speaking to someone of equal noble rank, i.e. another alicorn.

(3) The Admiral, seeing that Celestia's mouth was moving but no sound was immediately apparent, quickly turned his volume up again.

(4) With a superhuman effort, the Admiral managed to avoid spitting out any of his tea.


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Jorge stepped into the forward observation deck, with the Captain. He didn't fully understand what the six mares were doing in here (he wished he did, at least to the point of understanding whatever they were doing to act like a warp core) but it apparently involved creating the rainbow trail ahead of the ship which they were following, and increased their speed by a full two warp factors.

Jorge did understand their refusal to leave the room, for any reason. If he had a little sister who'd been kidnapped, he'd want to do everything in his power to get her back as well...

“Ladies,” he said, holding up a small portable screen, “there's someone wants to talk to you.”

“Yes?” asked Twilight, not looking around.

“Twilight?” asked Princess Celestia's voice, from the screen. “What are you doing?”

“Ah.” said Twilight. “Good – um – morning, Princess. Is it morning already? I haven't been keeping track.”

“It's near to midnight, Twilight. Have you been staying up all night again?”

“I don't believe any of them have slept since they got on board, ma'am.” said Jorge, promptly.

Twilight flicked an irritated glance in his direction. “It's necessary.” she said. “The Ferengi ship is significantly faster than this ship; by changing the shape of their warp bubble to a more streamlined configuration, we can match and even slightly exceed their speed. Maintaining the spell requires all six Elements, so, well... I thought it would be later than midnight by now, though.”

“I... see.” said Celestia, hesitantly.

“Anyhow,” said Twilight, “I'm sure you had some reason to call?”

“Yes.” said Celestia. “I've recently received a letter from Spike, he says the ship has come under attack from some creatures called the Borg...”

“The BORG?” asked Jorge and Captain Anderson, simultaneously.

“Yes, the Borg.” said Celestia. “Apparently these creatures were at least partially responsible for Nightmare Moon, and will likely know everything she knew. They have some kind of hive mind...”

“And they'll kill us all.” said Captain Anderson, firmly. “Absorb us into their network. I'm sorry, we're stopping right here.”

“They've got Scoots!” objected Rainbow Dash.

“Then 'Scoots' is as good as dead.” said the Captain. “I'm sorry about your little sister -”

“Actually, Scootaloo isn't -” began Fluttershy, quietly.

“- but it's no good us getting ourselves killed as well in a wild-goose chase.” continued the Captain, ignoring Fluttershy. “I'm still the Captain of this ship, and we are stopping, right here. If you can find another ship to commit suicide in, then that's your choice, but you are not taking Jorge and me with you. I don't care what you say, I don't care what you can do, this is the Borg we're talking about.”

“Why, I oughta -” began Dash.

“Dash.” said Twilight, extending one hoof to stop her. The glow in Twilight's eyes dimmed, as she dropped to the floor. The other mares stumbled slightly, the weight of the spell suddenly vanishing. “He is the Captain, he does have the authority to make that decision.”

“But Scoots -” began Rainbow Dash.

“My sister -” said Rarity.

“Captain,” said Twilight, ignoring the other mares for the moment. “I understand that you're unwilling to risk your ship, but I understand you have a smaller ship for landings, right?”

“The shuttlecraft, yes.” nodded Jorge.

“Excellent.” said Twilight. “Could you drop us off, right here, in this 'shuttlecraft'? We would like to continue this pursuit on our own, and this way it doesn't risk your ship or your crew.”

“The shuttlecraft doesn't have a warp drive.” pointed out Jorge.

“That will slow us down,” said Twilight, “but it's not an insoluble problem. If we don't get our tracking spell up again within at most eight minutes, then the trail will have faded too far to follow. Please, let us use the shuttlecraft.”

* * *

“It stung me!” said Scootaloo, as the small group of fillies and dragons fled another of the slow-moving Borg drones(1). “In the neck!”

“We prob'ly oughta get Zecora ta look at that when we get back.” said Applebloom. “Who knows what that thing's sting does ta you?”

“I bet it's nothing good.” said Sweetie Belle. “You might get paralysed or something. Or suddenly fall asleep without any warning.”

“Or it might not work on you at all.” volunteered Spike, trying to be optimisitc. “I mean, hey, that sleepgun thingy didn't work on me, did it? Maybe we're immune to some of their stuff. 'Cos of... um... magic, or... something?”

“Maybe.” said Scootaloo. “Or maybe it makes me explode!”

“Yeah, Ah think paralysis is more likely.” said Applebloom. “Lotsa things sting ta paralyse, I dunno of anything that stings ta explode something...”

“Do you hear that?” asked Scootaloo.

There was a moment of silence. “I don't hear anything.” said Sweetie Belle.

“It's like... lots of voices.” said Scootaloo. “Really distant... I can't quite make out what they're saying...

(1) They might be slow-moving, but it turned out that they excelled at waiting just around the corner until the fillies and dragon ran past, and then stinging Scootaloos with some sort of extendable tubes before being noticed.

Assimilation, Part II

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“Did they see us duck in here?” asked Sweetie Belle, nervously glancing around Pog's cabin(1).

“Ah hope not.” said Applebloom.

“We could hide under the bed, or in the closet.” volunteered Scootaloo. “Are you girls sure you can't hear any voices? They're getting quite loud. I think I can almost hear what they're saying.”

“Can't hear a thing.” said Dawn. The alicorn filly changeling hovered up to the air vent grating. “I think we should slip out this way – under the bed and in the closet are kinda dead ends.”

“I agree with the mystery alicorn.” said Spike. “That one that stung Scootaloo is already making her hallucinate, I'd rather none of them sting the rest of us. And I'm pretty sure there's at least half a dozen of them trying to track us down.”

“Yeah, Scoot.” said Applebloom, giving Scootaloo a hug. “Ah know you felt kinda trapped in that vent, but Ah think it's the best way ta keep away from those Borg things.”

There was a long moment of silence. Scootaloo didn't move.

Sweetie Belle trotted up next to her. “Scootaloo?” she asked. “You okay?”

As if in response to Sweetie's question, Scootaloo's cheek bulged and a tracery of metal suddenly burst out, a pattern of metallic lines covering half her face.

“Scootaloo?” asked Sweetie. “What is – urk!”

Scootaloo reached out suddenly, grabbing the other two Cutie Mark Crusaders tightly about their necks and holding them still.

You will be assimilated.” said Scootaloo. “Resistance is futile.

“Urk!” said Applebloom, trying to wriggle loose. “When – uhnk – when did ya get stronger'n me, Scoot?”

“Yeeeeeah,” said Dawn, using her magic to remove the grating from the air vent. “I think this is the right time to leave. Coming, dragon?”

It was at this point that the door opened, revealing another Borg drone.

Dawn ducked into the vent, and ran for it. Spike leapt towards Scootaloo, and tried to help pry Applebloom out from her grip.

* * *

“...suspicions of Borg activity near our borders.” the Admiral was saying. “The Borg presence is likely fairly minor, and is not near to any of our major colonies. It is near to Equestria; we have reason to believe that the Borg presence is insufficient to pose a direct threat the inhabitants, which implies less than a full cube. The Borg are currently in the process of assimilating a small Ferengi ship, containing a few kidnapped Equestrians.”

“We do not know their plans, we are unaware of their medium-term objectives. Our nearest ships capable of shooting at a cube are at least five days away at maximum warp. Our nearest ships capable of standing a chance of victory against a cube are three weeks away at maximum warp. We have an unreliable, complicated communication link with someone in the vicinity, suitable for passing along written messages only.”

“Gentlemen, ladies. If we can rescue the kidnapped Equestrians from the Borg, the diplomatic benefits could be substantial. At the moment, Equestria is still new to space, and has not aligned themselves with any of the major interstellar political bodies; but their biological subspace manipulation abilities will make them powerful allies when they do. We wish them to join the Federation when they meet our requirements – specifically, as soon as they obtain stable planetary political unity. Our best chance of doing this is to find a way to retrieve the assimilated Equestrians and free them from the Borg.”

“Any suggestions?”

* * *

“Let – uhnf – let go!” said Spike, tugging futilely on Scootaloo's foreleg.

Resistance is futile.” replied Scootaloo. “Your biological distinctiveness will be added to our own.

“Ow!” said Sweetie, as the Borg drone's assimilation tubules struck her in the flank. “It stung me!”

“Let GO!” yelled Spike, tugging harder.

“Ow!” said Applebloom, as the drone's tubules struck her on the foreleg.

Scootaloo promptly let go of both the other Cutie Mark Crusaders, and turned her full attention to Spike. Spike nervously backed away.

“I've got a bad feeling about this...” he muttered. The drone's assimilation tubules lashed out and struck him on the stomach.

And clattered off his tough dragon scales without penetrating the surface.

“You... can't sting me?” said Spike, surprised. “Ha! You can't sting me! You can't get through my scales! But I can still breathe fire at you!”

He took a deep breath, and unleashed a sheet of flame at the Borg drone. Its shields flared into view, diverting the flames and saving the drone from any injury.

“Okaaaay...” said Spike. “So maybe that won't work. But you can't do anything to me, so all I have to do is find a way to force you to let my friends go, an-”

It was at this point that the Borg drone fired its assimilation tubules into Spike's mouth.

“Ow! My tongue! You thtung me in my tongue!” said Spike, holding his claws over his mouth.

The drone simply turned, and walked towards the air vent entrance. It and Scootaloo watched the spot, ignoring the others.

“Can you hear the voices too?” asked Sweetie Belle, quietly.

“Eeyup.” said Applebloom, quietly. “Ah'm scared.”

“It thtung me in mah tongue!” repeated Spike.

* * *

That sting – it makes you work with them? said Dawn to herself, hurrying through the air vent. Some sort of mind control thing, like what the Queen can do, but a lot more powerful? I wonder if it wears off over time... it doesn't seem to just make them more suggestible, I know I heard the dragon telling her to 'let go' and she evidently didn't... so it's some form of direct mental control? And pretty powerful, too. That at least explains why all these drones seem to have the same emotional signature, but it doesn't explain why it's so weak... I wonder what happens if I try to assert control over one of the drones, if I can override it, or even just give the underlying person a brief moment of control... wait, here's a grating coming up, I wonder if there'll be an escape route through -

It was at this point that a pair of assimilation tubules passed through the grating, piercing Dawn's muzzle. Thousands of nanoprobes entered her bloodstream, using the iron that they found in there to duplicate themselves and spread out; finding their way into her muscles, reinforcing them, and into her brain, working out ways to connect, to interface with it, to read her memories, her skills, her capabilities, and to control her actions...

(1) Roomier and more expensively decorated than Frem's cabin. Also substantially tidier.


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The Borg hivemind assimilated its newest captives, their individualities vanishing as their thoughts sank into the morass of minds. But even as their personalities began to dissolve, one strident certainty stood strong, anchoring one of the minds and holding it together for a little longer.

Dash is coming

Certainties were nothing new to the Borg. It made the mind a little harder to absorb; but all minds succumbed eventually.

Dash is coming

This certainty was a particularly strong one; but the Borg had a few shortcuts to deal with this sort of thing. But first, the hivemind needed information.

Fortunately for the Borg, they had access to all the memories of all the ponies they'd assimilated. It took a fraction of a second to draw out the necessary information.

Rainbow Dash. Pegasus. Fastest Potentially fastest pegasus currently alive. Rumoured to be capable of performing sonic rainboom (direct witness accounts: 0; One eyewitness account by word-of-mouth from Rainbow Dash to Scootaloo; one eyewitness account by word-of-mouth from Rarity to Sweetie Belle; one eyewitness account by word-of-mouth from Twilight Sparkle to Spike). Significantly idolised by new pegasus drone not yet assigned a full designation; sees self as comparatively insignificant. Has been observed to pass through significant personal difficulty to fulfil a promise.

Relevant promise; letter from Rainbow Dash to new pegasus drone. Text of message: Scoots, I'm coming – Dash Letter considered sufficient promise by personality of new drone.

With the source of the certainty identified, the hivemind took action.

