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Welcome to Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria... ponykind changed as it never had before.

It has been twenty years since the return of Princess Luna, and the world is a place of innovation, technological and magical advancement. Yet, it is also a place of chaos and conspiracy. Powers, old beyond imagining, manipulate the flow of events within Equestria from behind a veil of shadows, fixated upon goals so fickle and intricate that they will take years, decades, even centuries to come to fruition.

The world is as it always has been: a study in friendship. New corporations seek to advance the already booming industrial and research sectors, intent on outdoing one another with the latest spell, magical gimmick, or arcano-mechanical augmentation. The settlements of Equestria expand as the population rockets, the rich remaining in their opulent, secure enclaves, unfeeling or perhaps unaware of the plight of the poor outside. The lower classes are forced into ever more crowded slums, pushed down by the twin machinations of government and employers. On the surface, a serene harmony amongst ponies is presented. Yet, beneath this veneer, the tensions of an increasingly unbalanced land fester and threaten to boil over. Technology gradually advances towards a Singularity, as magical communication networks span the world and arcane devices become ever more entwined with the lives and bodies of the ponies they serve. When it is finally reached, the barriers between the organic and the magical will be erased forever.

In this time of extremes, organisations have broken free of the autocratic reign of the immortal Princesses, seeking to carve out their own destinies upon the global chessboard. Whole cities now sway to new political and social agendas, and the Royal Guards of Canterlot are a poor second to the private military forces of the new corporate empires. The bearers of the Elements of Harmony position themselves amongst the webs of intrigue, each seeking to further their own cause whilst evading those who would seek to control them for their own purposes.

Ponykind is changing and battle lines are being drawn between flesh and machine. The new technologies of arcane implants are creating a new class divide. On one side, the ‘Naturals’, ponies who eschew implants because they are morally opposed to it, too poor to afford it, or afflicted with a rare magical condition that renders their bodies permanently incompatible with it. On the other side are the ‘Augs’, ponies augmented with arcano-mechanical implants. With approximately one-tenth of all ponies possessing these augmentations twenty years after Luna’s return, these ponies are slowly becoming the new face of Equestria.

The foundations are laid for the future of all ponies, but evolution can be a painful process, and can leave many by the wayside. Right now, the proponents and opponents of augmentation are locked in a bitter conflict that threatens to end in violent, bloody upheaval of a magnitude not seen in Equestria for more than a thousand years. The choices made by a select few here and now will alter the course of history... or perhaps end it all together.

It’s not the end of the world... but you can see it from here.

This is the Equine Revolution. 

Prologue: Shadowplay

High up in an unassuming tower’s penthouse, a single mare stood in the darkness of her living room amongst the lengthening shadows, surveying the wonders and woes of the city laid before her in the red afterglow of dusk: Canterlot. She allowed herself a small smirk of triumph at having secured this abode. A window that swept from floor to ceiling in a single pane of glass was the least of its splendid features, despite it allowing her a stunning view of Canterlot and nearly half of Equestria beyond that, a vista that many pegasi would have given their two front hooves to see. It was quite literally the height of living. Yet, at the same time it was a repugnant reminder of how the opulence of the few was paid for by the misery of the many who lived beneath the city proper. The poor were crammed into tiny hovels, working their hooves to the bone for a few measly bits; the slums were an unfortunate addition to the view.

She sighed a little as the thought skimmed across her conscience. The city, like so many of its siblings, was pulled in opposite directions; it reached for the heavens with the new-found confidence and innovation of its inhabitants, and yet it was simultaneously dragged down by the yokes of grinding poverty and crime that so many unfortunate ponies had been bound to.

The return of the Princess of the Night had swept away the millennium-old stasis that Equestria had been locked in, true, and she appreciated the exponential leaps in technology that had resulted from this: who could imagine a world without the Equestrinet to communicate through, or arcane augmentations that could replace a broken or failing body part and give new hope to a life that before would have been doomed to disability or death?

And yet, Equestria had changed, and not all for the better. Progress had at first been wondrous, but as the world left behind its old habits and moved onto pastures new, so too did its morals. No longer were ponies fixated upon one another’s well-being; money and power now trumped friendship. Corporations thought nothing of exploiting their employees and customers. A civil war amongst the griffon clans on the borders of Equestria was entering its thirteenth year; it had gradually poisoned its neighbour, and no longer were firearms and mercenaries only found in frontier towns. Violence and war had slowly, but surely, crept back into the Equestrian psyche.

The old Equestria may have been slow to move, frozen in time even, but it had been hospitable, and had a place for everypony. The new Equestria was beautiful, yet harsh. It rewarded those who cut their own path. For the ones left behind... well, perhaps it was better not to dwell on that.

Ponies had been given the tools to be masters of their own fates, yet depressingly (and predictably, a cynical part of her added), most had simply sleepwalked from one overseer to another, allowing the corporations and media to take over their lives, organisations that were almost invariably far less benevolent than the Princesses.

Princesses... Her gaze swept to the glory of Canterlot Castle, a thousand-year fortress of harmony. She pondered the quirks of Royal Household, and how it dealt with the forces that threatened the ponies it protected. Two of the greatest threats that Equestria ever faced were sequestered there; one had been rehabilitated and now resided as co-ruler, the other adorned the gardens as a statue, a monument to its own hubris.

She idly wondered whether the same fate awaited any organisation that stepped too far out of their own edicts. Somehow, she doubted it. Despite all their pomp and power, pity was the only real emotion she felt for the alicorns. They were little more than glorified caretakers who spun the Sun and Moon around on their endless cycles. Yet politically, they were foals playing at being rulers, all their proclamations and speeches being little more than hot air whilst the true masters of Equestria watched and pulled their innumerable strings from the shadows. Masters that she was all too familiar with...

“Good evening, Canterlot,” a distorted voice said.

She took a step back to survey the plate glass window, now flickering with orange lines as the spells within transformed it into an interface for communication. Peering at the silhouette and the information beneath it, she nodded and flicked a switch on a nearby wall with her hoof to open her own channel.

“Early as always, I see, Fillydelphia,” she replied.

“Oh, you know me, Canterlot. Well, as well as you’re ever going to know me, of course. Fillydelphia chuckled. “It’s funny how much you can ascertain about a pony, even when you can never see their face or hear their real voice. For all I know, you could be a beautiful young pegasus mare, or a cranky old earth pony stallion, or even one of Celestia’s own prized pupils. And yet, I believe if I were ever to bump into you on the street, I’d know who you were in an instant! You have such a charm about you, and—”

“When these secure channels were set up, Fillydelphia, I doubt the purpose was to flirt with your anonymous colleagues,” she cut in, annoyance creeping into her voice. “Can we at least try to remain civil for the duration of this forum?”

“Why, of course. I wouldn’t dream of imposing upon you.”

At that, two more orange outlines burst into view next to Fillydelphia’s, each bearing their own snippets of information.

