Sins of a Species

by Gremlin Grenade

First published

The greatest discoveries of ponykind's future lie in the darkest secrets of it's past.

In a future where strength of will and desire for knowledge has forced the next stage of evolution, a spacefaring civilization of equestrians come across a beautiful world with dark secrets. Here, Scootaloo will learn the limits of her resolve, her loyalty, and her hope as she learns about the birth of her people, the secret to their evolution, and the sins of a species.


View Online

Starlight, it may be the most beautiful thing in existence.

Ever since my youth, I’ve always felt entranced by the majesty of the open night sky. The way it enraptures me, the way it holds my soul captive and teases my mind with promises of eternity. Even back then, when the clouds and atmosphere dulled the beauty that awaited me. But not today. Today, the only thing standing between me and the glorious starlight is a thick layer of glass, and two and a half feet of sheet metal.

I press a hoof against the window to get a better look at the infinite beyond, bringing my eyes closer, so the stars and nebulas encompass my peripherals. Years ago, I would have been scolded, told to return to my seat, but time has done wonders to develop a respect with my pilot. The glistening sparkles in the depths of the void shine with a brilliance that can be seen from unfathomable distances. Below us, a warm green orb of life and wonder grows larger with each passing moment, its vibrant colors emanating a healthy glow in the darkness of space.

As the fires of atmospheric entry obscure my view, I give the pilot a reassuring nod before returning to the loading bay, where my friends and squadmates await. Some of them chatter about different kinds of things; their families, the mission, their lunch. I just let the roar of the ship drown them out, as I let myself hold onto the beautiful moment I just experienced a little longer. After a few seconds, I sit down and start to clasp on pieces of armor in procedural order; hooves, legs, torso, neck. I keep my helmet under my foreleg as we enter the atmosphere: I want to see this world for myself. The hissing of the bay doors drowns out all other sounds as the air from the outside rushes into the ship.

As the door lowers, a sprawling jungle speeds below us, filled with vibrant colors and energizing scents. Vibrant birds flutter their way from the treetops at our passing, and the sounds of diverse life can be heard below. The planet’s rings crest over the horizon, the atmosphere being just thin enough that their glowing pink hue can be seen off the reflecting light of the rising sun.

I’m brought back to reality as the warning light goes on, signaling us to don the last of our equipment. I attach the magnetic firearm to my side before applying my helmet, which hisses and clicks as it fastens into place. The initial blackness is replaced by an array of lights and colors, various displays portraying tactical information. The muffled sounds of my squadmates’ voices fills my eardrums as each of us call in on our status.

“B-5 standing by.”

“B-4 standing by.”

“B-3, all systems functional.”

My turn. “B-2, standing by.”

“Bravo leader, standing by. All systems are a-go, prepare for drop.”

The pony to my side nudges me with his elbow, “You ready for this, Scoots? Just make sure to aim strait this time.”

Though I give him a courtesy laugh, I don’t smile beneath my helmet. I’m growing a little sick of his antics at this point. “I’ll aim strait if you get my back!”

“Enough chatter!” the commander barks over the comms. “Wonderbolts, let’s rock and roll! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!”

One by one, each member of the squad dives from the back of the airship, their wings catching them into flight after only a second. As we fall into formation, the squad leader nods towards a clearing in the trees. “Everypony head for the LZ, Orion formation!”

The wind caresses my wings as I soar towards the clearing, three of my squadmates following me in perfect harmony. I tilt my body, arcing my flight path, so that several members of my squad turn and weave past one another, our complex flight pattern designed to throw off the aim of any ground-based attackers. As I land in the designated clearing, two members of my squad land behind me, forming a semi-circle that faces where the trees are the least dense.

The forest around our heads is massive. Trees the size of skyscrapers cover the sky above, leaving only a few patches of light to push through upper layer. The sound of exotic wildlife rings out throughout the jungle, the calls of alien birds and insects. A light fog covers the ground, giving the jungle a surrealist touch, as everything seems like it’s drifting about.

As we get into positions, the commander addresses the team, “Alright everypony, let’s do this cleanly and by the books. Scootaloo, Jet, you take point. Lockeye, move up along the tree line and keep us covered,” she points a hoof towards the right, “Starwind and I are moving up the left flank. Let’s MOVE, ponies!”

As we race towards our designated positions, nopony makes a sound. Our hoofsteps are silent as the wind, and some of us physically glide to avoid even that noise. Despite all this, some ponies still apparently aren’t at ease.

“So, you guys hear that the President herself is keeping tabs on this mission?” though each group is several dozen yards apart, the comms on our helmets make Lockeye’s communication clear as day.

“The President? What’s so important about a bunch of degenerate terrorists?”

“I hear Scootaloo’s been friends with the Prez since before the war.”

“That true, Scoots?” Jet gives me a playful nudge.

“Wonderbolts, stay focused!” The commander’s harsh whisper halts any further communication until we reach a makeshift camp deep in a large clearing of trees. A few towers dot the perimeter, though the hastily prepared settlement seems mostly devoid of modern technology. An array of white tents line up before a large group of excavation equipment.

Out front, a trio of pegasi guards patrol the nearest gate, each equipped with special visors designed for detecting magical interference. Though most military forces would need to avoid these, our advanced armors are equipped with special distortion modules that make us virtually invisible to these types of sensors, actually making them less effective at locating intruders than natural eyes (which is more than a little ironic). To the far right side, a single earth pony patrols back and forth, occasionally stopping to give a certain area a better look. The opposite side can’t be seen from my position, but it appears to repeat the pattern.

“In position,” Lockeye is perched up in a particularly long branch of one of the massive trees behind me, his long rifle mounted on its bipod.

“Starwind, see if you can summon us some cover,” the commander whispered. Within moments, his spell takes effect; the light fog gradually begins to dense, and an electrostatic interference messes with their electronics. This catches some of their attention, as various radar and viewing devices suddenly scramble and black out, but we have the opening we need.

“Lockeye, open fire on my mark…” the group of pegasi start to head in my direction, and Jet and myself duck into the woods behind us, the guards giving chase. “Mark.” Three soft squeals are all that are heard before the approaching guards fall to the ground, a hole through each of their skulls.

Jet and I drag the bodies into the woods before heading below Lockeye’s position. Staying low, I crawl up towards one of the two towers that dot the corners of the fence nearest us. I’m next to the fence, just below the guard tower; if he were to simply look down, I’d be in plain sight. Fortunately for me, he’s too busy fiddling with his malfunctioning radar. “In position, ready to strike,” I keep my voice in a low whisper as my eyes focus on the ledge above me.