Edit memory: edit text of letter as follows: Scoots, I'm not coming – Dash. Re-check certainty; certainty collapsing. Assimilation of personality complete.

And with that, Scootaloo's individuality finally vanished.

But now the hivemind was curious. The pegasus designated “Rainbow Dash” was still on her way to rescue the filly in question. A grown pegasus, and especially the fastest flier in Equestria, would be well worth assimilating.

A review of the letters that had been sent via Spike revealed that:

a) All six Bearers of the Elements were approaching
b) They were travelling on a starship, which arrived at Equestria three days after the Ferengi had left (accuracy of time estimate unknown)

A review of Starfleet troop data, lifted from Pog's computer system, revealed that the only Federation starship capable of reaching Equestria in that short timeframe was a small merchant vessel, maximum speed warp four. The Ferengi ship had been travelling much of the way at warp six. If the Federation ship travelled at a constant warp four towards the Ferengi ship, it would not reach the Ferengi ship for another two weeks.

A small merchant ship did not, as a rule, possess weapons capable of threatening even a small Borg probe.

This ship, however, carried some tempting assimilation targets.

Twilight Sparkle. Unicorn. Her great knowledge of theoretical magic made her a perfect target to assimilate to learn about unicorn magic. And with Borg implants designed to magnify her abilities, she could wrest control of the sun and moon from Celestia and Luna, leaving the entire planet of Equestria ripe for assimilation.

Rainbow Dash. Speed flier. With some Borg implants to allow her to survive in vacuum and manipulate subspace with her wings, this drone could become a high-speed space fighter, too small and manoeuvrable for the average starship to hit.

Fluttershy. While her flying abilities were below par, she could apparently emit an effect from her eyes that could cause other being to sit still. If this Stare could be weaponised on a large scale, it would make future assimilations far easier.

Pinkie Pie. Short-range prescience. The benefits of proper study of 'Pinkie sense' to the aims of the Collective would be immense. Preliminary calculations suggest that it would reduce drone losses due to accidents by at least 73%. Borg implants to enhance this sense would improve the benefits.

Rarity. Unicorn. Her control over multiple levitating objects was impressive. Implanting her with a set of co-processors to improve her multitasking capabilities and enhance her reaction time would allow her to form a perfect defence against kinetic impacts; she would be able to catch bullets mid-flight and control them as necessary.

Applejack. Few directly useful skills(1). Great strength. If 'Pinkie sense' can be induced in this subject, it should be.

And these six mares were on their way. Warping directly towards the Borg, practically throwing themselves away from Celestia's protection, and into the Borg's assimilation tubules.

Better yet; these six mares were the only mares capable of using the Elements of Harmony – a magical artifact capable of severing even a Borg Queen's connection to the hivemind. (And the memories of the ponies – especially Spike and Scootaloo – suggested that Luna still lived, she hadn't been obliterated like the Borg had assumed. Interesting.) Assimilating even a single one of these ponies would render the artifact useless.

Of course the Borg would set up an ambush and assimilate them. It was the only sensible course of action.And since they would not arrive for at least two weeks, the Borg would set up their ambush in ten days. (Two Borg cubes promptly had their schedules altered in order to take part in the ambush).

There was a simple plan to deal with the Elements of Harmony. It relied on Spike's memory of Twilight's recounting of the tale of their use against Nightmare Moon...

...and when we woke up, Princess Celestia had returned...

...when we woke up...

Use of the Elements to cure one drone tired out the Bearers, making them fall asleep. This would leave them vulnerable to another drone stepping forward and assimilating all six Bearers before they recovered.

The Borg also considered the possibility that a unicorn might be able to track certain people directly; none of the new drones knew how or whether such a thing could be accomplished, but they did know that if anyone knew how to do it, it would be Twilight. Therefore, in order to bait their trap for Twilight, all of the new drones who had personally met her would need to stay in this part of space.

They would be accompanied by several dozen drones from the probe, as reinforcements.

The cockatrice bore a memory of having once turned Twilight to stone. For that reason, it too remained on the Ferengi ship.

But the changeling; the changeling had never met Twilight. Her true nature had been unknown to even the other new drones. (It was known now, of course; the Borg do not keep secrets from themselves for long). Her true nature would be unknown to Twilight; she was untrackable. The changeling would be transported to the Borg probe, and from there to the nearest Borg cube.

The Borg did not believe in taking even the slightest of chances with a being able to emulate an alicorn.

(1) The Borg do not farm, and they believe that rodeos are irrelevant


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A small shuttlecraft, drifting alone in space, about 54 hours travel from the Ferengi ship at warp six; about a week's travel at warp four

Two humans sat in cramped conditions, waiting. One rested, lying back on a bunk and reading a data pad; the other paced back and forth.

“I shouldn't have taken Celestia's offer.” said Captain Anderson, suddenly stopping his pacing.

“Don't see how that would've helped.” shrugged Trent.

“Six mares and one stallion wouldn't be warping straight into the maw of the Borg right now if I hadn't.” insisted the Captain.

“Yes, they would, they'd just be doing it real slowly in a shuttlecraft instead.” pointed out Jorge. “Or the first other ship going their way. Hey, I wouldn't be surprised if that lot would try it in an airtight crate.”

“We'd still have our ship.” continued the Captain.

“Celestia's paying us double the value of the ship for this.” noted Jorge, calmly.

If we can trust her.” said the Captain, starting to pace again.

“Meh, she seemed on the level to me.” said Jorge.

“And now we're hoping a Federation ship picks us up before the Borg figure out we're back here, helpless and defenseless...”

Jorge shrugged. “Federation's on their way.” he said.

“...and this has all gone political.” continued Captain Anderson. “I hate political.”

“It was political from the start.” said Jorge, tapping the datapad to view the next page.

“It started out as a simple courier gig.” grumbled Captain Anderson. “Now seven more people are going to get captured by the Borg and it's all my fault.”

“They knew the risks.” pointed out Jorge. “And it's not like we could've done much to stop them, in any case.”

Captain Anderson nodded gloomily. It had taken them only three seconds to be teleported into the shuttlecraft and off the ship after he'd agreed to Celestia's proposal...

* * *

Fifty-five hours, ten minutes, and seventeen seconds after Red Dawn was assimilated, the Borg drones on the formerly Ferengi ship detected an approaching disturbance in subspace. It was very streamlined, and approaching at warp six; but was otherwise unremarkable.

The Borg hivemind took a brief moment to regret that its ambush was not yet in place. It had not considered the possibility that the Federation ship might have somehow been made significantly faster.

Fortunately for the Borg, there had not been enough regeneration chambers for all on-board drones to use at once; the Borg were forced, therefore, to regenerate in shifts. Which meant that most of the drones were up and about when the small Federation trading ship zoomed past at a warp factor its engine should not have been able to produce.

“Almost there, girls.” said Twilight. “Somepony give Flim a call? I've got to set up a delicate teleport in a minute...”

Rarity put her hoof in her mouth and let out an earsplitting whistle. There was a clatter of hooves and Flim appeared in the doorway.

“Something up?” he asked. He glanced over the six mares; they'd all managed to stay awake so far, but it had hit some of them harder than others. Rainbow Dash and Rarity seemed to have noticed it least, some sort of internal fire filling in instead of sleep; Applejack and Twilight were still standing, at least; Pinkie's mane had started to deflate somewhat; Fluttershy looked on the brink of collapse, her legs trembling under her.

“Yes.” said Twilight. “We're -” She paused to interrupt herself, muttering something under her breath that sounded a lot like “- see space as the thing that's moving, correct for warp -” and then, suddenly, the seven ponies abruptly vanished.

Without the Elements of Harmony acting as a seperate focal point for the warp bubble, the warp bubble began to oscillate wildly. The ship dropped speed from warp six right down to warp three without reducing the power flowing through the warp core, then began to shudder as the internal stresses overwhelmed the structural integrity fields.

Fifteen minutes later, the warp core breach alarm began to sound. There was no-one left on board to hear it.

* * *

“- here.” said Twilight, as the seven ponies appeared on board the Ferengi ship, in the midst of several Borg drones.

“Wha'now?” asked Fluttershy. “Slee?” she tried, hopefully.

“Not yet, dear.” said Rarity. “First we save our sisters. Then we sleep.”

“Righ.” muttered Fluttershy.

“Just got to find them first.” said Twilight, powering up a shield(1) against the strange half-machine bipeds.

We are the Borg.” said the nearest bipeds. “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

“D'you think these are those 'Ferengi'?” asked Dash.

“No,” said Flim firmly, “these are not the Ferengi. They had bigger ears. Oh, no, wait, there, that one in the back, he looks a bit like a Ferengi. Oh, except they didn't have all those bits of armour stuck on them.”

“L'ks like Nigh'mare Moo'.” volunteered Fluttershy, incoherently. “Li'l bit.” she added after a moment.

“They look like trouble to me.” stated Flim, nervously. “I do hope they can't get through your shield.”

Then the crowd of Borg shuffled aside, allowing an equine shape to step forward.

You will be assimilated.” said Sweetie Belle, stepping forward – and right through Twilight's shield, as though it wasn't there. “Join us. Resistance is futile.

“Sweetie!” Rarity stepped forward, only to be stopped by Twilight's outstretched hoof.

“Not Sweetie anymore.” said Twilight, firmly. “Nightmare Sweetie. Places, everypony! Harmony!”

Rarity nodded, and stepped back into formation.

And the Bearers released the power of the Elements of Harmony against the Borg.

* * *


The Borg hivemind bears loyalty only to itself. This is not true Loyalty; this is mere self-preservation.

The Element of Loyalty flared brightly.


Kindness requires empathy; empathy requires the ability to properly understand that other being have feelings, and to act on that understanding.

The Borg consider feelings irrelevant; their own and anyone else's.

The Element of Kindness flared brightly.


No fully assimilated Borg drone has ever been known to laugh. Even freed drones have a severe laughter deficiency; after all, is not Laughter irrelevant?

The Element of Laughter flared brightly.


Whatever else one may say about the Borg, they have never been less than honest about their intentions. They announce their plans to assimilate before they begin to do so, and they do no more than they promise.

The Element of Honesty flared only dimly.


The Borg do not give. The Borg only take. Every gift the Borg have ever given, they have taken back, they have intended from the start to take back; along with the person to whom they gave the original gift.

The Element of Generosity flared extremely brightly.


The Borg do not have friends. The Borg admit only the distinction between Borg drones and creatures that have not yet been assimilated.

The Element of Friendship flared brightly.


By a five-to-one majority, the Elements acted. A rainbow flew from the Element-Bearers, arcing into the air and striking Sweetie Belle directly, wrapping around her; then Twilight's shield acquired a rainbow sheen, and sped explosively outwards, filling the entire ship.

And where the rainbow shield passed, the Borg drones were released; their implants vanished, their nanoprobes disappeared, their connections to the Hivemind were severed. Every former Borg drone on the ship stood stock-still for two point three seconds, then collapsed, suddenly unconscious; the Element-Bearers collapsed as well, with the exception of Rainbow Dash, who staggered but managed to stay on her hooves.

She stumbled towards the sleeping former drones, to one little orange-and-purple shape that had been sneaking up behind Twilight's shield.

“Sc't.” she muttered, poking the tiny pegasus with one hoof. “Said – was c'ming. Now'm here, Sc't.”

She wrapped one forelimb gently around Scootaloo, and then collapsed into unconsciousness.

Flim, the last one standing, looked around at all the sleeping ponies and aliens.

Well.” he said. “That wasn't exactly what I'd expected...”

(1) Her brother's design, naturally


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Flim stepped gingerly over the sleeping bodies of several ponies and even more aliens. All of the aliens appeared to be bipedal, for some reason...

It took him only a few moments to reach his destination; the only pony he'd ever fully trusted. His brother, Flam. Flim poked his twin in the side with his horn a few times, until Flam woke up, blinking rapidly.

“Flam.” said Flim.

“Flim?” asked Flam. “What are you doing here?”

Flim grinned, just a little. “Would you believe Celestia herself personally organised your rescue operation?” he asked.

