Rainbow Dash awakens on a strange new world and searches for her friends amidst high technology.
Rainbow Dash finds herself in the middle of a place filled with people she does not recognize, using technology she does not understand. Upon trying to discover the truth, she is met with a terrifying realization. Now, she must make her way through a new landscape with the culture of an entirely new race surrounding her.
This storyline serves as an opportunity to meld the science fiction of Philip K Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" with the fantasy world of My Little Pony.
--You might like this story if you also like:-- Any Science Fiction stories/movies taking place on Mars Blade Runner or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ( :P ) "Fish out of water" scenarios Awesome Action Sequences...starring Rainbow Dash! Clever Problem Solving Mysteries Acquiring Characters Slowly over Time Urban Exploration Charming epiphanies about human support characters Seeing how the mane six react to a sci-fi future
(Note: 3_26_2012: Thanks to my friend Pirate for helping me proofread and concept-check Chapter 5!)
Rainbow Dash awoke with a start as she thrashed about in the tube. The technicians rushed to her aid, trying everything they could to calm her down. Her heart rate accelerated and the head scientist called for a sedative injector. A needle was brought out. The tip of the needle pierced her skin and a mild shock shot through the device into the panicked pegasus. She shrieked and stopped moving as she stared at the injector in her arm.
"What…what are you doing? Stop that! Leave me alone!" Dash yelled. Her eyes were wild with fear.
"Calm down, R.D., we're not going to hurt you," the head technician said through a mirrored visor. He and the scientists surrounding him were human, though Rainbow Dash did not know that word.
"What are you?" the pegasus asked, still trying in vain to struggle. Her half-hearted attempts only weakened her reserves as three scientists managed to hold her down and keep her from exiting the tube.
"You don't know?" the head tech asked. He shook his head. "Lysa, remind me to get after those guys down in Pneumonics. They should've known better than to bring her out in such ignorance."
Lysa spoke up. "Bet you sixty credits they forgot the Deckard Protocol in the other five as well."
Rainbow Dash recognized something in what Lysa said. "What other five? Who are you talking about?"
The head tech looked back at Rainbow Dash. "I know this is all really confusing for you right now, but you have to calm down. Trust me when I say it will all be explained to you in time. Before we can clear this up, I need you to do one thing for me."
"Tell me exactly what you remember before you woke up."
"I have a very important assignment for all of you."
Six ponies stood in the middle of Celestia's throne room. Twilight Sparkle walked forward and placed a saddlepack in front of the Princess. "I brought what you asked for," she said. "but I'm not sure I understand the use of these things."
Princess Celestia nodded to a nearby guard who took the pack and walked it out a back exit of the throne room. "I heard about the epidemic running through your pets, Fluttershy."
The yellow, shy pony walked forward, head down as she spoke in soft tones. "Oh yes, princess. Angel is in the worst shape. Nurse Redheart is taking care of her right now, but several of the Ponyville residents are taking care of the rest of the poor little things."
"Ah just hope nuthin' happens to the critters down on the farm," Applejack said.
Princess Celestia looked away as Twilight spoke. "Princess…is there something wrong? Something you wanted to tell us?"
There weren't many times that the ponies could see the Princess in a moment of vulnerability. She made no attempt to hide her concern and instead lifted her head to glance in the direction of the nearest guard. Before she could speak, all three of the remaining guards in the room turned at once and waited. "Leave us." The guards nodded and moved out of the doors nearby. When a period of silence had passed, Celestia moved away from her throne and stood amongst the group. "Please listen very carefully to what I'm about to say." The six ponies moved in close as a bubble of light surrounded them, sealing them off from the rest of the room.
"Ooooohhhhhhh!" Pinkie Pie said, looking around at the shield.
"What is this?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"I can't take the chance that others would listen to the following information," the Princess said. "Over the past year and a half, I have seen all of you grow in so many incredible ways. Your friendship with each other has helped you overcome Nightmare Moon, defeat Discord and stop a myriad of obstacles both great and small. Nowhere else in Equestria have I seen such devotion to one another as I have in all of you. Because of this, I feel there is no one else who can handle the following assignment. But it will be hard and it will take you to places you've never been before. You may not be able to return home…for a while."
There was a collective silence amongst the group. It was Rarity who broke it. "Excuse me, Princess, but may we assume that we will still be able to contact friends and family from wherever we will go?"
The Princess looked down. "No. No you won't. You will not be able to contact even me."
Applejack answered next. "But Apple Bloom…and Granny Smith…and Big Mac…"
Celestia slowly shook her head. "You'll need to leave soon. The problem with the pets is more serious than you know and if you hope to quell it, you must leave right now. I have a chariot standing by with a contingent of my best guards. We cannot take any more time discussing this, but you must trust me. Leave now and tell no one of the following mission I am to give you. Each one of you, save for Twilight Sparkle, please step out of the shield right now. There is one thing I must say to my student before you go."
Pinkie, Rarity, Applejack and Fluttershy stepped out as Rainbow Dash remained with the Princess and Twilight.
"What is going on, Princess? Please tell me," Dash said.
Celestia's eyes became heavy with sadness and her mouth opened only in the slightest before closing. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Dash. You must step out too."
The blue pegasus lowered her head and ears. She nodded solemnly and stepped out as light surrounded her.
Rainbow Dash sat in a cold room, her hooves touching the icy floor beneath her. Its featureless surface reminded her of obsidian and the walls were dirty and rife with dents, scratches and various other impact marks. She flapped her wings listlessly as she examined the door. The only entry to the room was sealed with heavy metal hinges, thick plating and a square glass window big enough to frame a head. A face, Lysa, watched from the window as Dash stared and did not move. The door opened, a light turned from red to green above it, and in walked the technician as she closed the door behind her, tinting the back of her coat in a red light. Rainbow Dash kept her expressionless gaze as the scientist pulled up a chair from the unused table in the center of the room and placed it across from the pegasus. She sat and crossed her legs, studying the pony.
"You are…" she looked at a clipboard in front of her, tapped a few things on the touchscreen and then peered back at the pegasus. "…Rainbow Dash. A pegasus from the land of Equestria. According to the Luna calendar, you are from the year…" she looked hard. "…doesn't say. Guess the time frame isn't very distinct. But I assume you still do not know who or what we are?" She lowered the clipboard and looked at Dash through thick-rimmed glasses. Dash made a slow motion of shaking her head. Lysa continued from her notes. "Fast flier. Loyal friend. Has as pet turtle named Tank."
"Tortoise," Dash corrected.
Lysa smiled. "I knew you'd correct that." Dash narrowed her eyes as Lysa smiled absentmindedly. "Why do you think you are here?"
"Because I was captured when I exited the borders of Equestria and now I'm in a prison facility. Apparently." Dash looked around and couldn't make heads or tails of the environment.
"Why do you think this is a prison?"
"Because you're keeping me here against my will!"
"I never said you couldn't leave." She pointed to the entry door. "You can turn that handle and exit the room at any time you like." Dash looked at the door with disbelief. She eyed Lysa. "But if you leave now, you won't know anything about this place. And we will follow you."
"I don't believe it. There's no way you'd let me leave that easily."
Lysa nodded, stood up and crossed to the door. She held it open and said nothing. Dash walked up to the entrance and peered down the hall. No one was waiting outside, though several humans in white coats were moving to and fro amongst the doors in the hall. Without another second of hesitation, Dash bolted down the hall at a flat run. Security cameras lined the ceiling at every corner, though she did not know what they were and only saw them as unblinking eyes. She turned a corner and two women and one man stood talking till they saw her. They turned and watched as she backed up, panicking. They stared and said nothing. They did not move. Dash turned tail and ran.
The white walls were endless in the pegasus' mind. She burst through a set of double doors. Rows of tiny cubicles lined the interior. Several people popped out of their cubbies and stared. Dash felt the eyes burning into her as she shot frantic glances around the room.
"What's she doing?" one woman asked.
"Escaping," a man said. Neither moved.
Rainbow Dash felt her heart beating faster as the rhythm of her panic filled her head. She passed by several people typing on computers, though her knowledge of such things was nonexistent. She saw a sign with bright red lettering but could not read it. She stopped and a man stood near the door, though if he were the same one as before she could not tell. He looked over to his co-workers standing nearby and said. "Isn't the roof access open?"
"Yeah," the second human said. "Same as the time before that. And the one before that."
"As it was with every one of them," the third human chimed in. They turned and watched.
Dash yelled "What is wrong with all of you? Why aren't you trying to stop me?"
The man's voice was very quiet and mournful in response. "Go to the roof and tell me if you still want to escape."
