One of a Kind

by Retired5262020

First published

"You hold great power, Anonymous. Your words and actions affect everything now. We can only hope that you are merciful."

Everyone has heard the term "Just another face in the crowd", and for you, it's more than true. It's a way of life. But that changed just as all things do. On that fateful day, Frontier Laboratories lost item #0451, and Equestria was given the key to monumental change. You.

"You hold great power, Anonymous. Your words and actions affect everything now. We can only hope that you are merciful."

ON HIATUS. STORY IS PENDING A TOTAL REWRITE.
(Rating subject to change)
(More tags may or may not be added)

Intro

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-[INITIALIZING]-

-[ENDING SLEEP CYCLE]-

-[GOOD MORNING, #0451]-

With a loud hiss of chilled and pressurized air escaping into the warm, room temperature air outside,the floor-mounted door of the cryo-pod opens.

With a discontented grunt, you pull yourself from the cramped sleeping space. Standing with a yawn, you stretch your arms up and curse the fact that you never seem rested after any length of cryogenic sleep. The fact that you have to sleep with a lot of your gear doesn't help either. Taking a look around, you see the hundreds of other pods still in use in the huge warehouse like room, all of them arranged in rows. You can’t see the occupants inside the cylindrical machines due to the frost on the viewing windows, but you are already aware of what the faces behind them look like. After all, you look at the same one in the mirror every day. You take a deep breath and grimace at the stale, overly-sterilized air of the cryo chamber. The monotone, gunmetal gray that the walls and the pods possess don't help the atmosphere any. In fact, it makes it all feel very artificial and gloomy.

You twist your neck, letting loose a series of satisfying pops as your mind sluggishly starts up. Why is it you have quarters here, when technically you are a listed lab agent? You can worry about that later; right now you're pretty sure you have something that you need to be doing. Not even a second later, the DatPad on your wrist beeps, telling you that you have a new message and that you were probably awoken for a reason. Looking at the small, unassuming screen, you give it a mental command to open up a larger, holographic window.
You feel a tiny itch in the back of your head, the one that your comlink implant always makes when you use it. The standard implant can be used to interact with a number of electronics, like you’re now doing with the DatPad. It’s a shame that you only have the standard one, the more advanced models can do more
A translucent blue window materializes up over your wrist in a muted flash, showing off the message that was sent to you.


Anon.

Einstein-Rosen Bridge generator prototype is going into alpha testing and you were selected to help. Come to Lab 91 with your standard gear. We also have a few new toys for you.

Dr. Emma.


“Einstein-whata bridge? The wormhole thing?”

Did they really get you for something as stupid as this? More than once Frontier Laboratories had tried to pull this, and ended with about ten people dead. It took all day to clean the walls off... Now the eggheads of the theoretical physics and the astronautics departments want to try and tear a hole in space-time and shove you through.

“I don't get paid enough for this shit…” you mutter to yourself. Well, that would be true if you were paid at all. Looking down at yourself, you see your usual carbon microfiber outfit, fitted with all sorts of pockets filled with anything a random clone would need during their sometimes tragically short, life here at Frontier Laboratories. Why didn't you get better equipment? You’re not some run-of-the-mill flesh puppet like the others. You would sit around and complain more, but Dr. Emma and the rest of her little group don't like to be kept waiting. You start off to the corner of the warehouse-like room, your feet making an audible ‘clang’ noise on the steel floor.

Coming up to what seems to be a glass circle set to the floor surrounded by smaller, LED-like nodes, you step on it and a holographic display immediately pops up from the node closest to you.

[Thank you for using Frontier Laboratories’ ClearTrans©!]
[DESTINATION?]
[____________]

Did they really need to put that little ‘thank you’ during the startup of one of these things? It's just a teleporter, after all. Oh well, seems wasteful to you but apparently not to the higher-ups. A thought from you makes the back of your head itch and puts “Lab 91” in the input bar. Then, with a disorienting falling sensation and the smell of ozone, light erupts from under you. With the stereotypical sound of arcing electricity, your whole body is shorn into countless clusters of atoms that are converted into photons. Those photons shoot down into the glass platform of the teleporter and through a fiber-optic cable across the grounds of the laboratory. Once you are at the right destination, the bits of light that compose your being rise up through the glass bottom of another teleporter, where they are converted back into atoms and reassembled in a split second by precise pulses of magnetism. In a flash, you’re left at the side of a sterile white room standing on another ClearTrans were a number of people in lab coats rush about like headless chickens.

A wave of nausea crashes into you with a vengeance. You would think after the numerous times you done this that the horrid feeling would go away at some point, but apparently Frontier needs to make everything you do unpleasant. After getting your bearings, you turn your attention to your surroundings. You raise an eyebrow as you watch countless scientists and lab hands sprint to and fro, not even one bothering to stop and ask why you are in the lab. This must be something really big.

Could Emma have actually gotten her wormhole generator to work? Really, you doubt it, but anything is possible if you think about it. Navigating through the sea of bodies rushing around in the polished white room, you make your way towards the back where and intimidating, gate-like machine and several of the senior professors stand and watch to their members argue.

“I’m telling you, this will work! Just have some faith in me, Arnold!” an auburn haired woman in a wrinkled lab coat shouts at an older man with gray hair.

The older man, Arnold, scowls. “Miss Emma, we've done this time and again yet the results remain the same: failure. Not to mention you tend to waste excessive amounts of clones for your ridiculous tests. They aren't cheap, you know.”

The younger of the two sighs and massages her temples. “Yes, I know. But this time I figured out what was going wrong on the last tests and brought the perfect candidate.”

You take this is your cue and step forward, bringing the attention of Arnold, Emma, and all the other scientists involved with this project upon you.

It’s a struggle not to fidget. You aren't used to this much attention.

Emma gives you a small smile. “Anonymous! You’ve shown up at the perfect time! Ready for your assignment?”

“Well, after hearing the little tidbit about all the others that apparently got trashed doing this, I'm not so sure. Then again, you're just going to pester me until I do anyway,” you say with a hint of exasperation.

Her smile grows slightly. “Yep. Any questions?”

Did you have any? You can’t say you were used to asking them, seeing as how most of the time you’re just thrown in head first with things like these and expected to come back in one piece. It’s certainly not a safe way to go about anything, but it's what you're used to doing and you will stick to it.

“Other than ‘why me?’ None.”

“Why you?” she thinks about it for a moment. “Well, you just have that perfect ratio of expendability and reliability.”

There it is: the reminder that you are just one of identical thousands. Even if it's indirect, you still tend to catch a reminder every day. You've long since stop being bitter about it, but you still feel your mood sour some from being compared to the mindless drones that the others are. Even with the ability to think for yourself, most everyone still sees your genetically sculpted face and neglects to consider anything else.

Your displeasure must have found its way to your face, because the auburn headed scientist immediately says, “Not that I mean that in a bad way; you’re an immensely important part of this operation.”

Arnold rolls his eyes. “Emma, 0451 is a fortunate mistake. He is a clone who is flawed, even if that flaw is useful. I don't even see the point in giving him a name.”

Asshole. The way you’re treated is nine kinds of illegal, but the government tends to be pretty blind if it produces results.

“If we're all done talking as if I'm not here, can we just get on with what you called me for?” you ask irritably.
Everyone seems to at least agree on that.

“Right right, so here’s the deal. This,” Dr. Emma gestures to the mechanical gate with a hand, “should be able to produce a vectored and stabilized form of wormhole that we can use for extreme long-distance travel. So far, we’ve relied on matter to energy conversion and fiber-optic cables for traveling considerable distances. The fatal flaw with that, however, is that the cable needs to be stretched between the two teleporters in order to be able to function properly. In other words, it’s useless for planet-to-planet travel, and flying between planets every time something is needed is extremely resource demanding and tiring for the crews of those ships. If we can perfect this, then we will have totally eliminated the need for traditional space travel!” she says excitedly.

No matter how ecstatic she seems about this, you have a horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that this is going to go wrong. That feeling has saved your life before. “Doc? have you ever heard the phrase ‘If it seems too good to be true, then it is’? Because that is the vibe that I’m getting from this thing,” you reply, looking at the questionable machine.

“Is it really a clone’s place to be questioning the assignment that he’s given?” Arthur grumbles.

Emma shoots him an evil look, then looks back to you with a calm expression. “Yes, I have heard of the phrase. And I’m certain that this will work. Now, let’s get you geared up before the briefing. I’m not too sure how much you like this, but it will be undeniably useful.” She gestures to a lab hand, who nods and runs off. A few minutes later he comes back with two clear, metal capped jars that seem to be filled with mercury. What in the world you going to do with those? Accidentally break one and give yourself mercury poisoning? That seems real pleasant...

“These are canisters of nanomachines! You should be able to control them with your comlink chip.”

You feel your jaw drop. Remote-control nanomachines are almost impossible to make, and when they are made they cost a small fortune. There has to be some sort of catch to this...

“Downside? They can’t self replicate and they need fine tuning if you ever want to control them well. Sorry, Anon, but we had to get these from the defective bin. We aren’t authorized to give out the top grade stuff.”

Yep, you called it. A catch. Why is it so many of the scientists want to bitch and moan about how expensive it is to create clones yet they never want to give out any half decent equipment to them when it comes time for things to be done? You swear there must be some policy in place that is doing this. The lab hand gives you the canisters, which you strap to your right leg for easy access.

“With some practice, you should be able to do all sorts of things with those. Now for your briefing.”
Emma gestures to empty air, where a holographic map comes from seemingly nowhere. It morphs to show a rather unassuming town that is supposedly on another planet. ”Alright, this is where you will be going. The town of Glade on Tiberias II. It’s a rural town that’s sort of out of the way, which is why we gave you nanomachines just in case you accidentally end up in the woods,” she says. “With them, you should have a basic assortment of tools.” She dismisses the map and reaches into her lab coat, where she pulls out a thin, clear plastic case that holds a number of small electronics inside. She hands you the case and you stow it away in your pant’s pocket without a second thought.

“That,” she starts, “is the beacon that we are going to use to bring you back approximately one week from now. The reason that we are waiting a week is to see if the wormhole travel has any adverse effects on you.”
That’s really confidence inspiring...

“So,” the doctor says as she brings her hands together, “ready?”

“As I’ll ever be, I suppose.”

Not really. Honestly you would much rather just refuse, but despite all the usefulness you have, you’re well aware of what the leadership of Frontier Laboratories does to unruly staff, be they clone or otherwise.

Emma turns to one of her assistants who is standing by the wormhole gate and barks in order to start the machine. With a rumble and crackle of power, the inside of the archway lights up in a laser red color that begins to slowly expand. In just under a minute, it’s ready. The inside of the archway is glowing an ominous blood red that looks a little more dangerous than you would’ve liked. Still, you step forward into the aura of red and feel goosebumps immediately breakout all over your body. There is something distinctly unnatural about this machine.

“Here we go!”

The assistant presses a button on the control terminal of the machine, when a warning klaxon suddenly roars out over every other bit of noise.

You feel your heart jump into your throat. Was this supposed to happen? It gets louder, and looks of panic immediately break out across everyone in the laboratory. Many begin to run and scramble towards the multiple ClearTrans near the back of the room.

“Power failure! It’s destabilizing! Everyone make way!” an assistant shouts.

“Oh god! I don’t want to die!” exclaims another.

“0451! Get out of there!” someone screams.

Before you can even move, your whole being erupts into unbelievable pain. Never before had you been in such agony. It’s like someone replaced your blood with gasoline and set you on fire. Why? Why did you choose to just go along with this? Could you have avoided this all by simply refusing? You have no time to lament upon it anymore, as your world goes black right after a blinding flare of light and the sound of metal being crushed.

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Celestia sits upon her throne as she sorts through a lengthy pile of paperwork. It seems that the duties of the princess are never done; the stack of papers seems to grow whenever she takes her eyes off of it. Today has been a rather boring and uneventful day. Play nice with the nobles, squabble with the council, a rushed lunch... Up until now. The days seem to be melding together almost seamlessly with each one that passes. It’s almost maddening.

Without any warning, a guard barrels through the doors of throne room with a wild look in his eyes. Something seems to have spooked him so horribly that the guard stallion had broken the the stoic façade that the gold clad ponies have become known for. Maybe this will be something interesting? Celestia dearly hoped so. Right after hearing what the guard has to say, she immediately takes it back.

“Princess! News from the sensor team! Something...something has broken through the aether into this world!”

Chapter 1

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Celestia feels her lips tug downward into a frown. Surely this poor guard must be mistaken? There haven't been any trans-dimensional beings in Equestria since Discord. After all, breaking through the spatial veil known as ‘the aether’ requires far more power than any mortal being can hope to produce. With Faust as the only exception, of course.

“My loyal guard, I believe you may have heard incorrectly. There is almost zero probability that any sort of being from beyond the aether could have landed in Equestria. In fact, I’m sure that this must be a case where somepony has been mistaken,” Celestia replies, even if she doesn’t fully think that.

The guard shifts uneasily, having been put into an awkward position by such a solid rebuttal. “Princess, I beg pardon for any impudence on my part, but the lead sensor told me that ‘Something has emerged from beyond the veil’. I do not claim to be an expert when it comes to their roundabout speech, but I cannot form any other conclusion on the origin of this ‘something’ other than it coming from the aether...”

Celestia does not let her frown grow, even though she is feeling more than a hoofful of distress thanks to the words of her guard. This is a first for Celestia, not something that she can say lightly. When Discord appeared, he almost immediately began making trouble, which made the decision on what to do with the spirit obvious. So far, however, nothing has gone wrong or otherwise shown to have been out of place. That almost certainly rules out taking some form of aggressive action against the traveler without some form of provocation. Something unusual must be at play here... she can only hope that it’s something that can be dealt with.

Wait, what is she thinking? There’s no definitive proof that this traveler exists yet. Celestia needs to go and visit the sensor team for herself before anything else can be done. Rising from her throne, the sun deity begins the walk to the sensor chambers while motioning for her guard to follow. Celestia’s steps are devoid of their usual unnatural grace in the face of the urgent situation.

The walk through the extravagant halls of Canterlot Castle is brisk and silent. Not one pony dares to stop the princess after they see the serious expression adorning the muzzle of the usually cheerful ruler. The guard, despite being larger than an average stallion, almost has to run in order to keep up with the long strides of his princess. Through the countless hallways and corridors of Equestria’s capitol building, the pair of ponies come to a rather nondescript door with a single guard standing to the right of it.

Giving the stallion at her side a nod, he returns to his post at the opposite side of the door and takes a breather from having to keep pace with the royal sister. Celestia stops herself at the threshold of the sensor chambers and steels herself.

There are uncountable oddities in this world, and the sensors can probably count themselves among them. More than once, she’s had daring subjects come and try to interact with the sensors, only to leave feeling jaded and disoriented with what the unusual ponies had to say to them. An even smaller number had been driven mad with the information the sensors had revealed to them, their minds unable to fully cope with information that they were not supposed to have.

Celestia tightens her grip on her magic and fortifies the psychic barriers around her mind as she schools her face into a look of total impassiveness. No matter how useful they may be, these ponies are dangerous and should be treated as such. They are currently her only lead on whether this ‘traveler’ is a real being or only a hoax produced by mispronounced words. They should know, seeing as how they are from beyond the aether themselves...

With no actions on her part, the door glides open silently on oiled hinges, revealing to her a circular, windowless, white marble room. The guards by the door tense, showing their subtle discomfort even though they are far from directly exposed to their charges. With a deep breath, Celestia walks forward into the room and the doors quietly close behind her on their own.

In the center of the room are six white cloaked forms sitting on equally white cushions surrounding a colossal crystal ball that hovers slightly off the ground. The whole room is silent as the grave despite the fact that any noise at all should echo loudly in the enclosed space. Everything is illuminated by a light without a source, giving everything in the room a curious and somewhat nauseating flat appearance from the lack of shadows.

With a feeling of dread that she cannot shake, Celestia feels the fur on the back of her neck stand up. This room had been altered some time ago by the sensors for their own pleasure. Just how unnatural everything is-

“-Makes you uneasy.”

The sun princess almost jumps and feels her heart skip a beat from the sudden words from the robed figure closest to her. A surge of shame overtakes her from being startled so easily.

“It’s not anything to be ashamed of, your Majesty.”

The words refuse to echo in the empty room. They leave behind a deafening silence in the wake of the previous noise.

Celestia scowls and further tightens the shields around her mind, blocking out the subtle signature of an invader like she would pull a splinter from her skin. ”It would do you well to remember who you are dealing with, sensor. I can’t help but find my patience severely tried with such invasions of privacy,” she says threateningly.

The princess can’t discern any reaction thanks to the baggy hooded cloaks that the sensors insist on wearing.

“But enough of that, I believe you called me here for a reason?”

The cloaked beings look around at each other, then to the enormous crystal ball in the center of the room. There is no doubt that a silent conversation has gone through them. The one closest to her speaks up once more. “Indeed, as the brute outside may have informed you, a surprising breach has occurred in the wider world. Something has arrived here, something foreign, alien even.”

They aren’t mincing their words... under normal circumstances anything that comes from these individuals is always worded deceptively. This must be a grave matter.

“What can you tell me of the traveler? What is it?” the ruler asks, hoping they knew.

The speaker seems to think to himself, at least Celestia thinks it’s a he. They hadn’t objected to being referred to as male. ”From the little we have initially gathered, it was sent here by artificial means. No magic, no special powers on its part. That is all we have at the moment.”

Celestia nods thoughtfully, her aurora colored mane bobbing in an unseen wind. “I see. Show me,” she orders, motioning towards the crystal ball.

“Oh? Why should we? All who seem to come here only want visions to satisfy their desires. Selfish desires, I may add,” one next to the previous speaker says with an undertone of contempt. “Many of the ignorant ones cannot even cope with what we reveal. How do we know what you will use our power for? We don’t need to lower ourselves.”

The others turn their heads to the speaker in alarm.

Celestia, however, takes it all in stride. Turning her amethyst gaze to the one who spoke out, she meets a pair of milky, white, unseeing eyes and a black, featureless face of a pony from beneath the hood. “Have you forgotten the deal we’ve made? I shelter you from the harsh outside, and you provide me with your abilities when I call upon them. It’s a simple contract that I don’t believe we need to go over anymore,” she says coolly. “However...”

She really doesn’t want to do this, it’s not the way she enjoys solving problems, but it seems the only thing aetheral beings understand outside their own hubris is force. Discord was a prime example. Celestia releases a faint fraction of her magic over her body, enveloping it in a shining golden glow. However, was Celestia considers ‘a fraction’, others would see as ‘colossal’.

An insane pressure bears down on the occupants of the room, forcing many of them to gasp as their breath is stolen. It’s as if a two-ton weight was put on their shoulders. The white marble around Celestia’s gold-clad hooves cracks like glass, unable to deal with the incredible stress of the alicorn’s titanic surge of energy. The whole room begins to rumble, making the marble its composed out of groan and threaten to buckle. All in all, one could mistake the frightening atmosphere as the wrath of an angry god. Considering who is causing it, others would just go ahead and call it that.

Quick as it came, Celestia withdraws the magic and leaves the room as it once was. ”...I am willing to... renegotiate our terms,” she concludes quietly.

None of the sensors are willing to speak, all of them too cowed by the display. The wrath of an alicorn is something to avoid indeed.

“Well?”

The first one shakes himself out of his stupor and clears his throat. “Of course, my liege. We will do as you bid. Please forgive the foolish one, he is young and prideful.”

Turning back to the crystal ball, he and the others concentrate on the sphere with frightening intensity as they all mutter to themselves under their breath.

The air begins to crackle and hum around the ball as the sensors pour their clairvoyant power into it. It begins to shine brightly, before an image in the center slowly comes into focus, showing...

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Time unknown

‘This unit is rather cold’

Inquisitive eyes set into a stoic face look around and take in their surroundings, taking special note of the other units. They do not seem bothered by the low temperature of the busy laboratory. It’s as if they couldn’t feel it, or are just ignoring it. But how? This unit cannot help but find the cold... what is the word that the white cloaked order-givers used? Unpleasant? That is the word that describes something that the order-givers would find worthy of devoting energy to avoid, correct? Correct word or not, this unit would still rather find a place with a higher ambient temperature to... to...

This unit cannot think of a logical reason why, but it would still be willing to find a warmer area even with no directive to do so. It’s silent for several more minutes, and the order-givers that wanted this collection of units for something they had in mind still has not arrived.

This gives plenty of time for the unit think. What a curious ability, the power to articulate and record words, sounds and images within the mind. It allows for so many things, more things than this unit cares to name. When did this unit gain such an ability? It’s difficult to remember, everything before simply seemed to run together into an incomprehensible mess.

The unit looks back over his supposed ‘brothers’, who still seem unbothered by anything taking place around them, whether it be lesser order-givers rushing about, the sounds of the laboratory, or anything else. Then, a sudden thought strikes this unit. What if the others cannot think? What if that’s why they find the world around them so uninteresting?

Such a conclusion is... troubling. But why would they not? According to the order-givers, all the units are created to be the same. They say that they do not falsify information, and thus far, this unit has had no evidence to prove otherwise.

In the furthest recesses of the units mind, something says that proof would not matter either way. Back to the current objective, what if the others are unable to reason? What does that make this unit?

Heart-rate takes a sudden spike. What does such a symptom mean? So many questions, and not a single answer. Such a state is... frustrating.

Frustrating? Yes, it is the word that currently describes this state in the most complete manner. The inquisitive eyes look back over the identical others, who stand as unmoving and unresponsive as ever. It’s very plain now: this unit is unique among them.