Flam's eyes widened. “My goodness.” he said.

“Oh, yes.” nodded Flim. “You'll never believe who I spent the last week travelling with.”

“...last week?” asked Flam. “I was only kidnapped about half a week ago.”

Flim frowned at his brother. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Oh, yes.” said Flam. “Three days, maybe four at the most.”

The two unicorns exchanged a glance. “What's the last thing you remember?” asked Flim.

“I was in a cart,” said Flam, promptly, “over-propelled by an overenthusiastic pegasus filly, and the aliens were in front of us. They had their backs to us, and were just turning around.”

“You don't remember wearing strange armour and seeing lots of rainbows?” asked Flim.

“No,” said Flam, “should I?”

The two unicorns stared at each other for a long moment.

“Mnemosyne's?” asked Flim.

“Yes, please.” said Flam.

The two twins leaned their heads towards each other, their horns glowing as they each cast Mnemosyne's Memory Restorer on each other; an obscure spell originally designed to improve memory recall, though with the useful side-effect of restoring almost any form of magically deleted memory.

It took several minutes to cast, but the results -

“STOP!” yelled Flam suddenly.

Flim's hornglow vanished, as he looked at his brother in surprise.

“That – what I can remember -” began Flam; but his shout had done more than stop his brother, it had woken some of the alien beings around them.

“Where am I and where are my clothes?” asked the nearest biped, sounding somewhat shocked.

* * *

It didn't take long at all to wake up the aliens, or the three foals, or the baby dragon. The Element-bearers, on the other hand, were very firmly asleep; given that they'd all been up and maintaining some rather draining magic for several days without sleep, Flim wasn't inclined to try too hard to wake them up.

Besides, they weren't getting in anypony's way. Well, not much, at least; the rainbow-maned one was holding onto the little orange pegasus while she slept, like a teddy-bear, but the pegasus filly seemed quite happy with the situation.

A more immediate concern was that most of the bipeds seemed to have some sort of nudity taboo. Fortunately, Flam had managed to locate an obviously-used cabin, and there had been enough, between the clothing and the blankets, to at least calm the bipeds down.

“What's the last thing you remember?” one of the bipeds asked another.

“I was just setting out to go start with the harvest,” the second biped replied, “when these big, square spaceships appeared in the sky. You?”

“I was plotting a course for Qo'noS,” said the first biped, “when a Borg ship came out of warp near me.”

“I was a passenger on a ship to Vulcan,” said a third biped, “when the power went out. I left my cabin, and my last recollection is of a pair of Borg drones appearing nearby. It seems probable that we have all spent some time assimilated as Borg drones.”

“What if we're already assimilated now?” asked the second biped. “What if this is what the hivemind looks like from the inside?”

“That would be highly unlikely.” said the third biped, immediately. “As you may be aware, we Vulcans have limited telepathic abilities; I know what telepathy looks like, and this is not it. This is reality. If we were Borg drones, we are no longer Borg drones.”

“Why,” asked the second biped, “are there so many horses around?”

“Please.” said Flim. “We're ponies. Not horses.”

The three bipeds stared at him in shock.

“You speak?” asked the second, after a moment's thought.

“Clearly it does.” said the third, pre-empting any reply that Flim might have wanted to give. “An intelligent species of quadrupeds, with no clearly defined manipulative appendages... fascinating. I take it you were also assimilated by the Borg?”

“Who are the Borg?” asked Flim.

“A number of races, joined in a technologically created hivemind.” replied the third biped, raising an eyebrow. “Are you familiar with the Federation?”

“I... think so.” said Flim. “I think they're the ones who helped us with the... space ship?” Flim glanced at the impassive third biped, trying to see if he'd used the right term. The third biped's face provided no cues. “Or whatever it's called. The... transport we used to get here in.”

“Fascinating.” said the third biped. “This ship is clearly of Ferengi construction. It is probable, then, that they've joined the Federation... do you know the current date?”

“One thousand and one, A.N.M.(1)” said Flim, promptly.

This did not appear to stir any recognition in any of the bipeds.

“Do you know the date in the Federation calendar?” asked the third biped.

Flim looked over at Flam, and Flam looked over at Flim. Both unicorns shrugged.

(1) After Nightmare Moon

Communication III

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“This is very worrying.” said Sunek, the Vulcan. He nodded at the Human, the Klingon, even the Ferengi skulking near the wall, apparently trying not to catch anyone's attention. “It appears that we have all recently been Borg drones. I would therefore expect that the Borg are in the area, looking to recapture us.” He looked at the Klingon. “You said you were plotting a course for Qo'noS. Are you a pilot?”

“No.” said the Klingon. “I am first and foremost a warrior. But I can pilot a ship, yes.”

“Excellent.” said Sunek. “Take the Ferengi with you, and find the bridge. Attempt to ascertain the current situation; I recommend trying to contact the Federation, or find an inhabited planet.” He turned to look at the Ferengi. “Are you familiar with this model of ship?”

“He should be.” said the unicorn with the moustache(1). “He's one of the two who kidnapped me. And these three foals.”

The Klingon smiled at that, showing all his teeth. “Good.” he said, one of his hands slamming down on the Ferengi's shoulder. “That gives me an excellent reason to break his arms if he does not cooperate.”

The Ferengi whimpered as he was dragged away.

“And what will you do?” asked the Human.

“I intend to find out if our rescuers had any plans in mind for this eventuality.” said Sunek, stepping forward towards the nearest sleeping pony.

There was a strange, whinnying noise(2) from one of the little fillies (the horned one).

“What... was that?” asked the human, nervously.

“Their language.” said Sunek, firmly. “The most probable explanation is that the Ferengi had, somewhere on his person, a universal translator. Now that he has left the room, we are unable to communicate verbally with our new allies.”

The yellow one with the ribbon whinnied, and mixed it with a neigh. It sounded a bit more impatient this time(3).

“But if we can't understand them, then how...” began the human.

“I intend to initiate a mindmeld with the leader.” said Sunek. “We shall be able to understand each other without having to wake...” Sunek glanced over the ponies, and took a guess at the pronoun to use. “...her. We shall be able to communicate in that manner.”

The winged filly said something at length(4).

Sunek glanced over the ponies. Which one was the leader? Five of them wore necklaces; one wore a tiara. The tiara-wearing one slept at the front, with the others standing behind her. On this basis, the tiara-wearing one was the most probable leader.

He stepped forward and placed a hand on the side of Twilight Sparkle's head. But before he could fully initiate the mindmeld, a voice boomed through his head.

“This mind is not yours to take, stranger! Retreat at once, lest thou fall foul of the wrath of the Princess of the NIGHT!”

* * *

“Sorry about that, Twilight.” said Luna, returning to Twilight's dreamscape. “Somepony just tried to get into your head.”

“They didn't... do anything, did they?”

“Nay,” said Luna, “we evicted them ere they had completed their connection. However, to visit thy dreams at this distance is somewhat taxing; we shall not be able to protect thee in person for long. Before we go, we shall leave thy mind, and those of thy friends, buttressed and reinforced against further intrusion. But please, tarry not with thy report; our ears hunger for thy news. Thou hadst got as far as to mention the Captain, who had left his ship in thy hands at our sister's suggestion, fleeing in a shuttlecraft rather than face the Borg?”

“Yes.” nodded Twilight. “It took us – I don't know how long to catch up. The Ferengi ship was just sitting there; I teleported us aboard; Sweetie Belle and Applebloom and Scootaloo were there, but they were, well, different. They had some kind of strange armour on, and they were surrounded by bipeds with similar armour, and acting strange, and they said something about 'assimilation'...”

“Tis nary a hopeful situation.” said Luna, frowning. “What didst thou then?”

“We activated the Elements of Harmony.” said Twilight. “Only, after so long without sleep... I'm not even sure if they went off before we collapsed or not.”

“That some being attempted to breach thy mind is not a hopeful sign, Twilight Sparkle.” said Luna. “Thou must endeavour to awaken thyself, as swiftly as is at all possible. I shall visit thy friends in their dreams in turn, and see to the strengthening of their minds against any form of attack. But thou, Twilight Sparkle; thou must awaken.”

* * *

“What happened?” asked the Human. When the Vulcan had been thrown back from the purple alien, she'd managed to catch him before his head hit the wall; that, Sunek knew in the back of his mind, was a good thing.

But the front of his mind was still overwhelmed by the brief shout that had thrown him out of the mindmeld. “It's... full of stars...” he murmured.

“What?” asked the Human.

Sunek shook his head. “The mind of the alien is protected against mental contact in some manner unfamiliar to me.” he said. “A precaution in case of assimilation, I suspect. I was unable to make contact, and I have reason to believe that further attempts to initiate a mind meld might be damaging to myself. I shall not therefore attempt it without good reason.” He stood up. “I believe the logical course of action at this point is to attempt to retrieve the universal translator from the Ferengi on the bridge.”

With that, he turned and left, walking in the direction that the Ferengi and the Klingon had left in. He entirely ignored the two small fillies trying without much success to free their winged companion from the larger winged equine's grasp; he also entirely ignored the little dragon, who'd dragged a pillow from the same room as the sheet Sunek was wearing and appeared to be scratching some sort of complex pattern on it with his claws.

When the pattern was completed to his satisfaction, the dragon burnt the pillow, which turned into green smoke and drifted away.

* * *

“Admiral.” said Celestia, when the gentleman on the other side of the subspace call appeared on her screen.

“Princess Celestia.” said the Admiral, with a slight nod. He kept his expression stern and calm, bracing himself for bad news.

“I have excellent news for you, Admiral.” said Celestia. “It appears that the taint of the Borg has been cleansed from my little ponies. And apparently from several other beings as well; bipeds, from Spike's description. Possibly some of your people.”

“Well, that is good news.” said the Admiral. “If it's true, of course.”

“If it's true?” asked Celestia, raising a single eyebrow.

“Well, if Spike were still assimilated by the Borg, how easily could he fake that message?” asked the Admiral.

Celestia nodded. “I see your point.” she said. “However, there is corroborating evidence. My sister has visited the dreams of the Bearers of the Elements; they managed to use the Elements of Harmony against the Borg drones, and Rainbow Dash remained awake long enough to see that the taint had been purged. And I am certain that she has not fallen to the Borg; Luna would have noticed had they been in Rainbow Dash's dreams.”

“That is good.” nodded the Admiral. “Where is your sister now?”

“Recuperating.” said Celestia, wryly. “Visiting the dreams of six ponies over such a distance, even ones with whom she is so well acquainted, and even with the Elements of Harmony to act as a beacon, even for an alicorn, is a truly stupendous feat of magic. I must admit, I had not realised your Federation was anywhere near that large.”

The Admiral blinked, just once(5).

“Admiral?” called a voice from off-screen.

The Admiral glanced around, annoyed. “Can't you see I'm on a call?” he asked, irritated.

“New information on the kidnapping, sir. A call from the Ferengi ship.” said the voice. “You said to let you know immediately. I think you're going to want to see this caller, sir. The, uh, Princess too.”

“Very well.” said the Admiral. “On-screen.”

Celestia's screen split in half down the middle; on the left was the Admiral, on the right was a taller, redder humanoid, both hands on the shoulders of the dejected Ferengi in front of him.

“Greetings... Federation officers?” guessed the Klingon. “My name is Var'aQ.”

(1) Flam

(2) “What did you say?”

(3) “Why are y'all talkin' so funny suddenly?”

(4) “Hey, um, girls, I'm really glad Dash is here and all, and it's nice that she doesn't want to let me go in her sleep, but could one of you help me out of here for a minute? I really gotta go pee.”

(5) The ponies had a habit of surprising him, to the degree that he'd seriously begun to wonder, on occasion, whether they or the Federation were truly the more advanced.

And then, every now and then, they said something that reminded him that they'd never left their own planet before the Federation arrived(6).

(6) Not beyond their own moon, at least. That hardly counted.