“Evening, evening all,” another distorted voice called. It was just as unnatural-sounding as Fillydelphia’s, modulated to remove any of the original user’s true voice, and yet had its own unique inflection, as if the owner had burst into a meeting it was late for, sounding flustered and out of breath.

“Trottingham. And Hoofington. Greetings,” the mare said. “I’m afraid we are not quite ready to start, but it should not be long before—” Suddenly, a final two silhouettes jumped into view, five anonymous faces spread across the entirety of the screen. “Never mind, then. A roll call please, of this meeting of the Loyalty sub-division of the Grand Council.”

“I’m already here, my dear. You know that, Fillydelphia said. A pause. “Oh, very well. Fillydelphia.”

“Trottingham, present and correct.”

“Hoofington, calling in.”

“Manehatten’s here.”

And... silence. The mare was on the verge of pointedly clearing her throat when the sixth voice suddenly spoke.


“And Canterlot. We are six?”

“We are,” five modulated voices agreed in unison.

“Then we are quorum. And, to business. As I’m sure you are aware, there have been some... interesting developments in the Everfree Forest.”

“I’ll say. Some sort of new research facility being built there, of all places. And by Princess Luna, no less!” Trottingham exclaimed.

“Huh. I was happy when I could count the number of R&D facilities in Equestria on my hooves. Another one popping up? I don’t like the sound of this, particularly under Royal Command. This is gonna get out of control, you mark my words. AugCon’s already being set alight by Sparkle’s new aug harnesses, and it’s still over six months away!” Manehatten said. “I got T & S Medical breathing down my neck, trying to get Sparkle out of the limelight. Feels like the entire city’s fallen to that pair of brats.”

“What exactly is the point of building an entire facility out there, anyway? It’s not like there isn’t a major R&D lab in every city anyway! So much more accessible!” Hoofington said.

“But that’s entirely the point. It’s being built in the ruins of the old Royal Castle. Not only is it isolated, so they can get away with far more dangerous experiments than they’d ever hope to produce in a city-based lab, but it’s also steeped in wild magic. Huge breakthroughs could be made out there that simply couldn’t be replicated anywhere else,” the mare replied.

“Well, isn’t that a good thing? We’ve always encouraged augmentation research. I know the Honesty bunch keep banging on about ‘the evils of bodily mutilation’, but really? Princess Luna, the mother of all augmentations, is building a research facility in the Everfree Forest, and you’re complaining?Hoofington countered.

 “Not at all! The Everfree facility could prove incredibly useful to us, but thanks to being hamstrung by those Honesty idiots and their tame Apple Corps campaigners, we’ve got barely any control over this place, and events are moving without us. They’re already augmenting the workers needed out there. It’s why the Sparkle Industries harnesses have garnered so much interest. This is potentially the most lucrative research facility to ever be built in Equestria, and we’re sitting here, doing nothing about it!” She stopped, suddenly aware of her out-of-control temper.

“Calm down, dear. We can sabotage it or manipulate it however we want. You know that,” Fillydelphia said. “We’ve outwitted the Princesses many times before, and usually they don’t suspect a thing. Remember the Discord Incident?”

“Oh, how can I forget? Unleash an ancient evil to distract Celestia from a multi-billion bit scheme gone wrong? A most proportionate response!” she sniped back. “I propose—”

“We watch. And we wait,” Ponyville suddenly said. “Nothing more. Nothing less.”

“I agree. This could be a goldmine for us. If anything dangerous comes out, then yes, by all means destroy it. If anything useful comes out, we get hold of it. But for now... I believe a show of power is required,” Fillydelphia said.

“Whatever do you mean?! How will that in any way help us?”  Trottingham exclaimed.

“We have a target. A target that has made... a most unfortunate breakthrough. Sparkle Industries.”

“Sparkle? They’re making the aug harnesses. Thought we were leaving well enough alone for now. You want T & S to climb on top of ‘em even more than they already have?” Manehatten said.

“Yeah! What breakthrough? I never heard about another breakthrough!” Hoofington added.

“Oh, you really don’t know, do you?” Fillydelphia said in a succinct tone. “Remember that debacle a few years ago? With the pegasus wing augs? And the Alicorn Protocols?”

“Ugh, how can I forget? Cloudsdale spent months wrapping up unicorns in enough red tape to stop ‘em auging themselves into alicorns,” Hoofington said, sighing. “What gives? I thought we nipped that little problem in the bud.”

“There’s been a complication. Sparkle, if my intel is correct, has successfully built a prototype for a unicorn horn aug,” Trottingham said.

A dreadful silence descended over the conspirators.

“I... thought that we had definitively written off a horn augment as impossible,” Ponyville said carefully.

“Apparently not,” Canterlot replied.

“So what? We update the Alicorn Protocols? No biggie. I’ll dial up Cloudsdale now. When’s it even going to be announced to the public? AugCon?” Hoofington said.

“No, no, NO!Fillydelphia burst out. “We cannot simply hide behind legislature this time! A discovery of this magnitude would be far too damaging if it was revealed. We didn’t expect something like this for years! The public must not know of this!”

“We hafta operate ahead of the game, Hoofington. We can’t let this slide and just hope we can chuck a leash on it,” Manehatten said.

 “Besides, why do you think the aug harnesses have been so widely advertised? They need that smokescreen, the other augmentation companies will be all over them if they knew, and rightfully so! We need to end this here!” Fillydelphia continued.

“There’s no need to be so forceful, old chap,” Trottingham said.

“Forceful?! This is urgent! To hell with niceties!” Fillydelphia snarled.


As the argument raged back and forth upon the screen, the mare blinked as the telepathic link suddenly opened up.


We have her in our sights. The sequence can be eliminated.

What? What do you mean—

Sent to Stalliongrad. Marketing conference. Last-minute switch-up. Now returning in corporate sky carriage. Confirm kill order?

Wh—NO! Leave her! Too important!

 Could be disguised as accident. Too risky to leave alone.

I said leave her be!

Your words, not mine. Carriage entering Canterlot air space in two minutes. Your call.

No. We cannot destroy such a valuable asset. I shall deal with her later.

...Very well. I shall withdraw.

Sighing in exasperation, the mare turned her attention back to the screen.

“It cannot be allowed out into the public sphere,” Fillydelphia demanded.

“No. But destroy this research altogether? That is supremely foolish. We have been waiting on a development like this for years,” Ponyville said. Alicorn. Is that not what we want?”

“Not just for anypony,” Trottingham said. But our natural disadvantage that our... little group has is that we use mortals against millennia-old foes. No matter how carefully we construct our movements, the Princesses will always have the luxury of still being alive to see a century-long plan through. Perhaps—”

“Total destruction is not necessary. I have a rogue agent in the research team. We can extract the necessary information with their help,” Canterlot cut in. “As with the aug harnesses. Sparkle is a goldmine, but a perilous one. We can take the data and tools we need tonight. Afterwards... maybe we can chase our ultimate goals after all.”