What does that mean for this unit? Another new, unpleasant feeling comes over the unit. Is this what the order-givers call loneliness? More information will need to be gathered.

In a rush, consciousness greets you in a shock, not unlike a bucket of cold water to the face. You immediately try to sit up from your position on your back, only to hiss in pain from the sudden movement.

Standing slowly, you move a hand to your back and lightly prod where the sharp stinging sensation came from. Looking back in your hand, you see more blood than you would have liked. What happened? Why in the world is there a huge gash in your back?

Wait, the wormhole generator, it had a catastrophic failure... and you survived? That must be the luckiest break you’ve ever had.

Well, maybe. The whole incident with the experimental growth serum and those rats was something you barely got out of, but enough of that. “Ugh...” you groan as you ward away all those unpleasant thoughts and take stock of your surroundings. It seems that you landed a lightly forested area around mid-day, filled with mid-sized trees, foliage, and the cries of various birds and animals. It’s rather relaxing, really.

Taking a deep breath, you smell almost unnaturally fresh air and loamy soil that seems free of any chemicals. The locals of Glade must keep an extra sharp eye out for the environment. Idly, you wonder if all of Tiberias II is like this. “That’s certainly a pleasant turn of things. Seems like even the rural areas on any planet can’t help but pollute the place until everything is caustic,” you remark to yourself.

Feeling around on your pants, you find that your jars of nanomachines are undamaged. You dig in your pocket and find the beacon that Emma gave you is still in one piece as well. Taking a look at the curious device, you can’t help but wonder why it’s a bunch of micro-memory cards attached to a central circuit board inside of a case. Seems like a single-piece beacon would be much more efficient.

Then you remember that the scientists aren’t allowed to give out any top-notch equipment to clones. “Fuckers...” Looking at your wrist, your watch-like DatPad is still in one piece, although there is a tiny crack in the corner of the screen. Not too big of a loss.

Feeling your back again, you realize that you’re going to need some form of medical attention. You’re not in much danger bleeding out, but even your clone-strength immune system can only fight off infection for so long. It doesn’t help that you can’t even dress a wound that’s on your back. It’s probably best to get moving before nightfall. You need to find the town, make a visit to the hospital, and wait out the week-long waiting period.

*Thwump, thwump*

What? Are those wing beats?

You look up, expecting to see a large bird or something else along those lines. What you actually see however...

Your train of thought comes to a screeching halt as you see a pair of small white horses wearing centurion-like armor fly—yes, fly—on small white wings towards a large mountain nearby. Whirling around, you press your back into a tree and hide behind it, ignoring your back screaming in protest of the rough bark in your wound. That... that was totally unexpected. Genetically modified animals are not totally uncommon, but they’re luxury items and no owner in their right mind would simply let them run loose like that. Something is not right here...

You stop, suddenly feeling as if someone is trying to spy on you. You can’t seem to get a single moment of reprieve. Your scalp prickles as you hear faint white noise in your ears. It’s the same feeling that you get when left unattended without cameras back at Frontier Laboratories. Remote Microwave Field Surveillance is what its called, RMFS for short. It’s a surveillance device that uses a bubble of weak, directed microwaves around a target used to form an image on a screen somewhere else after being transmitted back.

Someone is trying to use RMFS on you! That can’t be right. Glade is a small town with nothing even as remotely sophisticated as an RMFS, and the scientists back at Frontier would have told you if you’re going to be monitored, just as a way to ‘keep you in line’ as they would say.

As quickly as you can, you warm up your comlink chip and immediately fire off every jamming signal that you can into the open air, making the usual itch that comes with using your chip escalate into an uncomfortable sting that slowly becomes more painful. Sometimes you curse that one assistant who put your comlink chip in like a moron.

You hope beyond all hope that whoever is trying to spy on you doesn’t have the facilities to crank up the microwave power. You would fry your own brain if you tried to fight it too long.
Slowly but surely, the ringing in your ears and the static feeling in your skin subsides. The ones behind the attack must’ve given up. Holding your head, you rub your temples as you feel the beginnings of a migraine. This isn’t going to be a pleasant mission, you can already tell.

With another look at your very natural surroundings, you spy what seems to be a cobblestone road out near the edge of the greenery. Yeah, this planet must be pretty young if the roads aren’t even properly paved. Walking out to the road, you crane your head around to get a view of the area without the trees obstructing your vision.

The road stretches on for miles in one direction with no discernible location at the end. Turning around, you see that the road leads directly to the base of an enormous and extremely steep mountain, the top of which is so high up the summit and the castle attached to its side are high up above the clouds.

Wait, castle?

You do a double take and see that you are indeed correct: there is a castle town attached to the side of the mountain in the most precarious of ways. It looks as if a single decent earthquake would send the structure and all its inhabitants falling to a painful and messy end.
This isn’t the worst case of architecture you ever seen, but it’s not safe, nor is it Glade. You know those things for sure.

The failure of the gate must have sent you even farther away from your destination, if not to another planet altogether. A sharp pain from your back makes you wince. You still have yet to find any treatment, something you need to do immediately. It’s risky, but the wonky looking castle is the closest structure that you can see and you’re out of options.

“No time like the present, I suppose...”

With that in mind, you set off toward the mountain, hoping that you can find some help and that whatever the castle holds doesn’t prove to be even more detrimental to your health.

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Celestia watches as the bipedal figure in the crystal ball slowly comes into focus. The sensors seem to be taking their sweet time in performing their magic... Before the picture can become clear however, the figure tenses. Without any warning, the image in the crystal becomes fuzzy. Did this thing know that it was being watched and retaliate?

The sensors try with all their might to keep the scrying magic working, making the air in the room crackle with all the extra energy they try to shunt into the crystal, but alas, it seems that the traveler’s mental fortitude is simply a little too great as the image in the ball begins to fade completely. This... this is troubling.

How did it detect that it was being watched? A ward spell? A predisposition to clairvoyance magic? Or simply a natural defense? The lack of information they have is worrisome. The sensors try their greatest to re-establish the spell before they give up, their shoulders slumping as they pant in a surprising show of mortality. Normally they are almost unflappable.

Celestia let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. It looks like if they are going to learn anything about this new aetheral being, they’re going to have to resort to more traditional methods. Bidding the aetherals under her command a hasty farewell that she does not get a reply to, the princess turns and leaves.

She needs to assemble a team capable of keeping track of the traveler and send another team out to collect the Elements, both for their power and their safety. Who knows if this being has the power to sense Twilight and her friends connection to the elements?

It may seem paranoid, but it’s always better to play it safe. It seems that a princess’s work is never done... Rather than walk, Celestia opts to teleport herself to her sister’s room and alert her of just what is going on. Lighting up her horn in a corona of gold, the alicorn vanishes with a flashless teleport and a sharp “Crack!” of displaced air.

Reappearing in front of a pair of double doors decorated to resemble the night sky, Celestia knocks on the door and gets a mumbled “Come in,” in return after several seconds. She does so and lets herself in, revealing a sleepy Luna with a terrible case of bedmane looking up at her from a bundle of indigo blankets. Despite the serious situation, the sun princess can help stifle a giggle at her sister’s silly appearance.

Blinking owlishly, Luna realizes just what her sister finds funny and frowns before fixing her mane with a minute burst of magic. ”Tia, something tells me that this isn’t a social call. Why have you found it appropriate to wake me?” Luna asks as she stands from her bed and stretches.

The elder of the two nods. “Yes. Luna, I believe we have a potential crisis on our hooves,” she says, not bothering to beat around the bush. “If our available sources are correct, a creature not of this world has broken through the aether into Equestria.”

That statement immediately chases away every bit of drowsiness from Luna, who is looking at her sister with wide, disbelieving eyes. Thinking on what to say for a moment, Luna replies, “Celestia, are you sure? Something from the same realm as Faust and Discord? It seems to me like more action should have been taken already.”

Celestia turns and begins walking to the door. ”We don’t know that this traveler originated in the same reality as them. All we do know is that it’s not from this one. Walk with me. I’ll explain more as we go and get everything prepared,” she says.

As they begins the trek to the pegasi guard barracks, Celestia regales Luna with what she had done with the sensors, the very brief and vague image they managed to scry, and then how the traveler blocked them out. Luna is silent for most of the trip, only asking brief questions as she listened to her sister.

Once Celestia is done speaking, the night princess asks, “How do you personally feel about this? I can’t say I condone any rash action.”

The white-furred pony bites her lip in indecision. “I want to approach this with cautious optimism. Seeing as how nothing has gone catastrophically wrong and we have no reports of emergencies, then perhaps we can reason with this creature, maybe even gain its friendship. If all else fails...” Celestia trails off.

“If all else fails, we will be forced to use violence,” Luna finishes grimly.

“We can only hope that it does not come to that...”

Chapter 2

View Online

With a final grave glance at each other, the celestial sisters resume their walk to the pegasus guard barracks. It takes only a few minutes to reach a sparsely decorated hall with a single wooden door at the end, from which the sounds of laughing and chatter can be heard. Celestia trots up to the door, followed closely by Luna.

Without bothering to knock, she opens the door with a dull flash from her horn. Immediately, the sounds of loud, vulgar conversation and the musty smell of dried sweat assail the senses of the sun goddess. Celestia wrinkles her nose and lays her ears back in distaste, but immediately erases the expression from her face in favor of the concern she currently felt.

Under normal circumstances, the proud and elite guards of Canterlot Castle’s airborne force would never show any sort of alarm, regardless of what life can throw at them. It is after all, a virtue of the royal guard to remain impassive in the face of adversity. But having not only Celestia, but also Luna burst into their living space with expressions that bore only ill tidings makes a wave of concern practically flow through all of them, freezing the myriad of ponies in the middle of whatever activities they were doing.

So rare is it that either of the diarchs let their true thoughts be seen on their faces, that the naïve would assume there is never anything wrong. If a single glance is anything to tell by, then something of incredible magnitude must have landed right in Equestria’s lap.

All of the guards are caught flat-hoofed by the sudden intrusion and can only stare the rulers with confusion.

A pegasus identical to the rest in the barracks detaches himself from his fellows and steps forward, snapping to a smart salute immediately afterward. It takes hardly a second for the others to immediately form up in a flurry of scrambling hooves and salute as well. It can never be said that members of the royal guard aren’t experts at saving face.

“My Princesses,” the pegasus in front begins with a serious tone, “what is it that we of the Airborne Guard can do for you?”

“At ease, Lieutenant Highwind,” Celestia says gently, making the pegasus in front of her relax slightly. “We do have something for you. We require your swiftest and most stealthy fliers to be fitted in surveillance armor and ready for an immensely important mission within the hour.”

Highwind blinks in astonishment. “Your highness? Less than an hour, you say? I don’t mean to speak out of turn, but that seems like so little time. We normally have at least an hour of preparation.”

Luna takes the moment to chime in. “Indeed, Lieutenant, but this is a matter of national security. Maybe something even more if certain details are correct. Time is of the essence, so we need to act quickly.”

The pegasus guard quickly crumbles under the combined argument of the diarchs. There is almost no room for speaking out anymore.

Looking over his shoulder, he barks: “Alright, guards! Form up! Covert ops, front and center!”

In a split second the whole room erupts into movement. Feathers fly everywhere as the guards quickly rearrange themselves, leaving four standing in front of the rest.

”You have your orders. Get outfitted and report back here for your briefing.”

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You squint your eyes as you look up at the sun high in the sky. By your estimate, it should be close to one in the afternoon. That means that you’ve been walking for about an hour now. Taking a forlorn glance at the DatPad on your wrist, you pray to whatever higher power may be out there and once again press the ‘map’ icon on the watch like device.

A loading bar pops up in its place, and as last time, it totally refuses to move. After almost a minute and a half of inactivity, the DatPad beeps, flashing the message

[Unable to establish satellite uplink. GPS feature disabled. Would you like to try again?]

(Yes) (No)


With a dejected sigh, you press ‘No’ and send the little gizmo back to its main menu. Of all the places to get stranded, you’re on a planet where the satellites aren’t compatible with your standard issue DP. After some thinking, you realize that the DP could be the thing that’s defective instead. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the Frontier Laboratories had screwed you over.

You sigh and raise your hands toward the sky in a languid stretch, only to wince as the action pulls at your scab-ridden back, exposing little bits of the laceration to the stinging air. Putting your arms down, the castle in the distance comes to the forefront of your mind once more. Who in their right mind would ever build an olden style castle like that? It had to cost a fortune.

The tall spires of the superstructure still seem to be as far away as ever, but now you can make out tiny dots slowly flying back and forth between various points. Could those be more of the winged horses you had seen earlier? It would certainly make sense that whoever owns the precariously positioned castle would have enough money for genetically altered pets.

The feeling of eyes on your back makes itself known, and you immediately whirl around to meet the offender face to face. Nothing greets you back.

What?

The back of your head stings as your chip cycles through a number of jamming transmissions through a multitude of frequencies.

Still nothing to show for your efforts. Paranoia must be slowly setting in.

“Ease up, Anon. All you’re doing is just freaking yourself out,” you say aloud to yourself, even if you don’t believe it.

Several hours pass as you make your way along the dirt road, not seeing another soul the entire time. No matter what, though, you can’t shake the feeling that you’re being watched. More than once you stop to look around and send out a multitude of jamming and virus signals from your comlink implant, only to come up with nothing. You swear you saw distortions in the air more than once around you, however.

“Why even build a the road if no one is going to use it?” you gripe irritably.
Bringing a hand to your face, you gently prod it to find that you lack any sort of sunburn. How odd, you’ve been out in the sun for hours now, and yet you don’t seem to have even a hint of any sort of UV damage.

The sun seems to be the usual yellow one that is associated with most human inhabited planets. Tiberias II has a yellow sun, if you remember correctly. You don’t mean to complain, even if it is internally, but why are you not burning?

Things are just getting stranger and stranger.

You pad along the dirt road for several more minutes before sudden realization dawns itself upon you. After all this time, you had yet to see about trying out your nanomachines. Pulling a canister from your pants leg, you unscrew the top which lets out a faint hiss of depressurization.

You take off the cap and find a silver, shining liquid within. Giving the can a small shake, you find that it seems to have the same viscosity as a sticky syrup. What exactly are you supposed to do with this? Emma told you that you can use it for a myriad of tasks, but the directive of ‘control it with your comlink’ seems really vague and unhelpful.

The chip in your head warms up as you try to send the equivalent to a ping to the metallic goop, which surprisingly one send back after a moment. Taking it a step further, you try to connect to the canister.

...

You grit your teeth as the nanobots resist your attempts to connect to them. What in the world could be wrong with them? A standard comlink should be enough to interface with most, if not all computers. This stuff is just a mass of them! This should be easy!

Then... something flashes within your mind. It’s never pleasant or very straightforward trying to interpret the messages from your comlink, as it tends to be a vague flash of intention rather than a clear message.

This time, however, the meaning is plain as day.

[PASSWORD?]

_____________

No...

Is this really happening? Did you really get this stuff only to find it useless? Does that mean you’re out in the wilderness totally unprepared?

Yes... yes it does.

You’re outside, injured, and without any tools... It’s official, whatever gods there may be have decided to forsake you. It’s you versus the wide world, for a week at least.

Giving the metal goop another mental prod, its security remains steadfast and once again prompts you for a password.

This is horrible. Just how are you going to get around this? You could use a ‘brute force’ password guessing hack, which is where you have your comlink cycle through every possible combination of characters to find the password, but that would put unbelievable strain both on your implant and your brain. A dictionary password guesser would likely put much less strain on you, but it’s also immensely unlikely that any of the researchers back at Frontier would ever use whole words for any password.

Still, you’re not left with many options either way. Starting the chip up once more, you link it to the nanobots and begin inputting every conceivable word you can into the password field. Fat messages, all of them playing an annoying chime and saying ‘Access Denied’ pass through your head at a rate of about twenty a second. It’s times like this you wish that the com has a mute function.

You rub your temples as you feel a simply monstrous headache beginning to build. This had better be worth it. A sudden sharp pain from your back makes you cringe and reminds you that you need to pick up your pace.

Looking back up at the sun, you note that the bright star has hardly moved all this time. How odd, but you have more grave things to be worrying about.

So you set off once more.

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Four pegasi in a diamond formation lazily circle the castle, on the lookout for the mysterious ‘traveler’.

For the sortie leader, Corporal Nimbus, this seems like one big wild goose chase. They had to go through all the trouble of putting on the surveillance armor and being briefed with such vague details.

Really, the surveillance armor is what bugs him the most. The damn thing offers no protection and has cameras on the underbelly, the lenses of which reflect light and make them far too easy to spot.

The white pony sighs and raises a foreleg to his neck. Around it is a choker with a small, crystal bead set into it, which sends out multicolored flecks of light in the sunlight. As emasculating as the accessory is, the usefulness of the enchantments set into it cannot be denied.

A special communication rune had been sewn onto the inside of the choker, letting their voices carry over the wind to anypony else with another choker.

The runes, how mysterious things they are. Nopony truly knows where they came from or where they draw their power. It’s been estimated that the earliest discovered one’s date back to the era of Faust, over 10,000 years ago. Any rune can be crafted from anything and will work, so long as the arcane symbol is fed a steady amount of energy as it is created.

Too much, and you may overpower the rune or simply make it explode. Too little, and it simply will not work.

There are some that transcend simple enchantments, some so dangerous that the princesses have found it necessary to lock them away. It’s said that the forbidden runes are only ever called upon in times of true crisis. The bead on the choker, however, is nothing but a simple crystal embedded with a manually activated enchantment. In this case, optical camouflage. It costs some energy to maintain, but the enchantment bends light around the user so they appear invisible. It does nothing to impede a possible opponent’s auditory or olfactory senses, but it still has quite a few uses.

Although, Nimbus is sure that he, nor his team are going to need the invisibility.

“Sir?” a voice calls up from his choker, “I think I see something!”

The corporal focuses on his choker to reply and feels the runes heat up against his neck

“Nonsense! I think those weirdos in the cloaks just spooked their majesties. There’s no way that...”

The words die in his mouth as he spies a figure standing on two legs beneath him... Perhaps the princesses have something to worry about after all..?

“...On second thought...” Nimbus says, his voice unsure as he talks into his choker. “Come in low and begin a surveillance run on the target. Keep optical camouflage up at all times.”

“YES SIR.”

The small flock of pegasi yaw to the side and slowly begin to drop from the sky as they all disappear from the visible realm with shimmers of light. It takes hardly thirty seconds before the odd creature is within viewing distance, and it’s a nasty shock to the surveillance team.

All of them quietly marvel to themselves over the sheer unfamiliarity of it, as well as the offputting alien vibe that the bipedal creature gives off.

The first thing that is noticed is it’s freakish height of what had to be twelve hooves tall, then the fact that it stands on its back two legs without any sort of tail to act as a balance. Bipeds don’t work like that, anypony who passed basic biology knows this. So why can this one do so?

Up on its upper body are two long forearms that terminate into paws with long, dexterous looking digits on the end. Its head is devoid of hair with the exception of the top, sides and back. The face that it sports thankfully has a semblance of normalcy. Two eyes, a triangular protrusion that must serve as a nose, and a pair of lips that must serve as its mouth.

With a closer look, Nimbus can see that the creature has a huge laceration on its back, exposing scabbed flesh through the clothes that cover most of its being. That must be painful; perhaps the creature is seeking out help?

Attached to the side of its legs are glass cylinders capped in metal that contain what looks to be mercury. What use could jars of mercury possibly hold? Perhaps this creature has some sort of medicinal use for it?

All of that pales in comparison to the worrying pace that it’s setting to Canterlot. It’s been moving at what many would call a brisk jog towards the mountain city without any signs of exertion on its part. This thing needs to be investigated.

Right as he thinks that, the creature stops on a dime and whirls around with such blinding speed it’s a miracle it didn’t break its neck.

The pegasi freeze in fright and hover in midair as the creature’s beady eyes rake over their cloaked forms. For a moment it seemed like it would attack, then the strangest thing happens. The feeling of static electricity runs over their skin, then to the team’s collective horror, their camouflage begins to flicker.

Quick as their nimble bodies would let them, the four guards scatter and regroup just above the creature, who seems confused by the lack of confrontation. For a few tense seconds, it almost looks as if the mysterious biped would continue searching around itself, then the creature turns on its heel and begins its trek to the castle once more.

Nimbus quietly lets out a breath he did not realize he was holding. This thing is DEFINITELY not of Equis.

The corporal quietly mutters an order into his choker to follow the beast and remain out of sight, making his team reform themselves into a diamond pattern behind him. With the button on the side of the cumbersome surveillance armor, the four ponies quietly snap pictures of the dimensional traveler as per their orders.

More than once it suddenly stopped to turn and try to spot them with its unnatural speed, only for the guards to get out of the away just in the nick of time. Once, it stopped to inspect one of the canisters attached to its leg, only to replace it shortly afterward and mutter lowly to itself in a masculine voice. The rough, quick language it spoke may as well have been gibberish.

Well, that immediately eliminates trying to communicate verbally with it, Nimbus thinks ruefully to himself. But would that even be an option? For all they know, this thing could be hell-bent on the total destruction of everything on the surface of the planet. He can feel it in his fellow guardponies: all three of them would much prefer to try and do away with this threat despite how frightening it is rather than give it a chance to do wrong.

But the very nature of that statement is contradictory to the Oath of the Guard, which states that the royal forces are strictly for peacekeeping, leaving Nimbus and his team in a serious catch 22. With a silent sigh, the corporal looks up at the sun to see that their hour time limit for the mission is almost up.

It seems that time flies when pondering on the state of your home’s safety.