Communication IV

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Sunek marched rapidly along in the direction that the Klingon had dragged the Ferengi. One thing he knew about the Borg was that they didn't particularly enjoy losing drones; there were stories of a few beings who'd managed to escape from the Borg hivemind, and in almost every case, those beings had made immediate attempts to rejoin the Hive, having developed a dependency on the group mind. Only in a very few cases had that tendency been averted, and then only after significant time reconnecting with their individuality.

He largely ignored the two fillies – one yellow, with a ribbon, and one orange and winged – who ran past him at full speed, checking behind all the doors for who-knows-what.

Sunek also had not heard of a case where someone, on being released from the Borg hivemind, experienced total amnesia of the intervening period; though, from what he had heard of the distress experienced by such former drones, the amnesia was no doubt well-intended. Especially since they would likely have to move with some speed to escape any Borg attempt to recapture -

Two little fillies, ahead of him in the corridor, opened a door, and promptly screamed. The high-pitched, loud noise carried little information but attracted a lot of attention; Sunek did not need a universal translator to recognise a call for help. He rushed forward, hoping that the fillies hadn't found a still-assimilated Borg drone...

They hadn't.

The fillies rushed past Sunek again, their eyes tight shut, hiding behind him as if he could save them from whatever it was that threatened them. And, as long as it were not a Borg drone, he might well – Vulcans look very similar to humanity, but conceal unexpected physical strength in their unassuming limbs.

The creature that slithered out from beyond the door was one with which Sunek was not familiar. It had the body of a snake, and the head of a chicken; its tiny wings flared aggressively as it turned the full force of its glare on the Vulcan.

Sunek took the moment, while the creature stared instead of attacking, to consider the best response. The creature had no limbs, apart from stubby wings; this implied that it killed by either constriction or poison. To avoid constriction, he held his left arm parallel to his body and a small distance away, leaving his right arm free to deal with any other attempts at attack. The fillies' response indicated that this creature was dangerous, and not allied with the equines. Its only sound was a hiss, which did not appear to be an attempt at communication. It was likely that the creature was a predator of some sort, perhaps taken from one of the worlds colonised by the equines, as a specimen for a zoo.

Sunek noticed that his feet and ankles had lost all feeling, and the numbness was spreading up his legs. He also noticed that he appeared to be stiffening, unable to turn his head to look away from the creature. It was apparent that there was more going on here than appeared to be the case. He reached out suddenly with his right hand, placing it against the creature's head, and initiated a mind meld.

* * *

The creature's brain was simple; a whirl of instincts, senses, reactions with little or no intelligence behind them. It was not used to being steered by intelligence, but it was not used to fighting intelligence, either. It is only with great difficulty, and direct contact, that an intelligent being can be forced to act against his own interests through the mind meld, for the intelligent being fights against any change. The beast, on the other hand, is more easily controlled if one knows the trick; the beast's nature is that it will always take actions in service of its immediate goals, and it is near impossible to change that nature. On the other hand, it is comparatively simple to change the goals.

The cockatrice's goal was “petrify”. Sunek changed that goal, first to “release”; the numbness in his legs immediately vanished, and he almost staggered and broke the mindmeld. Then he rummaged through the cockatrice's mind; there was a category there for creatures to hide from, containing prominently a rock-like crocodile. Sunek added both the juvenile equines and a vague bipedal shape to that category. The change wouldn't hold for more than a few minutes, but the creature would likely be wary of both types of sentient for several days at least... long enough for a more permanent solution to be sought.

* * *

The creature broke the mindmeld, jerking back from Sunek's touch in fear. It turned, and slithered away rapidly.

The yellow equine whinneyed; something long and complex, no doubt containing information(1).

The winged orange one replied(2); it was always unwise to judge alien communications by their tone, but this equine sounded distressed. Perhaps it was now afraid of Sunek's mind meld?

No matter. The snakelike creature would not bother any of them for some few hours, at least. Enough time for Sunek to retrieve the Ferengi's universal translator and obtain some more information.

He started towards the bridge, leaving the equines to follow or not as they wished; but was quickly stopped by a tug on the sheet he was wearing. He looked down to find the yellow equine looking up at him. Her eyes were opened wide, as if in imitation of a newborn mammal; most mammals, Sunek knew, would find such a facial expression endearing, and it seemed likely that that was the yellow one's purpose in adopting it. She whinneyed, apparently asking him something(3).

Though he could not understand her words, Sunek assumed that she was asking for protection from further attacks by the snakelike being. He considered for a moment, and then picked up both fillies, one under each arm, before continuing to head for the bridge. If they had intended to ask for anything else, he could work it out once they were all in range of a universal translator again.

He ignored their further conversation(4). The yellow filly did not struggle; and while the orange one wriggled, it did not appear to be trying to escape.

* * *

“I am Admiral Richard James of the United Federation of Planets.” said the Admiral. “This is Princess Celestia of Equestria. Could you please describe to us what you know of the situation you find yourself in?”

“I know very little.” replied Var'aQ. “I know nothing of what happened before I awoke, mere minutes ago, since the day I was piloting a ship and saw a Borg cube. There are... several of us, of many species. We appear to have awakened all at once, and our last memories are all of the Borg. We'd rather get out of here before they come back and re-assimilate us, if it's all the same to you.”

“Of course.” said the Admiral, typing rapidly on a keyboard. “Start by heading for these coordinates at maximum warp; a Galaxy-class ship will meet you on the way.”

Var'aQ let go of the Ferengi, but not before delivering a dire warning; “If you run away, or touch a single control, I will break your arm.” He walked to the pilot's seat; the controls were unfamiliar, but not entirely impossible for an experienced pilot to figure out. It took him a few moments, but he quickly had the coordinates entered, and engaged the warp drive.

“Now that you're on your way,” said the Admiral, “would you mind describing to us exactly what situation you woke up in? With particular attention to the fate of any equine lifeforms that may have been present.”

* * *

Twilight Sparkle's body protested. It had gone without sleep for far too long. But her mind, warned by Luna that somepony had tried to enter it, fought against her sleeping body, flooding it with adrenalin, trying to force itself into activity again in fear for her friends.

The tired body fought back, trying to construct a dream in which Twilight awoke, in order to obtain much-needed sleep. But in the dream, the Borg were one-by-one assimilating her friends; and the nightmare triggered a greater fear reaction.

Her eyelids were as heavy as Tom; but with an effort of will she levered them open. Several bipeds stood around, in non-threatening postures; a short distance away, Rainbow Dash snored, holding tightly on to Sweetie Belle. Twilight attempted to leap to her hooves, and scan the room for potential threats while asking Sweetie what was going on.

However, her exhausted body simply didn't have the energy reserves to manage that. Twilight managed to move one leg slightly, turn her head, and mutter “whss g'ng on?”

“Twilight?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“wha's 'appning?” mumbled Twilight.

“You saved us!” said Sweetie Belle. “You saved us all!”

“wh're's t'others?” asked Twilight.

“Oh, Scoots had to go find the restroom.” said Sweetie Belle. “Dash didn't want to let go of her, so we kinda had to swap, and Applebloom went with to go help her look. I'm sure they're fine.”

“b'rg?” asked Twilight.

“All gone!” said Sweetie. “Scoots was one for a bit, and I think I might've been too, but you sorted us all out. Everything's fine.”

“g'd.” mumbled Twilight, and dropped straight back to sleep again.

* * *

“I recovered my senses,” said Var'aQ, “in a corridor not far from the bridge to this ship. There were several equines there; three small ones, probably children, and a number of larger, sleeping ones. There were also two older ones awake, very similar, one with and one without a moustache.”

“Flim and Flam.” said Celestia.

“They were unfamilar with Federation dates,” said Var'aQ, “but said that the Federation had been good enough to supply them with a ship. I left at that point, considering it more important to find out what was going on outside the ship, and avoid any further entanglements with the Borg.”

“You saw no sign of further Borg activity on the ship?” asked the Admiral.

“No.” said Var'aQ. “Should I have?”

“Given the time since they took over that ship...” began the Admiral.

“Considering the size of the ship, I very much doubt that any part evaded the Elements.” said Celestia. “They can in theory be used to cover an entire planet; and have been, on at least one occasion.”

“Now,” said Var'aQ, “I've answered all your questions. Could one of you please tell me what's going on here?”

“The Ferengi ship that you are on,” said the Admiral, “recently visited the world of these equines. They are not yet part of the Federation, nor are they officially allied, but so far we have been working together without significant friction. The Ferengi ship kidnapped three children and one unicorn from the surface of the world, then fled.”

“The Federation arranged for a ship to go to the world in question,” continued the Admiral, “and convey a rescue team to attempt to reach the Ferengi ship and rescue the victims. Unfortunately, the Ferengi ship ran into the Borg. Despite being warned of what they were to face, and against my recommendation, the rescue team insisted on continuing their mission; largely, I imagine, due to the fact that several of them were closely related to the children in question. The rescue team arrived on your ship less then half an hour ago; and you know what happened since then better than we do.”

“The good news, for you,” concluded the Admiral, “is that Equestria is only about three days' travel from your current location. It's probably the safest place in the galaxy from the Borg right now, and you're directly on course for it.”

(1) “Didja see that, Scoots? He just touched the cockatrice an' it unstoned him an' ran away!”

(2) “Yeah, but now I really really really gotta go pee. We gotta go find the toilet!”

(3) “'Scuse me, mister, but Scootaloo really has ta go an' we don't know where the toilets are on here an' there might be some other creatures hiding in here or another cockatrice or something, so could you pleeeeeeeease help us find where there's a toilet?”

(4) “See?” said Applebloom. “He's gonna take us right ta the toilet. I bet we'll be there in double-quick time.”

“We'd better be.” squeaked Scootaloo.

Communication V

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“Captain James.” said Sunek, standing to attention(1) as soon as he stepped onto the bridge.

“Sunek?” asked the Admiral. “Oh, and it's 'Admiral' now, by the -”

“Hey, how come now y'all are talkin' sense?” asked Applebloom, from under Sunek's right arm.

“It is because -” began Sunek.

“Wait!” interrupted Scootaloo, from under Sunek's left arm. “First! Where's the toilet? I gotta go!”

“Out that door, turn right, third door on the left.” said the Ferengi sitting slumped on the floor.

“Thanks!” Scootaloo wriggled frantically until Sunek let go, then dashed out the door full speed.

“So... why are y'all talkin' sense now?” asked Applebloom, as Sunek put her down as well.

“Doubtless we are now within range of a working universal translator,” said Sunek.

“It's surgically implanted in my ear.” said the Ferengi.

“What's a universal translator?” asked Applebloom.

“A fascinating piece of technology,” explained the Admiral, “it means that any people speaking almost any form of language can understand each other. In short, you hear us talking in your language, while we hear you talking in ours.”

Applebloom thought about this for a moment, and then said, “So y'mean Ah sound like you guys?”

“You appear to have retained an accent of some sort.” said the large, imposing Klingon warrior seated in the helmsman's chair.

“Ah see.” said Applebloom. “So... where 'xactly did you folk come from?”

“We had been captured by the Borg,” said Sunek patiently, “much as I imagine you had been. When your... friends came to rescue you, they managed to rescue us as well.”

“For which we owe them our gratitude.” said Var'aQ. “I, personally, would greatly appreciate a sparring match with one of our rescuers.”

“And right now,” said Celestia, “you're on your way back home.”

“You'll be there in just over three days.” added the Admiral. “Sunek's a good Vulcan – I'm sure he'll make sure you have enough to eat and a comfortable place to sleep over the next three days, until you're safely back.”

“If you and your friends will stay close to me,” offered Sunek, “I shall take all reasonable steps to ensure your safety.”

“I'll keep an eye on this scum.” said Var'aQ, pointing at the Ferengi with one thumb. “He won't bother you again, not if I have anything to say about it.”

“What about the other one?” asked Applebloom.

“...other one?” asked Var'aQ.

“There were two Ferengi.” pointed out Applebloom.

Var'aQ smiled, slowly. “I see.” he said. He stood up abruptly, grabbing Frem's arm. “This way,” he said, “we're going to go hunt your partner.” As he approached the door, it slid open, revealing a little orange pegasus on the other side.