“It’ll be for the best, I suppose. I take it you’ve got a plan, Canterlot?” Hoofington asked.

        “Yes. The aug harnesses are able to be piloted remotely. The contact in the labs has given me remote access to them. I can disguise it as a tragic accident, spell matrices gone haywire, or something like that. We can destroy all research put into the horn from there. Apparently, it’s due to be unveiled at a specialist conference in Baltimare tomorrow night. The labs will be packed out with all the researchers. We’ll be able to terminate any further investigation into the aug that way.” She shuddered at the horrible thought of what she was about to do. How many would die tonight? How many families would be torn asunder? How many parents ripped from children, lovers forever separated... no. She couldn’t think like that, this had to be done.

        “That’s gonna hurt the aug harnesses something chronic, Canterlot,” Manehatten said.

        “We kill two birds with one stone. The horn aug will be destroyed, and the harnesses delayed, and by extension, the Everfree research facility. That will give us more time to gain some leverage there. Mare Cognitum will be essential. Sparkle Industries is expendable,” she reassured them.

        “Pragmatic as always, eh, Canterlot? I look forward to seeing your handiwork,” Fillydelphia said.

        “I do not celebrate death, no matter how essential it is to our cause,” she spoke through gritted teeth.

        “Oh, my dear, don’t get too hung up on the loss of a few pawns,” Trottingham said, in a perverse manner of consolation.

        “They’re not pawns. I think of them as... heroes, if you will. Sacrificing their lives for a cause they will never know and yet one that furthers the lives of their compatriots. There is nothing more noble. Heroes in an invisible war.”

        “Very well, then. Heroes they are. Just make sure they die, all the same,” Ponyville said with barely disguised contempt.

        “Of course. That will be all. We will reconvene in three days’ time.”

        As the five said their farewells, the orange glow faded, leaving her once again to contemplate the view of the city before her. Her gaze alighted on a tower in the distance.

        “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wish there was another way, but...” She looked down, seeing a magazine on the floor with a smiling purple unicorn mare on the cover. She picked it up, and nuzzled the picture with her cheek. “But the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. This must be done. It must.” Was she justifying her actions to herself? Or apologising to the mare who would never know why her employees had to be slaughtered? She blinked back a tear. “Forgive me. Forgive me, Twilight Sparkle...”

        And as the sun set on Canterlot, the shadows behind her lengthened, just a little bit more.

     Chapter 1 >>

Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 1: Dreams Of The Future

        High above the rolling hills and scattered woods that made up rural Equestria, a single sky carriage swept through the evening air, the red light of sunset playing off its burnished steel sides. A logo realised in brass was briefly illuminated: Sparkle Industries, it proclaimed to the world around it. Two pegasus stallions in the familiar purple-and-pink regalia pulled the carriage in total silence, only a faint noise emanating from the wind as it swirled around their wings.

        Within the carriage, the sole occupant closed her eyes and sank back in her seat, sighing in exasperation. What a nightmare, she thought. Three days. Three whole days, she’d spent sitting in meetings, wearing the same false smile, adopting the same sickly sweet reassuring tone, whilst trying to temper the shareholders’ fears about absolutely nothing. When had life become so complicated? Candy-making in Ponyville had been idyllic. Chasing criminals through Canterlot had been an exhilarating introduction to the city, and a research job at Sparkle Industries had been a dream come true... so how had she ended up having to hold the hooves of a bunch of frightened little foals? Foals who, it just so happened, could drive the company’s value into the ground if they got spooked.  

        Silently vowing to unleash a wrath to rival Nightmare Moon on the next pony to ask about the damn aug harnesses, she reached out to her only companions within the carriage: a small tumbler with ice, and half a litre of Stalliongrad’s finest vodka. Draining the tumbler, she rolled it across her forehead, moaning softly as the cool glass soothed the headache that had been haunting her for the past hour, seemingly anticipating the stress of presenting her findings to the board of directors when she arrived back in Canterlot. She tried not to think about that. For now, just sit back, and relax for a while

        “Hey, sweetie!”

        Her eyelids flicked open to be greeted by a disembodied mint-green unicorn’s head floating in front of her, a holographic projection spell having flickered to life on the wall of the carriage.

        “Hey...” The weariness in her voice brought a concerned look to the face of her partner.

        “You OK? How was Stalliongrad? Did it go well?”

        “Ugh. I spent all day, every day cooped up in meetings. You wouldn’t believe how worked up some of the investors are. If you really wanna know how it went, just ask me a question about those aug harnesses about four hundred times and I’ll see how many ways I can rephrase ‘that’s classified’,” she replied.

        “That bad, huh?” The hologram’s gaze moved to the bottle of vodka on the side. “Bon Bon, I thought we talked about this already,” she said with a disappointed tone.

        “Lyra, it’s one glass. I think I can be forgiven that, can’t I?”

        “I know, I know. I just worry about you. We barely even see each other these days. I wanted to make sure you were OK. Twilight said they were a tough crowd to please, and I didn’t want you to come back feeling like you’d done something wrong.”

        “It wasn’t so bad. I’m just not looking forward to having to present everything tomorrow, and you’re off to Baltimare before I even get back,” Bon Bon said morosely.

        “Actually, that’s where you’re wrong, Lyra said with a smirk. “I’ve managed to push back departure a little, so we’ve got about an hour together. So when you get in, you’re going to head straight down that elevator to Deep Labs to meet me, OK?”

        “OK...” A small smile began to creep across Bon Bon’s face. “What else?”

        “What else?! Isn’t seeing me good enough for you any more?” Lyra gasped in mock indignation.

        “Lyra, you’re terrible at keeping things hidden. There’s something else you want to tell me, isn’t there?”

        “Well... yes,” she admitted. “But I really, really can’t tell you over the comm link. It’ll need to be in a secure area.” Bon Bon raised an eyebrow. “I’m serious! This is classified research! It’ll be more than my job’s worth! However, what I can tell you is what we’re going to do with it.”

        “What, the research? Isn’t that information classified as well?” the earth pony asked.

        “No, silly! The payoff from the research! Look, I think we’ve spent far too much time apart from one another recently, and I’ve decided that when I return from Baltimare, we are not simply going back to our apartment.”

        “Huh? Why? Where are we gonna go?”

        “Oh, nowhere special,” Lyra said loftily, inclining her head as if she were admiring one of her hooves. “Just the penthouse suite at the Celestial Hotel.” Bon Bon’s mouth fell open. “Which I may or may not have booked for the entire weekend.”

        “Wh- Bu- L-Lyra... how can we possibly afford that?!” she spluttered.

        “Well, like I said, that research paid off handsomely, and somepony got a rather generous bonus. Say... eighty thousand bits generous.” Lyra grinned.

        The cream pony sat back in stunned silence. Eighty thousand bits? What in the hay had she found?