Dash looked at the door and saw its iron plating as a sign of foreboding. A protection against something monstrous outside. She didn't run this time, but instead pushed it open with her nose as she went up the staircase. She saw the number 24 and recognized that much. 25. 26. 27. Her breathing had become labored, but she didn't understand how she could feel tired so quickly. 28. 29. She noticed no one else moving through the stairs with her, though eyes watched from every window. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. She tried to run, but her lungs tired quickly and she could not see as well. She rested for a moment before continuing. 36. 37. Almost there.
The last door sat at the top with a haze covering the glass. It was hard to breathe. Her eyes felt a little dark, but she couldn't understand why. She flapped her wings nervously and took a step forward. There was no lock on the rooftop door and the push-handle looked like it had not been used often. It took effort for her to crack it open.
The smell was horrendous. The smog was terrible and the sounds assaulted her from every angle. She stumbled out once she got the door open and it shut behind her with a terrible finality. Dash's eyes widened and her mouth dropped. Her ears flattened and she started to shake as she stared into the poisoned city above.
Hundreds of skyscrapers grasped at the sky like forgotten monoliths. Faded lights filled almost every window. Flying vehicles, chariots as far as Dash knew, hovered around the buildings and dipped below crisscrossing catwalks cutting into the skyline. Bright, brilliant and terrifying electronic signs lit up the sides of many skyscrapers with images of humans playing over and over and over again. The noise was a grind of horns, loudspeakers shouting for attention from the video ads, and a strong atmospheric hum permeating everything. Dash looked further into the sky and noticed a red haze blotting out the sun. A single phrase lit up the nearest building-sized advertisement. Colossal words surrounded a rotating red planet and though Dash could not read the text, somehow deep down, she knew she was on the very celestial body whose color matched the sky above.
Rainbow Dash sat in silence on the roof of an unknown building, thirty-nine floors above the sprawling metropolis of a Martian city she did not know the name of. She didn't think about how she was able to breathe in the harsh atmosphere, nor did she question the red hues of light falling upon her mane and tail, tinting the rainbow color with darker shades of crimson all throughout. She wanted to cry, but found that she could not and the thought made her all the more sad.
She saw hover cars speed through the air as though divided by some unseen lanes running through the city. Their headlights streaked though the air like bolts of lightning whizzing past. In a moment of comfort, Dash remembered the Wonderbolts and tried to imagine Soarin and Spitfire carving their way across the Equestrian skies. Even as she did, the hue of her memories was covered in a deep red she could not escape from. She kept staring and did not move.
A minute later, the door to the roof access stairwell opened and out stepped a human with a rag over her mouth. She approached Rainbow Dash and knelt beside her. It was Lysa, the lab tech Dash had seen earlier when she awoke.
"Dash, I'm sorry if I was a little blunt with you before. I know this isn't easy to understand, but if you come with me, I'll tell you what I can."
"Where am I?" Dash asked. Her voice was barely audible in the rush of flight traffic all around.
"Let's go inside. It's safer in there."
"I don't want to go back inside that room," Dash said as they made it back to the 24th floor. Lysa sighed as she looked at the entryway and then back at the sky-blue pony.
"Dash, I just need to ask you a few more questions before you can rest for the day."
"No, no more questions!" Dash said. "I'm tired of all this questioning! I want to see my friends! Where are they?"
Lysa immediately responded. "They're not here."
"What?" Dash asked. "But those…those who are like you, in the hallway back there, mentioned five others going through here. The only five others I care about are my friends."
"That's what I need to talk to you about. They were here, but they aren't anymore. But if you want to know more than that, you have to come with me and answer a few questions."
"You've been in containment for a while, before you got here from Equestria. It's important we check you to see if there was any…noticeable psychological change during the transition."
At that moment, a man in a brown trench coat walked up to Lysa and stood with his eyes averted from Rainbow Dash. "Professor Philips?"
"Yes?" Lysa said.
"I'm Detective Harrison, here to perform the questioning. I assume this is subject number six?"
Dash looked up at the man and felt a wall between them. Something was off about this newcomer. Something that kept her on-edge. Lysa spoke up. "This is she, Detective. But she's hesitant to go back into the room. It's been a long day. Can you wait a bit while I prepare her for the questions?"
"Lysa, we've been through this already. I visit every time one of your subjects comes out of containment. Ever since the first one exited, my superiors are interested in how they managed to beat the questioning I put them through. If Dash is different from the rest, my time with her will bring that out. But at this point, I'm starting to question whether these subjects are what you say they are."
"I've done nothing to alter the results! These ponies are the real thing!"
"We'll see about that. Let's get this over with."
Lysa opened the door as Dash backed away. "Don't I get a say in this? I haven't had any explanation since I was awoken in that lab! Will someone please tell me what's going on?'
Harrison kept his eyes on the pony. "If you want answers, step inside." Dash narrowed her eyes, flicked her wings and lowered her ears as she passed by the Detective and sulked into the dark room. Harrison nodded to Lysa as the tech crossed out of sight while Harrison stepped inside and closed the door. He organized one chair at the end of a small table and another directly across. He stood behind one chair and motioned to Dash. "Sit."
"I'd rather stand."
Harrison didn't move or speak. His eyes did all the talking. Rainbow Dash felt them glare effortlessly with an almost imperceptible shift in tension. She looked away, walked over to the chair and perched on it with all four hooves as she sat on her haunches. The chair squeaked a little from the weight as the Detective sat down without making a single sound.
"Rainbow…Dash?" he asked with a small trace of a smile. "That is your real name?"
"Nothing. Just seems…out of the ordinary. That's all." He sat back and eyed the pegasus without saying a word for almost a full minute. Dash remained quiet the whole time until she could stand the glare no longer.
"WHAT?" she asked. "What are you looking at?"
"Just getting to know you." The detective leaned in. "I'm going to ask you a few questions and I want you to give me whatever response comes to mind first. I can already anticipate certain responses to the questions based upon answers your friends gave…"
"You spoke to my friends?"
"…let me finish. Based upon answers your friends gave, I am going to streamline the questions until we get to the key inquisition at the end. I'm even going to tailor this test specifically to you, which I found worked better with your friends than the usual line of questioning. Everything else is just a baseline leading up to the final scenario. Now, keep in mind, there is no wrong answer…" Harrison said and Dash caught the slightest bit of a hesitation after the sentence, "…but some answers are better than others. Are you ready?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Hostility will not help. Let us begin: how do you feel about me?"
"Well that's right-to-the-point. Do you really want to know what I think about you?"
"You barely know me or anything about me, but even so, it's an important question to start with."
"I don't like you."
The detective laughed. "No shame in the truth. Good. Why don't you like me?"
"Because you know where my friends are and you're not telling me. And we're wasting time here talking when I should be out there looking for them."
"I never said I knew where they were, but you care about them. Good. Next question…"
"Wait. You mean you don't know where they are…?"
The detective continued. "You're walking down the street when you see a human woman about to shoot her husband…"
The detective stopped. "What about the question confuses you?"
"What's a 'human?'"
Harrison looked at the glass Dash had failed to examine until now. He turned back to the pony and clarified. "'Human' is a species designation. I'm a human. You're a pony."
"Okay, but...I don't think it's fair to ask me a question about a species I don't know."
Harrison was visibly frustrated. He nodded and started again. "A mare is about to buck a stallion off a cliff. What do you do?'
"Whoa…why would she do that? That's cruel!"
"So what do you do?"
"I…I don't know. I've never seen that before. I don't understand what kind of situation would drive a mare to do that. But if the stallion is a pegasus, I guess that'd be okay. He'd just fly away and lick his wounds. Probably just an accident. Though I don't understand what any of these questions have to do with me. Or my friends."
"Hmm…not the answer I expected. And if you don't believe that the stallion in the example is in any danger, then the scenario doesn't work. All right then. Last question." The detective kept his gaze trained on Dash's eyes. The pegasus narrowed her own in response. "You're walking through the desert when you spy a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do?"
Dash hesitated and thought for a second. Harrison did not blink, even when Dash spoke. "Is this a question about Tank?"
"My tortoise. If I saw my pet lying on its back in the middle of a desert, would I help it?"
"You have a pet?"
"Yes. And I would pick him up and take him home where he'd be safe." Dash said. "What? You jealous I have a pet? I know. He's pretty awesome."
The Detective looked back. "On Mars, pets are a sign of status. They're hard to come by, but many people want them. So, since pets are in short supply, electrical copies are constructed to look exactly like the real thing. It gives people the appearance of affluence and allows them to find comfort in taking care of something. It is an enviable position to own a living pet."