The stallion focuses on his choker once more. “Alright, our mission time is beginning to wane. Redirect course for the castle and consider this sortie over.”

He gets three “Yes sir”s in reply.

With powerful yet silent beats of their wings, the four ponies rocket back towards the palace as quickly as they can to report their findings. On the way, however, Nimbus can’t help but mull over everything he had just observed. Interdimensional aliens, jars of liquid metal, doomsday prophecies from cloaked freaks... it’s all enough to unsettle those with weaker constitutions.

The alien himself, in particular, worries Nimbus to no end. The thing is plain unnatural, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. But that’s not the most unsettling thing about it.

Nimbus had caught the creature’s eyes for a split second. The tales of old have weaved much lore about the articulation that connected eyes can produce, and it seems they hold true. That split second was all the guard needed to see the most disconcerting feature that the biped possesses. The shine, the spark, the power that the highest of living beings possess.

Undeniable intelligence.

To most, it wouldn’t seem to be too much of a problem. After all, what is a single being against the entire superpower of Equestria?

The ones who dare use that and expect it to be a valid argument are the most naïve. They don’t realize it only takes a single rationally thinking opponent to devastate an entire army. With that disturbing thought in mind, the corporal doubles his pace, determined to deliver this precious information to his princesses.

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Your pace slows to a crawl as exhaustion begins to set in. You should have been able to keep going for longer, but the wound on your back is sapping at your endurance. Shortly after the feeling of eyes on your back had left, you begin to notice something extremely strange.

The clock on your DatPad said it was about six in the afternoon according to the standard times of most planets, meaning you had been walking for almost five hours now. A glance of the sun, however, told you that couldn’t be right, as the shining orb hasn’t moved anywhere near as much as it should have.

You push all thoughts of the strange anomaly to the back of your mind; you have more important things to be doing right now. Looking up, you see that the mountain with the castle is far closer than when you began. It will only be another handful of hours before you’re at the base of it.

Something that catches your eye is the metal and wood track wrapping around the mountain to the castle. It’s obviously a track for some sort of vehicle, but you can’t place your finger on what exactly. Strangely enough, you haven’t spotted any sort of vehicle along the tracks or any other beings around, with the exception of the winged horse you had seen earlier.

Your head snaps up to the summit of the mountain when the unmistakeable sound of a disaster siren rolls down the slope like a wave. Worry begins to gnaw at your stomach. What sort of emergency could warrant the use of a loud siren like that? Did the castle’s occupants mistake you for a trespasser? Or is there something else at play here?

Only one way to find out.

Chapter 3

View Online

In the barren throne room, both Celestia and Luna look at one another as Highwind breathlessly finishes his verbal report. Celestia’s face is set into a troubled frown while Luna’s is etched into picture-perfect alarm. It seems like everything new they learn about this creature makes it seem that much more worrisome. Noteworthy speed, a language barrier, what can be assumed is a magic disruption ability, and worst of all, intelligence to the point of self-awareness. Not everything can be assumed to be going downhill, however. If Highwind’s data is accurate, then the traveler is supposedly injured and could simply be seeking out help.

The elder alicorn turns to her younger sister. “What is your take on this, Luna?”

“Well,” she starts, obviously being careful in the choice of her words, “for everything that we’ve learned, it’s still a woefully small amount. Too small to be basing any sort of decisions on.” Luna looks out at the city through one of the stained-glass windows depicting events long since passed. “If what you’ve gathered is correct, Sir Highwind,” she looks at the guard standing in front of the thrones, “then for all we know the creature could simply be lost, injured, and in want of help.”

“But as likely as that is...” Celestia cuts in.

Her sister sighs. “As likely as such a situation is, we cannot take any undue risks,” she says wearily, the stress of the day beginning to show. Both the princesses look at one another, indecision showing clearly on the expressions of both. Then, through some unseen conversation, the sisters reach an agreement.

“Corporal, tell Head Captain Shining Armor to put Canterlot on lockdown and begin an emergency broadcast for other major cities to remain on watch. Cite this as an unknown, class II biological threat within Equestria,” Celestia orders, her tone low and grave.

“Take care to alert only those who should be privy to this information until further notice; there’s no need to be inciting panic,” Luna adds onto the end of her sister’s order.

It pains the ruler to take such action, for she knows it’s most likely unwarranted. But the recent string of calamities like Discord’s escape and the changeling invasion leave her little choice but to take action before anypony can be hurt.

Highwind’s jaw drops from the sheer severity of the order he’s given. Do the princesses truly think that this creature is such an enormous threat? It’s unnerving, the notion that the equine nation may be facing down another abomination. As a corporal, however, it’s not Highwind’s place to be questioning his orders.

Turning after offering a short salute, the pegasus guard takes off down the throne room to Shining Armor’s office as fast as his wings will carry him.

The instant the guard is out of earshot, Luna looks to her sister with a troubled visage. “Tia? Must we take such extreme action? You know as well as I that this traveler is most likely just seeking help, don’t you?”

Celestia sighs and nods and affirmative. “I do, but the last few years have revealed that we’ve become lax in our security. Discord should have never been able to free himself, and the changelings should not have been able to infiltrate our capital with such ease.” The sun princess begins walking, her long strides quickly being matched by her younger sister’s slightly shorter ones.

“But do not mistake this for hostility,” Celestia continues as she glances at the stained-glass windows they slowly pass, the earthshaking events frozen within each one bringing back a medley of memories. “If the traveler is truly just seeking assistance, then I intend to welcome it with both open heart and open hooves.” Celestia’s tense face drops back into the serene, motherly visage that would keep her subjects so calm, before it abruptly changes back to mild distress.

Luna smiles inwardly at her sister’s statement. Never could it be said that the elder alicorn is hardhearted. “Well, I for one am interested in what we can learn from this visitor,” Luna starts jovially, trying to pull her sister out of her little funk. “What sort of magic it knows, its culture, what its home is like.” The moon deity puts on a wide grin as her inner scholar begins to show. “It’s all so interesting! It must hold information so sapid that the university scholars would find themselves drooling at the mere thought of a conversation with it.”

Despite herself, Celestia can’t help but feel the corners of her lips rising slightly at her sister’s excitement. Being totally honest with herself, Celestia is just as curious about the traveler as Luna is. For all they know, the world-jumper could hold secrets of the universe, life, and other unclear topics. It is going to be imperative that they keep the first confrontation as nonhostile as possible if they hope to learn anything from it.

It’s not a moment later that a blaring siren can be heard throughout Canterlot and the castle, pulling the sisters from their conversation rather abruptly. It seems like Highwind is faster than they gave him credit for. It’s only been several minutes since he’s been sent off.

Now it’s just a waiting game... It won’t be long before-

A pegasus guard pokes his head into the throne room. “Your majesties, a thousand pardons, but the council is assembling and they are requesting your presence at your earliest convenience,” he says apologetically.

Both the sisters wave him off and dismiss him.

Celestia turns to her younger sister. “Unto the breach once more, hmm Luna?” she asks, already knowing the answer she’s going to get.

Luna just responds with a face so sour one would think she bit into a lemon, fitting Celestia’s expectations perfectly.


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In his large office, Shining Armor sighs and idly straightens his red commander coat. He’s part of the military, not some noble. So why does he have to attend these irritating meetings again?

Apparently, the princesses don’t want the citizens exposed to the creature that is approaching the city, and therefore had him put it on lockdown. That’s all fine and good; the concern was more than well-founded, so Shining did as he was told. Now the capital is on high alert, teams of guards are on standby and that’s where his role should have ended until the situation required his attention once again.

But no... he has to attend a verbal fencing match between the hardheaded nobles and the princesses. What use is it to endlessly needle each other with words that are so obviously not genuine in their fanciful trill?

It’s simple. There isn’t. But of course, nopony wants to simply take the path of least resistance and do what needs to be done without needless conflict. It’s all about how good you look to your peers and how many favors you can goad out of strangers.

The Head Captain then sighs and shakes his head. He could be doing something productive with this time. Like finishing up his paperwork, training, or spending time with his wife...

The last thought makes him smile.

A glance at the clock tells him that he is going to be expected soon. With another sigh, the unicorn stallion leaves his office and begins the walk to the council chambers, his hooves sharply clacking on the stone floor with his brisk pace. Along the way he passes a number of his guards and a hoof-full of other castle staff, many of whom offer him respectful nods, and in the case of younger guards, looks of awe.

The winding paths of the palace are quickly navigated, the illusions and repulsive compulsion wards that cover a number of secret hallways Shining passes are plain as day as he approaches. Without so much as a backward glance, he walks through an impalpable tapestry on the wall into a dark hallway with a set of double doors at the end. It’s a wonder that the illusion spells, cast back during the time of Starswirl, still hold fast today.

The guard captain reached the doors and opens them, noting that he seems to be one of the last to arrive.

The council chamber is simple and utilitarian. The windowless room is made from monotone stone with a simple, rectangular table hewn from marble in the center.

Both the princesses are already at the head of the table, resting on large, luxurious cushions as they wait for everypony to show up.

Around the table are assorted nobles, influential merchants, guardsponies, and the occasional high level unicorn mage. All these ponies are here because they managed to worm their way into political affairs while holding influence in the public eye. Honestly, it’s obvious that most of them are here to improve their own standings rather than legitimately try and help with the governing of the country, even if they say otherwise.

Politics...

The only ones who immediately jump out at Shining are the ever haughty Prince Blueblood, who looks positively unconcerned with the situation, and the well-known entrepreneur Fancy Pants, who is wearing his seemingly eternal expression of amusement. Taking his seat next to Celestia, the eldest Sparkle child patiently waits for the meeting to start, being sure to keep his face schooled into the blank mask that his forces are known for.

A glance up at the face of his aunt in-law tells him that she would much rather be somewhere else as well.

Her eyes meet his with a raised eyebrow.

He gives an almost unnoticeable shrug in return, before looking at the rest of the table.

Celestia’s eyes twinkle in understanding, before they resume their dull stare forward.

Several other counselors enter the room during this time, taking their seats until there are no spots left open.

Celestia and Luna stand. “My esteemed council,” starts the sun deity, “as I’m sure you’re aware, approximately an hour ago, at 7:07 p.m., Canterlot was placed under lockdown due to the confirmation of a class II biological threat approaching.”

Whispers immediately break out within the council chamber. Everypony was aware that the city have been placed on lockdown, but not for such a severe menace! The only way that the situation could get worse was if the approaching creature were a class I.

“...Although the creature has displayed no readily confirmable hostility, magical capabilities, or other anomalous properties or abilities, there is the very real possibility that it could be elevated to a class I,” Celestia continues.

The room goes silent as a chill runs down many a spine. Discord was considered to be a class II. What in the world is this thing and how can it be so dangerous..?

Luna takes advantage of the silence and continues on in place of her sister. “It has such a classification for number of reasons. One, the fact that the leader of the surveillance team who spotted it claimed that the creature is, in fact, sentient. Meaning that it is likely capable of logic and reasoning.” The night princess stops for a moment to let it sink in. “The other reason is how its existence first became apparent to us. A special team alerted my sister and claimed that this visitor is not of this world...” Luna looks over the assembled Council with a barely suppressed smirk, “Or even this reality.”

A few stunned gasps break out among the group of ponies, even Shining and the other guards letting their stony faces show surprise. Not from this reality? What could the princess possibly mean by that? It’s nowhere even near feasible to attempt to unravel space and time on such a scale...isn’t it?

“Your Majesty,” says a hefty, beige-coated merchant, who flicks his short tail nervously, “surely you jest. If this creature belongs to a different universe than it would have to mean...”

“That it broke through the aether to arrive here?” Celestia finishes for him questioningly. “It did,” she finishes casually, confirming the merchant’s, and the rest of the room’s, fear.

It was as if somepony claimed that they had just killed somepony in cold blood that the atmosphere changes so quickly. No one talks, instead favoring expressions of varying horror.

Blueblood, if at all possible with his white coat, had gone pale as a ghost, his hooves shivering under the table.

Shining mentally ran through every combat technique in his arsenal, as well as preparing a citywide barrier spell, making the base of his horn tingle. If this thing proves hostile...

Fancy, unlike his fellow council members, had simply given up his expression in favor of a blank mask. No need to mirror the others and possibly start trouble, now is there?

How could everypony not be ready to panic? The aether had been breached, only twice had that ever happened, and only once in recorded history. Even little school fillies know of such significance. The first was Faust, who came to this world so devoid of everything, and turned it into her canvas. Creating the masterpiece known as Equis with magic as her paint, before gifting her kin with magic and her ideals given form, the Elements of Harmony, then vanishing.

The second, and most infamous, was Discord, who held nothing but pure loathing for Faust’s world. He saw it as bland, monotone, and an affront to everything he held dear.

So he set to destroy it the only way he knew how: By changing it all and plunging the land into disarray. The horror stories are still passed down today.

It’s almost universally agreed upon that anything coming from the aether causes cataclysmic change, and after Discord, that can't mean anything good. Surely this must be the same?

...Or worse?

“Auntie L-luna?” asks Blueblood, who is trying to rein in his shivering, “What are we to do? Surely there must be a plan of action for this, correct?”

Luna nods and smiles gently, hoping to calm her nephew along with the rest of the room. “Indeed, after reviewing everything, my sister and I have decided...” she glances around the room, “...to welcome this visitor, for we have found no reason for unnecessary violence.”

The room erupts into protest. Many of the merchants and most of the nobles are roaring in defiance of the decision, while the guards and magi remain silent. Though the guards can’t help but pepper the protesters with ugly leers for daring to stand against the princesses.

Luna, growing annoyed with the noise, takes a deep breath and prepares her impressive lungs to overpower everypony, but is beat to it.

“Enough.”

Immediately, the raging voices die in the wake of the almost whispered word from Celestia, before all attention is turned to her.

Luna childishly puffs her cheeks out in annoyance for being denied.

Celestia offers her sister an apologetic glance before she coolly looks over her council. “Look at yourselves, babbling like foals. There is no need for such. Who are we?” she questions without receiving an answer. “I will tell you who we are: we are ponies of Equestria, a proud nation founded on the teachings of Faust, who gave us the secrets to living without strife. We’ve used all that she has taught us and met so little confrontation over the years.” The alicorn bends down, emphasizing her huge stature compared to other ponies. “What would we be doing to her teachings and memory if we so blatantly turn away somepony who could be a friend? Especially one who is of the realm Faust was supposedly born in?”

Most of the councilponies look rather cowed at the short speech, many of them not willing to meet the princess’ eyes. Others, however, take the information well as an unsettling gleam enters their eyes.

If either princess noticed the less than pure looks, they did not bother to comment on them.

Everypony is silent for a few seconds longer, before an earthpony guard says; “Your Majesties? What exactly are we dealing with? And how can we keep this as under control as possible?”

“Well, Colonel... Earthshaker is it?” Celestia continues at his nod, “We currently do not have enough information to form a proper conclusion on what species the visitor is most closely related to. As for how to keep the situation under control? We let the visitor approach, and should it turn hostile, we do everything in our power to restrain it without causing injury, to either us or it.”

Although most of the other councilponies seem content with the answer, Earthshaker continues questioning.

“How can we be sure that its intentions are pure? For all we know, this could simply be an act to lull us into a false sense of security,” the guard states. “Furthermore,” he continues, “the travel between wherever it’s from and here could have left some sort of unknown danger on it! It could be carrying enough disease to start an epidemic, or be charged with excessive amounts of harmful magical radiation.”

Many in the room begin to whisper, the fearfulness of the room coming back. Both Luna and Shining gives the colonel an icy stare, ears laid back and eyes narrow, neither pleased with the earthpony’s choice to stand against Celestia.

Celestia begins to sweat, but forces the perspiration back with an unnoticeable spell. It wouldn’t do to let her distress begin to show.

Before Earthshaker can continue on, somepony clears their throat.

All eyes turn to the offender, who is none other than Fancy Pants, wearing his trademark charming smile. He stands. “My good ponies,” he says, his smooth voice immediately capturing everyone’s attention, “I believe that we are all missing a serious point here. As the princesses have somewhat indirectly said, we have been presented with a golden opportunity!”

Many of the councillors quiet themselves, some out of interest, while others do so hoping to get on Fancy’s good side.

The stallion slowly begins to walk around the table. “This is the emergence of an entirely new race into our humble home, and some of you wish to oust this historical chance? Something that is likely to go down in history?”

He shakes his head in disappointment.

The whispering stops as everypony begins to rethink the situation over.

“Many of the concerns here are very valid,” Fancy says with a glance at the scowling colonel, “but we have not made our place in this world for nothing. We have the means to keep everypony safe and sound as history is made...” By now, Fancy’s made it back to his own seat, where he sits and looks towards the princesses, his smile growing minutely. “...Don’t we?”

Both give the charismatic stallion a grateful look for pulling the delegation out of dangerous territory.

“But of course,” Luna says happily in response to Fancy’s question. She turns to one of the castle magi, who have been silent up until now.

Taking the cue, the light vermilion unicorn mare under the moon goddess’ scrutiny speaks up.

“Assuming that the creature has not yet reached Canterlot, it would not be far-fetched for myself and others to run experiments at a distance to determine just how we should go about interacting with it,” she says flatly, to the point.



“Agreeable. Please start as soon as you see fit,” Celestia says with a small smile.

Almost immediately, the designated magi in the room stand and make for the door. As soon as they find themselves beyond its threshold, they vanish in loud pops and flashes of light. It seems that the anti-teleportation wards are still in place.

“I assume that I am to be punished for my insubordination?” Earthshaker warily asks, as if expecting immediate retaliation.

Shining looks as if he wants to say something, but stops when the princesses look at each other.

A quick and silent conversation occurs between them, before Celestia speaks. “No, you will not be punished for speaking your mind. You were not allowed into this council to simply be a mindless drone to agree with everything said here.”



“Now that that’s out of the way, let us continue,” begins Celestia brightly. “I believe that the photos taken of the visitor should be nearly developed by now. When they are done, I will have them brought in, for I would like second opinions and enlightenment on our supposedly guest that you all could bring about.”

It’s only a handful of minutes before somepony knocks on the door and is beckoned in by Celestia.

A nervous looking maid with a large envelope held in her teeth walks in. She quickly trots up to the table, sets the envelope down, makes a short bow, and then turns and leaves.

A yellow glow the color of sunlight envelops the unassuming envelope, making the parcel defy gravity and fly to the head of the table, where it waits suspended in front of the princesses. A miniscule pulse of sunny light opens up the envelope and pulls out numerous photos, all of which arranged themselves neatly in front of the curious eyes of the diarchs, which gradually widen with what they are seeing.

Highwind’s verbal descriptions of the alien do it little justice, as actually seeing it is a jarringly different experience. Although a number of the photos are blurry given that their photographers were flying as well as being a considerable distance from the biped at the time, the few that are clear provide an image that’s difficult to process at first.

It stands on two legs and possesses arms like a minotaur, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s just as described, and even though it’s simply a photo that they are looking at, the eerie, unsettling feeling that Highwind described settles over the alicorns. Both glance at the other nervously. One photo of its back shows a crusted, cringe-worthy wound across its back. The black outfit the visitor wears was apparently not enough to shield it from whatever wanted to do it harm.

The single clear photo of its face is the most startling, as it shows the alien’s small, yet comprehending eyes staring right into the camera.

Several less patient councilponies near the sisters subtly crane their necks around in hopes of getting a peek of the apparently enthralling pictures, only to jump back when they begin passing the stack of photos around.

The councillors look over the photos with a number of varied reactions. Most seem as perturbed as their princesses were. The few council members who are affiliated with the Canterlot University or its numerous research teams seem to be intrigued more than anything. A minority would flinch at the photos and immediately hoof them off. The guards would simply inspect the pictures silently before passing them along.

Once all the images had been passed around, Celestia takes a breath, still thinking over what she saw as she asks “Well? Is there anything we can conclude upon?”

Quick but muted conversations start up all-around, every one of them centering around the alien now that everypony has an image to associate with the supposed threat. It’s so strange, so how could any of them possibly draw up even a half-baked assumption without the chance that it’s totally wrong?

Earthshaker desperately looks like he wants to say something, but a sharp glare from Shining Armor leaves him biting his tongue to still it.

Fancy Pants can be seen slowly rubbing his chin in thought. His eyes narrow as he tries to formulate some form of helpful input, but words seem to elude him.

Poor Blueblood meanwhile is simply doing his best not to have a fright induced heart attack. He glances around, eyes wide and teeth chattering. He’s a prince, not some crisis advisor! This is work that should be left to his aunts and their enlisted grunts...

After looking over the photos one last time, a brown-coated university biologist near the center of the table decides to voice his theories

“Princess? If I may?”

All eyes immediately turn to him, making the biology professor begin to sweat from all the attention. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea..?

“Of course, professor. Please share your thoughts with us,” Celestia coaxes with an encouraging smile.

The middle-aged stallion stammers a little at being directly addressed by a princess, but quickly pulls himself back together and stands. “O-of course, your Majesty... now, where to begin?” he asks himself as the photos are passed back to him. After looking at the pictures over again, he starts. “From the body shape, I believe that it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that this creature is a distant relative of the great apes, like gorillas, chimps, and the like. The forward facing eyes tell me that the creature also is likely a predator.”

The instant that the word ‘predator’ leaves the professor’s mouth, there are several gasps and sharp intakes of breath from the listeners.

Shining looks around the room, forcing down his own pinprick of fright in favor of a blank face. If anything that was said earlier is true, then the alien should be intelligent enough to recognize other self-aware species. It wouldn’t find the idea of a meal that could beg for mercy very appealing...would it?