        “So, a whole weekend to do whatever we want. No conferences, no working overtime in the labs, just you, me, and seventy-two hours in the best hotel in Canterlot. Sound good?” Lyra continued.

        Bon Bon simply nodded her head.

        “Good! I’ve probably said too much already, so I’ll cut it off here before I get into any more trouble. I’ll see you in the Deep Labs, then! Ciao!” Lyra giggled, and blew a kiss, before the hologram abruptly vanished.

For the next few minutes, Bon Bon sat absolutely still, remaining silent as her mind tried to process this information. Eighty thousand bits? For what? Her own research job had allowed her access to the vast majority of Sparkle Industries’ R&D facilities, but to her knowledge, for the past four months the most notable development was the augmentation harnesses being constructed for the workers at Luna’s Mare Cognitum facility in the Everfree Forest. Remarkably well designed and advanced, yes, advertised to an almost sickening degree, of course, but hardly something to pay a pony a small fortune over.

Now she thought about it, she’d barely seen Lyra around the labs she worked in for over a year. That was nothing out of the ordinary, nor were her vague descriptions of what she was working on when asked: that was simply company policy. So had she been working on something truly ground-breaking? If so, what?

“Erm, Miss Bon Bon?” a voice called over the intercom.

“Huh? Oh, sorry, Flint, I was lost in my own thoughts there,” she said.

“No worries. I was just letting you know we’ll be landing in Canterlot in about ten minutes. Might wanna fasten your seatbelt, thermals can get a bit rough around here,” came the reply from the pegasus outside.

        “OK. Thanks for the heads up.” Bon Bon navigated the tumbler to a nearby cabinet, and the vodka into her saddlebag. Looking out of the window, she saw the faint glow emanating around the fast approaching mountain. Home sweet home, she thought.


Canterlot! It was grand enough viewed from the streets, but from the vantage point of the sky carriage, it was truly breathtaking. Although the castle itself was fastened to the side of the mountain, the majority of the city was built around the other side of the peak, on a plateau with roads leading down to the plains below. Over the years, the city had gradually outgrown the land available to it, with newer buildings now poking over the sides of the peak and even being carved from the rock of the mountain itself.

Beneath it all, hidden under the glorious white marble of the main city and displaced by the now gentrified districts surrounding the approach to Canterlot proper, were the Under Warrens, slums that had been built within the catacombs inside the mountain and precariously affixed to the undersides of the buildings above, built from the detritus of the more fortunate society.

Canterlot was, thought Bon Bon, an utter mess: a clean and fastidious veneer over a dirty and dangerous core, a city unlike any other, a city she wouldn’t trade for the world. The castle and the towers behind it looked pretty enough, that was true, but her days in the Canterlot police force had shown her the true soul of the city, each district containing its own merits and flaws, and each with its own camaraderie that she’d found a welcome reminder of her birthplace, Ponyville.

As the carriage flew lower, she fixed her gaze on the tallest tower in her field of vision: a vast monolith in the shape of a six-pointed star. Viewed from above, the tower and the smaller buildings surrounding it resembled the cutie mark of its founder, none other than the egregious Twilight Sparkle. She shifted, standing up to prepare herself for the imminent landing.

They touched down on the skypad on top of the great tower, lightly coming to a halt. To their credit, the two pegasi had flown the carriage with the utmost precision through the precarious winds around the peak of the mountain, making the ride far more comfortable and far less nausea-inducing than some other fliers. Bon Bon picked up her saddlebags and pushed open the door, taking a deep breath of the rarefied mountain air as she stepped out onto the landing pad. She turned to the two pegasi, who were busy unhitching themselves from the carriage.

“Well, thank you, gentlecolts. I have to say that’s some of the finest flying I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing,” she addressed them.

“Ah, well, we pride ourselves on a smooth ride, don’t we, eh, Steel?” said Flint, nudging the other pegasus, who said nothing, instead opting to blush a little. Chuckling at the awkwardness of the stallion, Bon Bon rooted around in her saddlebag and placed the bottle of vodka in front of the two pegasi. “You know the policy about alcohol, Miss Bon Bon.”

“Flint, I’ve been knocking that back since we left Stalliongrad. You’ve earned it. Go on, go off and share it. You need a break.”

“Well, thank you kindly, ma’am. We won’t be keeping you,” Flint replied.

“No problem. You’ve got your noses to the grindstone as it is. When’re you next on shift?”

“Two days from now, I think. We got lucky tonight; Gamma Squad’s pulling the chariots out to Baltimare, so we ain’t got it too bad.”

“Fair enough. See you soon, Flint, Steel,” Bon Bon said, waving to the two pegasi and stepping into the entrance to the building.

A short flight of stairs led down to a vast sky lobby that took up an entire point of the star-shaped floor, the external walls entirely replaced with tinted glass to give a breathtaking view of the world around Canterlot, currently stained a deep orange by the setting sun. Nearer to the central core of the building were several bureaus, each occupied by a secretary busy with the screen in front of them, logging the various comings and goings of those at the skypad, with elevators behind them. A television sunk into one of the walls of the lobby informed visitors of the day’s news.

“...with growing anticipation for tomorrow night’s mystery unveiling by Sparkle Industries, experts are currently naming augmentations they believe might be revealed in preparation for AugCon, later this year. In other news, tensions continue to grow in Manehatten, where a group of homeless ponies and Apple Corps representatives are refusing to evacuate a set of condemned buildings scheduled for demolition. The Blueblood Corporation has declined to comment, sparking speculation that their new luxury highrises may be delayed by up to a year...”

Bon Bon ignored the wittering news anchor on the screen. Another day, another crisis. Too much poverty. Augmentation companies ‘playing God’. ‘Tensions mounting’ from here to the dark side of the Luna-damned moon. Listening to it all was enough to send a pony crazy.

Deciding against the core elevators, she instead walked to the very tip, where an elevator constructed almost entirely of glass was mounted to the point of the star: one of six ‘vista elevators’, as they were known, able to travel to any floor of the building while giving the occupants the same glorious view that was also available from the lobby. Decadent, unnecessary, but worth it, she thought, selecting the button for the ground floor as she walked in. It wasn’t every day she got to walk on the roof of the world.

The elevator abruptly stopped its descent a few floors down, allowing two unicorn mares to enter, one sky blue with a gold mane, the other a deep mahogany brown with a forest green mane. They both had variations on an antenna as cutie marks, marking them both out as communications experts, likely involved in the company’s overbearing presence on the Equestrinet and wider media networks.

“So, have you checked out who’s gonna be visiting Canterlot this winter?” the blue mare asked as the doors slid shut.

“Um, well, I think my aunt may be coming to visit...” the mahogany pony replied.

“Ugh, not in that way, Serial Link! C’mon, don’t you keep track of anything these days?” she teased.

“Oh! Uh... I think there’s a lot going on, Pulse Width. Enlighten me?” Serial Link said.

“Only the most famous musician in all of Equestria!” Pulse Width paused for a second. “DJ-PON3! Here! In Canterlot! Can you imagine what that show’s gonna be like?!”