“Roger, proceed when ready.”

As I glide deftly towards the tower basket, my veins course with adrenaline. I steady my breathing as my heart rate starts to increase, the rush of the moment consuming me. Just as the guard turns his gaze in my direction, a swift buck to the face snaps his neck, his body landing gently on the balcony. “Target neutralized.”

A quick shot from Lockeye neutralizes the other tower, and Starwind begins to soften the electromagnetic interference, bringing the display on the radar to a readable point. Five static dots represent me and my comrades, while over two dozen dots in the opposite direction display the patrols and locations of the remaining terrorists.

As I relayed the video feed to the rest of my squad, a soft click sounded as the safety on my rifle switched off. Jet, now inside the gates just below me, did the same, as he readied his aim. “Let’s rock.”

My comment incites a soft laugh from Jet. “Guess you’re finally ready to have some fun, eh Scoots?” it seems my earlier annoyance hadn’t gotten past him after all. As a filly, I loved this kind of stuff. I suppose it’s time I had some fun with it again.

“All units, prepare to engage,” the commander’s voice is no longer a whisper, as I see the rest of my squad, sans Lockeye, enter the now clear gates.

I glide atop a large warehouse-like structure that stands beside the tents, my suit’s magical readout keeping me hidden long enough for me to land dangerously close to one of the patrols. Beside me, Jet lands on the opposite end of the structure, Starwind and the commander approaching by ground. My helmet pinpoints and highlights all threats within my field of vision.

Jet is the first one to open fire, two three-shot bursts bringing down a pair of unicorn guards. Following his lead, I land a shot of my own into the skull of an alerted earth pony, racing to the position of his fallen comrades. Behind me, I hear the controlled bursts of my comrades as they systematically bring down the various insurgents spread about the camp.

From behind me, a trio of shots narrowly misses my head as a group of pegasi fly by, firing reign-operated machine guns. I divert a portion of my focus to put up a forward ward, keeping my brains safe from any further shots for the moment. With ease and precision, I let fly a burst of my own, which downs one of the flying attackers and sends him crashing into the tents below.

Their return fire pangs against the metal of the building that holds me as I dart around to avoid their fire. “Jet, I need some cover!” is all I can manage to get out before I’m in the air to dodge another volley.

Jet turns his significantly larger firearm on my attackers, letting loose a heavy volley and riddling one of them with holes. Their attention diverted, I manage to get a shot in of my own, piercing the wing of the final attacker and sending him hurtling towards one of the towers. The collision topples the structure, sending it crashing over the fence.

Satisfied, Jet lands in front of the warehouse structure to get a better look at its contents. He isn’t given much time to react, however, as four tons of its contents come roaring out to meet him. He barely manages to leap out of the way as the appendages of a large modified utility crane swing towards him, crashing into the dirt. A light machine gun, mounted onto the side of the cockpit, opens fire on my comrade as he gallops away from the hail of projectiles. I open fire with my own weapon, two bursts pinging off the dense metal exterior of the machine while the final burst makes its way towards the cockpit. The unicorn piloting the machine reacts just in time, putting up a magical ward which re-directs my fire off to the side.

He manages to split his attention, opening fire on me while swinging the massive crane towards Jet. I manage to avoid the attack, but the impact of the crane heaves Jet into the air, his limp body crashing into the tents below. Before I have time to respond, I spot the commander perched atop the machine, bringing up a large magical blade to carve open the cockpit of the crane. As she pulls the torn section aside, the commander lunges in towards the pilot. From my position, I can’t see the struggle, but the pilot’s screams can heard clearly through the comms as she tears him from his seat, and onto the dirt, before putting a well-aimed round through his neck.

As I look around, my scans don’t detect any sort of magically-based life, so I float down to the ground, the commander landing next to me. Starwind is already heading for Jet’s body, and a quick scan shows he’s still alive, though we all know that doesn’t mean much right now; he’s still got a while to hold on. The commander removes her helmet, letting her azure mane drape down her shoulders. As she gives a quick look around, I find myself entranced by her yet again. Somehow, she reminds me of somepony else every time I see her, though I can’t put my hoof on why. Before I get too lost in thought, however, I notice that her gaze seems very trained on the excavation site behind the terrorist camp. As I trot over to her position, it doesn’t take me long to see why.

Machines like the one we just encountered encircle the edges of a large crater, but it’s the contents of the crater that really interest me. A massive structure, the likes of which I’ve never encountered, lie uncovered within the depths of the crater, burrowing deep into the ground beneath. A large entrance is framed by ornate designs unlike any I’ve ever seen before; they don’t appear to originate from any culture on Equestria. The structure is massive, and it appears that the entirety of its being is not even uncovered. Rather than sprawling upwards like the skyscrapers back home, the building seems to move downwards, like some sort of tomb. Its surface seems to be made of an unusual material; I doesn’t seem to be any sort of metal I've ever seen, but it still appears harder than rock. All along the surface lie carvings of a foreign nature, though they somehow look familiar.

It doesn't seem possible that these regressive terrorists could build something so massive, especially in such a short amount of time, and without getting noticed as well. No, it looks like they dug it out… but then, who did build it? It looks like it’s been here forever, but it doesn’t look exactly… ancient. In fact, sans the exotic carvings and impractical size of the structure, it seems to be modern in design, even slightly ahead of current technology. Exploration was always one of my passions, and I really wanted to see what came out of this, but it was way over any of our heads, and the commander knew it. She propped her helmet back into place, vents hissing as it adjusted the air contents.

“This is Firefly, all hostiles eliminated, requesting evac,” her voice was stern and affirmative as always.

“Roger Bravo Leader, ETA fifteen minutes,” a voice responds over the comms.

“Lockeye, keep our borders covered.” She turns to me, “Scootaloo, I need you to do a quick sweep while Starwind and I get Jet situated.” I nod in response before whipping up a spell to restore my sensors to full capacity. I trot about the premises of the camp, not detecting any signs of life. As I turn around the corner of one of the warehouses, something catches my eye. A pegasus sat around the corner, a small device held in his mouth. His eyes widen as he sees me, and he charges towards me, screaming as he does. I realize instantly that the device is a detonator, and the vest he is wearing is full of high-grade explosives. I push myself as hard backwards as my wings will take me, placing an arcane shield in front of me; it’s barely enough to keep me protected from the blast that encompasses the nearby warehouse building.