After letting his audience calm down some, the professor continues somewhat self-consciously “...Although its body seems poorly built for hunting, so it’s likely a sound assumption that the alien is only an opportunistic carnivore and probably would not go out of its way to hunt.“

The tense atmosphere of the room lessons at the minorly reassuring revelation.

“That’s everything that I can pull from the photos. I would actually need to meet the alien before we have any definitive evidence of what I’ve said, though,” and with that, the biologist sits and makes himself look as small as possible, not at all used to an attentive audience.

Everything is silent as everypony fully digests everything they’ve heard in the meeting. An alien from beyond the aether with a class II threat label is moving towards the capital.

The royal forces are not clear to engage.

The first meeting between the pony race and the alien is planned to be peaceful.

And no one but the princesses expect this to work, not that anyone would dare voice such a complaint.

“Your Majesties? What of the Elements?” a wealthy merchant asks worriedly, breaking the silence in the council chambers. A multitude of heads immediately turn to look at the royal sisters, their eyes filled with hope that the six heroes would be involved. After all, this whole situation surely has to go well if the Elements are involved, right?

A hoof-full of others look at the rulers with frowns firmly painted on their faces, showing exactly what they think of such a plan. Shining is among the second group.

Celestia and Luna each share a quick glance at the other before regarding the councilponies carefully. Although the girls and their ability to use the Elements of Harmony would be an excellent contingency plan should everything go downhill, their... unique personalities might prove overwhelming should the visitor be peaceful, and it’s doubtful they would leave it alone after the situation becomes apparent to them. At the same time, neither of the sisters want to deny such a historical experience to Celestia’s student and her friends. There’s no obvious choice in sight; it’s a catch 22.

The sister’s eyes meet again.

Luna gives her sister and almost invisible shrug.

Celestia narrows her eyes slightly.

The younger sister bites her lip, indecision playing across her face.

The elder makes a motion with her head towards the south, in the direction of Ponyville.

Luna shakes her head.

She gets an almost imperceptible motion towards the rest of the chambers in return.

After a few seconds of mulling it over, Luna reluctantly nods her agreement. The whole conversation takes less than ten seconds between the siblings.

Celestia lets out a quiet exhale. “My honored council, it has been decided that the Elements will be called to Canterlot to stay for the duration of this event.”

Many exclamations of relief can be heard around the room, while others mutter their dissatisfaction under their breath. Shining in particular looks like like someone just insulted his wife right to his face.

Or put his sister in danger...

A knock on the door halts all conversation, before a pegasus mare wearing bulky surveillance gear walks in.

She stops just short of the council table and snaps to a rigid salute, waiting to deliver her news.

“At ease, my loyal guard,” Celestia says gently. “What have you to report?”

The bleach white pegasus clears her throat. “Your Majesty, approximately ten minutes ago at 21:00 hours, the subject reached the base of the mountain. It is expected that the subject will begin scaling the mountain at dawn.”

Chapter 4

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In the dawn’s early morning, where the first thin beams of sunlight shoot from the pastel hued horizon, a wind as cool as the previous night’s chill blows around the spire-like mountain. The biting air billows across your makeshift camp on a grassy outcropping of the mountain, the cold sensation rousing you from your shallow sleep.

Blinking blearily, you slowly rise from the prone position you were sleeping in and the survey the area around you in slight confusion. Where...? Then the previous day’s activities come back to you. The gate failure, being left alone, beginning the trip to the castle, and scaling some of the mountain before needing rest.

This is day two, meaning you have five more days after this before the rescue beacon you have becomes active.

With an exasperated sigh, you rub your temples with fingers sore from mountain climbing. This mission couldn’t have been something typical, could it? No, of course not, Emma had to have you test her little deathtrap. Now you’re on some forsaken planet with castles and flying horses.

On the topic of those curious equines, they seem to have disappeared in the wake of the siren that sounded from the mountaintop the day prior. Was that the owner’s way of recalling all of his or her pets?

You finally stand to your full height and gingerly prod the wound on your back, hoping that it hasn’t gotten any worse. A wave of nausea and dizziness crashes into you with no warning as you do so, making you groan and sway in your spot.

“Ohhh...” you moan lowly, almost ready to drop.

Bringing a hand to the laceration again, you don’t even need to touch it to feel the heat that it’s radiating. The blood drains from your face at the implications. Of everything you know about biology, the only plausible answer to the worrying symptom and previous illness you felt is that the cut is becoming infected.

Infected...

Death by infection is one of the slowest, most painful ways to die. More than once you’ve watched other clones been purposely exposed to toxins and viruses in Frontier experiments. The results...

Month one.

Month is correct, yes? It is how the order-givers sort out periods of 24 hours into more manageable pieces. More information will be needed, but this unit has possessed ‘thought’ for one month,

Even behind the thick layer of supposedly soundproof frosted glass doors, the ear piercing cries of tormented animals ring from behind the closed off room where the unit and five others stand stoically outside in the sterile white hallway, waiting for the instruction of an average looking order-giver with a facemask who seems decidedly impatient.

“Alright,” begins the order-giver, “today you lucky bastards are going into ‘chemical agent’ testing.”

Chemical agent? The unit knows the meaning of both words, but has never heard them in conjunction with one another. Does mentioning them together create a new meaning?

He looks over the unit and its brothers, his expression inscrutable thanks to the mask. He’s obviously is looking at something he does not like. Looking at a clipboard held in his hand, the man in the face mask mumbles to himself. It sounds like, ‘ I only ordered five...’

Only ordered five? What does that bode for the one who is not needed?

While the man looks over the papers on the clipboard, the ghastly background noise reaches a horrid, hair-raising crescendo. It makes the unit want to shift about. Is the noise making the unit uncomfortable? It’s difficult to tell...

Then, within a minute, it all quiets. Ominous silence reigns, making the unit’s ears ring at the lack of noise.

If the order-giver or the others were shaken by the cries, they kept it well concealed behind faces comparable to stone.

The man looks back up at the unit from his clipboard to the unit, his eyes filled with what seems to be indecision before he says: “You there, number 0451, go back to cryosleep,” he orders, making the unit compulsively turn and begin to leave.

Out of curiosity, the unit turns and looks back as the man and the others enter into the room. As the man holds the door open for the brothers, the unit sees something that inexplicably makes a heavy lump settle in its stomach.

The noise wasn’t coming from animals...


You shake away the sickening memory and force the bile in your throat back down. This is no time to be spooking yourself, as nothing good can come from it. Right now, you have concerns that are far greater. Considering that this is an uncharted planet, the infection that you have is likely totally foreign and could very well be lethal if you don’t get treated immediately. They say that diseases and such are almost always fine tuned for a narrow selection of creatures. Of course, you had to fall within the range of “almost”. Sometimes it seems that the universe just likes to give you a kick in the ass for no reason.

You force that thought away as well. Being pessimistic has never helped you before and will likely never help you in the future.

“So the situation is looking bad,” you say to yourself as you take a deep breath of the clean, mountain air, waking yourself up. “I’ve dealt with worse.”

All you need to do is make it to the top of the mountain before the infection gets worse. The lack of food or water in the last day may have put a stopper on your plans if you were a normal human. As a clone, however, the occasional fast was nothing for you. It would be another two or three days before you absolutely had to stop for food.

Water is a bit trickier. Another twelve or so hours would be all right, but anything after that is going to turn into a struggle. An additional issue with that is knowing if any water you come across is going to be clean or not.

In a worst-case scenario, you would have to play with your comlink some and see if you can’t make your body prioritize destroying harmful microbes in water that you find over fighting infection. Your wound would fester and become more painful, but the sort of disease that lurks in dirty water would be more swift than an infected cut.

None of this seems destined to turn out well…

Pushing the pessimistic thoughts away, you cross your arms and look up at the remaining two thirds of mountain you still have to climb. Just the sight makes your still raw fingertips ache. There has to be a way to make this a bit easier on yourself, right?

Looking down at your microfiber suit, all the pockets and pouches with miscellaneous equipment are still filled. Ditching this stuff should lighten your load a fair amount.

Spending the next ten minutes standing in the warming sunlight, you dig through all of your things and give the useless ones a one-way trip down the mountain. Noxious gas detector? Down the mountain. Some fiberglass cable? Gone. Bottle of machine solvent? Shattered spectacularly on a rock halfway down. Considering that most of what you have is lab equipment or instruments that are too specialized to be of use, almost all of it gets tossed in favor of making your trip a little easier.

The few things that didn’t meet an unfortunate fate are carefully set out and organized in the grass at your feet. No need in letting anything potentially useful go, now is there?

The first, and arguably the most useful is a meter of unterminated, white twisted-pair cable. It’s the closest thing to rope that you have.

Second, is a blue plastic ‘sensitive fluid transport’ bottle with volume measuring markings along the side. Nothing special about it, but it can function just fine as a canteen.

Last is a simple, long-necked lighter often used for lighting Bunsen burners in the event of the electric sparker present on most of them failing. Thankfully, the lighter has plenty of fluid.

Of course, you have the nanobots as well, but they are still useless at the moment thanks to their security measures.

Taking the three tools and stuffing them into your most accessible pouches, you go over your game plan for tackling the rest of the mountain once more.

Start password cycling the nanomachines again. Their potential for usefulness is far too great to leave them idle.

Climb the rest of the mountain and hope that whoever resides at the top is willing to lend assistance.

Make a detour along the way in the event of finding water. And that’s all she wrote.

“Here we go...”

The back of your head stings as the comlink chip embedded in it warms up and begins to assault the canisters strapped to your leg with a barrage of failed passwords. The noise within your head almost immediately begins to give you a headache.

Turning to face the least steep part of the outcropping you’re standing on, you walk purposefully to it and grab a rock sticking out, before grunting and giving it a tug, pulling yourself upward onto a few more jutting stones you use for footholds. Just as you go to wrap your hand around another stone you stop and blink as everything in your vision slowly shifts colors. Is something wrong here?

You watch as your still outstretched hand slowly shifts between a great number of colors, making you blink in confusion. What the hell is going on?

The cut on your back flares up again, reminding you that you need to keep moving and that you still have the infection. Could that be it? Are you getting a fever and becoming delirious? It seems so unlikely after only a single day, but you can’t rule the notion out.

The visions of the distortions you saw in the air yesterday come to mind. Those strange, almost invisible shapes were there long before you could have had any sort of disease as far along as the one you currently have.

Something is wrong here. That much you do know for certain.

Thinking back to the distortions, they immediately ceased when under fire from your comlink. Maybe this will work as well?

You take a deep breath and halt the chip in your brain from pounding on the defenses of the nanobots. It would be best to have it functioning at 100% for this, just in case something unforeseen complicates things. With a bit of focus, a weak wave filled with standard jamming signals is sent out like an expanding, intangible bubble around you, making goosebumps form on your skin from the static feeling.

Almost immediately, the wild colors you’re seeing change back to normal. It happens so fast that the nausea you were feeling earlier comes back with a horrid vengeance.

With a groan, you ignore your churning stomach and continue up the mountain after starting work on the nanobots once more.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Twilight sits on her favorite cushion in her library, the morning coffee on her desk long forgotten in favor holding in expression of bewilderment as she looks over the yellow parchment that her mentor had sent. Under normal circumstances, letters exchanged between the two mares are always rife with little in-jokes and distinct writing tone. Celestia in particular possessed the curious ability to convey her seemingly infinite wisdom and kindness in just how she worded her letters. Never before had this rule been broken.

Until now...

The normally two to three paragraph long letter has been reduced to a single paragraph, utilitarian message.

Twilight,

I am writing you to inform that a historical event is slowly unfolding. At the moment, I am not at liberty to inform you of precise details. What I can tell you, however, is that you and the other elements are going to need to be nearby in the event of catastrophe. We do not expect violence, but it is better to have preparations, and not need them rather than need preparations and not have them. Please gather up your friends and await a mass teleportation spell at approximately 9 a.m. It is unknown when you will return, so bring Spike in the event you cannot arrange proper lodgings for him.

Regards,

Celestia.

The unicorn scans her violet eyes over the paper once more, as if hoping to catch some mistake. But alas, the letter remains as uninformative and vague as it did the last time she read it.

“What in the world could this possibly be?” Twilight mulls to herself.

She puts her powerful brain to work. Surely this is nothing a little logic can’t solve.

The fact that her mentor sent this and told Twilight together her friends and be ready for a group teleportation probably means that everything is taking place in Canterlot. Celestia described the mysterious event as ‘historic’, meaning that this is most likely something that they have never faced before, or will likely face again. She also said that it’s unfolding slowly, which implies that everypony in Canterlot who is privy to the apparently sensitive information has known for an indeterminable amount of time before the letter was sent.

Twilight frowns, slightly upset that she wasn’t immediately informed by her mentor when trouble began to brew.

Turning her eyes into a pair of songbirds perched outside a nearby window, the unicorn continues to unravel the letter.

The most worrying part was the implication that the Elements of Harmony may be forced to play a part in subduing a potential threat. After all, it’s not everyday that something warranting the Elements use just comes strolling by...

Had Discord escaped again? Forcefully freed himself to inflict some cruel and unusual vengeance upon Equestria?

Even with the warm light of Celestia’s sun streaming in through the window, the scholar shivers at such a thought. She and her friends only prevailed against him because of his own arrogance, his own confidence that the elements were useless against him until the final blow.

The chimera-like spirit must be positively murderous after being beaten by the same tools twice in a row...

Twilight breaks out into a cold sweat. It has to be him. Nothing else could warrant such action from the princess. What if he was already on his way to Ponyville?

Although she doesn’t notice it, a few hairs spring out of place on her well-groomed mane.

No no no... if that was the case he would’ve been here already. Why would he fly when he could just teleport with a snap of his fingers?

Another handful of hairs follow the first few.

He obviously must have bigger plans. Maybe he’s taken over a foreign country and is currently busy amassing an army? Is he in the Griffin Dominion? Minos Isles? Twilight’s breathing gets heavier as her eyes widen at the possibilities. This could simply be disastrous and there’s nothing they can do!

She stands and begins to pace nervously, unable to keep still with the unsettling direction her thoughts are taking.

“Hey, Twi.”

She needs to get the others immediately and they need to gather up provisions.

“Twi?”

After that, they can see about that teleportation spell. The princess might provide for them, but it’s always a good idea to bring their own supplies.

“Twilight.”

Then, they can don the Elements and see about routing Discord before he can truly sink his claws into his new seat of power.

“TWILIGHT!!”

With a girlish yelp, Twilight practically jumps out of her purple coat from the sudden exclamation. She turns to face the offender as she tries to calm the rapid beat of her heart, and comes face-to-face with the frowning visage of a young dragon.

“Spike!” Twilight says as she puts a shaky hoof on her chest. “What have I said about sneaking up on me?” she asks accusingly.

Spike simply crosses his scaled arms over his small chest, unimpressed with his surrogate sister. “I’ve been standing here for a few minutes now trying to get your attention...” he says.

Twilight has the decency to smile embarrassedly at the revelation. “Er, sorry. What exactly do you need?”

“What I need is for you to stop freaking out,” he says before pointing to the parchment on Twilight’s desk. “Ever since that arrived, all you’ve done was stare at it and spaz out. You were starting to worry me.”

If the unicorn was embarrassed before, she’s positively mortified now as her glowing cheeks would indicate. Was she really having such a fit that Spike felt the need to pull her out of it? Way to go, Twilight, way to go...

Clearing her throat and forcing the red away from her cheeks, she says, “Weeeelllll... let’s just forget that that ever happened, okay?” Twilight’s eyes glance back over at the letter. “Say Spike? What would you say about having a few days off?”

“I would say what’s the catch,” he responds with some cheek.

Now comes the tricky part, giving Spike a satisfying answer without tipping him off that there could be a national emergency afoot. He may be mature, but there’s still no need to run the risk of frightening him...Come on, think of something! ”There’s some business up in Canterlot that the princess wants me and the others to take care of...so...” Twilight trails off rather lamely.

And ponies say Applejack is bad at lying...

Luckily, Spike’s not the most curious little dragon around. “Eh, I’m not going to say no,” he says with an offhand shrug.

Well that solves one dilemma, but one is sure to take its place soon.

Twilight smiles brightly at Spike. “Great! Pack up and be sure to be ready in,” the unicorn glances at a clock on the wall, which reads 7:01, “two hours, because we’re going by teleportation and need to be on time for that.”

“Teleporting?” the young drake asks, a green pallor somehow showing through the scales of his face. “Do we have to teleport? I really don’t like it...”

His surrogate sister playfully rolls her eyes at the statement. “I know it’s not the most fun thing in the world, but that’s how the princess wants us to travel to her. I don’t really have much say in the matter.”

Spike slumps his shoulders and leaves to pack, muttering about “stupid teleporting” and “makes me sick” as he does so.

With that out of the way, Twilight closes her eyes, powering up her horn with a purple flash of light and a gentle hum. A bubble of light overtakes her form and implodes with a “Crack!”, leaving nothing behind.

Time to gather up her friends.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Luna stands soundlessly away from the south gate of Canterlot, watching as scholars and rune-master ponies busy themselves with the first contact contingency plan all around it. Everypony working is holding a brush of some sort, either with magic or in teeth and scrambling about with purpose. Large, multi-gallon buckets of ink are spread about seemingly everywhere as the brush-wielding ponies quickly drain them of their pitch black contents.

Slowly, an enormous, and immensely sophisticated rune is taking shape within and around the gate. Not a single detail has been spared with this soon-to-be masterpiece. One misstroke, one smudged line, one brush bristle out of place, could turn the goliath magic construct into a time bomb set to destroy the entire south side of the city. Just the thought is harrowing, so Luna can’t even begin to fathom the amount of stress that the masterful workers are under.

They work slowly and methodically, checking everything multiple times for even the slightest hint of mistake. So far, it’s been utter perfection. A mystifying show of precision so pinpoint and total that one would think all of the good ponies slaving away at the rune are more machine than flesh.

Although she is no expert on the subject, there are a number of components to the enormous rune that Luna can identify. The most prominent being ‘paralysis’. Is that what her sister is scheming if the initial meeting doesn’t go smoothly? Paralyze it? Good. The south side that the visitor is approaching from is also home to the largest gate in Canterlot. All the extra room would allow more power to be tacked onto the rune.

There would be citizens watching the impressive display, if it weren’t for the evacuation order set on the south side of the city.

“Princess?”

Luna looks to her side, where a pink-coated unicorn mare garbed in mage robes stands straight and professionally. “Yes, my subject?” the moon deity asks. Have they concluded anything on the visitor’s supposed magic canceling abilities?

“Your Majesty, my name is Ley Line and I’m here to report upon the subject’s magic nullification,” the mare says competently. “A colleague of mine is currently alerting Princess Celestia and the council at the moment as well.”

Luna nods and remains apathetic on the outside, but is inwardly thrilled. Finally she gets some definitive information on the mysterious being.

“Of course, Ms. Line. Please continue when ready.”

Ley Line takes no time to answer. “Yes, your Majesty. The subject defied expectations last night and managed to scale approximately one fourth to one third of the mountain within several hours time.”

Luna raises an eyebrow. The mountain Canterlot is built on gets progressively steeper the further up it goes. The visitor is probably going to take a full day to scale the rest should it be determined.

The pink unicorn continues on, oblivious to her ruler’s thoughts. “As such, he was brought within range of our spells early, letting us begin the testing of its abilities this morning.”

Ley’s horn glows pink and several papers filled with charts and miscellaneous info are pulled out of her cloak for Luna to see. The auras around the papers shift from pink to blue as the alicorn takes them in her telekinetic grasp and looks them over with interest.

“As you can see from here,” Ley says, indicating a line graph with a hoof that has virtually no movement on it, “the range of the magic nullification when vectored in a singular direction is considerable with almost no potency drop off. It can nullify lone instances of magic so long as they are within eyesight or within a certain distance.”

Luna looks from the papers to the unicorn, the night princess’s question plain within her eyes.

Ley seems to realize that she had forgotten something and face-hoofs. “Sorry your Majesty, I suppose I should’ve explained this first,” she points the floating paper depicting a dot and a bubble. “Apparently the subject has a sort of ‘field of awareness’ where it can detect active magic even if it’s undetectable with the subject’s other senses. The field seems to be in constant effect for approximately ten meters originating around the head. On that note, we have confirmed that it uses sight, hearing, and tactile stimulation like us.”

How curious... Everything answered only raises more questions.

“Continuing on, the magic nullification seems to grow weaker when the subject is faced with multiple instances of cast spells. It took twice as long for it to dispel two long-range levitation spells than it did a single spell. This means that it only has a finite amount of resources to dedicate to the nullification ability. In the event that a spellcaster keeps shunting energy into a spell that the subject is trying to nullify, it turns into a power struggle where the most powerful of the two will prevail,” Ley says in seemingly one breath. “There are a number of aspects about it that remain anomalous, so further testing will be needed.”

Luna glances to the ink patterns near the gate, her eyes narrowing in thought as they trace the numerous black lines along the ground.

“Ms. Line,” begins Luna that she turns her attention back to the unicorn, “just how powerful would this rune need to be in order for the visitor to be restrained should it become unreasonable?” Really, the night princess doesn’t want the meeting to come to that, but Celestia’s cautiousness rubbed off on her sister, making her ask.

Ley Line looks at the ground in thought, idly scuffing a hoof against it as she mutters a few calculations under her breath. “If I’m correct,” she says, raising her head, “then with approximately ten to twenty sufficiently powerful unicorns bolstering the rune if the subject turns violent, it should still be unable to move even if it uses every iota of its power in an attempt to free itself.”