“Well, I’m sure it’ll be nice... and loud.” Serial Link crossed one foreleg over the other, and broke eye contact.

“Hey, come on. I know you’ve listened to her stuff. And I know you secretly liked it.”

“Perhaps...” Serial Link smiled coyly.

“And, besides, I’ve managed to get a hold of two VIP tickets. Free. Of. Charge,” Pulse Width said triumphantly.

“Huh? How?! I thought those shows sold out months before—I mean, uh, at least from what I’ve heard.”

“C’mon, haven’t you seen the augs she’s tricked out with? She’s got a sponsorship with Sparkle Industries. She exclusively uses our augs, and she gets a direct link to the PR department and Marketing. I had a few ponies who owed me a few favours. A little persuasion here, a little whining there, and hey presto! Me and a very lucky guest are going to be going backstage! You get me?” Pulse Width grinned.

“Well, I’m very happy for you, Pulse. I’m sure whoever he is, he’ll be thrilled to go with you!” Serial Link smiled.


“Why, yes. I’d imagine for an exclusive event like this, you’d invite somepony you’d want to be more than just friends with, no?”

“Uh, yeah. Something like that.” Pulse Width scratched the back of her head, and looked away, blushing slightly, while Serial Link’s gaze fell down to the floor, the coy little smile decorating her face once again.

Playing hard to get, Bon Bon thought, having borne unwilling witness to the exchange. She remembered playing that trick more than a few times herself, in the times when her relationship with Lyra had broken down, although they had always eventually drifted back together again. Nearly two decades’ worth of back-and-forthing, and somehow they still stayed together, in spite of, or perhaps, because of their diametrically opposed personalities, Lyra’s bubbly enthusiastic side being grounded by Bon Bon’s more sombre nature.

Pulse Width opened her mouth to say something, just as the elevator stopped again, opening the door to reveal a deep blue unicorn with a blue and white striped mane, and an hourglass resplendent on her flank. She met the occupants of the elevator with an almost deranged grin.

“Well, well, well. Just the two ponies I wanted to see! How’s the connections up in Marketing looking now?” she said.

“J-just fine, ma’am!” Serial Link stammered.

“And your little friend up there? Has he stopped responding to those messages from that ‘rich zebra prince’? You made sure you hammered into his head that, no, giving out bank details won’t net him ten million bits?”

“Uh, yes, Miss Colgate!” Pulse Width squeaked.

“Good, good! I guess he repaid you handsomely for that, didn’t he? Say, a ticket or two?” Pulse Width blanched, and opened her mouth to deny it, when Colgate winked and said “Don’t worry, I don’t begrudge you. Wish I could go, but... I reckon there’s somepony else you’d rather give that extra ticket to. ” Pulse Width’s eyes went even wider. “Now then, we have hackers to stop and flanks to kick!” At that, the two unicorns nodded, and scurried through the doors of the elevator.

“Run, my little minions! Run!” she called after them, and broke down into fits of laughter as they broke into canters.

Bon Bon rolled her eyes. “Oh, no, Bon Bon. Of course I’m not going to let the power go to my head. I mean, it’s only the post of Chief Communications Officer,” she said to the elevator in general.

“Oh, suck it up. If you ever go and get augmented, make sure it’s your sense of humour they fix,” Colgate replied. They both looked at each other for a second, then shared a good-natured giggle.

“C’mon. ‘My little minions’? They’re going to be taking you out of here in a straightjacket if you’re not careful,” Bon Bon scoffed.

“I like to keep them on their hooves. Seems to work on them! We’ve been getting more and more attacks recently from every little punk who thinks that Equestrinet access gives ‘em the right to start poking around in our data banks, and they’ve been seeing off every last one,” Colgate said triumphantly. “‘Sides, I’ve been trying to get those two together for ages. I was hoping one was going to jump into the other one’s forelegs or something.”

“You knew about them?” Bon Bon asked.

“Well, of course. You figured it out from a couple of minutes with them. I’ve been around them for six months. It was cute at first, but they’re still at the stage where they’re glancing at each other when they think the other’s not looking, and muggins here gets to read through all their sickly sweet messages to each other on the filters. Ugh.” She mimed sticking a hoof into her throat. “Hopefully she’ll wise up and ask her out with that ticket. I dunno. It’s either that, or I hack into her account and do it myself.” Bon Bon shot her a dirty look. “I’m kidding! I’m kidding! Anyway, on that subject, are the investors now in love with the aug harnesses?”

“Sort of. They’re still a bit jumpy, but I think anypony throwing those amounts of money around has every right to be. It’s just... I think all the advertising and hype for them might be a little too much for them.”

“I hear you. I can’t wait until we release these things and get them up and running. At least then we can start shoving our Next Big Thing in everypony’s face,” Colgate said. “And is Lyra OK? I’ve heard she’s been rushed off her hooves recently with organising that unveiling in Baltimare.”

“Yeah, she’s fine. I’m meeting her down in Deep Labs before she goes. At least we’ll finally have some time to ourselves this weekend. We’re heading off to the Celestial Hotel for a bit of R&R.” Bon Bon smiled.

“Oh. That makes sense.”


“Well, I overheard Lyra telling somepony about how pleased she was about learning a soundproofing spell. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but if you two have the weekend off in a hotel...”

Bon Bon suddenly cottoned on to what exactly was being implied. “Colgate!” she snapped.

“What?! Come on, lighten up! I was just joking!”

“Yes, but joking about that, ugh...” Bon Bon shook her head, feeling the rising blush in her cheeks.

“Like I said. Sense of humour needs augmenting. I make jokes about everything, sister. Especially...” Colgate looked around conspiratorially. “That.

“Sometimes I wonder if your mind has been permanently corrupted by those darker areas of the ‘Net, Colgate,” Bon Bon said.

“You mean those ones where you can find pictures of a griffon—”


Colgate snickered, and turned to the doors, which were opening as the elevator reached the ground floor. They stepped out into the small lobby, where ponies went about their business, walking to and fro, chattering, reading from holoscrolls or admiring one another’s augmentations. Offices extended away through a large corridor leading to the centre of the building, where the elevators down to the high-security subterranean levels were located.

They walked in silence, Bon Bon simultaneously trying to ignore the smug look on Colgate’s face and the horrific mental images their conversation had conjured. As they reached the elevator, Colgate tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hey, sorry if I, uh, offended you. Call it quits?” She held out a hoof. Bon Bon took it and shook it primly.

“Of course. I’ll try to augment myself before I meet you again,” she said.

“Good. And, one more thing,” Colgate said, as Bon Bon stepped into the small elevator.


“If you’re looking to spend your time wisely with Lyra before she goes, there’s a janitor’s closet down on Level -4 that nopony walks past. Y’know, if you can’t wait until the weekend,” she said, grinning through the closing doors.