"Hmph. All of my friends have their own pets."
"Is that so?"
"Yep. Rarity has her cat Opalescence. Applejack has her border collie Wynona. Twilight has her owl Owliscious. Pinkie Pie has her toothless alligator Gummy. And Fluttershy has like a billion pets. One of which is a white rabbit named Angel. So yes, we're all awesome cause we have pets," Dash said, smiling at the Detective's confusion.
The Detective started to laugh. It caught Dash off guard as Harrison motioned towards the glass. Seconds later, while the interrogator was still laughing, Lysa entered the room. He gestured at her with a finger to move closer to him. She leaned over him and he reclined in his seat as he smiled up at her before he spoke.
"Next time you want to play a prank on local law enforcement, ask for somebody else."
"I don't understand, Detective," Lysa responded.
"That…" he said, pointing to Dash, "is nothing more than a human playing a prank. Just like every single one of them. The costume is good. Very good. Probably a holo-skin with tactile feedback from the outer layer. But the things she says don't make any sense at all. How can she not know what a human is? And the boasting of owning so many pets in a society where such a thing is hard to come by? None of this adds up to what my superiors told me about when I first took this assignment. I doubt she's one of your test subjects and she's certainly not a pony."
"I'm not just a pony. I'm a pegasus!" Dash said, puffing up as her wings fanned out.
Lysa was open-mouthed and wide-eyed as Harrison stood up. "I know I'm required to come by here to test your subjects, but if I find out you've been setting me up with human decoys, I'm going to come back and shut this place down." He looked at the pony. "I'm not going to wrestle with you and force you to take that mask off. Last time a detective broke someone's holo-skin, he was sued. So you know what? Keep it. You have a good day, Rainbow Dash," he said as he walked out the room and slammed the door behind. The techie looked back at the pony and sat down across from her.
"Dash, how did you do that?"
"He was a goof. He didn't know what he was asking me."
"Yes he did. And you have no idea what kind of disaster you just averted."
"Why? None of his questions were hard."
"He was trying to see if you were an…" Lysa said and stopped. "He just wanted to see if you were lying."
"I wasn't. Now…" Rainbow Dash flexed her wings. "I'm ready to find my friends. Just point me in the right direction and I'll do it myself."
Lysa tapped some buttons on her handheld viewscreen and placed it in front of the pony on the desk. "I don't know where they are, but I know where they were. And you can see it too. After you're done, we'll talk more about where we saw them last."
"This is…amazing," Dash said as she looked on at the screen. An interrogation scene started similar to what she experienced moments earlier.
"You're walking through the desert when you come across a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do?"
"I would do nothing," Rarity said. Detective Harrison sat back, dumbfounded.
"You wouldn't help it?"
"It's not that I wouldn't want to. If I were there, I'd like to help it, but I wouldn't be caught dead in such a dreadful place! Deserts wreak havoc on one's mane and complexion." She said as she bounced her hair with one hoof.
"But if you were there…"
"I wouldn't be."
"You're walking through the desert when you come across a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do?"
"What kind of tortoise is it?" Twilight Sparkle asked, putting one hoof up to her chin.
"Why does it matter?"
"Well, depending on the type of tortoise, it's age, physical health and a host of varying other factors, my response to said situation would differ depending on the variables involved."
"It's. Just. A. TORTOISE."
"And not only that, but I need to know what I'm capable of doing. Am I a veterinarian? An outdoor survival expert?"
"You're YOU. You're not anyone different. You're just. YOU."
"And what are some qualities of the surrounding environment? What kind of desert is it?" Twilight asked.
"A hot one."
"You're walking through the desert when you come across a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do?"
"OH! OH! OH! A tortoise inside a dessert! That's super fun! Has he eaten all the dessert, cause that'd be really sad if he did, cause I'd want some and if he ate it all, that'd be mean and rude and not friendly at all, and I hope it's a cupcake. Or a muffin. Or cherrychangas!" Pinkie Pie said.
"No, it's not a dessert. It's a desert."
"He should be upside-down in a dessert, cause then he could eat while staring at the sky and watching the clouds and pegasi go by and that'd be more fun. Don't you think so, Mr. Super Mysterious Trenchcoat Detective Person?"
Pinkie Pie was silent for a moment before speaking again. "You're mean. And mean people don't get ANY of the cherrychangas when tortoise and I are done with them. But you can have the muffin! It's a sign of friendship!"
"Do you own any pets?"
"Oh yes! Almost a hundred in fact."
"How can you possibly take care of one hundred pets?"
"It's not that hard, really. They mostly take care of themselves. In fact, you could say they take care of me." Fluttershy smiled.
"Okay. Good. This shouldn't be hard then. Here's the question: You're walking through the desert when you come across a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do?"
"Oh, poor thing. I would pick it up and take it home."
"Oh…okay. That's simple enough. Everyone else made it far more complicated than that."
"Was that the right answer?"
"There's no right answer. It's all up to you…"
"Well…maybe I wasn't supposed to pick it up…" Fluttershy said, looking suddenly very worried.
"What if the tortoise has friends who are watching me take it and think I'm trying to steal her? What if they get mad at me because they think they'll never see their friend again?" Her voice became higher and more frantic as she continued.
"Whoa, wait a minute…"
"What if they don't want to be my friends anymore after they tell all the other little critters what I've done? WHAT IF THEY DON'T LIKE ME BECAUSE I TRIED TO HELP THE POOR LITTLE TURTLE AND RUINED EVERYTHING?"
"Tortoise," the detective corrected, his eyes wide with confusion.
"AHH! I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!"
"Calm. Down," the Detective said firmly.
"I need a hug," Fluttershy said meekly as she curled up in her chair.
Moments later, Lysa walked into the room. She stood and saw Fluttershy embracing Detective Harrison, whose face was hard to read. Lysa waited a moment before speaking. "Do…you need some more time alone?"
"Yes!" Fluttershy said, snuggling the Detective.
"Umm…maybe just a little longer," the Detective said. His expression was stone.
"You're walking through the desert when you come across a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do?"
"Ah pick it up," Applejack said, her eyes locked on the Detective across the table.
"Good. Simple and straight to the point."
Applejack's eyes narrowed. "And then ah find out who put em' there."
"You do what now?"
"I reckon that tortoise mighta had some bad luck from an unfriendly fellar."
"Why would someone deliberately place a tortoise on its back?"
"Did you do it?"
"I'm not part of this hypothetical situation."
"Did you hypothetically do it?"
"No!" the detective answered.
"What about you, Detective? You're walking through the desert when you come across a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do?"
He sat back for a moment, dumbfounded. "I'm not taking the test here."
"Cause ya can't answer it, can ya?"
"I don't need to answer it!"
"Did ya already take this test?"
"Did ya pass?"
"Then what did ya say?"
Harrison was silent for a moment. "That's IT! This is over! I'm leaving!" he stood up and walked out.
Applejack smiled and dusted off her shoulders. "Applejack: One. Mars: Zero."
Rainbow Dash rested on the bed inside a custom room made for her in the Martian research facility. She glanced around at the decorations and noted how similar the surroundings were compared to her home back in Equestria. The bed and nightstand even mimicked the ones she had in her bedroom. Dash smiled as she tugged at the handle to the drawer. She frowned when she felt resistance. The handle snapped off and Dash reached under the table to find there was no drawer underneath, but an empty metal shell painted to look authentic. She sighed at the fake reproduction and went over to the window where a scene of clouds passed by. She moved closer and saw a flicker in the motion as the clouds repeated after a minute. Sixty seconds later and the scene cycled once more. “Isn’t anything in this room real?” Dash asked aloud.
“That is the question, isn’t it?” a voice said behind the pegasus. Rainbow turned and saw Lysa, the lab tech, standing with her arms around her ever-present tablet.
“You ever go anywhere without that thing?” Dash asked.
Lysa looked down at the handheld touchscreen in her arms and placed it at her side. “Forgot I had it. Look, Rainbow Dash, I need to talk to you about something very important.”
“Like where my friends are?”
“Yes…but first I think you should let me catch you up to speed on your current surroundings.”
Dash reached beyond the window and tapped a viewscreen which broke the cloud formations long enough to reveal a gray wall before resetting back to the serene exterior. “These tricks are pretty simple, Lysa. I’m happy you took the time to remake my house, but none of this fake stuff is fooling anypony. I mean, if you just worked a little harder, who knows what kind of amazing things you could create.”
“Yeah. I know,” Lysa said and looked away. “Dash, I need to talk to you about your friends.”
“Good. Where are they?”