“Scootaloo, what’s your situation? Are you alright? What’s going on?” The concerned tone of my commander’s voice actually puts me a little at ease, knowing how secure I am with my squad at my back.

"Yeah... yeah, I'm alright."

"Good. Everypony, prepare for evac. Let's get our flanks back to base."


As we head back into space, I find myself sitting behind the pilot again, staring into the starry distance, almost as if by instinct. When you live in space the beauty of space can dull a little, but I’ve always found that keeping that fact conscious makes it more than bearable. My job also has me spend a good deal more planetside, so the shining expanse of outer space is actually a change to me. I can only imagine how miserable it can be to live your entire life in a colony or on a ship, where space is so familiar it becomes monotonous.

The massive gray hull of the Manehattan glittered with an abundance of shining lights, excreting from various windows and sensors across the ship. The ship expands across my vision as we approach, our shuttle heading towards one of the landing decks. A small hatch designed to fit the craft closely encompasses the shuttle, a docking platform slowly extending to the side door. As a loud hissing indicates the change in air pressure outside the cabin, the door opens, now firmly attached to the Manehattan. As we approach the barracks, the collection of ponies waiting is shocking enough to stop me in my tracks.

Surrounded by an entourage of political advisors and military officers, the president awaits our arrival, her expression stern yet still not unkind. Her almost unnatural height is accentuated by her wings, which she keeps spread far more often than most to create an air of authority. Her lavender fur is wrapped in a regal dark blue jacket, and her darker purple mane seems to flow in the non-existent wind. Her purple-eyed gaze is cold and calculating, as she slowly scans each member of my squad, her expression hardly changing towards each.

“I trust the mission was a success, commander?” though her voice is naturally nurturing, her tone has a steely harshness to it.

Commander Firefly nods her head in reply. “Affirmative, Madame President. All hostiles were eliminated.”

“And their work? Do we have any information on what exactly the HRG were doing on Horus?”

“Analysts are currently at the site recovering any data left behind, though it is possible the progression of the battle could have destroyed most of their data,” the commander replies without emotion.

The president’s eyes continue to scan the squad members, and a slight smile erupts as she spots me among them. Though I can feel the jealousy of some of those around me towards the gesture, I can’t help but feel rewarded by her pleasure. “Scootaloo, it’s been a long time. I hope you are doing well.”

I return the smile. “Thank you, Madame President, things have been all right.”

“Please, Scootaloo, you can still call me Twilight.” She quickly shoots an embarrassed look to the other members of my squad, as though to extend the courtesy to them as well. “At the very least, please call me President Sparkle.”

“Y-yes… President Sparkle.” To be honest, I’m more comfortable calling her Twilight, but right now I just want to escape the pressure of the envy pressing down on me. However, against my better judgment, I speak up as she is about to leave. “We did find something, Madame President,” Twilight turns to face me once more. “Some ruins, or… something. There was an excavation.”

She raises her eyebrows, but only for a moment. “Thank you, Scootaloo. You are all dismissed.”

As we start to disperse, I can feel the commander’s harsh gaze pressing down on me. She obviously withheld that information for a reason, but I’m not sure it was necessary. We didn’t know what those structures were and where they came from, even though we were given access to classified information on a regular basis. Commander Firefly has seemed to have an issue with other branches of the government, though not in the overt manner as some lower-ranking soldiers have.

Both our thoughts are diverted as we watch Jet get wheeled off on a stretcher. Being around as long as I have, I’m used to seeing fellow soldiers get hurt and die, but the Wonderbolts is a much more tight-knit group than most. My heart lurches as the medics attach various tubes to his body, even though I know he will probably survive, given his value.

As we unpack our armor into our personal lockers, Lockeye shoots me an almost accusing glance. “So, Scootaloo, how does the president herself become buddies with a leatherneck like you?”

I just try to laugh it off. “It’s like you said, we were friends before the war. I guess it’s just stuck with us.” To be honest, I never really felt like we were “buddies” to begin with. I knew her best before the change, but back then our age difference seemed so significant it was more like she was a guardian or… something like that. She wasn’t exactly my role model, though; that title was reserved for one pony alone in my life…


The simulators are like a second home to me, here in space. A place where I can just clear my mind, let my instincts guide me as I duck and weave past virtual fire. The pulsing of my muscles, the adrenaline coursing through my veins… it’s all so liberating. The chance to break free of the doubts and questions that fill my mind each day. Even on missions I’m required to think before I act, but I’ve never been one for thinking.

I wince in pain as a carefully-placed shot pulls through my shoulder. I barely managed to keep it away from my chest; though these are virtual rounds, they still sting like hell. Rolling back onto my hooves, I drive a burst into the artificial target. I was… distracted. I could run some of these simulations in my sleep, but those ruins, it’s like they called to me. What could they possibly be? Who built them? Why do I want to know more? Maybe I’ll to head back to the barracks; if combat won’t get this out of my head, perhaps sleep will.

As I head back to my room, a familiar sound stops me in my tracks. Along the hall lies a lecture hall, filled with young eager military cadets. Their instructor reminds them of the oh-so-familiar story of the revolution, how we overthrew our god-like oppressors when we discovered the depths of their vanity, the magnitude of their secrets. How we learned to harness those secrets for all of ponykind, and how we evolved because of it.

She lectures them about the change, about augmentation day and what it meant for everypony. How we obtained what we now call the “power of three,” and how it helped push us into the stars. I remember how we used to dub them “alicorns,” back when such archaic differentiations had any meaning. Although it was so long ago, I still remember that life. I remember how I was just a pegasus, how I lacked the magical and intellectual abilities I now have. How death seemed like a creeping certainty, rather than the distant dream it is now. Though, in my line of work, death is just as present as it was a century ago.

It almost makes me chuckle, to see these eager young cadets throw their lives towards danger so recklessly. They have so much time to decide these days, but some still enlist as soon as they are able. I can’t really blame them, I was the same way when I was a filly. Back then, being a part of the Wonderbolts required a very different kind of pony, but I would still have thrown my life away if they had asked. In fact, I probably would today.

My room is more than just an army cot these days; the government is willing to spare the expense to make sure the Wonderbolts perform at the top of their game. It isn’t anything special, but it’s better than an old-fashioned bunk.

Sleeping doesn’t seem to help rest my thoughts either, or rather, my mind won’t let me sleep. When I came back from my first combat drop, I found sleeping pretty hard. Every time I’d close my eyes, I’d hear the shots whizz past my ears and feel the mud beneath my hooves. More than once, I would physically jerk out of place, my body desperate to dodge the dangers my mind had conjured up. But those days were long gone. Tonight, I just have my questions to keep me awake.