          Bon Bon silently fumed as the small metal capsule descended beneath the ground. Of all the filthy-minded, uncouth layabouts in Communications, it had to be her, didn’t it? Not somepony responsible, oh no, let’s have Colgate take the lead! That’ll be a laugh—no, no, she was not going to let her thoughts on Colgate, no matter how low, ruin her mood now. Not now that Lyra had found some time for her before departing for Baltimare...

        With a quiet ding, the doors opened to the Deep Labs, revealing to Bon Bon a world unlike any other. Most of the research labs, test centres and private medical facilities for Sparkle Industries in Canterlot were located in the smaller star-shaped towers that crowded around the main spire. However, the most important and most sensitive research, into augmentations that were too valuable or dangerous to have out on general display, was conducted safely beneath the ground, behind barricades of security that were rumoured to rival the wards placed on the sacred Elements of Harmony themselves.

It was... an odd place to be sure. Just like any other research laboratory, the aesthetic was simple: clean white spaces, often with floor-to-ceiling glass plates serving as walls, allowing passers-by to see into the various sub-sections. Biologically sterile, and yet intellectually vibrant. Just the place for any lover of research and design to bring their dreams and visions into reality.

She idly looked into one such enclave as she passed by; the ponies inside were busily scurrying back and forth as they worked upon what looked like a full foreleg, complete with shoulder joint. Disregarding the traumatic amputation required to wield such a device, it was a beautiful thing: all sleek black joints and curves constructed from carbon fibre reinforced polymers, with not even a peek of the enchanted gemstones inside that contained the neuromantic spells required to interface the limb with the user’s nervous system and move the leg as intended. Evidently the limb was being put through some sort of test for functionality by the mechanical engineers; she noted a unicorn’s horn glow, and the hoof of the leg sprang apart into a four-fingered paw.

Bon Bon smiled at that; the Griffon Paw aug had been partially designed by Lyra four years ago. She’d always been fascinated with the abilities of species with opposable thumbs, as they were capable of manipulating objects in ways that even unicorns would find hard with telekinesis, and other ponies downright impossible with their hooves. A moment later, and the unicorn’s horn glowed once more; the paw folded away seamlessly to form a hoof again, as if it had never been there. Wonderful, she thought. It was such a useful aug, and she was pleased to see it being included as standard on augmented limbs these days


She recoiled as the limb reacted once more to the engineer’s magical prodding, only this time, a thin blade had extended from it! It was as long as lower half of the leg, evidently being secreted there normally, and had emerged from a near-invisible slot on the outside of the hoof, running parallel to the leg. It retracted, and then shot out again, only this time from the elbow, extending behind the foreleg.

Bon Bon blanched. What kind of pony would need such an aug?! Royal Guards? Security forces? Celestia forbid, a private user? There had been ugly rumours about Sparkle Industries accepting military-grade contracts, building weapons into augmentations, and of course she had been dimly aware of the more controversial developments going on down here. But to see scientists sworn to aid and enhance the equine race flaunt their lethal modifications so carelessly was a travesty! Augs were meant to improve, but not kill.

Shaking herself, Bon Bon moved further through the sub-level, to a place that was as much ‘home’ as the apartment she and Lyra shared on Harmony Row: the augmentation harness laboratory. In here resided both the bane of her life and her second lover: a device that had kept her attention for a whole eighteen months. She looked up at a specimen on display in the centre of the lab. Like the limb next door, it was constructed from the latest materials and thus a gleaming jet black. In contrast to the foreleg, it was a hulking exoskeleton with bulging artificial muscles that would have made the greatest bodybuilder in all of Equestria jealous.

 Unlike previous generations of augs, which insisted on the removal of the natural body part for installation, the aug harnesses instead consisted of a large exoskeleton that fitted over all four legs of a pony, whilst the neural interface came from several ports attached to the pony themselves. Far less invasive than normal augmentations, and it allowed ponies to be given the strength of ten of their brethren without being permanently fused to impractically large limbs.

Not a solution for everything, Bon Bon had to admit, but at least workers on the Mare Cognitum facility could now be augmented for work without losing their legs. She noticed a young earth pony look up at her, recognition flashing across her face. She had a crimson-coloured mane, and a peach coat, which was punctuated in several places on her legs and spine by half-inch diameter silver spots, the ‘anchors’ that would attach her both physically and neurally to the harnesses. A very rare breed: a researcher willing to test her own prototype. A songbird framed by a rising sun was located on her flank.

“Oh, Miss Bon Bon! I hadn’t been informed you were visiting the labs this evening!” the mare exclaimed.

“You can relax, Dawn Chorus. I’m just here to meet Lyra before she heads off. You haven’t seen her around, have you?” Bon Bon replied.

“Oh! No, I haven’t. I imagine she won’t be long, though. She wished to personally oversee the sample harnesses being readied for transit to Baltimare.” Dawn Chorus smiled. “I was just getting ready to give a final demonstration. May I?” she said, indicating one of the harnesses.

“Of course. You can walk me through it now. Wouldn’t want you to get stage fright, eh?” Bon Bon nudged the mare, who blushed slightly.

“No, of course, that would be fine.” She walked over to the exoskeleton and clambered inside. A series of whirrs were emitted by the device, as a thin frame extended over her back, small lilac flashes appearing as each anchor on her body magically fused to its twin on the harness.

“OK... neural interface is stabilising... twenty percent stability... fifty... eighty... ninety-five... ninety-nine... ninety-nine point five... alright, it’s topping out at ninety-nine point eight. You’re good to go,” a unicorn stallion informed her, reading off measurements from a translucent screen in front of him. Dawn Chorus nodded, and gave a few experimental swings of her legs, the exoskeleton moving easily with her. She stood up, and stomped over to a nearby treadmill, which began to move at walking pace as she stepped on it. Bon Bon stood by the machine as Dawn walked forwards on the treadmill with seeming ease.

“So, everything alright? No abnormal behaviour, no movement lag?” she asked, as the pace of the treadmill began to increase.

“Nope. Everything’s working like a dream. I think we’ve finally ironed out those flaws in the foreleg interfaces. It actually feels like I’m moving my own limbs now, rather than fighting the exoskeleton just to walk. I’d say we’ve got a winner on our hooves.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that.” Bon Bon observed the movements of the harness on the treadmill as it accelerated to jogging speed, Dawn keeping pace with minimal effort. She suspected that after maybe a minute or so, she’d be out of breath and slowing down, but the younger pony took the strain without even noticing it.

 “All the tools on the harness are working as well, I take it?” she asked, as the belt came to a halt.

“Of course.” Dawn stepped off the treadmill to a cordoned-off area with several large crates inside, some bearing char marks. She walked up to one of the crates, her augmented hoof unfolding into a fearsome paw that moved forward and gripped the crate firmly. A slight heave, and the impossible happened; the little mare looked at her triumphantly, the heavy crate held up effortlessly in one unfolded hoof without her even breaking a sweat. She looked almost lost within the bulky frame, the vast exoskeleton making her closer to a griffon in stature than a pony, yet her confident movements suggested she had more than enough experience to manipulate the harness.