“Scoots!” said Applebloom. “You find it alright?”

“Yeah, I found it.” said Scootaloo. “And the toilets in this place are seriously weird. I mean, I figured it out, but...”

“Most known sentient species,” said Sunek, “are approximately twice your height and bipedal. It is no coincidence that the plumbing should reflect this.”

“What's 'bipedal' mean, and how come you guys are talking Equestrian now?” asked Scootaloo.

* * *

“I don't remember much of it,” said Flam, quietly, “but what I do remember suggests it might be dangerous to remember more. It was... well, imagine you've somehow ended up with somepony else's mind in your head, fighting you for control over your body. You both know everything the other one knows, but you've got different aims, different things you want to do.”

“That doesn't sound pleasant.” said Flim. The two unicorns had wandered off to find somewhere to talk in private, and had ended up in the forward observation lounge; they sat side-by-side on the floor, surrounded by three chairs which did not take pony anatomy into account, and looked out at the stars.

“It wasn't,” said Flam, “but now imagine that instead of one other mind, there were... billions.”

There was a brief moment of silence while Flim considered this, and then he said “Billions? Are you sure?”

“No.” said Flam. “I'm pretty sure it was a good deal more than that. The Borg have taken over thousands of worlds, and they consider a world that holds twenty billion drones to be sparsely populated.”

There was another long silence.

“That can't be right.” said Flim, eventually. “I mean, surely the agriculture to sustain that amount of ponies alone...”

“They don't eat,” said Flam, “not like ponies do. They have this... machine. They put stuff in it – just about anything, really – and get some sort of stuff out that they swallow, but only when necessary. They don't care about taste. They sleep stacked up like logs in little alcoves, and they do that in shifts. They can pack themselves in like you wouldn't believe.”

There was another silence.

“Okay,” said Flim, eventually. “So there's billions of these Borg out there.”

“And I can remember them now.” said Flam. “Dimly. It's like... a faint echo of a memory of the Borg hivemind, whispering in my head. It wants... everything. The whole universe. Everyone and everything ever. It definitely wants me back.”

“I'm not sure,” continued Flam, “if I remember all of it, if I'll still be me afterwards, or if the memory will overwhelm my mind and take over as easily as the Borg took over me the first time.”

“I see.” said Flim. “Should we wait for the Bearers to wake up, and ask them to hit you with the Elements again?”

“Now, I didn't say that.” said Flam, with a grin. “It's only the vaguest echo of a memory of the Hivemind... but the Hivemind knows an incredible amount about this sort of technology.” He rapped on the floor of the ship with one hoof. “Flim, my brother, the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy was nothing compared to the sort of mechanisms that are in my head now.” He placed one foreleg around Flim's shoulders and waved a hoof dramatically. “Imagine, Flim... a holodeck, a room that can show anypony their greatest desire... at a rate of ten – no, a hundred bits an hour – a half hour. One that runs on a fusion generator – powered by hydrogen – which can be produced easily and cheaply from just a little bit of water. And if they don't pay – we just turn off the room. Or imagine a device that can change anything to anything – rocks to diamonds, quills to sofas, branches to bits – at the mere touch of a button. Devices to take energy from sunlight, and store it as electricity; or a device, the size of your hoof, that can hold all the information in all the libraries in all Equestria!”

* * *

“...at which point,” Sunek finished off his summary of the de-borgification process for the Princess and the Admiral, “I attempted to initiate a mind meld with one of the ponies, in order to find out whether she had made any plans that needed to be completed.”

“Ah, so that was you.” said Celestia, nodding. “Luna – my sister – did mention that she'd noticed somebody trying to gain access to Twilight's mind while she slept. I do hope she didn't scare you too badly – she can be a little intimidating at times.”

“Your sister is aboard this ship?” asked Sunek.

“No,” said Celestia, “she's upstairs. Maintaining that link was rather exhausting for her.”

Sunek was silent for a long moment, and then he said “She's on the planet.”

“Yes.” said Celestia.

“A planet that will take us three days, at warp six, to reach.”

“That is correct.” said the Admiral, nodding.

“Is there some area along our path that requires us to slow down to safely navigate it?” asked Sunek.

“No,” said the Admiral. “It's a straight run. Full speed. You could go warp nine if that ship had the engine power.”

Sunek was silent for almost a minute as he considered this.

“And your sister,” he finally said, “at that range, not only maintained a telepathic link, but very decisively overpowered and cut off a link formed by direct touch?”

“That's right.” said Celestia, wondering where this was going. “I'm afraid she thought you might be the Borg; I'm sure she'll apologise when she wakes up.”

Once again, Sunek tried to work out the energy requirements of maintaining a telepathic link across several lightyears, and once again he got a very large number.

“And... no doubt she used some kind of amplifier?” he said.

“Oh, no.” said Celestia. “We've never managed to produce any sort of magic amplifier that can handle an alicorn's full sustained output; neither me nor my sister can use them.”

Sunek's eye twitched slightly. He quadruple-checked his calculations.

“She did shore up Twilight's mental defenses somewhat, while she was there.” continued Celestia. “And then she went and did the same for the other five Element-bearers, of course. I think that's the part that really wore her out.”

Sunek took the number he had worked out and multiplied it by six. His eye twitched again.

“This... is a 'prank', is it not?” he asked, cautiously. “A series of untrue and implausible statements, given to provoke a reaction?”

“No,” said Celestia, raising an eyebrow slightly. “Why would it be?”

“I have found,” said the Admiral, cautiously, “that it's often best not to ask an Equestrian certain questions. The answers can be rather disquieting, especially in light of what we do know they can do. I'd strongly recommend dealing with the immediate situation first, for the moment, and then you'll have the opportunity to find out more about our new allies later.”

Sunek blinked, twice, and then nodded. “Very well, Admiral.” he said.

(1) To the extent which one can while carrying a Crusader under each arm.

Awakening II

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It was almost twenty-four hours into the journey back to Equestria, when Twilight Sparkle woke up again. She was lying on a soft mattress, covered by some sort of blanket... it felt wrong. It was too light and too warm to be her blanket. For a moment she idly wondered where she was and whether anypony would mind if she slept in for five more minutes...

...and then memory rapidly returned. Three days awake in pursuit of their goal, a legion of bipedal Nightmares, Nightmare Sweetie Belle, a burst of rainbow light, somecreature trying to get into her mind, repelled by Luna...

Twilight's eyes shot open, and she clambered to her hooves. Somehow, the too-light blanket tangled around her legs, and she fell to the side, bouncing on the soft mattress.

“YOU'RE AWAKE!” yelled a familiar voice from slightly above her head. A moment later, a pair of scaly arms wrapped around Twilight's neck.

Twilight looked up, and saw Pinkie looking down, a wide grin on her face. She reached out one foreleg to hug Spike back.

“Pinkie? Spike?” she asked. “Is everything okay?”

“It is now.” said Spike, quite firmly.

“Everything's perfectly-perfect!” said Pinkie, starting to bounce up and down. “Rainbow's sparring with Var'aQ in the hold, the Crusaders and Sunek are taking Rarity and Applejack on a tour of the ship, you're on a mattress on the floor in the forward observation deck, Spike's hugging you, I'm telling you where everypony else is, Fluttershy's the last one who's still asleep -”

Not anymore.” said a very quiet voice, from behind Twilight.

“- Flim and Flam are exploring the ship on their own – making an inventory, they said – Sarah's gone down to one of the rooms to have a nap, David -”

“Stop.” said Twilight, holding up one hoof. “Varrak? Sunnek? Say-rah? Who are these ponies?”

“Oh, they're not ponies.” said Pinkie. “They're aliens!”

“Are they the ones who kidnapped the girls?”

“No, silly! That was Pog and Frem. They're tied up in one of the holds, and somepony – well, actually, somealien – makes sure to keep an eye on them, all the time! Sunek set it up. He's nice, he reminds me of my sister.”

Twilight mentally began to prepare for an alien as energetic and exuberant as Pinkie Pie. “Then where did these aliens come from?” she asked.

“Weeelllllll... you know the Nightmare got hold of the Crusaders and then we blasted it with the Elements?” asked Pinkie.

“Yes, Pinkie. I was there.”

“Well, they were aliens that had been caught by the Nightmare earlier! And when we freed the girls, we freed them, too! Which is good, 'cause it turns out that flying this thing is super-duper complicated, but lucky some of the aliens already knew how to fly a ship like this, so we're going to be back in Equestria in just two days! Oh, and talking of which, Celestia wanted to talk to you when you got up! After breakfast.”

“Celestia's here?” asked Twilight, suddenly realising that she was by no means presentable – she probably had a terrible bedmane, she hadn't had a bath in far too long, and she had only the vaguest idea of what was going on.

“No, don't be silly!” said Pinkie. “Not even the Princesses can teleport that far. But they've got one of those magic window talky thingys on the bridge, which is a really weird name for it 'cause it's not actually a bridge, it's really just the place they steer the ship from, and I don't know why they call it that because there isn't any water underneath, I checked, and there isn't a parapet to lean on and watch the traffic from either, which there normally is on a bridge if it's a bridge over a road, only there isn't any traffic to watch either, only this really really big magic window thingy...”

Twilight's stomach growled. It was the prolonged, angry growl of a stomach that hasn't had anything put into it in the last twenty-four hours.

Pinkie gasped. “Breakfast!” she said. “You've got to come have breakfast! Come on, I'll show you something neat!”

“Yeah!” said Spike. “This is cool!”

She dragged Twilight and Spike to an alcove in the wall. Pinkie frowned at it for a few moments, then picked up a coin – a little larger than a bit – from a small alcove and put it in a slot on the side of the machine. It fell in, there was a clatter and a couple of rattling noises, and then the coin dropped back into the alcove that Pinkie had taken it from. At the same time, Spike pressed a few buttons labelled in alien script.

Twilight sat down and stared, vaguely hoping that this had something to do with breakfast. Hopefully, there would be coffee involved.

There was a faint humming noise, and then a plate of hay and a bowl of oatmeal porridge appeared, apparently from nowhere.

Twilight blinked, and stared.

“We can make it do water, as well,” said Pinkie, “but those are the only buttons Sunek showed me.”

“Where does it come from?” asked Twilight. “How does it get there?”

Spike shrugged. “I dunno.” he said. “Teleportation?”

Twilight frowned at the basic breakfast. She levitated it out of the alcove and put it to one side. “Do that again,” she said “I want to take a closer look this time.” Her horn took on a faint glow.

“Sure!” said Pinkie. She picked up the coin, dropped it in the slot, while Spike hit the same series of buttons again. There was a shimmer, and another bale of hay and bowl of porridge appeared; apparently identical to the last set.

“...it's not teleportation.” she said. “There's no hint of spatial twisting or another endpoint. It's almost as if it's being... constructed. Out of nothing. But that's... not scientifically possible! You can't construct something out of nothing! You have to construct something out of something! My breakfast is not scientifically possible!”

Pinkie shrugged. “You should probably eat it before it gets cold.” she suggested. “Cold porridge isn't very good.”

Twilight's objections were drowned out by the grumbling of her stomach. But before she even took a bite of her porridge, she noticed something else odd.

“What's this spoon made of?” she asked.

“I dunno.” said Pinkie. “Sunek said something about long-chain polymers or something...”

“Did somepony mention breakfast?” asked Fluttershy's quiet voice, from behind Twilight.

“FLUTTERSHY!” yelled Pinkie. “YOU'RE AWAKE! You're the last one! Now as soon as you've had breakfast and Twilight's spoken to Celestia, we can have our Alien Party!”

Friendship Report

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Time: 47 hours before arrival at Equestria

“Is my mane straight?” asked Twilight, as she trotted nervously after Pinkie. “Is there a manebrush somewhere? Or a comb? I can't go and talk to the Princess if my mane's not straight.”

“I don't think the Princess will mind,” said Spike, from his seat on Twilight's back.

“And a shower.” said Twilight. “There's got to be a shower somewhere in this place, I feel like I haven't showered in a week, I certainly can't talk to the Princess when I smell like this.”