“That’s the thing.” Lysa angled the computer tablet in front of Dash. “We’ve tracked all five of your friends to several different locations around the city of Syria Planum Alpha.”
“It’s the name of the region of Mars we’re on. It’s one of the heaviest population centers on this planet. Besides the military base at Olympus Mons, there are no other major cities on the surface of Mars.”
“Uh huh. So…about my friends…”
“Yes, yes. Of course,” Lysa said as she tapped the screen. The surface of the planet zoomed in to Syria Planum, detailing a ring of raised formations labeled Noctis Labyrinthum around the city of Syria Planum Alpha. There were six beeping dots scattered around the city. “Each of your friends were given an implanted tracking chip so we could keep an eye on them should they leave the premises. And since this has happened every single time we woke one of them up, the chips give us a way to keep track of them. But your friends are fast and hard to follow. I assume it’s a pony trait.”
Rainbow Dash puffed up her chest. “Of course…but wait a minute,” she settled back. “Does that mean I have a chip in me too?”
“Where is it?”
Lysa cleared her throat. “Under your skin.”
“Where exactly under my skin?”
Lysa gritted her teeth. “Right flank under your cutie mark.”
“You cut my flank?” Dash turned and stared at her cutie mark, spinning around in a circle as she did so. “Where’s the cut? I wanna see it!”
“You can’t. The procedure was very thorough. Anyway, look. If you want to find your friends, it will benefit both of us, because we need to make sure they’re safe and I’m know you want to do the same.” Lysa tapped on the screen as six labels fizzled and disappeared under the dots. “Wait a minute…what’s this?” Dash stopped spinning and looked at the screen. A dot was far away from the others, close to the edge of the Noctis Labyrinthum.
“Which one of my friends is that?” Dash asked.
“I don’t know. There should be a label and information under it, but it’s like someone is actively encoding the system.” She brought up a command prompt and started typing rapidly as a viewscreen popped up with another human face. “Ah, yes. Gio, I was just about to call…”
“Lysa, we have a black badge alert. Harrison brought an entire squad,” the face said. There were people running franticly behind him in the image.
“Oh no. How close?”
“They’re already downstairs at processing. I’m encoding the system right now, which should give us at least twenty-four hours before they hack it, but you need to get Dash out of here quickly!”
“Why is he here?” Lysa asked.
“Something about ‘confiscating company property.’”
“That jerk!” Dash said. “I’m not ANYONE’S property!”
“Is the roof blocked?” Lysa asked as she brought up a map of the facility. The image extended upwards above the screen as Dash’s eyes grew wide. The hologram displayed three floating vehicles hovering over the rooftop.
“Harrison has hover presence over us. If you wanna get out, you gotta find another way. Oh great, they’re at the door here,” Gio said as loud pounding boomed over the speakers. “Get Dash out! You know what they’ll do if they catch her,” Gio said as his image disappeared.
Lysa opened the door and saw two technicians rolling a cart nearby. One spoke up. “Lysa, you wanna get the pony out through the laundry bay?”
A few taps of her screen and she shook her head. “They got that exit tracked.”
“Whoa,” Dash said. “What about my tracking chip?”
“They can’t use it for twenty-four hours thanks to Gio. That gives you plenty of time to gather your friends while we come up with a plan.”
The other researcher looked up suddenly. “Hotel Lunae!”
“Hotel Luna?” Dash asked.
“No. Lunae. You can get to the roof of that hotel from the windows of the conference room on the 27th floor.” The three researchers and the pony sped off towards the stairs as an announcement boomed over the interoffice loudspeaker.
“Attention all employees. A lockdown of the facility is in effect. We ask that you please remain at your stations while members of the 8th Precinct meet with you and the staff. Should you have any questions, contact your floor manager.”
Dash, Lysa and the two tech scientists burst into the stairwell. Lysa held up her tablet and saw small forms exiting the hovercraft on the roof. “We’re gonna have company very soon,” she said as they started speeding up the stairs.
“Why do they want me so bad?” Dash asked.
“You’re no more than an experiment to them,” Lysa said. “They don’t believe you’re a pony, so they’re going to do everything they can to prove they were tricked by you and your friends. Including dissection.”
“DISSECTION?” Dash yelled. A door burst open upstairs as the sound of heavy footsteps echoed from the 39th floor. The steps were moving fast.
The lab techs opened the door to floor 27 as Lysa and Dash ran through. The two scientists followed behind and immediately punched a few numbers into the door before it sealed into place. “I hope this works,” Lysa said.
“I can fly. It’s no big deal…”
The elevator chimed. The group ducked into a room full of cubicles as Dash noticed a familiar voice speaking. “…and if we approach the lab from a few floors above, we’ll be able to meet the techheads before they try to move her out. You exit here and we’ll spread the next three officers across 28, 29 and 30. One on every possible floor till the roof team moves for backup. Got it?” Detective Harrison said.
Lysa pulled up her tablet and shifted quickly from floor 27 to 26 and below. There was an unidentified human form on each floor. The two techheads pulled out their own tablets and wrote out messages. Dash was astounded that their language seemed so familiar and didn’t know why she was having so much trouble with it before.
What should we do? one asked.
Conference room is down the hall, the other wrote.
Move Dash through cubicles. In through back conference room entrance, Lysa wrote.
Then what? the first techie asked.
Dash took the tablet from Lysa and pushed the edge of her muzzle against it. In less than ten seconds, there was a crude drawing of Dash flying out the window. Lysa shook her head.
Dash peered around the corner of a cubicle and saw the uniformed officer scanning the office through his blackened visor. The three humans moved into an empty cubicle and huddled down as Lysa drew a quick line around a holographic representation of the room. She tapped a button and wrapped a strap around Dash’s right foreleg. The blue pegasus looked at the tablet now adhered to her body. The human form on the holograph was moving towards her direction.
One techie held up the message, You gotta go!
We’ll stall him! the other tablet said.
Dash bolted around a corner next to the exterior windows and moved past several employees standing up in their cubicles as they looked at the approaching officer. Dash stopped as the human form on the tablet’s hologram turned in her direction. She crouched down behind a corner as the officer shouted out. “Hey, what are you three doing back there?”
“What?” Lysa’s voice asked. “I’m sorry if we don’t have time to stop working just because of your little visit.”
“Harrison wants to see you.”
“And he will when I’m done finishing this report with my assistants. Some of this stuff is very time sensitive.” The form on the tablet turned and walked to the back of the room.
Dash saw a door labeled CONFERENCE and pushed her nose against the edge. She pressed the handle down with her hoof as it clicked open and revealed an empty table on one end along with a couch and wall-sized monitor at the other. Large windows surrounded the perimeter and Dash could see the flashing signs of the Martian city paint the interior of the dark room in shades of neon. She stalked over to the window and saw the sign for Hotel Lunae bathe the conference room in a deep blue glow. The crescent moon design on the side of the building reminded her of a certain royal princess. She peered over the edge of the building and saw a glass roof overlooking a crystalline pool.
A flash of light filled Rainbow Dash’s vision as she staggered back. The hum of a hover car barely pierced the windows as a booming voice filled the night. “STOP RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE!”
Dash ducked down and ran back to the entry door.
“She’s going for it!” There was a pop and a shatter as the window fell to pieces behind the blue pegasus. “Sonic Breaker engaged!” Dash crawled under the conference table and saw the officer on the tablet’s holomap run towards the conference room. Lysa’s form jumped him from behind as he wrestled with her and the two techies. Rainbow crawled towards the windows as they began to shatter one-by-one.
“What do you want with me?” Dash yelled, but the hum of the hover’s engine was so loud she could barely hear her own voice.
“Switching to shock rounds!” the gunner shouted as a red light traced the area in front of Dash. There was a shot and a blue cylinder stuck into the ground in front of her muzzle. It charged up. Dash kicked out a chair and flipped herself onto the top of the table as a blast rocked the area beneath it and sent blue lightning pulsing through the floor and into the rubber floor mats. A red light traced the wall and stopped on Dash’s forehead. There was a pop and Dash dropped down as the cylinder hit the area where her head stood only a split second before. The cylinder charged up.
Rainbow Dash gathered in everything in less than a second. She saw Hotel Lunae right underneath the hover and made note of hotel roof only thirty feet away. She bolted forward as the cylinder exploded earlier than she expected. The arc of lightning singed the edge of her wings as she leapt forward to find her flying muscles were non-responsive. In a flash of instinct, she grasped for the landing bars of the hover and caught them in mid-fall. The impact jarred the pegasus as she swung for a second before the vehicle began to spin in mid-air. The gunner looked down and pointed his rifle as Dash as the pegasus swung one hoof wildly. The hit knocked the weapon out of the officer’s hands and fell down to the street below. Dash saw the roof of the hotel nearby, but it was further than she expected and she could not make the jump on her own. She peered down and saw a glass-covered pool area. She saw no other way and let go.