And the memories.


View Online

The noise outside the castle bears down on my ears and taunts my sensibilities, reminding me of why I'm standing in front of my idol and mentor, what my dark purpose is today. I want nothing more than to embrace her beautiful, alabaster coat, to be taken in by the warmth of her caring embrace, to call her my teacher again. But that won't happen today, and it won't ever happen again.

There is silence for a moment before she speaks.

"If it comes to this, I'm just glad it was you." Her eyes are cold and piercing, not in disappointment, but in guilt. Even now, when it's all come to this, she's the one who feels guilty. "I don't think you should do this, but I'm not going to stop you. For so long, we have guided your path, but it seems you are mature enough to guide your own destinies. Please understand, though, that everything we did was for a reason. We only wanted to help you, to nurture you, and now it seems that is our undoing."

I fight back the tears, but they're pushing through anyways. "You lied to us, to everypony! You built our trust in you, had us place you on a pedestal and proclaim you as gods! And then you thought you had the right to pick and choose! To let some of us join you and leave the others behind!" I can barely look at her as I feel my heart throb with pain. "To let... to let me join you..."

"...Yes, we did." I can't bear to hear it. I want her to say anything in her defense, to deny her crimes, to proclaim "not guilty" so I can bring my righteous sword down upon her. But she says nothing more. She just sits there, made innocent by her guilt, proven pure by her corruption. Her sister doesn't even do that.

Taking a deep breath, I force out the words I so fiercely recited many times now. "In the name... of the common pony... I... demand... that you step down... from your throne... and await trial... by a jury of your... subjects." The lump in my throat makes it hard to breathe much less talk. I can barely see them through the saltwater pouring from my eyes, my open guilt laid out for them to see, my soul completely naked.

Slowly, she steps down from her throne, quiet and complacent, and all I can do is bite my lip...


The harsh sound of an alarm is the first thing I get to hear this morning. It's usually the first thing I hear every morning, except back when the first thing I got to hear was my drill sergeant's booming voice. Even back then, in the days of the "old" Wonderbolts, training was like boot camp. You think becoming a Wonderbolt is all about flying around with celebrities, showing off and attending big events. But for the first 8 weeks, being a Wonderbolt is about waking up at 0400 and doing wing stretches for 3 hours straight.

Back in those days, you'd get chewed out for having an alarm clock, but in space your internal clock gets kind of messed up, so they usually let it slide, especially for such a high-profile organization. I sit up as it continues to go off, my ears twitching to its rhythmic buzzing, scratching my head before I switch it off.

Outside my bunk, I can hear the sound of voices. It sounds like two ponies, non-military by their tone. Probably ship staff, here to tell me about a change in protocol or to bring some special mail or something. As I start to walk up to the door, it opens before me, and I'm a little alarmed to see two of Twilight's aides.

"Sergeant Scootaloo?" One asks me, and I just nod in reply."President Sparkle would like you to act as her escort and representative regarding the incident onHorus. Please be prepared in dress uniform by 0800 hours."

They leave as suddenly as they showed up, and I head over to my closet to get out my neatly-pressed uniform. What about my mission needs a representative? Our mission wasn't so important that it need a council meeting, surely? Unless...


I find myself standing next to Twilight Sparkle, my old friend and president of the Equestrian Union, as the council hall fills with senators and representatives. The large round room is divided by various provinces, most of which are several planets large, with their flag hanging behind their particular division. The largest is the province of Greater Equestria, directly in front of us, which is already beginning to fill with familiar faces. Twilight, a small group of her aides, and myself stand in the center, Twilight in front of a large podium. As the room begins to fill with ponies of various nations, the senators converse and whisper to one another, and I can feel many of their judging eyes pulling me apart. It is more than rare for a military pony of my rank to even be in the presence of many of these ponies, though my Wonderbolts status is occasionally the cause for a little special attention. Still, those are only in isolated cases, when preforming a mission for a specific province or providing one of the senators protection. Though some of the faces I know, this is first time I'd been present for something so universally important as an Equestrian Union council meeting, and I was not prepared.

Now, I've been shot at, bull-rushed by ponies twice my size, targeted by all sorts of magical attacks, and taken down all manner of roaring vehicles and machines. I'd stared death in the face on nearly a daily basis, and made split-second decisions that held the lives of me and many others in the balance. But here I am, standing in front of a bunch of stuffy, uptight, frail and feeble politicians, and I'm completely terrified.

Lucky for me, Twilight takes the stage first; hopefully she won't need me for anything other than to stand here and look scary. Scary I can do. The room goes almost completely dark, to help illuminate the holographic projections that are starting to form in between the podium and the stands above, and now I can't see any of their faces, which isn't nearly as relieving as it should be. A spherical hologram appears in front of twilight before she begins to speak.

"This is the planet Horus," she begins, forgoing any sort of formal introduction and instead getting right to the point. "It was discovered a mere three years ago, and was almost immediately the subject of interest for a number of controlling parties. When discovered, the most notable feature of the planet was that it was capable of supporting Equine life without any sort of Equiforming; completely breathable air, drinkable water, and plenty of flora and fauna to go around." The assembly mumbled and discussed with one another before she continued, breaking the humdrum of their voices, "almost immediately, it became an area of contention for several revivalist organizations, who intended to use the fertile world as a sort of second Equestria for their kind. As you all know, this is in direct violation of the Whitefire act, and when the revivalists seized a camp of EU supplies and armaments, a special operations team was sent in to eliminate and investigate them.

However, members of the Wonderbolts team preforming the operation discovered something peculiar about the camp. The revivalists were armed not only with weapons, but excavation equipment, and it was in the excavation site that our team found what was most surprising." Before I know it, the hologram goes dark and the lights go back on, blinding me from the wall of faces peering down on me again. "Sergeant Scootalo was the first to observe the contents of the excavation, and I will leave her to now describe them to you."

WHAT? I can feel the sweat trickling down the back of my neck as I'm suddenly put on the spot like this, but there's not much of an option now. I guess I'll just tell them what I told her. "Uh.... sirs, mada- er... I'm not sure what we found, honestly. It looked like some sort of ruins, or something, except that they hardly looked worn at all. Big, metallic structures that went down into the earth." I just wish I could give a more informative answer, but it seems to have satisfied Twilight.