“Yeah, we're all a bit stinky.” nodded Pinkie. “Stinky Pinkies aren't the best Pinkies. There might be a shower, maybe the aliens will know. I thought I found one earlier, but I pushed all the buttons I could see and I couldn't get the water started.”(1)

“Rarity.” said Twilight. “Rarity will have found out about showers. And manebrushes. I need to talk to Rarity before I can talk to Celestia.”

* * *

Var'aQ marched onto the bridge, carrying Rainbow Dash over his shoulder. He tossed the pegasus – fairly gently – onto a handy chair and sat down in the pilot's seat. “You're not bad,” he said, glancing over the displays, “for a beginner.”

“My entire body,” groaned Rainbow, slumped over the arm of the chair, “is one giant bruise.”

“You're surprisingly fast,” continued Var'aQ, ignoring the complaint, “your agility is top-notch, you are a good deal stronger than you look, and the ability to fly gives you a notable advantage. Also, the fact that you are so different to the average warrior makes you harder for an unprepared combatant to read your body language.”

Rainbow blinked, unsure of what to say.

“Having said that,” continued Var'aQ, “you telegraph your moves well in advance, you have next to no understanding of tactics, and you fall into the simplest of traps. You would benefit from some basic training. It will hurt, but it will hurt less than the pain of seeing those you love killed by a threat you could not defeat.”

Rainbow groaned.

* * *

45 hours before arrival at Equestria

“I'm afraid that that's the best I can manage with the tools at hand, darling.” said Rarity, inspecting Twilight's mane. “At the very least, I've got all the tangles out, but until we can figure out where the showers are on this vessel and how they work, there's not really much I can do about the smell.”

“If there even are showers.” grumbled Twilight.

“There must be, darling.” said Rarity. “I ran across one of the aliens earlier, and he didn't smell of sweat at all, so there must be some means of keeping oneself clean hidden somewhere in this horrible place.”

“Maybe the aliens don't sweat at all?” suggested Sweetie Belle, who was lying draped across her big sister's back.

“Of course they do.” said Rarity, firmly.

“Maybe it's because they don't have fur.” suggested Spike. “Scales are a lot easier to clean, after all.”

“Ah think y'all are makin' a big deal about nothin'.” volunteered Applejack. “There's nothin' wrong with a bit of sweat, it shows a pony's been workin' hard.”

“Besides,” added Applebloom, “Ah don't think anypony can smell through that magic window in any case. I mean, it's kinda like a window that's closed – y'can't smell through that.”

“Yeah!” agreed Pinkie. “All you gotta do is not mention how you smell, and Celestia won't even notice!”

Twilight took a deep breath. “Maybe you're right.” she said, giving in at last.

* * *

44 hours and 30 minutes before the ship's arrival at Equestria

“We toyed with the idea of worldwide political unity once.” said Celestia. “About, oh, five hundred years ago. It was Prince Regal's idea – as I recall, his intention was to, as he put it, 'foist all the idiotic paperwork onto the lesser races without giving them any actual power'.” She levitated her teacup to take a sip. “Of course, he was a little more diplomatic about it when actually talking to the griffins and minotaurs in person. Nonetheless, the attempt was rather doomed to failure from the beginning, as I'm sure you can imagine.”

“I really can't imagine an alliance on that basis taking off.” said the Admiral, nodding. “Although, in the right political environment, something like that could -”

There was a beeping noise from his side of the subspace link.

“Ah – perhaps we should continue this discussion later.” he said. “It seems we have an incoming message from the Ferengi ship.”

“I do hope it's Twilight.” said Celestia. “If she sleeps much longer, I'm going to start worrying.”

“Let us see, shall we?” said the Admiral. “Splitscreen.”

Instantly, Celestia's screen showed a division down the middle – on the left-hand side, the Admiral remained, while on the right-hand side, the bridge of the Ferengi ship was visible. The top of the Klingon pilot's head could be seen at the lower edge of the screen, but Celestia ignored him in favour of the small group of ponies standing in the middle of the screen, just in front of the Captain's chair, in the centre of that group being a visibly nervous purple pony.

“Twilight.” said Celestia, with a little smile. Her student looked surprisingly neat and well-presented; no doubt Rarity had lent a hoof in that.

“Princess.” said Twilight, with a much broader smile of her own.

“I am glad to see that you are well.” said Celestia, calmly. “Have you learnt anything about friendship over these last few days?”

“Oh yes.” said Twilight, nodding. She took a deep breath. “I've learnt that there are times when you're facing a task that may seem insurmountable, and it might seem like you can't do it, and you're going to fail your friends in some way. But you have to try, and you have to keep going. And with good friends by your side to encourage you –” Twilight reached out to place one foreleg around Rainbow's shoulders(2) and another around Rarity's – “and to help you keep going, you can surprise yourself, and everypony else, with what you can accomplish.”

Celestia nodded. “An important lesson.” she said, then changed the subject. “Have you met Sunek yet?”

“Not yet.” said Twilight, cautiously.

“It might be a good idea if you would.” said Celestia. “I have a decision that I need to make, and I would like to have your opinion.”

“Of course, Princess!” said Twilight, barely refraining from jumping up and down in excitement.

“Excellent.” said Celestia. “If you need me for anything else, feel free to call me from the bridge, or to send a letter via Spike.”

“Of course, Princess.” repeated Twilight, firmly.

(1) This was partly because the shower in question was a sonic shower, but mainly because Pinkie had neglected to put a coin in the relevant slot.

(2) Rainbow only winced slightly


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37 hours before arrival at Equestria, on the bridge

“We'd rather like to join in, if you don't mind.” said Rarity, firmly.

“Eeeeyup.” agreed Applejack.

“Are you sure?” asked Rainbow Dash. “I'm warning you, this guy doesn't pull his punches. I mean, I'm still hurting from yesterday, and I'm awesome.”

“Our sisters,” said Rarity firmly, “were recently kidnapped and taken from us. If I was right there at the time, I'm not sure I could have stopped them – Twilight was right there when they took Spike, and she couldn't stop them.” She stamped one hoof firmly. “I'm not much of a fighter, but if what I learn here can help me to keep Sweetie Belle safe, then that's worth a bit of stiffness, I'm sure.”

Eeeeeeyup.” said Applejack, with equal firmness.

“An honourable reason.” said Var'aQ. “But why are there only three of you here? Why not the others?”

“Oh, well, Fluttershy's a bit timid around strangers, Pinkie Pie is keeping our sisters out of trouble while we're busy, and Twilight had someone else she wanted to talk to...”

Rarity pointed her horn at the other end of the bridge, where Twilight and Sunek sat staring at some sort of board and conversing in low voices...

* * *

“Knight to F7.” said Sunek, moving a piece on the board and removing Twilight's pawn. “This is what we refer to as a fork; in which one piece threatens two others; specifically, your queen, on D8, and your rook, on H8.”

“I see.” nodded Twilight. “But my king can take it off, right?” She pointed with one hoof.

“That would put him in check, from the bishop at C4.” pointed out Sunek.

“Oh, I see.” said Twilight, with a nod. “In that case, it seems that I would have to move the queen...”

She wrapped the piece in her magic and lifted it slightly, studying the board to find the best place to put it down again. Sunek watched with great interest as the queen simply hovered in the air...

* * *

“SNOW LEOPARD!” yelled Pinkie, running full-speed along the corridor. “SNOW LEOPARD SNOW LEOPARD SNOW LEOPARD!”

Sweetie Belle lay on Pinkie's back, her hooves holding tight to Pinkie's mane, her eyes wide with fear; Applebloom and Scootaloo ran full-tilt ahead of her, leading their rapid flight. They came to a screeching halt in the forward observation deck, where Fluttershy was standing at one end of the window, looking out at the stars; and two of the aliens were standing at the other end, chatting quietly.

Oh, hello, Pinkie.” said Fluttershy, calmly.

“Fluttershy!” said Pinkie, hopping from hoof to hoof and ignoring the humans' conversation. “You gotta come quick! We saw a snow leopard!”

“It was huge!” said Scootaloo, her eyes wide.

Oh, dear.

“Awww, it wasn't that big.” said Pinkie.

Did it look hurt?

“It looked scary.” volunteered Sweetie Belle.

“It looked more lost than anything else.” said Pinkie.

In any sort of trouble?

“It was the trouble!” said Applebloom.

Okay.” said Fluttershy. “Where is it?

* * *

“You do recall what happened when trade with the minotaurs first opened, right?” asked Flim, as he and his brother guarded an unassuming cargo bay door.(1) “Dozens of opportunities for a freelance unicorn to turn a decent profit?”

“I do remember.” said Flam. “But... well, that time I was... um... absorbed by the Borg. I still know... bits and pieces... of what they knew. And do you remember that machine that we got our breakfast from?”

Flim nodded.

“They've all got something similar.” said Flam. “Everypony in this 'Federation'. Once they get hold of one of anything – even just for ten minutes if they're prepared – they can scan it and copy it, as often and as thoroughly as they want. Everypony who can visit Equestria already has all the cider they could ever need, and can create it faster than the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy can squeeze it. And they don't even need apples.”

“That does rather reduce the commercial opportunities on one side of the equation...” began Flim.

“And as for the other side,” said Flam, “the Federation has rules about trading with planets that don't have their own space travel yet. And the rules more or less come down to 'don't'. I mean, there's a few exceptions, but even if there's any trading with Equestria, it'll be a trickle.”

“That's the official trade.” said Flim. “The unofficial...”

“Ferengi.” said Flam. “Almost entirely. The smarter ones will realise that kidnapping potential customers is a bad idea, but as we've already seen, those who don't realise that are more trouble than they're worth.”

“I see.” said Flim.

(1) The Ferengi on the far side of the door had stopped making offers after the Flim Flam brothers had refused a bribe of a full bar of gold-pressed latinum; largely on the basis that latinum was next to worthless in Equestria, but also partially on the basis that they were pretty sure Var'aQ would give them a beating if they took it, and until this ship returned to Equestria, there wouldn't be any way to flee to a nearby town.

Interaction II

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33 hours before arrival at Equestria, on the bridge

“That's right.” said Fluttershy, gently, to the snow leopard. She didn't pat it – it wasn't all that healthy right now, and her body heat wouldn't do it any good at all. “You eat up that ice. All of it, okay? It's good for you.”

The snow leopard growled and crunched up another bit of ice.

On the other side of the bridge, Twilight and Sunek were preparing yet another game of chess. Setting up the board was amazingly quick – Twilight levitated all the pieces at once, and set them each down in their correct spots almost simultaneously(1).


Sunek wasn't quite sure where the pink pony had approached from, but she was just suddenly there, peering intently at the board. “What'cha doing?” she asked.

“Sunek's been teaching me this game.” said Twilight. “It's called 'chess'.”

“Twilight is very good at it.” added Sunek.

“I've lost every game so far.” pointed out Twilight.

“Only due to inexperience.” said Sunek. “I have been playing chess for decades.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” continued Twilight, “Pinkie, you said that Sunek reminded you of your sister?”

“Ooooh, yes.” said Pinkie, nodding. “He's just like Maud.”

“Really.” said Twilight, contrasting the flatly unemotional Sunek with the flamboyant Pinkie Pie. “How could he possibly be like one of your sisters?”

Pinkie zipped over to Twilight's side, and put one foreleg around the unicorn's head. “Look there.” Pinkie turned Twilight's head so that she was facing directly towards Sunek. “Look at his eyes.” she said. “You see it?”

“See what?” asked Twilight.

“His eyes look just like Maud's.” insisted Pinkie. “Don't you see it?”

“Pinkie, I've never met your sister.” pointed out Twilight. “You're saying that they're similar because they've got the same eyes?”

Pinkie looked at Sunek's face – the flat, emotionless gaze; the mouth that neither smiled nor frowned; and the eyes that saw more than they let on. “Eh, there's other similarities as well.” she said. “But the eyes are most of it.”

“Ah.” said Twilight. “Right.”

“Scootaloo!” called out Pinkie, suddenly. “Where are you going?”