Luna lets out a breath at the reassuring news. So even if all doesn’t go well, this can be solved peacefully? It almost seems too good to be true...

“I think that’s just about everything, princess,” Ley says, breaking Luna from her thoughts. “Permission to leave?”

Luna waves her off with a hoof. “Of course, my subject. Do not let me keep you from other important work you may have.”

Ley Line bows deeply, before vanishing with a resounding crack.

Well, looks like Luna got the some answers to sate her bubbling curiosity the slightest bit. Looking up at her sister’s sun, the alicorn estimates the time to be just before 9:00, meaning the elements are going to be here soon. Since her sister is busy with the dithering council at the moment, Luna decides that she should be the one to greet the girls. Looking at the ponies still working diligently on the rune, she comes to the conclusion that they don’t require her supervision before she powers up her horn.

There’s no flash, no pop, not even a stirring of dust around her hooves. To others, is as if she just vanished. To Luna, however...

It’s like the whole world blurring into a mess of motion and color with her remaining perfectly still. Then as suddenly as it started, it stops, leaving her standing in front of a circular rune carved into the stone floor. The indigo pony smiles. With great power, comes great and fun magic. Instant teleporting will always be a favorite.

Looking around, the alicorn finds that she’s in the seldom used Teleport Hub. A huge, plain, stone room with numerous teleport focus runes carved into the ground in rows. Back during the ages where conflict was common, this room saw a fair amount of action in terms of troop deployment.

Now?

Luna sniffs and wiggles her nose, before sneezing and sending up a huge cloud of dust off the musty floor.

It’s mostly been forgotten...

The princess coughs and hacks before lighting up her horn and willing all the dust away.

Like someone had turned on a colossally powerful vacuum cleaner, all the dust and grime rushes to a point in the center of the room before vanishing. Just in the nick of time as well, as the the pattern traced into the floor begins to glow and hum lightly.

The outlines of six very distinct ponies and one dragon form within the boundaries of the circle. The light slowly gets brighter before it begins to fill the seven outlines like water rising into a container until all of them are full. Finally, the light begins to die down, leaving six disoriented mares and one almost sick baby dragon.

“Oh my that was dreadful...”

“Again, again!”

“That’ll put ya through tha ringer...”

“Whatever, I’m fine...”

“That wasn’t very nice...”

Luna chuckles quietly to herself. These six each have more personality than any other pony she knows.

“Oh... Twi? Did we have to do that?” Spike’s nauseous voice echoes throughout the room as he puts a clawed hand on his stomach.

“Yes Spike, we sort of had to,” Twilight says apologetically before noticing Luna. “Oh! Princess! How rude of us!” she says before bowing her head. At the word ‘Princess’ the other elements sans Pinkie, who just waves cheerfully, follow suit and show their respect.

Luna blushes and urges them to raise their heads. “No no! Please! There is no need for that! We are all friends here, are we not?” she asks as they all comply and look back up. “I would not have an equal do what I myself wouldn’t.”

The elements all look to one another in wonderment. Does the princess really think that?

Applejack recovers first and clears her throat, bringing attention to her. “Yur Majesty? Ah don’t mean to sound rude or nuttin, but why did ya bring us here so suddenly?” the farmer asks in her usual straightforward manner.

“I think that all of us are wondering that,” Rainbow chimes in as she spreads her wings and takes flight to hover over the group.

The ruler inwardly winces. She just called them her friends and yet here she is about to keep things from them. Scratch what she said earlier. With great power, comes great headache.

“Girls, I’m afraid for your sake as well as for the sake of others, I can’t disclose any details on the reason for your visit,” she says, feeling her heart sink at the incredulous expressions she receives. “Everything is moving too apace and we have no previous reference on a situation like this for us to properly anticipate everything. All I can tell you is that a creature of unknown origin is approaching the city. Your roles are to be supplementary at most. Should the creature come into Canterlot, you are expressly forbidden to come into contact with it. I’m sorry, but I can say no more.”

The incredulous expressions Luna receives all deepen, making the ruler turn away.

Twilight goes deep in thought as they follow Luna out of the hub room. What in the world could be so dangerous that the six of them of all ponies are forbidden from interacting with it? They were the first ones called when Discord made his escape. Whatever this is couldn’t possibly be worse... Could it?

As Twilight’s mind races away, the others and Spike talk quietly to themselves as they walked.

“Any idea what could have tha princess so spooked?” Applejack asks, sending glances at said ruler.

Rainbow jumps in first. “Whatever it is, I bet it’s not even that big of a deal. I mean, everything else we’ve fought have been nothing but pushovers, so I bet that this is just all overblown,” the athlete says confidently.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions, darling,” Rarity says, trying to walk her tallest and straightest as they passed a small team of handsome guards in the halls.

She gives one a wink, only to get nothing in return.

With a huff, she returns to the conversation. “If her Majesty doesn’t wish for us to meet whatever is making such a panic, then it must be something simply ghastly. I can’t imagine that centuries of experience would lead them astray.”

“Hmmm... I’m with Dashie on this one!” Pinkie cuts in just after Rarity finishes. “I dunno why Princess Luna says we can’t hang out with who ever is coming to town, but I bet everypony is just being silly about all this. After all, we’ve beat bigger meanies that have scared the princesses worse, so this can’t be thhhhaaaattt bad,” the pink mare says with a bright smile.

If Fluttershy had any input to add to the conversation, then she kept it to herself as she silently puzzled out just what was going on. A new creature is making its way to Canterlot? The idea of meeting a new species of animal interested the butter pegasus greatly, but she’s not about to go against the princess’s orders to do so. There’s no bunny stampedes or eternal night so this creature can’t be as malicious as it’s made out to be, right?

All of them were so caught up in their thoughts and conversations that none of them noticed they had made it to the Element vault.

The crash of a large tumbler pulls all of their attention to Luna just as she pulls her horn out of the keyhole of the vault.

The huge door slowly swings open on silent hinges. A familiar jeweled box levitates out the the now open security door in a blue aura.

Even if they didn’t take this seriously, it looks like everypony else is...

Chapter 5

View Online

As the sun slowly begins to dip into the horizon, you drop onto an outcropping on the side of the mountain you are climbing. You take in deep breaths of thin air in an effort to still your shaking limbs. It’s just then that you notice a taste so foul coating your tongue that it raises goosebumps all over your body.

A tingle of your comlink later and it’s gone.

You would have grunted in frustration if you weren’t busy trying to regulate your breathing. It seems like you’ve been having hallucinations on all of your senses all day, and your comlink is the only thing that can fight off the unwanted sensations. It’s incredibly tempting to blame your steadily worsening infection. It’s progressed to the point that you are beginning to feel clammy and your forehead is a bit hotter than you would have liked it. But any disease you have shouldn’t be so far along that you are experiencing symptoms so radical.

Even more mind-boggling is that all it takes is the introduction of a standard jamming frequency to push the symptoms away from you.

It raises the question, is someone watching you and deliberately doing this to you? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched as time goes on.

By now, you have gotten your breathing under control and your aching limbs comfortably settled as you shift into a position more agreeable with your wounded back. You’re sure to take extra care to not let your fingertips brush against anything. The unfortunate digits have been worn almost raw against the unforgiving rock that you are scaling.

Naturally, it’s far from pleasant to use them, but they should be okay by morning.

Holding your hands out, you watch as the scraped, abused skin of your palms and fingers very slowly knits itself back together. You slowly flex them. These hands of yours, they’ve done so many things. Created, destroyed, abused, been abused, and too many other things to count. In a way, it’s saddening to see your clone healing factor repair damage done to them.

You had seen military personnel, small-town heroes, rescue workers, peacekeepers, all of them laden with marks and weals they came across in their hazardous lives. It’s mystifying, you think. To carry the marks that came with such danger. Each little deformity could be counted as a badge, a story of some heroic act, a brush with death, or even a simple but memorable accident. Just the placement and angles of those marks could tell volumes about their owners.

You possess none.

”Hazardous” is your job description summed up into a single word. For everything you’ve done, don’t you deserve to carry tales of your own exploits? The healing ability the clones have always does away with wounds, and eventually scars. For it wouldn’t do if the illusion of total conformity was broken, now would it?

You feel a scowl tugging at your face. It’s all a reminder that you are just a number at the end of the day. “Fucking Frontier...” you idly curse under your breath.

Carefully dipping your still healing fingers into your pocket, you pull out the odd tracking beacon you were given. As you flip the plastic case between your fingers, you entertain the idea of smashing it and destroying Frontier Laboratories’ chances of finding you...Then you remember there is probably a back-up tracking device implanted in your body anyway.

With a sigh, you replace the beacon and settle yourself. You’re usually not the type to mope, but all the free time you’ve had has let your mind wander. Pulling your knees up to your chest and resting your chin on them, you continue to ponder over your life.

Frontier is everything you know, yet you hate all of its employees bar Emma and despise the establishment itself. Situations like the one you’re in are a prime example of why.

Thinking back as a far as you dare, you find only a handful of fond memories. Gaining total sentience, your first real conversation with Emma, Frontier’s verdict not to label you defective, and by proxy, saving you from being put on their ‘to be euthanatized’ list.

You blink as the images and sensations of each one flash before you in sharp and life-like detail, aided by your comlinks Augmented Memory Recall, or AMR function.

It’s a paltry amount to hold precious compared to a normal human,

But you’re not a normal human, now are you? a faint voice in the back of your head chimes nastily.

…but it’s all you have.

As the sun's last rays slowly begin to fade from the sky, you back up against the side of the mountain outcropping, hoping to avoid any chilled wind, and watch the steadily darkening sky give way to unfamiliar stars.


It’s a tense, uncomfortable silence as the six girls slowly trudge down the wide castle halls to their guest rooms after dinner.

The meal, while delectable as expected, had been a mostly silent affair. The few times the quiet had been broken was filled with the hushed chatter of the various noble cliques at the long, communal table.

The fact that they were told to wear the Elements at all times, like at dinner, didn’t help either.

The whispers were never said lightly and there always was a terrible paranoia that seemed to ensnare all who heard with its head-turning, wide-eyed symptoms. Even if everything was said with secrecy as its main directive, it didn’t take a genius to figure out just what the hot topic sweeping through the ranks of the castle was.

Not even the most important of the meal’s attendants were immune to the unsettling atmosphere.

Both Celestia and Luna had seemed to be their usual, cordial selves. Smiling, being reassuring. But when nopony was looking, they would exchange looks with varying expressions.

Shining and many of the higher ranking guards wore looks ranging from grim to neutral the entire time. Many of them would slowly scan the room with their eyes while their ears would swivel about at the slightest unusual sound.

Poor Cadence, who was perfectly able to pick up on her husband’s discomfort, fidgeted nervously in her seat the entire time. The pink alicorn had been away on business during the first council meeting and had yet to be informed on what was going on.

For once, Blueblood had been silent for almost the entire meal. Not even once did he make a snarky comment about anypony at the table. A look of pondering weariness bordering on fear and been present on him the entire time.

What is it about this thing approaching that has everypony on pins and needles?

Before any of them can answer the unspoken question, both the princesses briskly trot by while whispering lowly to each other. As if feeling the numerous sets of eyes on their backs, both light up their horns and teleport away in a pair of flashes.

It’s just too much for one of them.

“Aaahhhh!” cries Rainbow as she tugs at her mane, “What is with all the secrecy? Why can’t we just be told what in the world is going on!?” the pegasus practically yells.

A blue glow surrounds her torso, preventing the athlete from spreading her wings and rocketing away in search of the tantalizing info.

The prismatic pony twists her head around to look at her wings, then to the group behind her.

Rarity lets the glow around her horn fade, freeing her grumbling friend. “Rainbow, dear, the rest of the girls and I are all just as bewildered as you about everypony’s suddenly tight lips. At the same time, that doesn’t mean we can go snooping. Meddling in affairs not your own is exceedingly rude.”

Rainbow grunts, not deterred in the slightest. “Yeah, it’s rude and all that, but I’m sure we all had important things to be doing before we got called away. I mean, I was busy balancing the weather team’s budget.” The prismatic pegasus growls and tugs at her mane with her hooves. “I HATE paperwork!” she almost screams, “it’s going to pile up while I’m gone too, and I don’t even know why I’m here!”

“Sug, Ah’m sure Thunderlane or another pony can balance your books while you’re gone,” Applejack flatly points out. “That ain’t why you’re upset, Ah know it.”

“Actually,” Rarity chimes in, “I was in the thick of a rather ambitious project before this whole debacle, so Rainbow’s concern is a valid one.” The alabaster unicorn looks around at her gathered friends. “At the same time though, I will hold to what I said earlier. It’s not our business.”

The colorful mare’s face is picture-perfect betrayal.

“Well, girls…” Fluttershy speaks up during the pause, “we shouldn’t be snooping, but at the same time…”

Fluttershy, Rainbow, Rarity, and Applejack continue to debate quietly as the group slowly heads back to their respective rooms. Pinkie surprisingly abstained from the chatter, favoring a look of thoughtfulness as tiny, almost unnoticeable twitches and tics ran rampant with her body.

None of them noticed Twilight steadfastly ignoring them all.

After all, who has time for talking when there is a situation as puzzling as this to think about?


“Princess. Princess. Princess, wake up! Urgent news!”

Celestia’s eyes shoot open in her darkened bedroom as she teleports from her bed to the center of the room, already standing with her horn charged enough to instantly light up the room. The glow of her magic fades fades when she finds no aggressor, only a petrified pegasus guard standing in her doorway.

Oops…

The alicorn gives the paralyzed guard a small, sheepish smile. “My utmost apologies. I did not expect to be awakened so abruptly.” Celestia straightens up and schools her face into her usual visage of aloofness. “May I ask what is you have to report?” she kindly requests.

The gold-clad guard takes a shaky breath and composes himself.

“Of course, your Majesty.” The stallion pauses until he finds the right words, then continues, “The teams keeping track of the subject’s ascent of the mountain have reported a rather disturbing trend.”

Celestia’s eyes widen by a fraction and a look of faint worry crosses her features.

The guardspony sighs and ruffles his wings nervously. “The subject apparently continued through the night during its climb and is expected to reach Canterlot... shortly after dawn…”

The princess blinks and looks over to the grandfather clock sitting innocently in the corner of her still darkened room.

Even in the low light, the time on the large timepiece, 5:30, is painfully clear. Less than an hour until she is to raise the sun...

The alicorn tries to swallow, but the huge lump in her throat completely stops her.

The bedroom descends into suffocating quiet, broken only by the even ticking of the clock.

“My loyal guard,” Celestia starts after some time, her voice just above a whisper, “find Shining Armor, I care not what he’s doing right now, and tell him that the first contact team needs to be assembled immediately. Tell him that this is a priority one order and absolutely everything else comes second.”

The guard’s now stoic face twitches at the mention of a “priority one” order.

“It pains me to do this,” Celestia continues, not daring to slump her shoulders even if she wants to. “The last time I was forced to give such an order was during Discord’s release. I hope that puts this into perspective for you, my loyal guard,” she finishes grimly. “Now go.”

The guard rockets back out the door and towards Shining Armor’s quarters with no hesitation.

A flash of magic later, and the door closes behind him. Another bit of magic lights the candles in the dim bedroom.

With the new light, Celestia inspects herself in her vanity mirror, frowning at her haggard appearance.

The multitude of beauty products neatly organized on the vanity rise up, encased in a golden aura as they circle their owner, each one doing their job quickly and efficiently. As a trio of brushes work their way through her long and mussed mane, the ivory alicorn’s apprehension begins to mount.

“Why can’t situations like this arise somewhere else?” she questions to the open air. “I’m sure that the Griffin Dominion would jump at a chance like this.”

That in itself is another problem. Just how is she going to explain this to all the neighboring nations?

The unexpected return of Discord and the calamities he brought with him are likely still fresh in the mind of Equestria’s neighbors. To the eldest dragons still among the living, Discord’s first and considerably longer reign of tribulation is the base for many a horror story. News of the approaching traveler’s origins will find its way to the public ear eventually, and anypony with an education will be able to connect its and Discord’s origins.

Celestia’s legs begin to shake.

“But of course, everything ‘interesting’ must go on in Equestria…At least it’s never boring,” she jokes lightly to herself. It does nothing to soothe her fraying nerves.

A crackling blanket of blue magic coats her disheveled wings as she thinks, simultaneously straightening her large feathers as it burns away the previous day’s dirt and grime with loud, electrical pops.

The princess tosses a forlorn look at the door to her bathroom, where her luxurious shower sat, practically begging to be used. Oh how a hot shower would do wonders for her stress. For a moment, she considers taking the time to properly clean herself.

Another glance at the clock, which is moving far too fast for the princess’s taste, stops her.

“Of course…”

The blue magic moves from her wings to all around her body, scorching away the few imperfections on her ivory fur and reviving the luster it’s known for.

Again, she looks at herself in the mirror.

Staring back is the same motherly ruler that goes out and faces the world with a smile each day. She looks the part on the outside. Now if only she felt the same way inside. But where has her earlier optimism fled to? Everything seemed so clear-cut and predictable before. Now, it’s like expecting to strike solid gold while digging in the sand.

Of course, ‘there is no such thing as a foolproof plan’ as the old phrase goes...

With a sigh, Celestia lights up her horn and vanishes with a loud crack, intent to not be late for her own plan


You made a severe miscalculation.

Climbing upward still, you ignore the fact that the inside of your hands are raw and beginning to bleed.

The assumption that you would find water during your ascent was a foolish one, as you’ve found nothing. Obviously it was too much to hope for something to go right. The feeling of dry cotton in your throat is a thorough reminder. Faced with the choice of dehydration or exhaustion, you chose the latter and continued climbing through the night.

Now you’re just wondering if it was the correct choice.

The now closed wound on your back burns with every movement as the aches and shivers of infection relentlessly pound you. Once you stopped in an attempt to clean your wound. The lack of a first aid kit on your part swiftly derailed that plan and only proved to be more time for the infection to sap away at you.

It goes without saying that your palms have been thoroughly abused by the rough rock of the mountain. What little skin still on them is ragged and loosely held on. Luckily they had gone numb some time ago, meaning that you were free to continue climbing.

Lastly, hunger, dehydration, and exhaustion gnawed away at your will in equal parts. Sorely were you tempted to stop and rest, only to be reminded that procrastinating would make your situation worse.

“If these people don’t want to help me…” you look up at the now significantly closer castle, “then this could turn into some serious trouble…”

The sun is beginning to peek over the horizon now, meaning you had spent a solid twelve hours climbing, a feat that would have killed a normal human. You scowl at the unintentional reminder that you AREN’T a normal human.

Another look up at the castle shows the superstructure appearing even closer now, and is the sun the higher up than it was a second ago? And you surely weren’t seeing double either...

You stop climbing as a shiver overtakes you. You blacked out while climbing for some time...

“Oh man…” you mutter to yourself as comprehension fills you.

That was unacceptable. Next time, you might lose your grip and fall. You don’t even dare to look back and see how high up you are. How long were you out? The back of your head itches as your comlink chip stops assaulting the nano bots for a moment to answer the question. A message pops up within your mind hardly ten seconds later.

[Unusual pattern of neural activity logged. Unusual pattern persisted for approximately 14.6 minutes. Most likely cause is illness and/or cranial damage. Unit is advised to find nearest clone technician for details.]

Almost fifteen minutes. That’s not good at all.

Without a second’s delay, you push away the protests of your body and continue onward with a doubled pace as the effort makes you painfully pant.

Four more days until your rescue. You can do it.


The southern gatehouse of Canterlot has seen much action over its many years.

As the largest gatehouse, it’s a favorite of many a pegasus whom enjoy the challenge of flying all the way to the mountain city. It also faces the quaint, but forever active hamlet of Ponyville, making the gate the preferred path of flying quick-response teams. Usually the gate is a hub of activity for flight gifted citizens.

Today, it, along with the entire south side of Canterlot, is lonely and barren, save the collection of officials standing in front of it with bated breath.

Guards stand in a semicircle around the open gate with unreadable expressions. This is their honor, their duty to the crown. To stand as a living, stalwart barrier to any and all that may seek to harm the good citizens of their nation. It’s the creed they live by, all bound by oath.

Among them is their grim faced and fully armored captain, Shining Armor, one of the prodigal children of the Sparkle family and the greatest defensive magic user of the era.

Yet nothing stops the faint shivers running over them all.

Farther out behind the guards are a collection of thirty cloaked unicorns. Their postures and faces are hidden by the robes they wear, but it’s still plain to the untrained eye just how tense and antsy they are. Each one has their horn lit up in a corona of color unique to each of them, ready to activate the gargantuan paralysis rune around the gatehouse and subdue the subject should he turn violent.

Standing in the center of the semicircle are none other than Celestia and Luna, both as still and silent as stone.

Celestia’s face is the epitome of calm, a silent reassurance to those around her that soothes nerves and quells doom-ridden thoughts. The sort of face that a foal would expect to see on their kindly mother. Only Luna could see Celestia’s inner turmoil as well as her pinprick of fear. The optimism from the day prior is quickly beginning to drain.

Luna, on the other hoof, didn’t bother to hide her emotions, preferring to wear her face of object hope as she stares at the gate for all to see. Surely this traveler must be intelligent and perfectly capable of rational thought, no? If so, then they could very well be the start of Equestria’s newest age. Aetherals always brought-

“-Great change?”

Both the the sisters nearly jump at the unexpected voice.

Standing next to them, taking care to be in the shade of a building along the street, is a single white-cloaked Sensor.

Both Luna’s and Celestia’s eyes meet before they tighten the barriers around their minds, forcing out the almost unnoticeable sensation of a psychic eavesdropper.