The fall was a blank to Rainbow Dash. The impact, however, was not.
The pegasus crashed through the glass roof of the pool area and fell into the water below. She disappeared beneath the surface for a moment before rising up to catch a breath. Her left foreleg was in severe pain. Several hotel guests ran out of the pool and made their way across the lobby. Dash pulled herself out of the water and noticed the tablet screen was now blank. She ran across the lobby, past several terrified onlookers and out a back exit into the Martian night.
The red city of Syria Planum Alpha towered menacingly over the wounded blue pegasus as she stalked her way through the back alleys of the Martian metropolis. The searing pain in her front-left foreleg kept her mind alert and on-edge as Rainbow Dash peered at the homeless humans moving around her. They stared at the rainbow mane and tail and whispered as she walked by. Their words brought neither comfort nor peace.
“Looks like another one from TruCore.”
“You’d think they wanted their subjects to escape.”
Rainbow Dash kept her eyes facing forward and didn’t dare stare at anyone who walked by. Her wings spasmed uselessly whenever she tried to use them and she wondered if the shock round from the officer had stunned them into a fit of (she hoped) temporary paralysis. She glanced around and heard police sirens nearby, but saw nothing headed her way. Once she escaped through Hotel Lunae, she had not seen a single officer. Dash leaned against a wall and tried to take in the mountains of steel and smog overhead.
There were lines of apartments lighting up the night all the way up to the cut-off point of Rainbow’s vision. The smog blanketed the sky with poisonous clouds that made Dash yearn for the cumulo-nimbus of her home. She often wished she were up above, soaring high above the world. But something about this place made her wish to be low and out-of-sight, away from the dangerous rush of traffic building upon the horrid air quality with their constant exhaust. She didn’t find it hard to breathe yet and hoped she could find a place to rest, if only for a little while.
There were fewer and fewer people as Dash soon realized that a bright blue pegasus stood out far too much amidst the hues of red and brown dotting the dark Marscape. She felt her mind slipping into high anxiety as she did all she could to maintain control of her emotion.
There was a transport tube periodically moving people through a grimy rail system as it shot forward and disappeared in a flash of movement. Dash wished she had her speed back and flapped her wings as she thought about tracing through the air. There were only a few people on the loading platform and strangely enough, none moved to interact with her. She saw their eyes lock onto her form and the pegasus wanted so much to be invisible to their cold stares.
An animated screen stood by on the platform with the faded title of South City Directory. Dash held her left foreleg as the pain throbbed through her body. The screen flickered and a pleasant female voice spoke from the crackling speakers.
“Welcome traveler! Stand by for iris scan. In the meantime, you may select destination information by voice command. Where would you like to go?”
Dash looked at the tablet on her right foreleg and noticed the screen was still blank. The fall through the glass roof of Hotel Lunae hadn’t damaged the screen. Her left foreleg took most of the impact and she winced at the reminder of the pain. She remembered the map Lysa had brought up and tried to think of the closest pony tracking beacon, but could only remember one phrase furthest from her point.
“Noctis Labyrinthum,” Dash said. There was a beep and the directory screen brought up a map with a flashing point located far north of the spot labeled YOU ARE HERE. The area was well beyond the city limits.
The directory voice spoke again. “You are unregistered. Due to this, you cannot move past the security checkpoint at North Syria Planum. You may proceed to marker thirty-four, forty kilometers south of the Noctis Labyrinthum mining colony. Your temporary rider number is 001138 and you may ride the shuttle twice every twenty-four hours until registering. This counts at one ride. Do you wish to proceed?”
Dash’s mind was reeling from all the info. She looked around and saw several people stalking closer from the shadows. The pegasus turned back to the directory and nodded before she realized it might not notice her, until it did. “Nonverbal compliance detected as affirmative. Your ride is arriving. Please board and have a nice day.”
The shuttle zoomed to a halt. The doors slid open to reveal a mostly empty passenger car. Dash looked in, saw a few people reading their tablets, and sat down in a far corner away from everyone else. She made note of the soft red tint of the lighting bars above her head as her coat turned darker than she was used to. She hunched down, lowered her ears, and kept her eyes focused away from everyone. But someone still noticed.
There was movement out of the corner of her vision. Rainbow Dash spun her head quickly to meet the small eyes of a little girl, standing open-mouthed, as she gawked at the blue pony sitting in front of her. Without warning, she moved forward and wrapped her arms around Dash as the pegasus froze up. The little girl did not move until a man’s voice caught filled the cabin.
“Mary Ann, what are you doing?”
Dash saw the human moving towards the scene and she immediately tried to talk her way out.
“I-I’m sorry. She just ran up to me and I froze and…” Dash stammered.
“Mary Ann. Come here,” the man said. Dash noticed how similar his disheveled clothes were to those of the little girl. Mary Ann smiled at Rainbow Dash and then ran back to the man who hugged her as she pulled him forward with her hand outstretched towards Rainbow.
“Daddy, look! I found a real pony! Like the doll you gave me. But better!” She pulled her dad close to Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow Pony, this is my daddy.” Mary Ann’s dad looked the pegasus up and down before sighing.
“I’m not sure if that’s a holosuit or something else,” he said. “But Mary Ann never takes to anyone. There must be something really special about you.”
Dash looked at her dark blue body under the red tinted shuttle lights. “You don’t find this…weird?”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” the dad asked. He sat down across from Dash as Mary Ann sat on the bench behind them and started coloring on her tablet.
“No. I’m from…a more blue planet than this.”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“Earth, Mars and the Moon are the only places you could be from, kid. And Earth is the bluest. Despite the acid rain and pollution.”
“What happened to Earth?”
The dad pulled out a stuffed toy from his coat and handed it to his daughter. “Mary Ann, you dropped your pony.” For a second, Dash thought the toy looked like Twilight Sparkle’s doll, Smarty Pants. As she peered closer, she realized the tint of the lights and her fatigued state were playing tricks on her. It was a simple pony doll, unadorned, with sewn eyes as well as a yarn mane and tail. The little girl grabbed the doll and held it out to Dash.
“Rainbow Pony, this is an Earth pony,” Mary Ann said. Dash took the doll in her hooves and peered at it.
“Yeah. I can tell it’s an Earth Pony. Doesn’t have any wings or horn. That’s…cool that you have one.”
“Yep. It’s from Earth, and it’s super different from Martian ponies,” she said as she went back to her tablet and continued doodling.
The dad spoke up again. “What’s your name, stranger?”
“It’s Rainbow…Dash.” The blue pegasus hesitated with her own name as she thought about the odd reaction she received from Detective Harrison when he questioned her earlier. The thought of the officer made Dash’s pulse rise and her foreleg began to hurt even worse. The pain overrode her anger.
“You’re a unique one, Rainbow Dash. My name is Flannery.”
“Nice to meet you, but you don't seem afraid of me...Why?"
“You seem new here, so let me tell you this: Syria Planum City is a stranger place than you. It has people from all walks of life and many of them resort to odd methods of coping with life on this red rock. Some have unique forms of self-expression. Others write beautiful fantasies. Others perform. Do you still have actors on Earth?”
Dash thought about the theatres in Equestria. “Yeah, but I don’t really watch their plays.”
“Well, we have method actors who live their characters out. Some change their names and physical appearances to resemble their roles. We even have a whole crew of famous roleplayers called the Lunar Republic.” Dash stifled a laugh. Flannery smiled. “What’s so funny?”
For the first time in a while, Dash was smiling. “On Earth, we have a group of fanatics who want a change in our government. They support a very popular pony whose symbol is the moon and they call themselves the Lunar Republic.”
Flannery slapped his knee and laughed. “Guess we’re more alike than we thought, Earthling.”
“Guess so, Martian,” Dash said as they laughed together. The pain in her foreleg had diminished.
“Hey, I’ll give you some more info through your P.E.T.. Let me see it,” Flannery said as he motioned to the tablet on Dash’s arm.
“Oh…it’s broken. I think it got damaged when I fell.”
Mary Ann stopped doodling on her tablet and unstrapped Dash’s viewscreen. “Let me see. I can fix the P.E.T..”
“Why do you call it that?” Dash asked.
Flannery answered. “Personal Engagement Tablet. Ironic, though. The more you use it, the less you tend to engage and interact with anyone.”
Dash nodded. “The name reminds me of the thing I was told where people here like taking care of animals.”