"These structures," she continues without skipping a beat, "we believe are Alicorn in origin." The very mention of the word "alicorn" causes a stirring humdrum among the crowd, almost like the term is some sort of taboo (which it of course isn't). "That is to say, they have minute details that are only resembled in aspects of ancient Canterlot architecture. The data we extracted from the dig site confirms this, and suggests some sort of connection to the possibility of intelligent life, and possibly some sort of influence on our own history.

This meeting, then, was gathered to request scientific resources from our provinces so that we may study the mysteries that lie on and beneath Horus. We will also require additional military resources to ensure the safety of our research teams, should we encounter any hostile wildlife or remaining revivalist groups." The low ambiance of the various delegates is a little uncomfortable, but as they go on I can tell they're going for it. I'm a little excited, as this feels like some kind of win for me, but I'm also a bit scared. I was excited to get moving before, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I don't really know that I want to go down into whatever those caves were.

A few minutes of delegation more, and Twilight is ready for me to escort her back. I really didn't pay too much attention to the back-and-forth between the politicians, a lot of this stuff would just go over my head anyways. Lucky for me it's not much longer until we start to head out, and I can already see my squad waiting for me. In fact, I guess it's possible that they were here the whole time, and by the look on Firefly's face, it seems pretty likely. Her expression hasn't changed much since I brought this up with Twilight last night, and a small chunk of the pride I was feeling just a second ago is gone. However, it's not long before something, or rather somepony, else catches my eye, somepony I haven't seen for a very long time. Clad in her regal blue dress uniform, and riddled with medals (and scars), Rainbow Dash has her gaze fixed on me, her stare as intense and steely as ever. Even after all this time, she still holds my idolization above anypony else, though for completely different reasons now.

She turns from me for a moment and speaks with Twilight directly "as requested, I've sent the Cerberus to join the excavation fleet."

"That's not enough," Twilight interjects, and I almost cringe at the face Rainbow Dash makes, "I want Alpha squad on this op as well."

"M'am, with all due respect, I think that's a gross misuse of resources. We have multiple terrorist threats on several different colonies, and I think one Wonderbolsts squad is enough."

"Rainbow Dash, you know as well as I do that the secrets in those ruins may be just what we're looking for. Besides, as Commander-in-Chief, I'm ordering you to comply."

I think I hear a quiet grunt of approval before Rainbow Dash gives the President a salute, "yes, m'am." She turns to me before moving on, "This find of yours had better be worth it."

Twilight promptly returns the salute, trying to offer up a slight smile. "You are dismissed, Admiral."

Rainbow Dash and her personal squad proceed down the hall, but they stop in front of my own. Though my squadmates are eschew to the side of the hall, the Admiral still stops to shoot Commander Firefly a glare that sends a shiver down my spine. "Step aside, Captain," her voice is cold, almost angry, and Firefly moves as obviously aside as she can manage. The exaggerated way she moves seems not to be out of defiance, but of submission, almost as though she is plainly guilty for something. On the occasions our squads have met, those two have never gotten along, though honestly it surprises me more than anything. They just seem so alike.

One familiar face, Spitfire, tries to give me a reassuring smile before they move on, but I'm not sure she's even convinced by it. "It was good to see you again, Scootaloo."

"It sounds like we will again soon."


My mind starts to clear up when I notice a familiar soft yellow figure, wrapped in elaborate and beautiful white robes, out of the corner of my vision. As I look up, the ambassador for the Equestrian Union is standing there, smiling warmly. "How are you, Scootaloo?"

Despite my nervousness and frustration, her calm face does wonders to cheer me up. "I'm alright, Fluttershy," even though her role in the government is an undoubtedly important one, I feel much more comfortable calling her by her first name than Twilight or Rainbow Dash. That's why she's trusted as a diplomatic ambassador, her caring smile and delicate words have ended more conflicts than my entire squad, maybe than all the Wonderbolts combined. Even though I live for the rush this line of work brings, I can't help but respect that.

"That's good to hear," she turns to face out the window, the radiant glow of the planet shining off her face (or maybe it's the other way around). "I'm very excited for you, Scootaloo. This planet sounds wonderful."

"I'm not so sure. I don't know what's down in those structures, and I'm a little afraid to find out. It could be really dangerous." I don't know why I'm pouring my soul out to her like this when I kept myself reserved even around Rainbow Dash. She was always good with animals, I guess after the change that maternal caring extended to other ponies as well.

"Don't be afraid, Scootaloo. I know God brought you down there for a reason, and I think she still has a lot planned for you yet." Something about that does help me get a little more at ease, even if I'm not wholly conscribed to her beliefs. I guess from the mouth of a lesser pony that could sound preachy and even intimidating, but I can hear the love in Fluttershy's voice. And I have to admit, the idea that I'm protected by some sort of divine intervention does help me feel better, so maybe I'll give God a shot.

I start to turn away when I notice her smile fade a bit. Something's wrong, and that's not usual with her, but I need to be subtle. "So, Fluttershy, how've you been?" When she turns to me, she holds up a smile until she can tell I'm not buying it. Both her smile and shoulders droop down, and though I don't like to see somepony so frail upset like this, I'm glad to know she feels comfortable with me. After all, she helped me with a lot of my fears when I was little, so it's nice to still feel like a friend.

"I'm worried, Scootaloo, about everything. Tensions between the provinces are rising, and I don't know what I can do about it. They all want to have everything, they all want more control, and I can only reason so much with that. Why can't ponies just be happy with what they have? Why can't they see that we're just trying to make things work out for everypony? Why do they need to fight over everything, instead of just accepting what God gave them?" She looks up at me, tears nearly welling up in her eyes, and all I want is to say something to make her feel safe and confident again. But what can I say? I've spent almost all of my life acting, not thinking. I don't have the slightest idea what to tell her, but I can't stand being helpless like this either.

I guess she notices this, because she straightens up pretty quickly, and starts to wipe the tears from her eyes. "I'm sorry, I don't need to bother you with this," she forces a smile as she speaks.

"No, it's fine. But I don't know what to say, Fluttershy, I just don't know about these sort of things," I can feel my ears droop as I give what must be the most unsatisfactory answer I could possibly have. After a moment, I decide to add a bit of condolence, "But I do know this much; if anypony can sort these things out, it's our friends. I've seen you guys accomplish things I didn't know were possible, and I know you can sort this all out."