She concentrated again, and the harness reared back, hind legs folding and re-arranging to a bipedal mode. Dawn took a few steps forward, and a thin tube extended from her free leg, a painfully bright blue flame springing out from it. She brought it up to the crate, slicing through the thick steel with the blowtorch and sending a corner of it clattering to the floor. A smattering of polite applause filled the lab.

As Dawn returned to all fours, Bon Bon realised she was grinning. She’d spent an age complaining about the investors, the merciless marketing campaigns and the enormous time drain the project had been, but this... this was what she lived for. To see her dreams become reality, to see a pony transcend the limits placed on her by nature. This was playing God.

“Perfect.” The word escaped her lips before she could stop it. Dawn Chorus bobbed her head in gratitude. “It’s a shame Lyra wasn’t here to see that. That run was flawless!”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Dawn said with a teasing smile.

“Huh—” The sentence Bon Bon was about to speak never left her mouth, as she was tackled to the ground by an unknown assailant.

“SURPRISE!” came a cry from above her.

“What’s going on?” She noticed a mint green hoof in front of her. She peered up into the dark gold eyes above her. “Lyra... really? In the middle of the lab?” She was acutely aware of the other researchers looking on in bemusement at them, and her cheeks were beginning to turn a deep red.

“Yep! You know me! The more public, the better!” She laughed as she helped Bon Bon up, nuzzling her affectionately as she did so. “You’re so easy to wind up.”

“Don’t I know it...” Bon Bon muttered.

“Anyway! That was excellent, Dawn! I’m glad you’ve got the routine nailed! I’ll be back for pack-up in about an hour, alright, everypony? I have some urgent business to attend to.” The researchers nodded, and went back to their tasks, Dawn stomping over to some other parts of the lab to continue her trial run.

“I guess I’m the urgent business, huh?” Bon Bon deadpanned as Lyra led her outside.

“Oh, something like that...” Lyra said, pecking her on the cheek. “But, like I said. I had something big to show you. Follow me.”

Taken aback by the business-like tone in her partner’s voice, Bon Bon followed her through the corridors of the facility. She wondered what could be keeping her so preoccupied as they walked, a number of possibilities flowing through her head. She said it’s classified, didn’t she? What’s with her? Is this a military aug? Something too dangerous to be let out of here? Anxiety burned within her; she had to say something.

“I see that we’re building blades into artificial limbs, then,” Bon Bon said. “This breakthrough wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would it?”

“Of course not!” Lyra replied.

“Really? I thought Sparkle Industries prided itself on not war profiteering. Yet here we are, quite happily testing weaponised augmentations in open labs.”

“We’ve never made war augs for the griffons, and we never will. You know that,” Lyra reassured her.

“Unless you count the thousands of pony mercenaries out there fighting alongside them,” Bon Bon said darkly.

Her partner sighed. “We’ve taken on contracts for the Royal Guards, and the Royal Guards only. After all, Twilight Sparkle is one of Princess Celestia’s closest confidants; if she starts making subtle noises about the Guards needing to update their armoury, Twilight’s gonna listen.”

“Still a bit of a shock to see it here, though,” Bon Bon admitted.

“I know. But look at it this way: the griffons have been at war with one another for over a decade. Thirteen clans, sub-divided into Celestia-knows-how-many-tribes. The whole point of the structure was to keep disputes at a local level and stop them from growing into full-blown war. Now? Most of the tribes have vanished or merged, and the clans have all melted together into one of two factions. When one finally wins, and crowns a new High Chieftain, do you think they’re gonna simply stop fighting and go back to the way things were?”

        “When you put it like that...”

        “I’m not saying that we’ll ever be at war with the griffons. But as it stands, the Royal Guards would be hopelessly outmatched by even one of the bigger mercenary companies. It pays to be safe, rather than sorry. I don’t like it any more than you do, but we need to do this,” Lyra said quietly. “But we’re not basing our business model on wartime augs, unlike some companies out there. Unethical and unsustainable. I was hoping what I’m going to show you might help our image as one of the more benevolent forces for change out there.” She nuzzled Bon Bon, and they continued their journey through the Deep Labs, until they came to an imposing black wall, starkly contrasting the white aesthetic around them.

“Lyra, this is Ultraviolet Level Security. I don’t have clearance,” Bon Bon objected.

“You do for today! I convinced them you needed to see this. You’re going to love it, I guarantee!” her partner said.

Reassured by the return of the playfulness to Lyra’s voice, Bon Bon waited patiently as her partner stepped up to a small panel in the wall, which contained a small enchanted device imbued with a retinal scanning spell. Faint green lines played over her dark gold eyes for a few seconds, before a soft voice stated, “Identity confirmed: Lyra Heartstrings. Entry permitted.” A door slid out from the wall, revealing a small decontamination chamber beyond.

“Awaiting secondary confirmation,” the device continued.

“That’s your cue, sweetie.” Bon Bon stepped up to the panel, an odd feeling coming over her eye as the arcane lines traced out her retina.

“Secondary identity confirmed: Bon Bon Candycane. Entry permitted.” She rushed inside the chamber, where Lyra was standing, her face scrunched up with the effort of not laughing.

“What? Oh, for Celestia’s sake...”

Bwah ha ha! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It’s just... Candycane... hee hee... still can’t get used to it,” Lyra said with a giggle as the door shut and the decontamination spray began.

“Shut up shut up shut up!”

Once the spray had finished, the chamber opened into a corridor not unlike the one on the other side. However, with this side of the labs, there were no windows or glass walls. Instead, every room was enclosed behind a thick steel door, with similar devices to the retinal scanner attached to them. The entire laboratory gave off an oppressive air, as if daring infiltrators to try and make off with plundered valuables.

“Welcome to my world,” Lyra breathed.


        Having taken a winding path through the labyrinthine corridors of the high-security facility, Bon Bon found herself ushered into a room not unlike the ones she worked in on her own aug harnesses. However, the atmosphere inside couldn’t have been more different; the reverent silence of the researchers inside was in stark contrast to the bustling around her own laboratory. Also, without a specimen of the augmentation being worked on taking prime position in the centre of the lab, Bon Bon was at a loss as to what the researchers were actually working on. She looked quizzically to Lyra for guidance.

        “You understand what I’m about to show you doesn’t go outside the walls of this lab, right?” Lyra asked. Bon Bon nodded vehemently. Security breaches of this magnitude could be a literal matter of life or death. “OK, then... bring it out, ponies.”

        A small trapdoor on the lab floor opened, and a white pillar rose out of it, with a thick glass cylinder on top. Within the cylinder was the main attraction: a thin black cone with a spiral winding around it, maybe five inches in length. Delicate filaments of gemstone fibres emanated from the base of the cone, sending a rainbow of refracted light across the laboratory. Bon Bon stared at it for a moment, not truly comprehending the object in front of her. Then, something clicked inside her mind, and her jaw dropped open.