The sound of armored hooves on stone echo in the empty streets as the nearby guards all growl menacingly at the sudden intruder. A quickly raised hoof from Celestia forces each of them to reluctantly back down.

Lowering the hoof, Celestia regards the pony shaped figure with veiled distaste. “Pray tell, what exactly could have coaxed you from your chambers?” she says in a subdued voice.

A small, perfectly white grin appears upon the unnatural pony’s face. “Oh? Do I have no right to be present for such an occasion? After all it’s not everyday that I am graced with the honor of the emergence of another. You could almost call our esteemed guest…”

More perversely white teeth are bared as the sensor’s grin grows. ”...Kin of mine…”

A tingling, almost painful cold sensation runs down the backs of the celestial sisters at the declaration.

Luna’s thin eyebrows knit together as she barely restrains a rude reply. “I believe that any sort of judgment such as that will have to wait.” Luna retorts with a scowl as her patience begins to quickly wane. “This traveler is already more approachable than you and your ilk, and we haven’t even met it yet!”

Well, she TRIED to to hold back a rude reply.

If the verbal barb offended the sensor, it did not show.

He raises his head to look at the rulers in front of him, the milky white eyes on his face standing out in stark contrast to his black coat.

“Hrmm… opinions and perceptions, my dear princess. Opinions and perceptions,” he responds airily. “Such things can change in the blink of an eye, even more so when the targets of such ire can be a boon when least expected,” the aetheral smirks knowingly.

Celestia’s single exposed eye narrows dangerously. Holding information from her is NOT part of their agreement… In fact, she shou-

“I would withhold any grievances for now, princess,” the sensor mockingly interrupts, likely reading her thoughts again, “for I believe the... guest of honor is here.”

Both Celestia and Luna whirl around towards the gate with incredible speed.

The sudden and unexpected movement makes all the other ponies around them tense and many of them to hold their breath. If it was silent before, it may as well be a graveyard now.

No one dares to move, as if shifting even the slightest bit would spell disaster.

For a long, almost unbearable minute, nothing comes from the gate. Not a sound, a sight, or even a smell. Then they hear it, a faint, almost inaudible shuffling on the paved road.

Shining Armor clamors as he and the guards straighten up and hold their formation for dear life.

The unicorns just behind them have sparks arcing along their bodies from the sheer amount of magic they have built up.

The shuffling slowly grows in volume, turning into distinct and heavy footsteps. A tall, two legged figure comes into focus just beyond the gate and only seems taller with each step it takes closer.

Celestia’s heart pounds in her ears. The closer the traveler comes, the more she realizes that there is no turning back.

A sidelong glance shows her that Luna is doing far better than her, as the younger alicorn stares at the figure with rabid curiosity in her eyes.

It stops some distance away and looks at the assembly before it, just far enough that none of its features can be made out. For frightening moment, it seems as if it might flee. As slow as can be, it continues forward and clears the gate. Its steps are like thunder on the empty road as it slows even further down to a lethargic trudge.

It shuffles into the boundaries of the paralysis rune, not even bothering to give it a cursory glance. It’s hardly a hundred hooves away now, making its flat, hairless face, its small eyes, and the alien clothing it wears is far more visible.

A few of the younger guards whimper and edge backwards while shaking like leaves, only to be stopped with a furious glare from Shining.

At forty hooves away, it stops. Its face contorts into an expression Celestia dare not label as a cranes its head around. Its eyes come back around and settle upon her and Luna

Both feel their fur stand on end as its disturbing visage becomes totally apparent.

It shouldn’t be frightening, but something about the biped, something so subtle they can’t pick it out simply screams ‘unnatural’. It’s an inherent feeling of wrongness that neither of the alicorns can shake.

Celestia pushes the spike of fear away faster than her sister does. With a deep breath to steady her nerves, the princess slowly walks forward despite her instincts roaring in protest.

All eyes are on her. Were it not for her years of experience, Celestia might have broken down.

She stops within a foreleg’s length of the black clad creature, who blinks in what she wants to call confusion.

Her eyes travel over it, as she feels herself inspected just the same.

It’s just as tall is she is, making for an odd experience since the alicorn doesn’t need to look down to meet its eyes. The physique of the creature is lean for its height, giving off a frail appearance. Considering that it climbed the entire mountain in almost record time, the frail appearance is rather deceptive.

Looking back up into its face, Celestia meets its eyes and finds herself startled.

The eyes looking back at her aren’t the eyes of some beast, nor are they the same of a member of some roughshod society like the diamond dogs, but of an intelligent, thinking, and very aware being. Right now, those eyes were filled with such weariness that the princess almost yawns looking into them.

Of course, it just climbed the mountain. The poor thing is probably exhausted.

By now, Luna had taken to her sister’s side, prompting the tall visitor to inspect her as well. She simply keeps her smile on full blast. That smile begins to wane when she looks over to her sister, whom she elbows shortly after.

“Tia,” Luna begins in a low whisper, “are you not going to introduce yourself?”

“Luna, I don’t believe that it will understand,” Celestia fires back in her own whisper.

“It’s still polite!”

“Didn’t I already say-”

Both are cut off by the sound of deep chuckling coming from none other than the biped, who eyes them both with dry amusement.

Then it raises a hand, making the guards all lower themselves in preparation to charge. It stops, looking around at the gold clad ponies warily before slowly pulling all but one of its digits into a fist. It pokes itself in the chest with the extended finger and rumbles out a single, foreign word in a masculine voice that sounds like a dragon chewing on cinderblocks.

Both of the sisters look at each other, neither one bothering to hide their surprise. It attempted to communicate first!

“Did it just..?

“I believe it’s a ‘he’ if the voice is any indicator, sister.”

Again he repeats the completely incomprehensible word, then points to the both of them before crossing his arms and waiting expectantly.

Again the alicorns look to each other before Celestia starts off. “Celestia,” she says simply, poking herself just above her chest plate.

“Luna!” Luna almost shouts while mimicking her sister’s motions, making both Celestia and the creature wince at the volume.

The elder alicorn rubs one of her ears. “No need to deafen us, Luna. I’m sure our friend can hear fine,” she playfully ribs.

Luna just blushes and smiles sheepishly.

Both turn around and begin walking back towards the castle while beckoning the creature.

Before either of them can react, the biped takes a shaky step forward, then roughly goes down to one knee with an unmistakably pained groan.

Celestia’s breath catches in her throat, all of thoughts about the creature being dangerous lost as Luna cries ”Medic!” without a moment’s hesitation. In an instant, two of the unicorns from behind the guards are by the moon deity’s side, silently awaiting their orders.

“Clear out a room in the castle infirmary immediately,” Luna hastily orders, “and have the best staff available on standby.”

“Any and all doctors you see fit to include are to be sworn to secrecy,” Celestia adds onto her sister’s orders. As an afterthought, she also says: “Have them set up several decontamination rooms as well. One for him, and the others for all the personnel involved here today. It would not do to have diseases start running rampant.”

One unicorn medic teleports away while the other rushes to the biped’s side.

Celestia turns to Shining standing near his guards. “Captain Armor!”

Said captain charges his horn in a split second and teleports in front of Celestia with a foreleg raised in a salute. “What may I do for you, princess?”

“Gather your stallions and have them take an escort formation. It’s imperative that we get him,” Celestia motions to the biped being helped up by the unicorn mage, “to proper medical care as quickly as possible without being seen. Teleportation is not an option as it may endanger him.”

Shining didn’t need to be told twice. One order and hardly a second later, all the guards scramble into a dense formation around the wobbling creature and the straining unicorn he has a hand braced against. With a flair of Shining’s magic, a light-refracting and sound absorbing barrier is put up around the entire first contact team, making them all the vanish from an observer's point of view.

Meanwhile, the unicorn in the center looks ready to collapse trying to support the gangly creature.

Biting her lip with indecision, Celestia walks up beside the unicorn and the traveler as she watches them both struggle to walk forward at the guard formation’s brisk pace.

A grimace finds its way to her face as the scene plays out. This is far better than the doomsday scenario she had envisioned, but why couldn’t there be anything more for her to do? Maybe there is something and she’s just not seeing it…? Ah. This would be a perfect moment to prove her pure intentions.

Walking closer, she waves away the struggling mage before taking her place just as the biped stumbled again, letting the surprisingly heavy creature lean on her as they walked. If it weren’t for her being one third earth pony, then the princess might have struggled under the weight as well. Instead, she held him upright with little difficulty.

Looking back at him, she finds him looking at her with surprise before he points to her tiara with what seems to be a questioning look.

Celestia just shrugs as best she can before turning her attention to the brown-coated unicorn mare walking beside her and watching disbelievingly.

“Mage Bright,” Celestia addresses the unicorn, “do you have any read on our friend’s condition here?”

The mare gulps and nods. “It’s not pretty in the least bit, your highness. From what I can tell, he is going to have a rough recovery if he even survives,” she says, making alarm run through the ruler.

Bright looks at him, or more specifically, the putrid, festered line across his back with a wince. “He has an infected wound, and although the wound itself seem to have healed, it healed OVER the infection. This implies that he isn’t properly equipped to fight off microbes native to Equis.”

Seeing the look of dread on the princess’s face and bleary, half-conscious worry on the biped’s as he looks between them, Bright hastily continues. “Not that this situation is hopeless! The infection is in its early stages. Some vaccinations and extreme diligence are going to be needed, but that can be handled easily. Besides that, the inside of his paws have been worn raw and he appears to be suffering from mild dehydration and exhaustion. Nothing we can’t fix.”

“I hope so…” Celestia sighs, hoping that after all this worry and stress, that she wouldn’t have a life she couldn’t save on her hooves. As she thinks that, the creature slumps for a moment in unconsciousness before rousing itself back to the waking world and weakly walking again. The action makes the situation seem that much more hopeless.

“He certainly seems to be a fighter, princess,” Bright lamely reassures. “We simply have to hope for the best.”

Celestia just responds with a disheartened nod as the group continues to trudge forward. Looking around over the shoulder of her burden for something she doesn’t find, Celestia can’t help but wonder one thing.

’Where did my sister go?’

Chapter 6

View Online

With a groan and several blinks of your eyes, you find yourself almost ready to fall off the side of the mountain courtesy of a loose grip. Tightening your hand around the rocky handhold, you sigh in exertion and continue up, determined to live.

The pain in your hands goes unnoticed by now, even though they’re little more than raw slabs of meat from the relentless trip. Your back, however…

A flare of pain makes you almost lose your grip again.

Your back could be doing better…

Pus drips from the rancid laceration every time you bend too far one way, making the situation that much more unpleasant. There’s no doubt about the state of that infection now. You’re pulled from your thoughts when you realize that you’re standing upright at the top of the mountain, hardly a hundred yards from an open gate to the now much larger looking castle.

Your comlink beeps within your head again and displays another message.

[Elapsed time since beginning of last neural disruption: 28 minutes]

“S-shit…”

Hardly a second later it seems, you’re at the front of the white marble gates. This isn’t good…

Had you been more lucid at the time, you might have remarked on the rather magnificent gold-trimmed white marble walls of the enormous palace. It’s like something out of an epic. You stop for a few short moments to survey what lies in front of you in a moment of clarity.

Numerous oddly proportioned equines like the one you saw flying through the air earlier are standing in a semicircle just beyond the threshold of the large, stone gate. Near the center of the formation are two in particular that stand out, even among their unusual company. It’s too far for you to make out exact details with your foggy mind and dulled senses, but one is coated in white while the other is black, or at least a dark blue.

What are all of them doing here? Are they perhaps expecting you? Why would dressed up equines of all things be lined up outside of an archaic gate? It’s absurd. Even to your mixed up mind this makes little sense. Looking down at your feet, the conundrum tries to run itself through your head only to find no purchase.

“But,” you mutter quietly to yourself, so quiet that even you can hardly pick up your own words, “why else would they be here?”

Of course, there could be multitudes of reasons, but none of them are readily apparent to you. Looking back up, you see that they still haven’t budged in inch. That must mean they’re definitely waiting for something.

Right?

You sigh and stretch your arms, wincing when the fetid line across your back burns and begins to ooze again. You’re out of options and running out of time. Oh well, no time like the present. Not so comforting thoughts in mind, you force your exhausted and battered body to move forward despite every pain receptor in it protesting.

All the equines beyond the gate stiffen as you start moving again. It’s not helping that your footsteps sound sharp and thunderous in the absence of other sounds.

The cool shade that the gatehouse provides as you pass it does little to soothe your abused body. It’s yet another reminder. Despite all the time you had spent outside, you’ve yet to contract any sort of sunburn or any other UV damage. The little fact seems far more impressive to your addled self. In fact, you almost stop think it over. You forget it a second later, however.

You clear the large gatehouse and look around at the creatures in attendance.

They all regard you with expressions you have trouble placing. Some with wariness, while others seem to radiate…fear? Most look like the first flying one you saw earlier, with only the barest imperfections and differences to tell them apart.

Others stand out, all of them having bright coat colors, a horn, and cloaks covering most of their forms. They stand a distance behind the ones in the shiny, golden armor.

Lastly, the ones in the center are undoubtedly the most unique. Both are noticeably taller than their peers and possess commanding airs. The white one in particular is just tall enough to look you in the eye. In addition, they both have a set of wings and a long spiraled horn. The manes and tails of both are caught in a breeze that seems to only meet them.

But what truly draws your attention is how they both possess tiaras.

The most common place to find such jewelry back home was in the form of painted plastic that would sit upon a child’s head. Used often by little girls to help set a role in games of pretend. The headpiece implied that the owner was somehow in a leadership position.

These two don’t look like they want to play any games…

You give your head a minute shake. This… This is looking too real to be a fever-induced hallucination. That wormhole generator didn’t actually blast you to an inhabited alien world, did it?

With your luck, it did. And you have no idea to how to go about first contact or anything of the like.

The difficulties of being a clone…

You bite back a gasp when your knees, shaking with exhaustion, almost give out and force you to stop. Just standing in place is becoming a struggle. Never before had you been driven so thoroughly, even by Frontier.

That’s saying something…

You’re so focused on remaining upright, that you almost miss the white and blue pair slowly trotting up to you. If it weren’t for the sharp sound of their hooves on the ground, then you definitely wouldn’t have paid attention.

Both stop just outside arm-reach, watching you carefully. Oddly, the blue one seems to be…smiling? Is it perhaps trying to intimidate you by baring its teeth? With both of them so close, it gives your hazy mind a slightly better chance to analyze them.

The white one is tall enough to stare you in the eye with its amethyst-colored orbs. Blue is about a head shorter than its counterpart, coming up to your chest. Both seem almost delicate, with their long necks and thin legs. The subtle but telltale lines across their bodies tell you otherwise, that under the soft frames is lean and whip-cord muscle. Their eyes sparkle with wisdom and age. It’s the sort of sheen that can only come from facing great obstacles and insurmountable odds.

A few of the elder lab workers back at Frontier had such a look, but never did they have the intensity of the alien eyes staring you down. Honestly, you’re not sure if all of the lab workers put together would equal even one of these equines.

The same eyes of the white one scan over you, picking you part with the accuracy of a surgeon with a scalpel. It’s a chore to not fidget in discomfort.

Blue simply seems too delighted in something—seeing you, perhaps?--to mimic the larger equine’s scrutiny.

Without warning, Blue makes a quiet noise in a decidedly feminine voice towards White, prompting you to look at her in surprise.

White replies to the slightly smaller equine in a deeper, but still feminine-sounding voice. The noise she uses sounds like a cross between a short whinny and a light humming. Odd, to say the least.

Blue quickly replies with a narrow-eyed expression and a short, rolling call.

Looking over, White finally takes her intense eyes away from you and to her companion before beginning what you feel is going to be a long-winded retort.

Are they perhaps arguing over something? Maybe they are siblings and squabbles are nothing new to them. The thought that these horse-like creatures would do something so… human makes you fight back a smile and fail.

Both whip their heads back around, ears pointed forward when you let out a slightly painful chuckle. Normally, you wouldn’t do what you’re about to do next. But… it’s polite. Right?

You raise a hand, pausing when all of the armored equines tense and lower themselves, then slowly extend a single finger a point to your chest.

“Anonymous.”

The pair’s eyes widen, both exchanging looks of eerily human surprise and hushed, garbled words.

...

And they keep talking.

And talking.

And…your limited patience reaches its limit.

“Anonymous,” you repeat with a bit more force, getting their attention before you point to each of them in turn.

Their eyes meet once more.

White brings a hoof up to her neck and quietly clears her throat. After that, she recites some elegant word in her language with a poke on her chest, just above her gold breastplate.

You let a small smile come to your face. Maybe this will work out after all?

Blue then takes a step closer with her face painted in… excitement…? then lets out a sharp, loud cry that almost deafens you while jabbing herself in the same place as her counterpart.

...And it also deafens everyone around, you observe with a wince, as the entire group mirrors your pained expression.

Blue looks around, her ears flattening as White gently chides the small equ…in...es… Why… why do you feel so sluggish all of a sudden?...No.

At the worst possible time, black begins to bleed into the edges of your vision as your ears begin to ring.

You stifle a cry as your back burns with a vengeance, angrily flaring in pain and almost forcing you to your knees. You need to stay up. Not now, you can’t fall. No weakness here. They might react to it.

Both White and Blue turn to empty road behind them and beckon you to follow.

Come on, Anon. You can do this. Was your head always so hot? This stone is cobble? How old? Maybe yo—

Focus dammit!

Gritting your teeth, you pick up one foot slowly and laboriously. Why is this so hard!? This should not be this hard. Setting the foot down, you wobble to and fro and do the last thing you could ever want to do in front of the equines.

You fall to one knee and let out a pathetic, painful groan.

Everything after is a blur. Panicked voices and the clamor of hooves on stone ring in your ears as of they came from underwater.

Vaguely, you realize that one of the cloaked equines is trying to help you up. For a moment, everything goes black as the imaginary din of crashing water drowns out any and all other sounds. Your sight comes back, and when it does, you find that you’re leaning against White, who is helping you walk. Her concerned face and amethyst eyes looking into yours is the first thing you see. For whatever reason, her expression reminds you of something you can’t place. It’s some fond, nostalgic thing that seems to escape your memory at the moment.

Right there, you decide that you like White.

Everything blurs back into a whirl of color and sensation for what feels like years. Nothing makes sense and nothing is certain. White-hot pain flares across your back, making you cry out and return to lucidity for a scant moment.

You feel soft cloth on your now bare stomach while your diseased back is left to the open, stinging air. Are you on a bed of some sort? It feels like the left side of your head is on the side of a pillow…

The rushing of hard hooves on linoleum and wisps of frenzied voices sends a shock of fear down your spine. Where are you? What are the equines planning on doing with you?

You force your eyes open, just in time to see an equine with a horn and a white lab coat in front of you.

What you also see is a medley of surgical instruments floating in midair.

Fog settles back over your mind and clouds your judgment. Not a second later, you try to rise with a panicked fervor and a slur of curses flying from your mouth.

Gasps rang out from around you, probably from other of the animalistic aliens. Unfortunately for you, they had the sense to bind your limbs to the hospital bed.

No matter how hard you struggle, the leather bindings around your wrists and ankles refuse to budge. You struggle so hard that the bed begins to rock.

A handful of equines come flooding into the room. Some with lab coats, while others have armor.

The armored ones beeline for you amid the frantic chatter of the ones in lab coats. You twist and writhe as hard as possible as they close in, ignoring the agony such actions have on your battered body.

They pile on to you and pin you to the hospital bed, stopping your escape attempt cold. They grunt in exertion as you try fruitlessly to free yourself once more. The distinct sound of a valve turning makes you stop struggling and turn your gaze to the lab coat sporting team, who have an oddly shaped plastic mask connected to a metal canister with a hose.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out just what is within the cylinder of metal.

No! This is not how you’re going to end! Someone! Something! Help!

“No no no no no!” you scream, as if the mantra would somehow help you. Tragically, it doesn’t seem to do any-

Time seems to slow around you without warning as the color from everything in your sight drains, leaving everything a curious monotone. Then, something clicks. Not that you can hear, but something… within you?

[Physical limiter overridden. Technicians advised to exercise caution with unit #0451]

That’s your comlink chip!

Unbelievable strength floods your limbs and the weariness of your fever lifts once more. It’s almost indescribable. The sheer power you have! Was this always there? You don’t question it any further as you push yourself up with such force that it easily breaks the grip of the armored aliens, who fall to the floor was startled cries. With a titanic tug, whatever was around your left wrist breaks, letting you move your arm freely.

You bring it over to your right wrist to free it even faster, only to stop when your whole body begins to shake and feel feeble once more.

“Not now!”

No matter what you may think, your body can take no more as you flop back down to the bed. The last thing you see is a shaking, lab-coat equine pressing the plastic mask to your mouth.


…And that’s everything that led up to now.

You stare at the pure white ceiling of the equine hospital, the primitive heart monitor next to you droning tirelessly as you think back to everything that has happened in the last day. When you woke up sometime after that, you almost panicked again. That is, until you realize that you woke up at all. What’s more, you woke up missing the bindings around your limbs. It’s as if they expected you to not immediately freak out upon awakening. No doubt that if they wanted to hurt you, they would’ve done so while you were unconscious.

Considering that they went out of their way to treat you, it wasn’t totally unreasonable to humor them. You really wish that they wouldn’t have shredded your clothes, though. At least they had the decency to cover your nude self with a blanket and stack your things on a chair next to the bed.

Said things are your canisters of nanomachines, the beacon, the lighter, and the plastic flask. Apparently they didn’t bother keeping the wire.