This gets a more sincere smile out of her and she wipes her eyes again. "Thank you, Scootaloo." She turns her gaze downward, smiling dreamily for a moment, probably recollecting all the obstacles they've overcome already, before her ears perk up and the smile is swept from her face. "Oh, I need to be going!" Come to think of it, I need to meet up with the rest of my squad, so I start to head off too. "But it was nice talking to you, Scootaloo!"

"You too, Fluttershy!"


Back at the barracks, I can already see Firefly briefing the rest of the squad, which brings me back to the reality of things. The fact of the matter is, I don't want to know what's down in those caves, or whatever they are, and yet I desperately do at the same time. I can't shake the feeling that there's something wrong with them, like seriously wrong, but I also feel drawn to them in a way that's beyond simple curiosity. Still, it takes a lot to give a seasoned Wonderbolt the heebie-jeebies, so I kind of wish there was some line of defense between me and whatever's down there. If anything's down there.

"Scootaloo, glad you could step out of your spotlight to join us lowly creatures," the commander's biting tongue is actually a kind of welcoming sound; as bitter as she is, I'm much more comfortable with her brutally and honestly chewing me out than having to look through some politician's alterior motives. Still, she seems more bitter than usual about it, but then again she always got antsy around bureaucrats.

"As I was saying," she continues, "we're going to have another combat drop in 1600 hours. We don't know what's down in those caves, and that's why we're going to investigate. We have no intel on what we're up against down there, or if there's even a threat, so be prepared for anything. I know this is a little unusual, but we're Wonderbolts, the best of the best. We're trained to be ready for any situation, and I expect just that out of all of you." The commander's stern words do good to help inspire some more confidence in me, and I can see the same feeling reflected on the rest of my squad. It reminds me of the way Rainbow Dash used to get the best out of me when I was first becoming a Wonderbolt. Just like then, though, it didn't get rid of the butterflies in my stomach outright.

"Still," she adds, almost as if she could read my thoughts, "I have a bad gut feeling about this, so I've requested a little armored support. I asked for the biggest thing they could give me, and here's what we got;" a door leading from the barracks to a large hangar area slides open, and right in front of the door stands our 'armored support.' "Wonderbolts, say hello to the XDA-MkIV."

A massive, but lithe, figure lies sprawled out before us. It's long, curvaceous back end is lined with thick metal spines along the sides and back that go all the way up it's spine. Panels covering a pair of missile launchers lie beneath large folded wings. A sheen black visor spreads across it's thick gridded helmet. Even beneath all this armor and tech, I can recognize an old friend, though.

"Hey, Spike."

"Hello, Scootaloo."

"I figured that doorway was big enough to fit this fella through," Firefly continues. "Even if it turns out he can't get around down there, we could use some support in case those rebels come back with more toys." She gives the lot of us a look over before finishing. "Alright Wonderbolts, get some rest, or get prepped. Drop's in a couple of hours, and I want you at your best. Dismissed!"


View Online

I'm not sure I can process this.

"It's not magic, your majesty, it's genetics," the dull-gray earth pony turns from the tools at his laboratory to face me as he speaks. "Well, I suppose magic is a genetic function technically speaking, but I'm saying that we're all hard wired to become the way you are now. It was just locked away in our genetic code, until now."

"But that doesn't make any sense, I experienced the spell that made me this way first-hoof. It would have to be magically-based, wouldn't it?"

"It's looking like that spell was the key to unlocking your genetic code and bringing out your true form. Of course, we'll be able to do the same with science soon, and then we can mass produce your gift to all of Equestria, Princess," he gives a little informal bow as he addresses me as royalty.

"Please, let's not use those kind of old useless titles anymore."

"Then how about Madame President?"

I rub the back of my neck uneasily, "Let's wait until the elections are over for that one," I force out a quiet laugh as I speak.

The gray pony furrows his brow with a little smirk, running a hoof through his ragged white mane. "I might as well be calling you the President now. Not only are you intelligent, charismatic, and a champion of the ponies, but now supporting you means power, immortality, the next stage of evolution! Who wouldn't want to vote for that?"


Not eating before we started our drop was a pretty big mistake. Some food would had helped to quell my jitters... I haven't been this shaky for a long time. Since I was a rookie, I think. I still am a bit embarrassed that I'm so nervous about a pretty routine combat drop, but I can't remember the last time I dropped without any intel on where we were going or what we were up against, either. When every known civilization is either a part of the Equestrian Union or being observed by it, you tend to get a bit spoiled with your intelligence. But even barring the loss of a blueprint, patrol info, or even a concrete attack plan, there's something else that's different this time. During most combat drops, even when things go wrong you still have a basic idea of what you're up against. You can be expecting to be fighting ponies, griffons, or other equines, possibly with some sort of larger backup. You can expect your opponents to be bringing firearms to bear on you, and that they'll have some capacity for flight or magic. You can expect them to be sentient, and therefore susceptible to psychology and reasoning if things go too bad. But not this time. We have no idea what we're up against this time, or if we're even "up against" anything at all. These caves might be completely empty, after all.

Being responsible for babysitting a few scientists doesn't make me feel any easier. That's something I'd like to have known about last night, though I guess it doesn't make any difference. To me, it'd make more sense to let a combat unit clear these caves first, before letting any civilians anywhere near the surface, but Twilight seems convinced that if we run into trouble there'll hardly be any ruins left to study, so she wants a team on the ground as soon as possible. I hardly see how that makes a difference, though, if the bullets do start flying it's not like they'll be able to do some quick researching before they run for cover. She hasn't said anything, but I think the commander feels the same way. She's always been a bit antsy around scientists, though, even more than politicians.

What does make me feel better is the backup we got. Having an XDA (Exo Dragon Armor) unit on your side is no laughing matter, not only are they huge and armed to the teeth, but there's a level of reliability with a dragon you don't get with a tank or even standard air support. Because it's their natural body they're operating and not some sort of complicated vehicle, you can rely on an XDA to give split-second support when needed. What's more is simply the fact that there's a dragon in there; even after we ponies surpassed normal mortality there's a lot of natural wisdom to be learned from their species, and a natural ferocity that really counts for a lot when things get hairy. The added bonus that it's one of my oldest friends in there doesn't hurt, either.

The increasing volume of the rumbling outside means we're starting to break through the atmosphere, and most of my fellow Wonderbolts take it as a sign to start gearing up simply by force of habit. Off in the opposite corner, I can see the scientists preparing their own equipment. The fact that the heat and the noise of atmospheric entry is only as bad as it is for us is a testament to the marvels of modern technology.