“Oh, I, uh, just wanted to go stretch my wings a bit?” she said.

“You know the rules!” Pinkie rushed across the bridge to her. “Until we find that cockatrice again, nopony, nopony, goes anywhere alone! So I'll come with you, okay? Sweetie Belle? Applebloom? Would you like to join us?”

Twilight and Sunek watched as the party pony bounced off the bridge, followed by all three Crusaders.

“Is your friend often that energetic?” asked Sunek.

Twilight shook her head. “Not at all.” she said. “Normally, she's far more energetic than that. Annnnd apparently she thinks you're just like her sister because you have the same eye colour.” Twilight sighed. “Her idea of logic can be a bit hard to follow sometimes.”

* * *

32 hours before arrival at Equestria

“Gah.” Applejack staggered onto the bridge, and slumped on the floor. “Ah think Ah got bruises on mah bruises.”

“That was rather... intense.” agreed Rarity, who was still standing by sheer willpower alone.

“I know I dodged more this time that last time.” insisted Rainbow Dash, slumping down next to Applejack. “Why does it hurt more?”

“You'll learn to ignore it more,” stated Var'aQ, “as you improve.” He sat down on the pilot's chair, the swivelled around to face the three ponies. “Applejack,” he said, “your strength is impressive. One good kick will probably incapacitate most foes; though the fact that the kick must be given backwards, to a foe you cannot see, is a weakness of your technique. I recommend that you work on your awareness of your surroundings in battle. Rainbow. Your mobility remains your greatest asset. You should never allow yourself to be tied down to a single opponent if it can be avoided. Rarity. I do not know how best to make use of your telekinesis in battle. It is not an ability that I have come across before. I can show you how to fight, to both take and deal blows; but I can only teach you physical combat, not magical.”

“Oh, that's – that's no problem, darling.” Rarity tried to wave one hoof, then sat down, quite abruptly. “I'm sure I could ask... find someone back in... back home.” She looked down at the floor, then added. “If you don't mind, though, I think... I think I'm going to pass out now.”

She lay down gently, and before long, began to emit the sort of snores that she'd vehemently deny being capable of if anyone were ever to be so uncouth as to suggest that a lady might snore(2).

* * *

On the other side of the bridge, where Fluttershy and one of the humans had been quietly watching Twilight and Sunek's chess game, Fluttershy looked a little concerned. “Do you think they're okay?”

“They look... okay, I guess.” said Twilight. “I mean, tired and sore, but not injured.”

“Klingons are a warrior culture.” pointed out Sunek. “I am certain that Var'aQ knows exactly what he is doing.”

“Oh, I see.” said Fluttershy. She looked up at Sunek. “I hope you're not too upset about your mother.” she added, meekly.

“Her passing was an unwelcome surprise to me.” admitted Sunek. “But she had lived a long life, and she had been prosperous. I could have asked for no more on her behalf.” He reached out to move a rook. “But how did you know of it?”

“Oh.” Fluttershy squeaked. “I... heard you talking about it with Susan earlier... at the observation deck...

“Fascinating.” said Sunek. “There is no universal translator on the observation deck. How did you understand what we were saying?”

Oh. That's my special talent.” Fluttershy gestured to her cutie mark, then scurried to the side, half-hiding behind Twilight. “I can understand the speech of all sorts of creatures...

Sunek considered this for a moment, but before he could speak, the human with him spoke up. “You've got a universal translator tatooed on your butt?” he asked, incredulous.

Fluttershy hid the rest of the way behind Twilight. “eep

(1) Sunek was very impressed by the level of control required to accomplish this. And Twilight seemed to attach no importance at all to it, even glancing away to look at the three foals whispering to each other without her concentration wavering.

(2) It sounded a bit like someone trying to cut down a very large tree with a very noisy saw.


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21 hours before arrival at Equestria

The discovery that Fluttershy's cutie mark let her understand the alien's speech had two near-immediate consequences. The first of these consequences took place on the bridge.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” Twilight tapped her pointer(1) against the ground. “As you are most likely aware, we have recently discovered that neither of our groups knows all that much about the other. In order to reduce this gap, I have decided to present a lecture on the basics of Equestrian life-forms and natural magic. In this endeavour, I am aided by five assistants -” Twilight's pointer spun around to point at the assistants one by one - “Sweetie Belle, the unicorn; Rarity, Sweetie's sister and another unicorn; Scootaloo, the pegasus; Apple Bloom, the earth pony; and Spike, the dragon.”

This last one caused a brief muttering amongst the assembled aliens.

“Is something the matter?” asked Twilight.

“Are dragons a sentient species?” asked one of the aliens. A human, Twilight suspected, though the different alien species proved very hard to tell apart with any surety.

“Yes.” said Twilight.

“Your homeworld hosts two sentient species?” asked another of the aliens.

“No.” said Twilight. The alien looked confused, so Twilight clarified. “My homeworld hosts at least fifteen different known sentient species, of which ponies are only one.”

That caused a bit of a commotion in the room.

Twilight rapped her pointer against the floor. “People! Please remain calm. I'm sure that you have a lot more questions, but there is a fair amount of material to go through, and if we're going to get through it all I will have to ask you to hold any further questions until the end.”

The group quieted down.

“Now, the first item on my list is a brief overview of the magical and physical differences between the three pony races. For this part of the lecture, I would like to ask Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle to remain at the front; Rarity and Spike, take a seat for the moment, your part will come later.”

Twilight took a deep breath. “We shall start with the pegasus. A pegasus pony is most easily identified by their wings, and their magic centres around flight and the manipulation of weather...”

* * *

The other consequence of the discovery that Fluttershy could understand the aliens was that she joined Var-aQ's training class.

Not as a pupil – her reaction to Var'aQ so much as giving her a fierce look was to immediately run away and hide – but rather as a translator.

Results were mixed.

“He, um, he says that he's going to start teaching you about battlefield taunts now.” Fluttershy quietly told the other three ponies.

Var'aQ yelled something.

“He, um, he says the point of a battlefield taunt is to distract and demoralise an opponent. For example...”

Var'aQ spent a good ten minutes yelling in Rainbow Dash's face.

“Oh dear.” said Fluttershy, blushing. “I'm not repeating that.”

“Then how in tarnation are we supposed t'learn?” asked Applejack.

“Oh, I couldn't.” said Fluttershy. “It was very rude. Besides, it's not true. I've met Rainbow's mother, so I know.”

* * *

“...and that's the basics of unicorn magic.” said Twilight. She was gratified to notice that several members of her audience appeared to be taking notes. “Now, we move on to the subject of cutie marks. Rarity, Spike, if you would step up to the front for a moment, please? Now, a pony is not born with a cutie mark; you will notice that these three fillies do not have theirs yet. A cutie mark appears, as a manifestation of natural magic, when a pony finds out for themselves what their special talent is; these three fillies are at approximately the right age to obtain their marks, which they may do any day now.”

Twilight spun her pointer around and pointed it at Rarity's hindquarters. “Over here, you can see Rarity's cutie mark - a design of three diamonds, symbolising her ability to find and bring out the beauty in almost anything. As a side effect, she is also able to cast a spell that can locate gemstones in the nearby area; as gemstones are nothing more than the physical manifestation of the idea of beauty.”

Several of the aliens looked confused at that remark, and several raised their paws.

“Questions at the end, please.” said Twilight, firmly. “Write them down for the moment(2), I may answer them during the course of the lecture. Now, while a cutie mark always represents one major talent, or destiny, it may incorporate a number of minor talents which help the pony to achieve that destiny. Rarity's gem-finding spell, for example, helps her to gather the materials which she needs in order to manufacture her clothing. Fluttershy's cutie mark represents her talent at looking after all sorts of animals; and, in order to help her to do that, it permits her to understand the language of any sort of creature. My own cutie mark –” Twilight's pointer spun about and pointed at her own hindquarters – “represents my affinity with magic; it allows me to use a far wider selection of spells than most unicorns, and both gives me greater reserves of magic and helps me to recover those reserves more quickly.”

Twilight paused for a breath. “There are a very wide variety of cutie marks in Equestria; however, some designs are more common than others. But the design is only a part of the cutie mark – two ponies with cutie marks that are visually indistinguishable may yet have completely different interpretations of what the mark means, and therefore completely different special talents. It is theorised that the visual appearance of the cutie mark is defined by the subconscious mind of the pony at the time when the mark is obtained; that is to say, the cutie mark takes the shape of whatever it is that that pony thinks would be the best depiction of their special talent. For reasons as yet unknown, it often, but not always, takes the form of three similar objects; as shown, for example, by Rarity's triple diamond mark.”

Twilight's pointer spun around to point at the baby dragon. “Spike, here, is not a pony, and he thus does not have and can never obtain his own cutie mark. However, this does not mean that he is unable to access magic; dragon magic is simply different from pony magic. It centres around fire-breathing, physical strength, and the acquisition of a 'hoard', or a collection of valuable items...”

(1) A long stick made out of, apparently, diamond. Sunek had managed to get it out of one of the replicators for her.

(2) She couldn't help but notice that Sunek had been doing so from the start of the lecture, and was already starting on his second notebook.

Home I

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Five hours before arrival at Equestria

And now the bridge was almost empty; by joint request of Celestia and the Admiral, everyone except Twilight had stepped out and gone elsewhere; and Admiral James had switched the screen so that only Celestia was visible on it(1).

“Have you had a chance to speak with Sunek yet, Twilight?” asked Celestia.

“Yes, Princess.” nodded Twilight.

“And what are your impressions of him?” enquired Celestia.

“He is very intelligent, Princess. He is also very... controlled. He doesn't do anything without thinking about it very thoroughly first, and he doesn't show much emotion. He asks very insightful questions, and a lot of them, and he learns very quickly.”

“I see.” said Celestia. “And do you think he is a good pony at heart?”

Twilight considered the question briefly, before answering “Yes, Princess, I do.”

“Very good. And do you think he is adaptive enough to survive, and even thrive, in an environment entirely unlike what he is used to?”

Twilight considered the question. “How 'unlike' are we talking about?” she asked.

“Canterlot,” replied Princess Celestia.

Twilight again considered the question. “Without one of those universal translators, he won't be able to talk to anypony until he can learn the language.” she mused. “And, while there may be some Equestrian food he can't eat, there is some he can eat, like oats. He should be fine, as long as he can bring one of those translators along. Is he planning on staying in Canterlot?”

“No,” said Celestia, “but the Admiral is planning on asking him if he would like to. We're each going to be opening a small embassy in each other's territories.”

“We are?” asked Twilight. “Um. Princess, do you know...”

“I already have some ponies in mind, yes,” nodded Celestia.

“Do you think...” began Twilight.

“Would you like to leave your friends in Ponyville?” asked Celestia.

“No! But, perhaps they could...”

“Would you ask Applejack to leave her farm, Rarity to leave her boutique?” asked Celestia.

“Well... no.” said Twilight.

“Not to mention which,” continued Celestia, “you do bear the Elements of Harmony. Do not worry, Twilight; I will extend the invitation to all the friends you have made on this journey, to join the embassy here.”

“Thank you, Princess.”

* * *

Arrival at Equestria

“...and there.” said Var'aQ. “Circumpolar orbit, smooth as you like.”

Cooooooooool.” Scootaloo jumped up, buzzing her wings to get a clearer view of the globe on the screen in front of them. “Where's Ponyville?” she asked.

“Right now, 'tis around there.” said the dark blue alicorn who had suddenly appeared on the bridge. Var'aQ leapt out of his seat in a moment – the sudden appearance of a stranger could hardly be anything but an attack – and leapt, hands outstretched...

...and stopped in mid-leap, surrounded by a dark blue glow that matched the one from Princess Luna's horn.

“Is that Sweet Apple Acres?” asked Applebloom, pointing at a small smudge on the image.

“Nay,” said Luna, “I think that's the lake. Sweet Apple Acres is under yonder cloud.” She nodded at the levitated Klingon. “My apologies for appearing without warning, but we have not quite thy communication technologies. And after a recent incident of kidnapping, we have developed a protocol of arriving on a ship very quickly once 'tis in Equestria's orbit.”