Reaching over, you make to pick up one of the nanomachine canisters, only for an invisible force to stop your bandaged hand from entering the perimeter of the chair.

Startled, you pull your hand back and look it over, thankfully finding no damage beyond what was already there.

Curious, you try again, only to encounter an invisible barrier as smooth as glass. Running your hand over the barrier reveals that it’s in the shape of a box. The guards by the door watch you closely, but make no move to stop you.

Most likely, it’s a force field, leading you to believe that the equines can harness shaped energy constructs.

How interesting… humans perfected such technology only a decade ago, if you recall correctly. How long have these little aliens been able to do such things?

You stop feeling the invisible cube in favor of launching a connection to the nanomachines, only for a response to come from… the room over?

“Hmm…”

Warming up your chip, you fire a handful of ping requests to the microscopic machines from your comlink chip, only for a response to come through the wall adjacent to yours like last time.

“Not good…?”

Another inspection of the chair reveals the canisters sitting there, but you’re still getting a response from the beyond the wall. Despite that, your connectivity to them doesn’t seem hindered much. A flicker of thought later, a portion of your chip is back to relentlessly assaulting the password-protected goop next to you, but at the same time not next to you. You must be getting close to cracking that damn password by now.

…The rest of the situation isn’t making sense, so you abandon the heavy thoughts with a despondent huff… for now

Looking at the chair makes you hold back a snort. It’s the same size that a human one would be. Who took the time to make such a thing when it isn’t even proportioned correctly?

Speaking of time, how long were you out?

As if hearing your thoughts, the back of your head tingles with the prompt and displays the time for you in the corner of your vision.

19:00’. A number of hours.

With a grunt, you turn in your size too-small bed to lie on your side, noting that the burning of your back is now just a mild sting. No doubt thanks to the equine doctors...

You hesitate. The power the doctors used was definitely biological in nature, unless they have some advanced bio-mechanical implants that you can’t detect. Just implications of such are unpleasant…

You look over to the pair of spear-holding guards and the sealed door between them. The one on the right possesses a horn similar to the doctors. With a tingle of your ComLink, a basic ping command flies through the air to the gold-sporting equine, only for no reply to come back.

The guard does blink and flick one of its ears as what seems like bewilderment crosses its stoic face for only a second.

Interesting…

You send out another ping, this time as a broadcast, sending the digital request out as an invisible wave.

Both of them blink and look at each other in confusion, before they both turn their eyes sharply to you.

If you weren’t used to dealing with glares from the Frontier Laboratory staff, then you probably would have flinched under the pair of stares.

Well, maybe if they weren’t three and a half-feet tall horses.

After a minute long staring contest with no winner in sight, both of the gold-sporting guards lose interest in continuing, letting you turn over and feign sleep. You wait a few minutes so that they would not expect anything, before sending another ping out from the back of your head.

In the almost total silence of the room, faint muttering in the incomprehensible equine language reaches your ears, telling you that they both felt the signal you sent out.

Another oddity to chalk up to these curious aliens. They can sense wireless signals but not interpret them? That’s certainly something you’ll want to investigate. Not for any reason in particular, but rather to satisfy your own curiosity. After all, the rescue beacon is going to activate in a few days. After that, you probably won’t get another chance to interact with the equines.

Equines… that’s such a stale word to describe the robust creatures. Calling them aliens doesn't work either. It sounds rather rude once you think of it. What were miniaturized horses called again? Ponies?

The thought makes you smile to yourself. They obviously have their own functioning society, so calling them ponies like the animal pets seems demeaning. Yet, it’s hard to think of a word that matches better.

A knock at the sealed door startles you into sitting up, where you watch one guard turn and press a hoof into a latch you don’t catch sight of while the other eyes you warily.

With a brief hiss, the door swings open to reveal one of the horned doctors. Hovering in a corona of energy matching the one of its horn is a plastic tray piled high with all sorts of food, half of which you’ve never seen in real life.

Although the apparent zero point field should be the first thing to hold your attention, something else gets in the way.

It’s at that moment you realize you haven’t eaten in days. Like it can read your mind, your stomach lets out an echoing growl, making the ponies jump and look at you with the varying degrees of alarm. All you can do look away as your cheeks heat up with embarrassment.

Then, you hear a short, relieved-sounding laugh as the doctor takes a few hesitant steps closer and offers the tray to you.

You smile. Something tells you that the next few days will be more enjoyable than you thought.


Just a few doors down in a closed office, things are going a little less smoothly.

“Director, please! I am not some little filly who needs to be looked after.”

“I know, Princess. But we still do not know exactly what we are up against. I urge you to hold off this meeting!”

Celestia lets out an uncharacteristic huff at the unreasonable doctor in front of her. Of all the ponies who had to slow this operation down, it had to be the Infirmary Director.

The middle-aged, gray coated unicorn doctor would simply not have any of her arguments. For the last ten minutes he and Celestia had been going back and forth with no apparent end.

“Princess,” begins the doctor with an air of finality, “I could not in good conscience let you see the subject yet. Especially when we have no sure, or even reliable data that points towards trouble being at its minimum. We can’t even communicate with him! Not to mention we still need to keep him under watch to make sure his infection does not resurface and that no other complications arise.”

The unicorn levitates a photo up from his desk and practically shoves it into the princess’ face.

“See right here? Princess, he not only got out of his restraints, but he DESTROYED a piece of the bed doing so. Our hospital beds are made out of steel!”

Indeed, the photo shows a leather restraint cuff along with mangled metal that was once part of the bed hanging from it. It was pulled off with sheer force.

…But the subject was also far too weak to resist anything afterward. Such incredible strength must have a price, after all. Not only that, the alien traveler had been awake for several hours without so much as causing a single disruption. It’s something that the unicorn in front of her apparently fails to realize.

Celestia hides just how much the argument was getting to her behind a practiced mask of impassiveness. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, the stallion’s points are poking holes in her optimism. She doesn’t expect the stallion to understand. After all, he didn’t carry the poor creature for almost a mile as it unconsciously clung to him for support.

And his eyes. The doctor never looked the alien traveler in his small, but so expressive eyes. Windows to the soul, they are.

But surely there must be a way to keep the overly cautious ponies in this operation satisfied while still moving forward.

The alicorn takes a deep breath and turns her attention back to the steadfast doctor.

“Very well,” she says, making the stallion blink in surprise. “I do understand your position and concerns. As such, I must ask for your recommendation on how to proceed. We should not dawdle on a matter as sensitive as this.”

Of course, Celestia already had several ideas on how to get past this situation, but a second opinion never hurt anypony.

The doctor shuffles his hooves nervously, obviously not expecting to be put on the spot so suddenly.

“Well, I, er…” he flounders, “First, I suppose we should, um…”

“Confirm that our guest is no longer ill?” Celestia questions with a faint smile.

“Of course, of course,” the stallions says distractedly. “We could run a few of the blood samples we got from him through some tests. Even as an alien, any diseases, both foreign and domestic, along with anything detrimental to his physiology, should show clearly.”

“Then maybe we should…” he pauses again.

“Find an effective course of communication?” Celestia helpfully ‘suggests’ again.

“Yes! Considering that he seems to possess the same range of senses that the average pony does, we should be able to find a common medium for communication.” The doctor pauses once more to think. “I am no xenobiologist, but images and base sounds should be sufficient until we can come to a common language.”

Almost there.

“And then?” Celestia pushes one last time.

"Then we should be all clear for contact."

The sun deity smiles a smile as bright as her namesake. “Excellent! I’m thrilled that you agree with me. I’ll be arranging everything now. Unt-“

Celestia stops as the door to the office unexpectedly swings open on creaking hinges.

“Tia! One moment!”

Both Celestia and the Director look to the open doorway, where a frazzled Princess Luna stands.

“Luna?” Celestia asks, raising an eyebrow at her sisters disheveled appearance. “Where in the world have you been? I hope you do realize that now is certainly not the time to be napping.”

The moon alicorn lets out a decidedly un-princess like snort. “Hardly,” she retorts dryly. “As for where I was, I busied myself looking into a few… things.”

Celestia levels her sister with an unamused stare.

“You shouldn’t contort your face in such a way, sister. It might freeze like that.”

“Erm, Your Majesties?” questions the director, losing his nerve in the presence of both the diarchs. One he could handle, but both are pushing it. “The matter at hoof?”

Luna looks past her sister’s bulk to the stallion, who looks like he wants to shy away. ”Oh, you were discussing our guest? Please continue, I am capable of waiting,” she says.

“We were just finishing up, actually,” Celestia coolly replies. “We were discussing our guest’s health and just how we should go about attempting to communicate.”

Luna’s eyes widen the slightest bit. “Were you now? Well, perhaps my effort WAS in vain after all.”

Celestia raises an eyebrow as the director takes the initiative and asks: “What exactly do you mean, Your Highness?”

The indigo alicorn seems to mull her answer about in her head for a moment. “Along with my bit of personal business, I took the liberty of scouring the library for something to give us a hoofhold our communication problem. Do you remember that old translation spell, sister?”

Now it’s the elder alicorn’s turn to think. She looks at the tiled floor of the office as the old memories resurface. “I do. We haven’t had to use it for almost ninety years, since Equestrian became the world’s primary language.” Celestia looks back up to her sister, who is looking away. “Do you believe we could utilize it here?”

Luna bites her lip when both her sister and the doctor looked to her expectantly. Inwardly, she’s cursing herself for showing her nervousness.

“Yes, well. About that…”

Chapter 7

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Luna’s eyes shift between her sister and the infirmary director, obvious conflict behind them. She could either tell both of them what she had found bluntly, try to break it easily, or simply lead her sister away to someplace private and divulge what she had found.

The answer is obvious.

“Celestia,” Luna begins with unusual seriousness, “my searching in the library has borne fruit, but the subject matter is slightly sensitive. I believe it best if we discussed it privately for now.”

Celestia glances back at the director, who doesn’t seem pleased that information about his patient is going to be kept from him. As much as she hates keeping things from her subjects, Luna’s request had to have been pensive for a reason. “Very well,” she agrees before looking back to the director. “Doctor, if you could begin basic attempts at communication with our guest, then I would deeply appreciate it.”

The older stallion seems surprised at the request, but quickly replaces his surprise with a smile and a nod.

“Excellent! Now, where did you wish to speak, Luna?”

The lunar princess glances over towards the director. “Good doctor? Do you perhaps have an empty room my sister and I could use?”

“Of course, your Majesty. Just down the hall and to the left at the second to last door. I believe that room is unoccupied,” the stallion replies.

“Many thanks,” Luna says with a smile, before turning and beckoning her sister to follow.

Before she stands, Celestia addresses the director one final time. “Thank you for your time, director, and I do hope my abrupt demand for a meeting and our subsequent talk did not cut into your schedule.”

The unicorn waves her off. “It was no trouble at all, your Majesty.”

Satisfied, Celestia stands from the front of the desk and walks out of the room to follow her ever more impatient sister. Both make for the room that the director described, Luna moving notably faster than Celestia. After some inpatient hooftapping from one ruler and a calm walk from the other, both enter the empty hospital room and closed the door behind them.

Once inside, Luna looks at the door and frowns. “One moment, if you would,” she tells the older alicorn.

Luna points her horn at the door, making the wooden barrier glow a light indigo that slowly bleeds out and crawls along the walls, floor, and ceiling like a creeping fog.

Celestia watches with a raised eyebrow as the misty magic parts around her hooves.

All at once, every bit of sound sans the breathing of the sisters dies. The sounds of hooves walking on tile outside, the coughing of sick patients, and drone of hospital machinery all gone in an instant. The eerie lack of noise makes both of the alicorn’s coats prickle with goosebumps.

“There,” Luna says as she cuts the flow of magic and raises her head, “No eavesdroppers could possibly listen through that. Now… I’m not sure how to explain my findings…”

“Perhaps from the start?”

Luna snorts at her sister’s attempt at humor. “You won’t be in the mood for jokes after you hear what I have to say.” The younger princess bites her lip, trying to find words. “As I said, after much research I came across the perfect solution to our language barrier problem. The issue, however, is the rather unforgiving circumstances we need to utilize the spell.”

Celestia narrows her eyes at the shifty answer. “What exactly are these circumstances?”

“First and foremost, we must be sure that having magic cast upon our guest will not be a detriment upon him in any way. From what we observed during his treatment, that should not be too grave a concern, seeing as how he responded well to magic medical treatment,” Luna pauses. “But I believe it prudent to be one hundred percent sure. No good could possibly come from accidentally damaging his mind,” the lunar alicorn punctuates her sentence with a tap of her head.

Celestia nods, appreciating the logic and obvious thought her sister put into this.

“The second, and far more difficult to accommodate piece of this puzzle is the need for both participants of the spell to hold knowledge of one of the languages woven into the magic. Seeing as how our friend is an alien and knows not any tongue of Equis…”

“The spell will fail,” the elder pony finishes. With a sigh, she brings a hoof up to the side of her head and tries to rub away the impending headache. “I see no way around this with the exception of traditional verbal translation, which is going to render the point of using the spell moot,” Celestia sighs, almost not noticing the minute wince of her sister.

“Luna? Is there something you’re not telling me?” the white alicorn questions almost accusingly.

Luna winces again, not even bothering to hide it. “Well, there is one possible solution, but I do not know just how you are going to like it…”

Celestia stays silent, prompting the other pony to continue.

“We could simply gift him with the language of Equestrian, but…”

“But?”

“That would require one of us to delve into his memories…”

Now, not even breathing could be heard in the room.


234, 235, annnnd 236. That’s the seventh time you counted the tiles in the drab, whitewashed ceiling. Even in other worlds, hospitals feel the need to be as boring and lifeless as possible. If you were the director of a hospital, you would make it a bit more cheery. Why drag people spirits down even more when being sick or injured is bad enough?

Never before have you simply sat and thought about nonsense for so long. Honestly, this is the most unoccupied time you’ve ever had and is beginning to make you antsy.

Years of doing nothing but one assignment after another has made you so used to always being on the run, always doing something.

Now the minutes seemed to drag on for hours.

It seems even longer with the pounding migraine you’ve had ever since you’ve woken up. Trying to crack the password through the night on the nano bots certainly wasn’t one of your best ideas. On the bright side, you’ve exhausted over fifty percent of the possible passwords that the damnable gray goo could possibly hold.

You sigh and look out the window, where the sun begins to rise. The sight warms the inside of your chest.

If there’s one thing you’re going to miss when Frontier finally comes for you, it’s the beautiful atmosphere this curious little world holds.

The sound of your hospital room door opening cuts off your inner monologue.

A pair of guards identical to the ones yesterday walk in and stationed themselves by the sides of the door, each awkwardly gripping a spear with their forelegs.

That certainly can’t be comfortable.

The two guards watch you carefully, both with twitching faces as they struggle to hold their stoic façade.

These two must be different from the ones assigned to those posts yesterday. Otherwise they wouldn’t have reacted so strongly to seeing you. How do they get all the guards to look the same?

Your stomach drops when a harrowing thought comes to you. Do the little ponies … utilize cloning?

Yet another curiosity to pile on top of the already frustratingly large bundle of questions you have.

Rolling onto your side, you look at the pair of ponies who stare back, both desperately trying not to fidget.

“Just what are you all?” you ask aloud, knowing that they couldn’t answer back.

Although the one on the right maintained a straight face, the guard on the left doesn’t even bother to try and hide his discomfort anymore. He looks you in the face, flinches, then turns his attention to his companion and lets out a pathetic whine. All he gets for his trouble is an angry glare and a short, harsh response in return. Lefty then resumes his guard pose with obvious reluctance. He totally refuses to meet your eyes now.

Torn, you turn back over and look at the wall. Never before had you experienced what being feared is like, and you’re not sure you want to feel it again.

Do they find you repulsive? It’s not too farfetched a notion. After all, a giant, bald thing can’t be the most pleasant to look at. Your face, maybe?

Almost an hour passes before the monotone he is broken by knocking on the hospital door. From your spot, you can hear the door open with the slightest creak. The sound of a gasp and a new set of hooves on the tiled floor follows immediately after.

The newcomer, who sounds female, converses quietly with the guards for just a few scant moments before moving closer to your bed. She then says something in her language, and repeats the same phrase several times.

With a start, you realize she is trying to get your attention.

You blink and turn over, but you’re sure to keep half your face in your pillow. It never hurts to test out theories whenever you can.

What you find is a cream colored horned female sporting thick rimmed glasses and a mane done up in a tight bun. Floating in a zero point field next to her is a large tray of varied and very fresh looking foods, mostly vegetables. Alongside that is a pair of archaic handheld chalkboards and a colorful box of chalk.

You can’t think of any purpose for the chalkboards other than to serve as communication aids. If these creatures have moved on to attempting communication, then it would be best to play along. The thought makes you look at the new arrivals rear, where an old inkwell and a fountain pen are depicted. If the marks hold as much significance as you think they do, then this female must be a scribe or linguist of some sort.

You sit up in the bed and cross your legs for comfort, making the female shift uncomfortably when your entire face is revealed.

So is it your visage that is causing them distress? You’ll have to test that more later.

The horned pony sets the tray next to you and gestures for you to eat.

You suppress a grin and comply by snatching up what looks suspiciously like an orange. Your visitor watches your hands with intense… fascination? As you peel away the skin of the orange look-a-like and pop a wedge of the juicy fruit into your mouth.

The female then levitates a clipboard and an archaic quill out from under the chalkboards. Without even looking away from you, she manipulates the quill to write down what you presume to be notes in a swishy, yet blocky text.

So the zero point field can be used for delicate and dexterous tasks? That’s marvelous. The xenobiologists back at Frontier would kill to have a chance to meet such a creature.

The white unicorn finishes her notes and looks back to you, levitating one of the chalkboards closer in what seems to be an offer to take it.

You do so and incline your head in acknowledgment.

The pony smiles an adorable smile in return. The sight makes your own lips twitch upward.

She takes her own chalkboard and a piece of white chalk in a pair of zero point fields and deftly writes out what seems to be a single word. Turning her chalkboard around, she shows you the blocky word and gestures to herself while sounding a very foreign word out slowly.

It must be her name.

You do your best to mimic the gibberish as accurately as possible, but it still comes out sounding like you were trying to hack up something caught in your throat. The mangled pronunciation doesn’t seem to overly bother your new acquaintance, as she gestures for you to do the same as she.

Feeling unusually theatrical, you write out ‘Anonymous’ in wispy cursive and turn the chalkboard to show it to her.

“Anonymous,” you tell her slowly, dragging a finger under each letter as you sound it out.

She scrutinizes the unfamiliar characters with intensity, narrowing her brown eyes behind her glasses as her quill scratches furiously against the clipboard again. She’s definitely a scribe or linguist.

Done with her notes, the pony, or Scribe as you now want to call her, tries to repeat your name. An incomprehensible mess is all that comes out of her mouth. You barely restrain a wince at the butchering of the language.

She looks up at you with what you would describe as searching curiosity on her face, like she wanted you to judge how she spoke.

Not trusting nonverbal gestures this early, you erase your board and draw a frowny face as your response.

From the downturn of her ears, that seems to have disheartened her, even if only for a moment. But Scribe quickly bounces back and schools her face into professional neutrality. She takes a moment to look at your rapidly dwindling pile of food and then levitates an apple off of it, clearly showcasing the red fruit to you.

Her chalk scratches against her board and writes out a new word with a picture of the apple next to it. Scribe points at the word and the sounds it out, once more giving you something you can’t possibly say.

It’s going to be a long day, you can already tell.

But you indulge her and try to repeat the series of sounds only to come out with the eloquence of rusty sheet metal within a gravity press.

Not a pretty sound, mind you.

She frowns and scribbles something else down on her notes. Again, she points to the picture, wanting you to say the word again.

“I’m pretty sure that this is going to have the same result as last time.”

Scribe just indicates the picture again.

With a sigh, you do your best to say their word for apple.

“@&#%*..?”

No. Again you’re missing some sounds in there. But how in the world do you replicate a mash of a horse whinny and a chirp? If Scribe was losing her patience with the task at hand, and then she hid it well. This time, she pointed at individual sections of the word with her floating chalk and spoke them aloud.

You followed each pronunciation, tripping over much of the word more than you would have liked. Why the hell is this so hard? Even with your comlink chip helping via AMR replays, certain bits of the word simply will not stick.

Another AMR burst flies through your head, showing you exactly how Scribe’s lips moved and exactly how she sounded.

How she sounded…

With a groan, you pinch the bridge of your nose. It should have been extremely obvious from the get-go.

Scribe looks up from her clipboard to you with concern in her big brown eyes.

Now comes the fun part. Trying to explain everything.

You pick up your chalkboard, your piece of chalk, and immediately set to work drawing. A minute later, you have a pair of detail drawings. One is of your lower face and neck and the other of Scribe’s lower face and neck.

You show the pony, who takes in the image with visible fascination.

Then you draw circles around the middle of each neck and connect them with a line broken by an X in the center.

Your acquaintance studies the drawing with comprehension slowly dawning on her face.

She takes a step back and points to her throat with a hoof with a questioning exclamation. Her expression is almost heartbreaking. The professional stoicism was replaced with a disbelieving and immensely saddened face.

It’s the large eyes, you decide. They really emphasize the emotions of these little equines.

You point to your own and shake your head in what you hope is a negative.

Scribe shakily exhales and just barely wipes away the disappointment on her expression. This must have been the highlight of her career. Being the first to truly communicate with an alien is a history book worthy achievement.

And now she finds out that it’s not possible.