Sitting across from the group, a couple of the scientists are joining Lockeye in a quick prayer before preparing their gear. It seems kind of weird to me that scientists, of all ponies, would join in on this whole religion. Their type are supposed to be progressive thinkers, and the thought of some of them joining this kind of bandwagon seems so, I don't know, irrevelant. I'm not saying it's hokey or anything, just that it doesn't really suit them. I guess that it could be considered progressive thinking in a sense, given that this kind of god is a relatively new idea. It just seems kind of off.

"Alright everypony, I want a role call good and early before we drop," Firefly's voice snaps me out of my daydreaming and back to the moment at hoof.

"Bravo 5, standing by," Starwind responds almost immediately.

"Bravo 4, standing by," with Jet still recovering, we actually got a member of Rainbow Dash's Alpha team to take his place. I'd be pretty stoked about that if it didn't always feel like he was watching us.

"Bravo 3, all ready," Lockeye chimes in.

"Bravo 2, standing by," my voice is a bit coarse at not having spoken for a few hours.

"Bravo leader, all systems are go. XDA-IV unit, how are things on your end?"

"All systems are operational, commander," a deep, rough voice responds over the comms.

"Alright, science teams, report in."

The scientists are a bit more nervous and erratic with their response, it's pretty clear this isn't how they do things.

"Um, yes, this Dr. Sunbead, uh, standing by."

"Dr. Moonlight, everything's fine here."

"Dr. Seaside here."

Four or five more chime in in the same haphazard way, but I'm not really listening at that point. I probably should be, but it's not like I'm going to remember their names anyway. I'm more focused on double-checking my armor, and running through combat routines in my head. There's a pretty good chance that those rebels will be back and angry, and this time they'll be be much more ready for a tactical insertion. Which means they'll probably get their flanks whupped by the armored dragon that didn't tag along last time, but it's still important that each Wonderbolt is prepared as well.

"Bravo two and three, you two and the XDA will drop ahead of the team and secure the LZ for the scientists. Bravo four, five, and myself will form a perimeter as soon as this bird hits the ground. Get moving, Wonderbolts!"

The hiss and roar of the rear hatch on the dropship is muffled slightly as I fit my helmet around my snout, the familiar tactical displays filling my vision as my armor systems boot up. Movement tracking systems, aim-assist, an internal compass and sensors on my vitals dot my peripherals as Lockeye's voice directly enters my ear, clear as day over all the external noise.

"Ready, Scootaloo?" He approaches the edge of the hangar bay and readies himself to jump.

"Affirmative. Spike?"

"I'm ready when you are."

"Alright then, we jump on my mark... mark!" Lockeye and I form a criss-cross pattern in the air above Spike, our armored friend heading directly toward the ground, unafraid of anti-air fire. Really, it'd be pretty foolish to shoot at him anyways, but I don't think that'll stop the rebels from trying if they get a chance. I take the opportunity while airborne to survey the area and see if I can find any signs of their return, but from what I can tell, the damage we did seems to have lasted.

I make another circle around the area before swooping down for a touchdown, forming a triangle around the landing area with Spike and Lockeye. As the dropship nears the ground, I switch the automatic sound filters in my helmet to completely block out sound from behind me, so that I can more acutely hear if there is movement up ahead of me. Firefly always tells us not to do this, but I don't really see the point; it's not like an enemy force could attack from an LZ we already cleared.

The hiss-pop of the pistons releasing as the rear hatch of the dropship opens up is still audible, though, and with a quick glance over my shoulder I can see the scientists hauling their equipment down the ramp. Why they thought it was a good idea to bring all these scanners and gauges with them is beyond me, and honestly it'll make them that much harder to protect. I just hope most of that stuff is staying up here, on the surface. I don't know what we're in for, but if bullets start to fly those machines are just going to slow us down.

Forming an arc in front of the scientists Firefly and the Alpha Squad member pan out and more fully cover the radius around the drop zone. "Bravo 2, how's the LZ look?"

I snap my eyes back forward and quickly scan the area in my vision. "All clear, sir. No contacts."

"Alright team, form up. Capricorn pattern." The squad forms a lopsided diamond with the commander in the front, the ponies on the flank ends facing outward to cover our sides. Spike stays towards the back of the formation, giving us a little more protection from behind. "Sunbead, I need you and your team to get into the middle of our formation, and stay with us."

"Just a moment, commander. We just need to attune our instruments and we'll be right with you," the scientist's meek voice feels out of place in my headset, compared to firm, confident tone I'm used to hearing.

"Doctor, we're not lugging that equipment around in the dark with us. We'll come back for it once we've verified the caves are clear."

The scientist sighs under his breath, not realizing we can hear him quite easily through out headsets. "Very well, commander." Seven of the science team form up between us, with the rest staying back to mess with their equipment.

"Alright everypony, let's move!"


The excavation site is exactly as we left it, which feels a little weird for me. As a rapid-insertion force, it's not often the Wonderbolts return to the site of a mission. As we pace our way through the camp, the various dents and holes in the walls bring little flashbacks of exactly what happened at that spot in the battle. According to Jet, this is an early sign of PTSD, but it's honestly saved my flank more times than it's hurt, so I haven't really done anything about it.

When we get to the actual dig site, though, the scientists react about how I expected. Audible gasps can be heard through my headset as the knowledge-hungry ponies take in every detail. I have to admit, even I'm taken aback looking at this thing again. As my eyes trace the designs along the mouth of the "cave," I get that weird feeling in my gut again, as though it's calling me inside.

I give the rest of the squad a quick glance to share the sentiment. Sure enough, they're all as startled and impressed as I am (even if they try to hide it), even the commander. Only the pony from Alpha squad doesn't seem to have much of a reaction. Almost as if he had known this would be here...

"Bravo two and three, move up to the mouth of the cave. XDA, I want you to take point." Lockeye and I move to our designated positions with Spike close behind.

As I approach the mouth of the structure, I notice an unusual sound coming from inside. A kind of mix between a low humming and the whirring of gears grows louder as I get closer, as though there is some sort of working machinery inside. What kind of place is this? Regardless, I don't detect any hostiles, so I give the signal for the rest of the squad to approach.

The rest of the squad moves up to my position, and we take our original formation as we move inside. Something about the lighting of the structure made it almost impossible to see what was in the cave from the outside, so this is finally my chance to see what we're dealing with, and the anticipation is killing me.

Still, I'm not even remotely ready for what greets my eyes.