“Yeah, the whole electric pet trade. It’s pretty sad to work so hard to buy something just to pretend you can take care of a real animal.”
A voice came over the loudspeaker. It was the same as the one on the directory. “Now arriving at marker thirty-three.”
Flannery and Mary Ann stood up as the shuttle came to a stop. A few people exited with little more than a confused glance at the blue pegasus. Flannery noticed and said. “You getting off at this stop? The next one is pretty rough.”
“Finished!” Mary Ann said as she handed the working tablet back to Dash. The screen now had an incredible drawing of the blue pegasus wearing a brown trenchcoat.
“Whoa…that’s awesome! But the picture…”
“I drew it on my tablet and transferred it to yours. You’re welcome,” Mary Ann said as she walked next to her dad. Flannery motioned to Dash.
“Last chance to exit," he said.
Dash walked through the doors with the two humans as they shut behind them. The shuttle took off as the blue pegasus stood at platform thirty-three in a nearly deserted slum. This one was dotted with many houses built in the alleyways against the metal structures.
“Here,” Flannery said as he took off his trenchcoat and handed it to Dash. “It’ll make my daughter’s picture of you more accurate.”
“I…” Dash looked at the two humans and her ears dropped. “I can’t take this gift. It wouldn’t feel right. You need it more.”
“Do you think we’re poor?” Flannery asked. He lifted an eyebrow and smirked.
Flannery placed the trenchcoat in Dash’s hooves as he stepped back with Mary Ann. “Don’t let appearances fool you, Rainbow Dash. Especially on Mars. You’ll see.”
“Bye Rainbow Pony…I mean Rainbow Dash!” Mary Ann said as she and her dad walked off into the slums.
Dash looked at the trenchcoat in her grasp. She put it on and found it covered her perfectly from back to flank. If she uprighted herself temporarily, she might pass for a costumed human. But walking on two legs was never something she was good at. It was more Pinkie Pie’s thing. Dash started to think about her friend as she looked at the map on her P.E.T. once more. There was a tracking beacon heading away from Noctis Labyrinthum and moving towards North Syria Planum. It was clearing distance at an incredible rate of speed. Dash looked around and saw a sign nearby. It detailed a landing pad ten blocks northeast. She worked through the pain of her foreleg and headed onward.
According to the P.E.T. viewscreen on Rainbow Dash’s foreleg, it was now close to sunrise on the Martian hemisphere containing the city of Syria Planum Alpha. The tracking beacon for one of her friends was moving towards the landing zone ten blocks northeast of Dash’s current position in the slums near the northern edge of the city. The pegasus still couldn’t identify which tracking beacon was connected to which pony since one of the workers at TruCore had encoded the system as a countermeasure against the intrusion of Detective Harrison. The officer was no doubt still on the search for Rainbow Dash and the thought hastened the hooffalls of the blue pony as she made her way past the ramshackle housing of the homeless humans.
There was a beeping on the tablet. Rainbow Dash stopped and saw a call incoming from TruCore. Since her left foreleg ached due the fall she took only an hour before, she did move it if she could avoid it. She tapped the screen with her nose as a human face popped up.
“Rainbow Dash, thank goodness you’re alive! Lysa was so worried about you,” the male human said. He took off his sunglasses to reveal dark brown eyes.
“Who are you and where’s Lysa?” Dash asked as she huddled against a wall. She saw no movement around her and the stillness made her nervous.
“I’m Daniel Williams. I’m here to help you while Lysa is gone, but I don’t have much time. I’m talking to you from a cleaning supply room while Harrison interrogates the staff. I’m doing what I can to stay here until things cool down, but my communication will be sporadic until Harrison and his officers leave.”
Dash shook her head. “I don’t know you, Daniel. And you don’t know me. Unless Lysa says so, there’s no reason I should trust you.”
“You’re right. And I’m going to do what I can to gain that trust because we don’t have much time. In about twenty-two hours, the lock on the computer system will wear off and the officers of the 8th precinct will know the exact locations of you and your friends. Nothing will stop Harrison from rounding all of you up. You have until then to gather your friends together as Lysa comes up with a plan to help you escape Syria Planum Alpha.”
Dash watched the eyes of Daniel Williams very carefully. The blue pegasus was not a lie detector by any means, but she had seen dishonesty before and looked close for any indicators on the face of the human. His eyes were solid. His gaze was unbreaking. He seemed genuinely concerned about the pony and her situation, but Dash didn’t like his sudden appearance.
“You wanna help me?” Dash asked. “What can you do for me right now?”
“Tell me you’re location and I’ll tell you a safe haven nearby.”
“Not likely. Try again.”
“Guess you’re going to be paranoid for a while. All right, then. Within an hour’s walk of the TruCore building, there are many places you can find assistance.”
“How do you know I walked?” Dash asked and then immediately regretted the mention.
“The shuttle system, huh? Well, you could be anywhere then. I suggest you look for your friends in places they would naturally gravitate towards. Think of their personalities and the traits they exhibit the most in their daily lives.”
Dash was careful with her next words once she realized she had given away the thought she was using the shuttle system. “I don’t know, Daniel. You must have information on all of us. Why don’t you tell me what I should be looking for?”
The human nodded. “You should start by avoiding security checkpoints because it’s likely word has reached all corners of the city about your escape. As to your friends, I don’t know where they would be. In fact, I don’t understand why this citywide alert wasn’t activated once the first of your friends left TruCore. There must be something about you that made this more personal for Harrison and the 8th precinct. Be careful.” And with that, the image disappeared and Dash moaned in frustration.
She walked a few more blocks when something began to stir in the back of her mind. Dash looked around for any sign of trouble, but found nothing. She saw a space shuttle sitting on the launch pad three blocks away, though she didn’t understand how the term “space shuttle” was part of her mental vocabulary. She kept her eyes on the craft as she moved past the slums and into an industrial district with large buildings devoid of any windows or noticeable doors. It felt as though the pony was walking through a metallic canyon with cliffs trailing past the smog barrier above. Dash didn’t like to think about what the air quality must be doing to her body and pushed forward as the stirring in her head suddenly hit like a freight train. There was a flash, and the blue pegasus saw the interior of a railway car appear before her very eyes...
The transport from Noctis Labyrinthum had entered the city of Syria Planum Alpha and began to slow in speed as it settled into a loading dock next to a colossal space shuttle. The pony sat idle, staring out the window as she remained enclosed within a specialized mining suit. The dirt and grime on the glass of the shuttle viewports made it impossible for the pony to notice the paralyzed form of the blue pegasus standing in the street below. The humans in the cabin had already taken off their helmets and were chatting away when one man slapped the pony on the back and smiled at her.
“Hey, sweetheart. Don’t be so glum. I know you’re new to this whole thing, but us guys don’t hate on anyone who uses a form overlay. Holosuiters can be pretty entertaining on long trips through space. And we’re twenty minutes away from going to the moon! Can you believe it?”
The pony’s expression was hidden behind the reflective shade of her space helmet. She shook her head and lowered her shoulders. There was a strange sensation in the back of her mind and the image of another pony kept popping in. She turned towards the window and looked outside, but the windows of the shuttle were thick with dust from the labyrinth mines. It was hard to see anything at all.
Dash snapped out of her thoughts as she glanced up at the transport now stopped at a loading platform below the space shuttle. She spoke aloud. “Twenty minutes? The moon? No, no, no! But how…how did I see that?” Rainbow Dash began to run and felt the pain in her left foreleg flare up again. She pushed through it as it screamed at her to stop. She made it within half a block of the stairs to the platform before she grinded to a halt. The ache was now an intense agony which made it hard for her to walk. She looked at the trenchcoat given to her by the kind father and child from the train and remembered how well it fit the standing human. She stood up and tried walking on two legs. It was tricky, but not impossible, though she did not sprint and managed to jog at best. To Dash, she felt as if trying to run in her sleep.
There were stairs leading up the loading dock and Dash could see a checkpoint building with humans patrolling the base of the area. Dash remembered what Williams said about security and ducked into an alley. There were fences lining the way and the pegasus knew it would take too long to climb over all of them. She tested her wings again and found they were still spasming and would not lift her off the ground. Frustrated, she punched a door with her right hoof and saw it swing open into a warehouse. Red spinning lights went off over the entryway as she ducked inside and closed the door. The lights however, did not stop.
The surge in her mind spiked once again…
“Hey, what’s that over there?” the human said to the pony in the mining transport. The Equestrian peered down at the red lights spinning atop a warehouse next to the loading transport. A squad of four security guards ran up to the building and broke off into two pairs. One team motioned to the door closest to the shuttle platform as the other group made their way around. The pony peered out the window and kept her eyes on the scene below.