Despite of her now fragile appearance, Scribe takes a deep breath and calms herself as she quickly jots down something on her clipboard. When she finishes, Scribe takes her board and erases it. A flourish of her chalk later, and you have a number of unfamiliar marks along with collections of lines.

The lines obviously correspond to the marks in some way, but you can’t really tell how.

She lets you inspect the marks for a moment, then pulls her board away and modifies some of them. Now she has some new symbols and the number of lines has…changed…

Realization hits you. If she can’t use words and letters, why not use something universal like numbers?

You smile down at Scribe. “Clever. Very clever, miss.”

She beams, hearing the praise past the language barrier.

Finally, something you’re good at.

The rest of the day goes far more smoothly.


“Sister, I don’t think we have much choice…”

Celestia sighs as she reads over the report her assistant Raven had compiled from her contact with the traveler.

...Oddly, Raven the assistant was scheduled for a vacation right about this time, yet here she is. But that’s a problem for another time.

They now had a written name. According to Raven, the closest spelling she could make was “Ha*ila%#$rd.” An unfortunate few parts of his name could not be pronounced, as pony vocal cords would simply not accommodate the sounds needed. From Raven’s report, he had similar difficulties speaking in their tongue as well. It brought them to a nasty realization.

Traditional translation is going to be impossible.

The solar princess lets the hefty report drop out of her magic and onto her study desk.

“...Luna,” Celestia starts with as much patience as she can, “we cannot take a route simply because it is the most convenient. Doing so would be an injustice to both our visitor and our integrity.”

Luna sets her jaw and folds her ears back.

”Tia, this isn’t a matter of taking the path of least resistance, but rather one of the ONLY path there is,” she responds resolutely. “What else can we do? The solution may be immoral, but if it can work, then what choice do we have?”

What choice indeed? Giving into Luna’s want for convenience is looking to be a better option every minute.

“We aren’t even sure if it will work,” Celestia fires back. “For all we know, it could be a total danger to all parties involved.”

“Then what do we do, hmm?” Luna snips.

The elder sister pushes away her frustration with the younger’s hasty nature. Getting angry will do nothing here.

“We wait just a bit longer,” Celestia says, drawing a groan from Luna, “For now, we will continue as we did today. I will inform the council of our current plans.”

”Just be patient, little sister. Solutions have a funny way of being hidden under our noses in situations like these…”

Chapter 8

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“The Council meeting will commence. This morning’s first subject, the dimensional traveler. Princess Luna will be opening.” Celestia rakes her eyes over the hidden room as she finishes speaking, taking in the medley of expressions on the faces of everypony there.

A now-informed Cadence sits next to her rather stone-faced husband, looking over the assembled ponies with trepidation. She had sat in on meetings before, but never actively participated. Never mind being a part of something so worldchanging and important as the emergence of “The Third Aetheral,” as some were calling their guest.

Celestia’s assistant, Raven, who had been sworn to secrecy, stands next to her. The poor mare’s nerves are frayed by the commotion around her, and the bright pony can barely take it all in.

The members of the merchant’s guild in attendance seem divided. To them, this is already cut and dry. Either the traveler would be a positive influence on business, maybe even be a game changer...Or he would crash the market, sending the economy into a tailspin. To them, a mild effect seems unlikely.

The soldiers and guards are nearly inscrutable as always, but they seem less tense than they had been in the first meeting. The non-violent first contact likely put many of their fears to rest. Shining Armor and the other higher ranking guards in attendance still look uneasy, however.

The mages, as usual, are unreadable under their cloaks and hoods.

Like the merchants, the scholars have a rift in their ranks. The thought of new, alien knowledge and culture was enticing to them all, but to what cost, some asked. What would they have to pay for the information? Would they even have a choice when it comes to what they want, and what must be given up?

And there-in lies the biggest reason the Aetheral is still sitting on his Class II threat level: His knowledge.

It’s not so much his general know-how and skill that could cause unrest, Celestia idly muses, but rather his ideas, his culture, his values and reason. Some may be sceptical when presented such a reason, but to the royal sisters, it makes perfect sense.

An entire country could be founded on peace and love, and grow into the safest and brightest hub of culture and commerce the world had ever seen. A superpower, some call it. What could destroy such a cohesive behemoth? A single, enticing idea. A thought that goes against everything the prosperous land teaches could rend everything asunder in a storm of opinionated conflict. The dear traveler has been nothing but cooperative, but he could still sow strife without even realizing it. It’s imperative that the language barrier be breached at once. If the Aetheral had any concept of empathy, then he would understand the plight of the sisters.

Luna holds a foreleg to her mouth and clears her throat, drawing the council room’s attention to herself. “As you all know, we are currently playing host to an Aetheral, the third that Equis has ever known. So far, he has been cooperative. Friendly, even.”

A few councillors look towards one another, already knowing that there is an inevitable catch.

“But…” just as they thought, “there are a startling number of differences between he and other known Aetherals. This could greatly complicate interactions with him. First and foremost would be his lack of a magical core.”

Celestia gives her sister a sidelong glance, silently asking why she opened the conversation like that.

Luna just shakes her head.

Confused muttering overtakes the room. There’s no way any being couldn’t have a magic core. ALL living things have one. It’s what ties a soul to a body, after all. So no magic core means no life.

“Princess,” asks one of the scholars over the others, making the stone room go quiet, “if I may?”

Luna nods, surrendering the floor to the middle-aged stallion. “By all means.”

He smiles, showing a few wrinkles on his face. “My thanks, Highness.” He clears his throat and stands. “Honored Council, I am Certain Selection, a biologist under their Majesties’ employ. Although I do not wish to seem condescending, I cannot let false data like this remain while we have such an important subject to discuss.”

Certain’s eyes look around, being sure his audience is listening before continuing. “As you all may or may not know, the nervous system of all living beings requires a constant flow of magic across all nerve pathways. This magic is stored and regulated in the magic core located most often in the center mass of the being in question, save changelings whom store magic within their head. More specifically, it’s located in the Fablemen Core, which is composed of tri-faceted plates of porous bone and placed just behind the heart.”

The room listens closely, the gathered councillors now curious as to where the biologist is going.

“Magic is the source of all life, as it is needed for almost all bodily functions,” states the biologist. “Brain signal transfer, energy absorption via digestion, even the contractions of the heart are caused by shifting and reacting magic fields. As such,” Certain continues, “We can conclude that the Aetheral MUST have some sort of magic core. He would not be able to live otherwise. Its location may not be readily apparent to us due to greatly differing biology, but…”

“Actually…”

All eyes in the room shift to Raven, who looks like she wants to shrink down to a speck under the scrutiny.

Celestia looks down at the white-coated mare with a gentle gaze, spurring her to sigh and stand with a folder held in telekinesis. Steeling herself, the mare looks over the gathered ponies resolutely. “Allow me to introduce myself,” she starts. “I am Raven, the personal assistant to Princess Celestia, and I have been spearheading the effort to establish communications with the Aetheral.”

To the mare’s silent horror, the room regards her with much more intensity than before.

Gulping away the lump in her throat, Raven presses on. “As I tried to communicate with the Aetheral, I also took the liberty of casting a few discreet scanning spells to gather an understanding of his biology. I concluded that he would react better to a single pony rather than a team of scientists poking and prodding him.”

A few in the room nod in agreement, seeing the logic, though a number of others frown.

“What I found was… unnerving, to say the least.”

“Unnerving?” questions a posh looking noble—Caesar, Raven thinks his name is—with a raised eyebrow. “In what sort of way?”

Celestia’s assistant opens the folder in her grasp, looking at several of the documents before replying. “The way his body functions. So far, I’ve only been able to scan the nervous system. On the surface, it seems the same a pony’s, but the appearance is where all similarities end.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that his body does not use magic. At all.”

Where Raven had expected an uproar, there was deafening silence, which seemed all the more foreboding. Everypony was frozen. The very idea of a being with no magic… She should have expected this. Expected the sudden chill that gripped the room. It’s a total upheaval to all they knew about life. Magic is a part of everything, it touches all life in the known world. All except the Aetheral, it seems. She may as well have told them that he was made of stardust.

A perturbed Fancy Pants sucks in a deep breath and speaks through the room’s tension. “Truly, Miss Raven? This is… certainly a new situation. I do not claim to know just how such a thing is possible, but I do know that our guest should not be in land of the living.” Fancy observes the council room, taking in the distress of his fellow ponies. “So,” he starts, gaining more of his usual confidence back, “I will ask what is on the minds of all of us gathered here. How?”

“His nerves, rather than use constant streams of magic to convey signals,” she explains, “use pulses of electricity.”

Rather than shock, the assembled ponies look at her with confusion, and in some cases, disbelief.

“No! Preposterous! There’s no way that lightning could play such a vital part in anypony’s biology!” Certain Selection all but yells as he stands, a few gasps meeting the action. “Miss Raven, I understand that this is a huge discovery and you want to be part of it, but you cannot simply falsify information like this!” he says with a pointed hoof. “It will impede any future studies!”

Every bit of intimidation on Raven’s face is quickly superseded by fury. “You have the gall to think I would make something as important as this up?!”

“Yes, yes I do! Everypony knows you want to move up from being a glorified secretary, and what better way than to lie and gain attention through the biggest event of our lifetime!”

“Why I never!”

The two ponies go back and forth, gaining volume with time as they lean over the table to better argue. The councillors can only watch, the heads in the room turning back and forth like they were watching a mesmerizing game of ping-pong. Then…

“Ahem.”

Both Raven and Certain stop mid insult and turn to face the voice, only to go pale under their fur upon seeing Princess Luna’s cool visage.

“If you two are finished, I have something to say.”

Both ponies immediately sit back down and bow their heads in shame.

Luna takes in the reactions of the rest of the room. “Honored Council, today’s meeting was opened in an unorthodox manner for a reason,” she says, ignoring the sidelong glare she got from her sister. “The reason was to show you just how stressful this is going to be for all of us, and how tempers can fray if left unchecked.”

Both Raven and Certain sink lower into their seats.

“I wished to show you how vital it is that we work together,” Luna continues with a small frown. “Not everything will make sense with our newest guest, and for good reason. He is from a plane of existence that could very well be unimaginable to even our greatest fiction writers. His story is totally unknown to us. For all we know, to hear his song could paint a picture more beautiful than any other, or it could be utter madness.” The small frown the alicorn’s face lifts some. ”But what I do know is that we can grow from this, that this is a golden opportunity. This is a chance to foster a friendship across dimensions. This is how Faust intended it.”

The alicorn’s eyes harden once more. “But if we are to accomplish such a thing, then we all need to cooperate. In this arena, disarray means failure. Teamwork is key. Miss Raven, Mister Certain, I want to offer you my sincerest apologies for putting you both on the spot. I did not mean to cause either of you alarm, I merely wished to show just how easily a division can be put in our ranks.”

Both of the ponies look at each other, before nodding in acceptance towards the Princess.

“Excellent!” Luna exclaims happily. “Now, Miss Raven, if you could report the rest of your findings.”

The white-coated mare nods and clears her throat. “As I was saying, the Aetheral’s nervous system uses a series of electric pulses rather than a constant stream of magic. Other than that, the basis of his nervous system bears a striking resemblance to that of any other creature on Equis. I would go out in on a limb and even say they were identical.”

The scholars in the room all look towards each other subtly, their faces like masks and their thoughts unknown.

“In addition,” Raven continues without missing a beat, “A believed to be memetic effect can be observed when the Aetheral’s face is in full view.”

A wave of whispers runs down the council chambers as all the suspicion from before comes rushing back in a torrent.

Raven quickly takes notice of the sudden fearfulness. “It’s nothing harmful!” she says with haste. “From what can be gathered, viewing the entirety of his face can cause feelings of unease, a pin and needle sensation on the hooves, and mild nausea. Nothing that cannot be cured.”

“So you’re saying that he’s ugly?” one of the soldiers down the table bluntly asks. “If the guy is as laid-back as we are led to believe, then I don’t think he’s going to be offended if you just tell the truth.”

The unicorn mare gives the offending guard, a major, a glare, making him wilt slightly under its intensity.

“No. It’s not that,” Raven replies, totally sure of herself. “If even a bit of his face is covered, then the memetic effect is negated. I’m sure that if his mane was long enough to come down over his face even a little bit, then the effect would not be a concern at all.”

A few of the scholars near the other end of the table quietly deliberate among themselves before they all turn towards the mare. “Are there any other effects that can be observed? Even ones that are believed to be isolated incidents?” a yellow coated mare with a pair of spectacles asks for the group.

“None.”

The same group talks to each other quietly once more, this time finding a question more quickly. “What about the trigger of the effect? Is there any speculation as to why exactly it happens?”

Raven falters some under the unexpected inquiry. “Well, um, no. There could be a number of reasons, but…”

“It’s likely to be triggered by the subconscious of the pony viewing the Aetheral.”

All eyes turn back to Certain Selection, who looks towards Raven. “From what can be gathered from Miss Raven’s report, there is no conscious reaction to the memetic effect, but rather one that cannot be controlled. This leads me to believe that the greatest possibility is an unconscious flight signal that is triggered by the visage of the Aetheral, but I am willing to wager that Miss Raven already knew this,” Certain says, giving the mare in question a smile.

To her credit, she is quick to catch on. “Exactly! That was the most likely theory, but I did not wish to speak without a second opinion. Thank you, Mister Selection.”

Luna seems especially pleased by the turn of events. “Indeed, and while I hate to cause a rush, may we move on?”

Celestia’s assistant blushes. “Oh. Of course,” she clears her throat. “Moving on, the Aetheral displayed enormous mathematical capabilities. He was able to solve everything from basic arithmetic to advanced calculus with only a few errors once the tests progressed to the later stages. Most of said errors were caused by translation troubles rather than mistakes with the math itself.”

A few ponies in the room nod approvingly.

“While these tests were administered, I had my scanning spell active, and I believe I caught another power associated with our guest.”

The ponies in the room lean forward once more.

Raven opens her folder and shuffles a few papers, scanning over one before speaking further. “As the difficulty of the problems progressed, the Aetheral began to slow, taking more time for each one until he came to a halt altogether on some advanced algebra. For the purpose of testing, I discouraged him from using his chalkboard to write out his thoughts. After a moment of concentration, the electrical activity in his brain spiked in an area around the back of his head. Afterward, he was able to solve the problem completely unassisted. He proceeded to do so for the rest of the testing and flew through all the presented problems faster than what should be possible.”

The Council dissolves into quiet deliberation once more, the scholars more so than the others. Such an ability is unheard of, and if the Aetheral is willing to teach its use to others…

The merchants in the room now seem more interested as well. Financing does have its roots within mathematics, after all. A pony able to do rapidfire mathematics with no aid would never have any trouble finding a job.

The mages and guards are somewhat unmoved by the revelation.

“An intriguing talent,” Fancy Pants cuts in over the din of conversation. “Tell me, Miss Raven, once our guest is up to snuff with Equestrian, could I perchance schedule a meeting with him?”

“What?” calls a short, porky merchant chief incredulously. “You cannot be serious! Do you expect me or anypony else to let you drag the noble Aetheral into your scheme to monopolize the general trade market? I believe not!”

Fancy blinks at the accusation. “Good sir, you have it all wrong. I merely wish to offer our guest rewarding work should Equestria play host to him longer than expected. His talents could-“

“Ruin the rest of us!” says a wealthy looking mare garbed in a suit. “Besides, why would he work for a hack like you, when the First Equestrian Bank could utilize him to a far greater result with even greater rewards?” she asks with a glare.

Fancy Pants looks aghast. “Are any of you listening to yourselves? You talking about an Aetheral!” he exclaims. “He is not some trained animal to be sold to the highest bidder.”

“Exactly,” agrees a lab coat wearing mare from the scholar part of the table, making Fancy smile. “The Aetheral would obviously be more at home with fellow intellectuals. I know for a fact we can find him a generous grant.”

Fancy’s smile falters again.

“Oh, don’t look so sour,” a stallion with spectacles and a sweater vest says when he catches sight of Fancy planting his face in his hooves. “He could better the lives of countless ponies with that amazing brainpower of his.”

“Are any of you even considering what HE might want!” Raven yells over the rest of the Council, quieting them all. “He can think and feel just like the rest of us. Maybe he doesn’t want to do any of that, maybe you all need to stop scrambling over each other! This is just plain shameful!”

Before anypony can retort, Celestia clears her throat, immediately shutting down all conversation and bringing attention to her. She looks over the assembled council like she did at the beginning of the meeting, pulling the thoughts right off the faces of the ponies her gaze lands upon.

“While I am able to sympathize with many of you,” Celestia begins neutrally, not bothering to name any parties, “I believe that many of your desires will forever remain unfounded, as a critical part of this little operation has been compromised. Raven, if you would?”

The white mare looks toward her employer with confusion before her eyes widen in understanding, the meaning behind Celestia’s words sinking in.

“Err, right. Everypony, there is a serious problem with both ourselves, and the Aetheral.”

All the eyes in the room turn fearful.

“After appropriate first contact was established, we attempted to make a rudimentary breach in the language barrier and hopefully establish a medium for communication. The efforts to do so were found to be impossible.”

The room is so quiet that one could hear a pin drop.

Raven looks at all the faces around her and winces internally. “We found out that the differences between the Aetheral’s vocal cords and ours are enormous, drastically limiting any form of verbal communication to almost nothing. In addition, it’s been deemed too unsafe for all parties involved to involve the use of a translation spell, as doing so would require a mind-link between a him and a pony.”

“No.”

The mare in the lab coat from earlier stands, her face twisted in disbelief. “T-that’s impossible! You cannot honestly be saying that a huge wealth of alien knowledge is beyond our reach?!”

Celestia nods in Raven’s steed.

The poor mare sinks back into her seat, her eyes shining with unshed tears. “Th-the greatest discovery of the era… is going to yield nothing?”

A depressing aura emanates from the mare, ensnaring all her fellow scholars and others around her with melancholy. It seems that all the Aetheral did was raise the hopes of those around him for nothing.

It simply isn’t fair.

Raven can’t help but look away.

Before long, the entire room is covered with a depressed air. It didn’t matter to any of them that it’s all out of their control; it still feels like a colossal failure. After all, it’s not every day that the appearance of a mythical being becomes a letdown. Even the guards seem disappointed with the outcome of the meeting.

Cadence lays her ears back and looks around the room, practically able to feel the depression emanating from every other pony around her. She looks to her side worriedly, seeing that even her ever resolute husband is wearing a deep frown.

If there is one thing Cadence can say that she well and truly hates, it’s seeing other ponies in pain, and this has to be the most misery she’s seen since, well… forever! There must be something that she can do. Hmm… Twilight is good at solving problems. What would she do in this situation?

Find the problem at its root? That sounds like a very Twi thing to do. Luckily, Cadence doesn’t need to dig for it, as it’s already plain to her.

Everypony is depressed because none of them can speak to their guest. Soooo logically…

“Auntie Celestia, Auntie Luna?” Cadence says, speaking up for the first time.

Both of the alicorns look over to her, taking in her smiling face with confusion.

“If nopony is able to talk to the Aetheral and using the translation spell is too dangerous, then why not make a new spell that’s less dangerous?”

The solar and lunar ponies both blink then look at each other with incredulous expressions.

One of the mages down the table scoffs. “Princess, please. If the solution to this was that simple, then I think somepony else would have thought of it.”

Cadence lays her ears back again and sinks a little lower into her seat, her expression one of hurt. An instant later, Shining turns to the mage with a smoldering leer that promises pain, making the offending pony go pale under his fur. Before the guard captain can hop over the table and defend his wife’s honor, Luna speaks up.

“Cadence, I do hope that you realize that you are going to get some manner of award for this,” Luna says, not looking away from her sister.

“Indeed,” Celestia simply agrees as she rubs one of her temples with a hoof

The pink alicorn just blinks innocently at her aunts.


“Really? Tell me more.”

The energetic guard pony in front of you seems to get the gist of what you say and smiles widely in response. Not a moment later, he’s chattering away in the pony language that you have no hope of comprehending. You rest your head on your fist, just enough to obscure a bit of your face, as the pony in front of you regaled you with a very animated tale.

As it turns out, the guards DO have the ability to break their stoic façade. The pair assigned to you today is considerably more approachable than the others. This one in particular is in a league of his own. From the jumping, flapping wings, and flailing spear, you hazard a guess that he is trying to tell you about some sort of adventure he had during his enrollment with the military. The deftly spoken babble coming from his mouth does nothing to help him, however.

The guard jumps up and slashes his spear at an invisible foe, right before he ducks and mimes a wound to the shoulder with an exaggerated yelp of pain.

His colleague, who is still by the door, just shakes his head in what you swear is exasperation.

Every day you notice another something about these curious little aliens that is almost uncannily human.

A knock suddenly comes from the door with the distinct sound of hoof on wood.

Faster than you thought possible, the energetic little guard halts his tale and rushes back to his position next to the door, his face already set into an unmoving mask. If you ever meet the one who trained them, you’ll definitely need to congratulate them on a job well done.

The door slides open, revealing Scribe as you half expected, but next to her is something you find truly surprising.

The queen pony. The one who personally carried you into the castle.

Both the guards incline their heads as the pair walks past them and closes the door.

Scribe has her usual clipboard, pair of chalkboards, and bright smile, which seems especially illuminating today.

The queen looks down at Scribe with thinly veiled amusement before she turns her attention to you.

Gesturing to Scribe, the queen takes one of the chalkboards and begins to scribble upon it with lightning speed while Scribe watches the image on the board come to life with trepidation. In what seems to be record time, the queen finishes whatever she was making and looks it over with a nod.

She looks to you with a gentle smile, right before she turns her board to face you.