She gently set the Klingon back down in his seat again.

“I am unfamiliar with thy appearance,” continued Luna, “art thou perhaps the one called Sunek?”

The Crusaders giggled.

“No.” said the Klingon, sourly. “I am the one called Var'aQ.”

“Ah! So 'tis thou that hath guided this ship back to Equestrian shores!” said Luna. “Equestria owes thee a debt of gratitude indeed. And I hear that thou art training some of the Bearers in the art of self-defence as well? Then it may well be that Equestria will owe thee two debts!”

It was at this point that the bridge door hissed open, and a purple unicorn hurried in. “Princess Luna!” said Twilight, rushing forward and then remembering to bow.

“Twilight Sparkle! 'Tis most wonderful to see thee once more, and with such success having attended thy mission!”

“Not complete success, unfortunately,” said Twilight, standing up. “We couldn't do anything to save Red Dawn, the buffalo.”

“Indeed.” Luna nodded. “But there is much strangeness about her – for there does not appear to be any sign of any buffalo of that name having ever existed on Equestria, never mind gone missing. 'Tis most perplexing, indeed.”

(1) Celestia suspected that the Admiral could see and hear everything that either side said; for the moment, she didn't particularly care. If it became important, she would send a note via Spike.

Home II

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Fifteen minutes after arrival at Equestria

It had taken only a few minutes to get everyone to the bridge, for transport down to the surface. Even the two Ferengi stood there, silent and morose, fully aware of the fact that Var'aQ was standing right behind them and, worse, had dared them to “try something and see what happens”. The greatest delay had been waiting for Fluttershy to get back with a menagerie of dangerous creatures, who she assured everyone would just get lonely left up there by themselves.

It took less than a second for Princess Luna to teleport all the people down to Canterlot Palace, where they met two humans and an alicorn.

“Captain Anderson!” said Pinkie, leaping towards the nearest human and giving him a hug. “I'm so glad you're okay! We would have stopped to look for your shuttlecraft on the way back, but the Admiral said you'd already been picked up.”

“Yeah, kid.” said Anderson, awkwardly patting Pinkie on the head. “Met the ship that was supposed to pick you up. Incidentally,” he glanced up at Twilight, “what did you lot do with my ship?”

“Um.” said Twilight, hesitantly. “We, um...”

Captain Anderson raised an eyebrow. “Go on.” he said.

“We... lost it?”

“To the Borg?”

Twilight shook her head. “No,” she said, “not to my knowledge. We just... teleported out of it once we got close enough to the Ferengi ship. It's... probably still going?”

“You just ripped a functioning warp-core-equivalent out of the network?” asked Jorge.

“Um... is that bad?” asked Twilight, nervously.

“Our ship,” said Jorge, drily, “is either a cloud of radioactive dust and gamma rays, or else it's lost, just travelling at warp until its fuel runs out. Either way, I don't think we're getting it back.”

Celestia cleared her throat. “I do believe I can help with that.” she said. “The Ferengi ship currently in orbit was used in the committing of a crime on Equestrian territory, to whit, a kidnapping; the miscreants were then captured by designated Equestrian wielders of Harmony. I do believe I could make a strong case that the ship can be confiscated by the legal authorities of Equestria, to whit, myself?”

She raised an eyebrow at a nearby screen, from which Admiral James frowned at her. “The Prime Directive takes precedence,” he said, firmly. “In no circumstances may Federation, or equivalent, technology be reverse-engineered by any race which does not meet the requirements; specifically, stable planetary political unity.”

“That only applies if I try to use the ship,” replied Celestia. “I have no intention of doing so. On the contrary, I plan to give it, in its present condition, as a gift to Captain Anderson, over and above the agreed payment for the use of his ship.” Celestia smiled slightly. “Since Captain Anderson's race does meet the relevant requirements, the Prime Directive does not apply.”

The Admiral nodded. “The Federation would have no objection to that.” he said.

“Excellent.” said Celestia. She nodded at Captain Anderson. “I realise it's not a complete replacement for a ship that no doubt retains many pleasant memories; but perhaps it will suffice to get you to a place where a ship more to your liking can be purchased, and serve as a down payment on same?”

“Thank you, Princess,” said Captain Anderson. “That is... very generous of you.”

“Let me know when you wish to leave,” said Celestia, “and my sister will provide you with transport up to the ship, along with the artworks that were the agreed payment. Until then, however, you are most welcome to stay in Canterlot, and enjoy the hospitality of ponies.”

She raised her head, and turned to look over at the other representatives of the Federation; humans, Klingons, Vulcans. “And to all of you, citizens of the Federation,” she continued, “I extend this invitation; the Federation will be opening an embassy on Equestrian soil. To you, in gratitude for the part you played in returning some of my ponies to their homes, I offer the opportunity to join that embassy. Federation technology will be permitted on the grounds of the Embassy only, with the exception of universal translators and other personal items, which may be carried by Federation personnel, and scientific instruments, which must be sealed and clearly marked as such.”

“I, for one, will accept this posting.” said Sunek, immediately.

Celestia smiled, again. “You do not have to decide immediately.” she said. “You may stay as long as you like; or leave, returning to the Federation, before you decide. In the meantime, the Embassy building has been completed, and Federation staff from the U.S.S. Nemesis are busy outfitting it as they see fit.”

“If it's all the same to you,” said Captain Anderson drily, “I would rather get back to my old life of trading between planets, as quickly as possible. All this politics and messing with the Borg isn't something I enjoy.”

“Certainly.” said Celestia, with a nod. She looked down slightly. “Pinkie? You can stop hugging him now.”

* * *

Three hours after landing on Equestria

The Bearers of the Elements (along with the Crusaders and Spike) had soon left to catch their train; the Federation people had left, either to see Canterlot (Celestia had nominated one of the palace guards to act as guide), or to look over the new embassy, or to go to one of the two ships in orbit (and thence on to the Federation). Even the Ferengi had been sent back to the Federation ship, though in their case under guard (and they were promptly confined in the brig, to face Federation justice for their crimes).

But Flim and Flam had stubbornly refused to go, insisting that they had something important to say, and that it had to be said to Celestia alone. And it was only once Luna had left (taking with her a selection of dangerous creatures, for distribution back to their natural habitats) that they said anything about why.

“Princess Celestia,” said Flam, “you've heard the whole story; you know that I was captured by strange aliens, that bent my personality and encased me in otherworldly armour, and then freed by the Elements of Harmony?”

Celestia nodded, and waited for Flam to continue.

“These – Borg – are strange creatures.” said Flam. “Once they – assimilate – a being, you find yourself awash in a sea of strange minds, a billion voices shouting, drowning out your one. The Elements removed even the memory of that time, but... well, we're travelling sales-stallions, Princess. We have to be cautious, to ensure that we are not – taken advantage of, by, among other things, unicorns with memory erasure spells. So, when we realised that some of my memories were missing...”

“I immediately cast Mnemosyne's Memory Restorer on my brother.” said Flim, firmly.

“And I told him to stop,” said Flam, “as soon as I realised what was actually in the memories that were being restored. But – while I was part of the Borg – I knew everything that any part of the Borg knew. And – I've forgotten virtually all of it – but Red Dawn was also a part of the Borg at the time. So I knew all that she knew; though now I can only recall the vaguest outlines of it.”

“It would be helpful if we could contact her family,” acknowledged Celestia.

“Red Dawn is a false name,” continued Flam, “made up on the spot, on the ship. She's not even a buffalo; she was in – some sort of magical disguise. Her real name – I don't know it, the Borg consider names useless. But that's not all – she was kidnapped from near Canterlot, not from Manehatten; and she was there as part of a plot to capture the city, and somehow imprison you and your sister.”

Flam took a deep breath.

“I – don't remember the specifics. And the memories were deleted some time ago – they can't be restored any further. But I do know this much – that there is a plot against Canterlot, that you and your sister are among the targets, and that Dawn herself considered her part inconsequential – that the plot will continue without her.”

“I see.” said Celestia. “That would explain why we could find no sign of her anywhere – these plotters would make every effort to ensure that there wasn't any sort of official attention being paid to them. Is there anything else you remember about this plot?”

“No, your highness,” said Flam, “that's all.”

“I see.” said Celestia. “Well, it is very concerning. I shall have somepony look into it. Will you be staying in Canterlot?”

“No, your majesty,” said Flim, promptly. “We wouldn't feel safe here; we're planning on moving on and plying our trade in other cities for a while.”

“I quite understand.” Celestia nodded. “And thank you again for the warning.”

* * *

Four hours after arrival at Equestria

“You wanted to see me, Auntie?” asked Queen Chysalis. Her external form was that of Princess Cadance, a disguise that not even an alicorn could penetrate.

“Yes, Cadance, and Shining Armour.” said Celestia, nodding at the other pony in the room. “There has been a threat made against Canterlot; Cadance, I would like you to head up the investigation of this threat; and Shining, I would like you to prepare the defense. I recommend that you put one of your shields over the city, and prepare the Royal Guard for a major offensive.”

“Does this have anything to do with those Federation aliens?” asked Chrysalis, hoping to divert suspicion.

“It is entirely an Equestrian threat,” replied Celestia. “Thus, I expect the Federation will remain completely neutral.”

“I see.” The pink alicorn nodded. “I'll look into it, Auntie. Oh, and we do have other news for you!”

“You do?” Celestia raised an eyebrow.

“Yes! Shining just asked me to marry him!”

Celestia smiled, widely. “Congratulations, to both of you.”

“Thank you, Auntie.” said Chrysalis.

“Under the circumstances,” continued Celestia, “would you like me to give this investigation to somepony else to handle, while you take care of the wedding preparations?”

“Oh, no,” said Chrysalis, “I don't mind taking on this investigation as well. If there is a threat against Canterlot, I promise you, I'll know what it is before it strikes.”

“Wonderful.” said Celestia. “I'll leave it in your hooves, then.”

Epilogue: Red Dawn

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Eighty-four hours after arrival at Equestria; deep in Borg space

The creature once designated Red Dawn was unique among the Borg; a creature with the natural ability to change shape to any vaguely equine form, hiding its Borg implants and infiltrating any society – or, at least, any quadrupedal society.

But while the Borg worked on reverse-engineering this ability, and tried to work out whether it would be worthwhile to install similar capabilities in its other drones, there was one ability of Red Dawn's that would see more immediate use.

Dawn could communicate with the Changeling hivemind. And this communication took the form of subtle variations in the structure of subspace; variations that would appear to be no more than background noise, unless one held the key.

And the key was in Dawn's brain; hence the Borg had the key.

With care, delicate amplification, and a detector array the diameter of a solar system, the Borg hivemind could communicate with the Changeling hivemind from a distance of several thousand lightyears.

Unfortunately for the Borg, the communications channel was limited; they could not overwhelm the Changelings by sheer telepathic force. But that did not mean that they could not use the channel; as long as Red Dawn remained a Borg drone, they could talk to Chrysalis; and, for this communication, the Borg Queen would speak to Chrysalis in person...

Greetings, Chrysalis said a message, sent near-instantaneously across vast reaches of space.

Who is this? came back the instant reply, the subtle variations in subspace being picked up by the sensitive Borg recievers.

We are the Borg. sent back the Borg. We are a hivemind, much like your own, merely... somewhat larger. There is something close to you that we want; and if you will help us to obtain it, we can offer you much in exchange.

How did you contact me this way? What do you offer?

How we contacted you is not important. replied the Borg. As to what we can offer...

The Borg sent an image; of Celestia and Luna, covered in some strange armour, bowing at Chrysalis' feet.

We can offer you everything you want. said the Borg.

I've heard this story. replied Chrysalis. Moreover, I've run it myself. The tempter offers everything, with no details; if the mark accepts the deal, he is killed, drained of love, and cocooned. Besides, I will have Luna and Celestia trapped on my own by the end of the month. I reject your offer.

We have reviewed your current plan. sent back the Borg. It has a number of flaws. After it fails... contact Us again. Our offer will not stand forever... but it will stand for a time.