Dash jolted back to herself as she shook her head. “Four of them?” she said aloud.
A door burst open at the end of the warehouse as the pony pulled her trenchcoat closer to her body. It covered most of the blue and gave her some camouflage in the harsh light of the building. Her eyes perked up as she detected footsteps heading around the top metal catwalk looming over the area full of plastic storage boxes. The pegasus huddled into a corner next to a stack of crates with the words PLATFORM STORAGE UNIT A3. She tried to recall any memory which would give her an edge in the situation. Twilight Sparkle never faced anything like this. Rarity was against combat for the most part, and Applejack was always ready for a stand-up fight. Fluttershy would hide, but how? And what did Pinkie Pie do that time she was hiding in plain sight? She looked at the storage boxes and had an idea.
The footsteps were closer now as Dash worked furiously to assemble her plan into action. When the humans stopped right over her, they pointed flashlights down onto the area. From Dash’s vantage point, she could see the light hit the ground over the spare parts where she had emptied the box.
“See anything?” One human whispered.
“Quiet!” the other said and then whispered, “They’re stealing supplies. Look at what they left in a hurry.” Another door opened somewhere as the two pairs of footsteps moved across the catwalk and became quieter in the distance. Dash pushed herself up off the floor at a crawl and held the box over her body. She moved around a corner and kept her muzzle under the front tip of the storage container. There was a door on the catwalk above, but the only way up to it was by ladder. She had no idea where the humans were and even then didn’t know what she would do once she got outside. The pegasus had to clear the distance across open ground to reach the loading platform. She had no time to come up with a clear plan as she stopped near the ladder and stayed under the box.
She heard a radio outside. "What’s going on down there?”
A human voice answered right outside the closed entry door. “Lockdown of Unit A3. Security thinks it’s thieves trying to go for the shuttle supplies again.”
“You need anything from that warehouse for the mission?” the radio voice asked.
“Not according to the manifest of the Star Song. I’ll double-check just to make sure, but I’m not going in there if I don’t have to…”
Rainbow Dash’s tablet sputtered to life. The face of Daniel Williams came on again and this time there was text under his image: I hear your predicament and I have a way out. Think of this as an exercise in trust. Listen carefully, now…
The radio outside turned on again. “If there’s no need to go in there, tell your security escort to take you back to the loading bay immediately to prepare for launch.”
“Right. I’ll just…wait a minute,” said the voice of the manifest checker.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“There’s a last-minute addition to the log. Shoot and I have to find it in less than fifteen minutes AND get it on the ship? What is this: box number 1010?”
Dash peeked out from the box and spied the number near the lip of the storage case she was hiding under: 1010.
Better close it and upright it quick, Daniel’s message said. Rainbow Dash looked around quickly, saw no guards and flipped over the box as she closed the plastic flaps and curled up inside. She covered herself with the trenchcoat as best as she could.
The door to the warehouse opened as three pairs of footsteps walked in.
“Whoa…and here it is. Another employee must’ve put this here before they updated the log. Let’s see…the special instructions say the contents are classified. Well, Lobo can deal with it when it gets to his station. You guys stick with me as I get this on the dolly. Keep those rifles ready in case of trouble."
Dash felt herself being lifted up as her mind was shocked once again.
“Ten minutes till launch. Last minute cargo now entering storage hull. Crew must take their seats in the cryo area for sleep insertion,” a voice said over the space shuttle intercom. The spacesuit pony was one of the last ones still outside a cryo tube when the Captain of the Star Song stepped into the chamber and shook her head.
“Look, dusthead, we can’t wait for you to think about getting in there. You’ll have a half a year of cryo-sleep to dream of whatever you want. Get your suit off and step inside.” The pony shook her head. The Captain’s face turned mean as she searched for an expression beyond the reflective sun shield of the pony’s helmet. “I wasn’t asking.” The human stepped forward with powerful intention. “Take it off or I’m tearing it off and throwing you inside myself.”
Shaking hooves covered in space gloves made their way up to the head and fiddled with the safety clasps on the suit. They fumbled for almost half a minute as the Captain finally lost her nerve and grabbed them forcibly. “Give me that! What’s wrong with your hands? They issue you mittens instead?” She snapped off the straps while the last of the human miners fell asleep inside their cryo-tubes as the chambers locked them in. The helmet depressurized as the pony gasped in surprise at the sudden exhaust. The Captain took the head off and stared wide-eyed. “They didn’t tell me we had one of your kind on board! What are they trying to pull?”
The door opened behind the Captain and a blue pegasus stood in the entryway. Her mouth dropped at the sight before her.
“Rainbow Dash!” the pony said and smiled.
“Pinkie Pie?” Rainbow Dash asked.
The Captain’s hand went for a pistol on her hip as Dash lunged forward. There was a quick motion behind the human as she raised up a weapon in her hand only to see it was a banana. “Stop…what the? Where…?” Dash was about to impact the Captain when Pinkie jumped in the way.
“STOPPPPP!” Pinkie yelled.
Both the Captain and Rainbow Dash stared at the pink pony in confusion.
“Pinkie, I need to get you out of here, no matter what it takes!” Dash said as she tried to move around Pinkie Pie.
“No!” the pony said. “You cannot hurt the Captain! That is not friendship!”
“OH MY GOSH. Not now, Pinkie Pie!”
“YES NOW!” She shouted. Dash was stunned by the forceful response.
“You tried to attack me!” the Captain said in anger at Rainbow Dash.
“No, she tried to protect me,” Pinkie replied. “Captain, I was only here because I couldn’t find my friends for almost a month. I searched everywhere for them, and when I was about to give up hope, the Noctis Labyrinthum miners picked me up and helped me. I didn’t know where else to go, but now that Rainbow Dash is here, the rest of my friends must be too! I have to find them!”
“You can’t just halt an entire launch sequence because of your stupid decisions!” The Captain said. “We have nine minutes until dust-off and then we’ll be out of atmosphere and headed towards the moon. I should call security on both of you right now!” She said and started to move towards the exit.
“Wait,” Pinkie said and moved to block her.
“Get out of my way,” the Captain growled.
“Please wait…what if I could give you something you’ve always wanted?”
The Captain stopped. “You’re blowing hot air.”
“No, I’m not. I studied your file before I came aboard. I had more than enough time to know your background and though I knew I’d be friends with the rest of the miners before we got here, I wanted to impress you. I had one of my programmer friends make something for you, because I couldn’t stand the idea of working with someone who wasn’t my friend. Especially when I realized I could give you a dream you’ve had since you first wanted to be a star pilot. Please take it.” Pinkie pulled up her tablet as the image of a green grassy field filled the viewscreen. As Dash looked at it, she thought, Gosh, does everyone have one of these? Then Pinkie said “Yes, Dash. They do.” The pegasus stared wide-eyed at Pinkie’s apparent super-sense.
The Captain looked at the tablet. “You’ve got thirty seconds to impress me. One second after, I call security.” Pinkie linked the tablets together with lightning speed and tapped the screen no less than one hundred times in ten seconds. Dash stared dumbfounded, mouth-open, at the sheer speed of her friend’s hoof-dexterity. The Captain brought down a pair of goggles on her head and looked at her screen as her mouth went wide. For three seconds, she stood shocked. Then ten seconds went by. Then the full thirty second countdown had gone and Pinkie tapped the screen as the Captain slowly removed the goggles from her head. Tears were streaming down her face “No one else knows why I named this shuttle the Star Song. But…you do. Thank you, Pinkie Pie.” The Captain hugged the pink pony as Rainbow Dash stared at the scene with utter amazement.
Dash shook her head. “Wait, what was that? What could you have possibly shown her?”
“I’ll tell you later, Dash, but right now we gotta get out of here before the shuttle takes off!” Pinkie said.
The Captain grunted. “I’m gonna take some flak for noting that a miner had to leave due to unforeseen circumstances, but this program…I’ve never seen anything like this before. Pinkie, promise me you’ll give this to others once you get out there into the city. There’s so many people that need it.”
“No problem! I’ll do it!” Pinkie said with a salute.
“Thank you. I’ll call for removal of some cargo. Lobo knows me and even though he’s deck supervisor, he won’t look through my equipment unless I say so. Get in the box labeled ‘West End Colony Run’ and keep quiet. Platform crew will get it and ship it immediately to the western edge of Syria Planum Alpha. You should be there within the hour. And please don’t crush the data-discs in there. The miners wrote them for their families and friends here on Mars.”