Inside, a vast, carved out tunnel stretches toward a great towering spire. From where I'm standing, it looks like this spire spirals downwards, towards more structures like it. As we get closer, I can see that the caves delve deep downwards int a wide chasm filled with more spires like the first one; almost like a vast, underground city. The architecture of these structures reminds me of something from long ago, but I can't put my hoof on what. Even more than the exterior, these spires, the walls around them, and the carvings that line them all feel like someplace I've seen before.

The echo of everypony's every hoofstep is the only thing disturbing the silence of this empty city, other than the low humming I heard earlier. Nopony says a word as we trek our way down the spiraling staricase of the first spire, down towards the deep underground city. It's almost like we don't want to disturb the sacred silence of the chasm, but speaking for the Wonderbolts I can at least say that we kept silent to more easily pick up on anything unusual. Besides, I don't know if anypony would know what to say about all this if they wanted to.

Eventually the staircase reaches a plateu; it looks like it keeps going down past that, but the commander gives us the signal to stop. Without saying a word, she signals Starwind and the Alpha squad pony towards a strange, well-like outcropping near us. Above the cylindrical base lies a series of intertwined rings. They look like they're supposed to move, but for the time being they're as deathly still as the rest of this place.

"Clear," after briefly scanning the area, Starwind's voice is the first to break the silence, and maybe ease the tension just a bit. A few of the scientists are already moving towards their position to observe the rings, when I suddenly feel a tapping on my shoulder.

"Uh, Sergeant," the scientist sheepishly whispers as he pokes me again.


"There's something above us." As I turn to face him, I see his eyes glued to the ceiling.

"If there was any lifeforms near us, above or below, we'd be able to pick them up on our sensors," I whisper harshly back.

"I know, but the ceiling. It's watching us..."

What? I crane my head up to see what's the matter. What on Equestria is he talki-....

What is that? Hundreds, maybe thousands of shining blue dots littered the ceiling above us. As I focused my vision, I could see a few of the lights flickering briefly. No, not flickering. Blinking. Looking at us. Watching us. The ceiling is watching us.

I get into a battle-ready stance, my rifle pointed at the swarms of eyes above, as I open a direct channel with Firefly. "Commander, I think there's something above us. My sensors aren't picking anything up but the ceiling is... looking at us."

Firefly is immediately focused on the eyes as well, and it's not long before the rest of the Wonderbolts and Spike follow in her stead. As we all aim our rifles upwards, the humming I heard earlier gets louder, and i realize that whatever these eyes are, they're moving towards us.

"Wonderbolts," the commander's voice is quiet, but stern. "Fire at will."

We all wait a few moments more to let the eyes get into range before the first shots ring out. A loud crack and a flash of light fill the air as Lockeye's sniper hits one of the eyes dead center, and it's owner lets out a loud screech before spinning to the ground. Only a few moments later, the rest of us are letting loose rapid bursts, filling the black, insectoid creatures with smoking holes. The flaps under Spike's wings open up and let loose a volley of incendiary missiles setting a whole clump of the creatures ablaze.

The dead silence that filled the air only moments ago has been replaced with the crackling of gunfire, the buzzing and screeching of our targets, and the startled screams of the scientists accompanying us. I think we need to get out of here.

"Everypony, full retreat!" the commander shouts as she puts down a trio of enemies. The other Wonderbolts and I instinctively form a triangle around the civillians, but not before one of them is snatched from between us, screaming as he is carried into the darkness above. Starwind starts to follow him, but the commander cuts her off, "Stay in formation!"

It only takes a few yards of fighting towards the entrance to see we'll never make it out like this. "Commander, we need to make a break for it. At this rate we'll be out of ammo before we get halfway out of this place."

The fighting lasts a few moments longer before I get a response. "Alright, everypony break formation and head for the exit on my mark." Everypony tenses up as we get ready to fly out of here, and the remaining scientists put up protective shields around themselves. "Three, two, one... mark!"

Immediately the whole group takes off up the spiral staircase, everypony flying as fast as they can for the exit. I twist myself so that I'm firing backwards down the length of my body once we get up to the hall leading to the mouth of the cave. A few well placed bursts take down our closest pursuers and cause a larger crowd of them to back off a bit, enough so that I can turn back to face where I'm going. Just in time, too, as a huge figure drops in front of me, right on top another one of the scientists. I put up a magical shield as I try my best to come to a stop, the force field dampening the collision with the creature, just before it bats me away.

From behind the monster crashes Spike, knocking it off it's feet before a huge blade springs out from his wrist. With a quick, sweeping motion, he slices the beast in two, before turning around and letting loose a huge wave of green fire on the incoming horde behind us. I scramble to my hooves before making a final break for the entrance.

"Bravo carrier, we need immediate evac! I repeat, evac on my position!" Firefly shouts through the comms.

"Roger Bravo leader, ETA three minutes."

Three minutes. Can we hold out for three minutes? At this rate, I'm about a minute and a half from the door, but I don't know if I have the ammo for thirty seconds of this. I've been in some crazy firefights, but this is something else. I've been shot at, dodged explosives, evaded security and fought giant excavation equipment head on. But I can't remember ever feeling this hopeless.

Right before we reach the mouth of the cave, two pairs of outcroppings on the corners pivot towards us, revealing long, gun-like figures. Are those... gun turrets? Gun turrets? Really?

I throw up a shield and brace for impact, clenching my eyes tight and pushing myself as fast as I can. As the sound of these foreign weapons go off, I feel an immediate sense of... nothing. What? I open my eyes to see the turrets turned on our pursuers, frying entire groups with deadly precision. As Spike and I reach the end of the cave, all I can do is stare in awe at as the guns of the structure itself systematically purge the black wall of creatures. My comrades and I take a few shots to clean up any bugs that get past the guns, but before long they are making a full retreat.

"It looks... it looks like they're gone. Rolecall, everypony! What are our losses?" Firefly's voice snaps me back into focus.

"Bravo two, all systems functional."

"Bravo three, I'm all good here, sir."

"Bravo four, I'm fine."

"Bravo five, all systems online."

"Dr. Sunbeam, I'm alright."

"Dr. Moonlight, I'm good too." I don't recognize the name, but I recognize that voice. Moonlight is the scientist who got pulled away at the start of the fight.

"Moonlight? How did you get out of there?"

"I... I don't know. One moment they're taking me away, and all of a sudden I'm here. Maybe they let me go, or something."

I don't have much time to think about it when the roar of our dropship fills the air around us. "This is Bravo carrier, everypony alright?"

"Yeah... yeah. We're okay." Firefly's voice is quiet and reluctant for the first time today. "Let's go home."