“Pinkie, your hoof is crushing my face.”
“Well your face is poking my hoof, Dash.”
“You smell like old cardboard and muddy gum drops.”
The interior space of the storage box was cramped and Rainbow Dash kept flexing her wings as she moaned in frustration. Her feathers grazed Pinkie Pie’s face as the pink pony giggled and curled up next to her friend. “That tickles!” she said.
“Pinkie,” Dash said, “I’m trying very hard not freak out in such close quarters. Pegasi are not meant to be mailed in boxes to random colonies on Mars!”
“Derpy Hooves mailed herself to Las Pegasus once,” Pinkie said. “She came back one hundred-thousand bits richer.”
“How did she get the money?”
“I don’t know. Something about a two-day adventure with three stallions that lost their friend on his wedding day.”
“That sounds dangerous.”
“Don’t worry! Derpy’s fine. I don’t know what happened to the stallions though.” The two sat in silence for almost three seconds when Pinkie spoke up again. “Wanna play a game?”
“Rock, Paper, Scissors?”
“Staring contest?” Pinkie kept her eyes open as she turned on the light of her wrist-tablet. Dash blinked. “I win!”
“Pinkie, please. We have forty-five minutes before we make it to the West End Colony. I’m tired. I’m hungry. And to top it off, I was chased by officers less than two hours ago, fell off a hover car, hurt my leg when I broke through a roof of glass, and had to hoof-it to escape capture. Thank you very much, but I’m not in the mood for ANYTHING right now. Except rest. So good night, Pinkie.”
“Okay. I wanted to test this out with your P.E.T. anyway,” Pinkie said as she connected an extendable cord over to Dash’s wrist-tablet.
“What are you doing?”
“I want to dream with you,” Pinkie said.
“You want to what?”
“Besides, you asked me what I had shown to the Captain of the Star Song. Now you get to see it! Doesn’t that sound fun?” Pinkie pressed a few buttons on her tablet as Dash shook her head. She placed a pair of goggles over Dash’s eyes.
You look shocked. I don’t see why. Look over there and you’ll see the rolling green fields, lush forests and amazingly super cool waterfalls cascading down into a crystalline pool. Doesn’t that description make you wanna just jump in and swim around? Oh, yeah, the pegasus wings…fly around a bit, then!
Oh, you want to know who I am? I’m DigiPie! I’m the digital version of Pinkie Pie and your friend is currently building this world for you as we speak. It’s called “The PieVerse.” We tried naming it a few other things, like “PieCadia, PieVille, PieQuestria,” and even “the PieTrix,” though I have no idea what that last one was about. It just sounded fun.
The PieVerse was made while Pinkie Pie was working in the mines of Noctis Labyrhinthum. She was really sad because she didn’t have a lot of friends, until one day this really shy mine worker named Rory showed up and offered to help her. He just wanted someone to talk to and Pinkie Pie became that friend for him. In return, he made a program for her based on a digital form of entertainment called Digital Universing. Such universes could be anything from a simple room for interaction to entire worlds created on a single data disc, complete with backup in-case anything scary happens like asteroid impact, super volcano eruption or massive warmongering interstellar bunny horde.
The technology was simple to use, but Pinkie Pie made it even better. She learned the basics of world construction from Rory and built upon it with her own understanding of logic. And that’s how Equestria Five was made! Why five? I don’t know. It’s a simulation that self-learns and builds upon itself, but memory has to be added to the unit after it reaches a certain level of complexity or else it will halt and not allow progress to go any further.
Does your head hurt yet, Dashie? I’m sorry. Have a cupcake. A cupcake the SIZE OF A MOUNTAIN!
“Hey Dashie! Wake up!”
“Yeah Dashie! Wake up!”
Rainbow Dash rubbed her head as she sat up. A field of tall grass covered her up to her chest as two pink ponies bounced around her. “Oh my gosh,” Dash said, “There are TWO of you?”
“I’m DigiPie!” the one with yellow eyes said.
“And I’m Pinkie Pie!” the other with blue eyes said.
Then they both spoke in-sync. “And we found a map! To Cupcake Mountain!”
Rainbow Dash’s mouth dropped. “A map….to where?”
The two Pies pointed at a mountain in the distance. The sun was rising over a peak covered in white with pink sides leading all the way down into a river of rushing rainbow colors. The clouds were cotton-candy pink and chocolate rain pelted the mountainside as Rainbow Dash watched on.
“WHAT IS THAT?” Rainbow Dash nearly shouted.
“Edible is what it is! All of it!” DigiPie said.
“We can eat our way out of anything! No more TaffyLanches to worry about,” Pinkie said.
“Is that an avalanche of taffy?” Dash asked. The two pink ponies nodded. “I thought so. I’m gonna go back to sleep now and you can wake me from this crazy world when we get to our destination.” Dash put her head down…
…and found it resting on a pillow in her home. She immediately raised it and peered around in shock. “Not funny, Pinkie! Stop doing that!” She stood up, walked over to her entry door and opened it. Rainbow Dash did not move.
Through the entryway of her home, she saw the interior of Canterlot Castle. Princess Celestia had just sent Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity and Applejack out of an opaque sphere of privacy. Rainbow Dash saw herself as the memory of her moved out of the sphere and stood, ears down and eyes closed, off to the side. Rainbow Dash looked at her memory-self and ran forward. She phased through the body of her doppleganger and toppled into the privacy sphere.
Twilight Sparkle and Princess Celestia were talking.
“I’m sorry I have to burden you with this information, my faithful student,” Celestia said, “But remember that I have never had a pony as skilled, as caring, as amazing as you under my wing.” She raised her wing over the young unicorn as Twilight started to cry. She moved underneath the feathers of the Princess and sniffled as she choked upon her words.
“No, please don’t make us go. I don’t want to go there.”
“I’m sorry,” Celestia said. “I…I want things to be different, but if you don’t go, all of Equestria will suffer.”
“Send someone else!” Twilight yelled. “We had to fight Nightmare Moon by ourselves. Then it was Discord. Then so many more things…Why does it have to be us? We’re just fillies!”
Princess Celestia lowered her muzzle to her student and nuzzled her as tears began to flow. “I am so sorry, Twilight. Please forgive me…”
“NO!” Twilight said as she backed off. The Princess stood back, stunned. “No, I’m sorry too. I can’t! I can’t do it! I can’t lead my friends into danger like this anymore! How can you ask me to go to a place where I may never come back?”
“You do it!” Twilight yelled. “Then, see how you feel when you have to leave behind everypony you care about.” The Princess lowered her head and closed her eyes. And then she stopped moving. Twilight however, kept sobbing.
Rainbow Dash looked at her friend. “I never knew, Twilight,” she said. “I never knew what you had to go through.”
“No,” Twilight said. “How could you, Dash?”
The blue pegasus took a step back. “But…aren’t you a memory?”
“Yes,” Twilight said. “A memory…stuck in time. Stuck..and alone.”
“Wait…” Dash said. A burst of light enveloped the scene as the pegasus moved to embrace her friend, but when she reached out, she grasped nothing but air. ---
Rainbow Dash sat up in the storage box. Or tried to anyway. She hit her head and cried out in pain. Pinkie removed the goggles from Dash’s face and the pegasus saw a similar pair of glasses on top of Pinkie’s head. “Dashie, what happened? You just disappeared for a few minutes and then…poof, here you are.”
“I saw her.”
“Saw who?” Pinkie asked.
“Twilight Sparkle! I saw her and all of us back at Canterlot Castle when the Princess called us together. But she was arguing with Celestia and…she started talking to me, like she was right there with me. Didn’t you see any of that?”
“No,” Pinkie Pie said. “I just saw you at the edge of Cupcake Mountain and then…”
“Where are we?” Dash asked.
Pinkie looked at her tablet again. “We should arrive at the colony in a few minutes. I feel the hover moving a lot slower now. I think it’s trying to land.”
“Pinkie…what if Twilight really is stuck somewhere? How could we get her out?” The pink pony shook her head and Dash turned on her tablet as she brought up the map of tracking units. Her own tracker and Pinkie Pie’s were overlapping, but four more spread out around the city. “I don’t get it, though. According to the tracking bugs, there are still four other ponies moving around out there. So I don’t understand how Twilight could be stuck anywhere if each of these signs if moving.”
“Maybe you were dreaming during the simulation,” Pinkie said. “Anyways, we’re here!”
The movement came to a halt. There was silence for about a minute before the box was lifted up and put down again. Both Pinkie and Dash kept a hoof over their mouths as the sound of footsteps walked away and one pair approached. There was a shuffling above the box as it opened into daylight…