        “Is that- is that what I think it is?” she whispered.

        “Indeed it is. That is the world’s first prototype of a unicorn horn augmentation, developed by yours truly,” Lyra said. “You would think it would look a bit more impressive, wouldn’t you?”

        “Well, yes, but, but how? Everypony worth listening to said it was impossible!”

        “And twenty years ago a certain purple unicorn came to town claiming the Mare in the Moon was about to escape, and bring about eternal night. Look what happened there,” Lyra retorted. “Never assume a majority consensus is the same as the truth. Because that little device there will give you the powers of a unicorn, no matter how many scientists say it can’t be done.”

        “So, this is where you’ve been hiding all this time, then?”

        “Yes. We’ve toiled away for a long time. We were building on some research made way back when augs were little more than wooden legs enchanted to move by toymakers. Stuff about biological integration, connecting flesh, or more accurately nerves, with steel. Of course, it was all abandoned after neuromancy was discovered. Why go through more intrusion and infection risk when a neuromancer can just top up the enchantments in your augs every so often?” Lyra began to circle the pillar, her gaze fixed upon the horn.

“But, there was a certain passage on semi-living augs that caught my eye. Obviously, simply welding a horn to your head won’t let you cast magic, but if you integrate it with the parts of a horn that allow you to tap into your innate magical ability, well, then you get somewhere.”

She waved her hoof a nearby bench. “So, we began growing biological structures like those found in unicorn horns, but to no avail. They simply wouldn’t stay alive outside of extremely well-controlled conditions. Eventually, we tried paring the structures down, to the point where it wasn’t strictly alive any more, just an organic compound. And if you stimulate it, it will cast magic!” Lyra grinned. “Don’t you see? This is more than just a breakthrough. This is pushing the very boundaries of what we know about our own bodies. The aug doesn’t discriminate between sub-species of pony; theoretically, we could plug it into an earth pony or pegasus and make them a unicorn. But why should we be able to? Why do earth ponies and pegasi have magical areas in their brains that are naturally useless due to their lack of a horn? Perhaps our understanding of neurology is completely wrong.”

        Bon Bon waved a hoof to try and stop herself being overwhelmed by the flood of information. “So you have a miracle on your hooves? How are you even going to begin explaining this to the public? Lyra, it’s wonderful you’ve achieved this, but...”

        “I know it’s a lot to take in. But just think! Neuromantic enchantments last longer on unicorns than other ponies, but nopony really knows why. We can study that, perhaps even do away with neuromancy altogether! Imagine a world where anypony can get augmented, and their implants run forever. As it is, there’s nearly a million ponies out there relying on a relative hoofful of unicorns who can cast those enchantments. We can give them back their lives, with no fear of implant rejection, and neuromancers can stop being prisoners inside their own clinics because nopony would need or want to ponynap them! This is what’s at stake. Not just an aug. Not just this company’s fortunes. The entire future of our species. Evolution held in our hooves.”

        “And how do I factor into this?”

“Well firstly, I want to apologise,” Lyra said, her gaze dropping to the floor. “I know you’ve been working long and hard on the harnesses, and they’re an incredible breakthrough in their own right. It’s just... Twilight wants us to announce this at the conference tomorrow night. Every little bit of hype around the harnesses is being used to divert unwanted attention away from this. We’re using your development as a smokescreen, just so we can say ‘Oh, hey-o! We have an augmented unicorn here!’, when everypony’s expecting us to be telling them what they already know about the exoskeletons. I feel a bit guilty, that’s all.”

Bon Bon put a hoof on her partner’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Lyra. I understand if we’re going to be overshadowed. To be honest, I’m kind of sick of hearing about all the hype as well.” She smiled, putting on a brave face.

“Thank you. For being so understanding. I know it won’t console the others, but I do have a way of making it up to you, if you so wish.”

“How so?” Bon Bon asked.

“A side effect of the semi-living structure of the horn is that it only matches certain magical patterns. Some ponies have hypothesised that aug enchantments wear off because they’re fighting their user’s own magical aura. That’s another branch of research this development could spark! Not to mention—”

“Lyra! Focus. You’re babbling again.”

“I know! Isn’t this exciting?!” Lyra’s trademark ‘mad scientist’ look was beginning to show, and Bon Bon found herself taking an involuntary step back. “I’ve been through the biological samples on the company records. I’ve looked high and low, and there is one pony in this company who is a perfect match for that horn over there.” She walked over to the cream earth pony, and lowered her head so that the tip of her horn rested on her partner’s forehead. “You.”

        Bon Bon blinked once, and then again. Her gaze rose again to the innocent-looking cone on the pedestal. You. The device that could upheave every segment of augmentation technology as they knew it. You. A scientific marvel, and all it needed to unlock its potential was a volunteer, a host. You.

        “Me...” she breathed. The normally enthusiastic unicorn nodded, adopting a mournful look as her eyes dropped to the floor.

        “Yeah. Just my luck, huh? Look, Bon Bon... I got carried away. Don’t feel obliged—I mean, the next horn we produce will fit somepony else, and, well, I know you would only ever get augmented if you absolutely needed to, not to mention I’m asking you to change your entire sub-species, become something else entirely, it’s just too much to—”

        “Shhhh.” She placed her hoof under Lyra’s chin, tilting her head up to meet her eyes. “You don’t need to apologise for anything. This research is your life’s work, right?” The unicorn hesitated, then nodded. “So why would I ever stand in the way of it?”

        For a moment, the pair gazed at one another in silence, before understanding ignited in Lyra’s eyes. “You’d... you’d really do that?!” she said excitedly.


“I... I... yes.” She couldn’t think why. She didn’t know why her aversion to unnecessary augmentation had suddenly vanished. All that mattered was the overjoyed look on her partner’s face, and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, she could be a boon to all ponies. “But where do we go from here?”

Lyra suddenly wrapped her forelegs around Bon Bon, squeezing her in a tight hug. “Thank you. Thank you so much. Don’t worry. I’ve got everything planned out. You’ll see. As soon as I get back from Baltimare, and as soon as we’re done at the Celestial, we’ll get underway. We’ve got simulations, all the coding... hopefully we may even be able to show it in use at AugCon. Just think! All the world’s eyes on you —the first augmented unicorn!”

The earth pony said nothing, instead opting to close her eyes and return the embrace, a warm smile spreading across her face.

“Not meaning to intrude, Ma’am, but we’re under strict instructions to tell the subject what she needs to know and then escort her out. Sorry,” a security guard near the entrance informed them.

“Oh, yes. Of course,” Lyra said. She turned her head back to Bon Bon, a mischievous smile chasing across her lips. Then, without warning, she pulled her forwards and kissed her. Right in the middle of the lab. In front of everypony... only Lyra, she thought. After a minute or so, they pulled apart, Bon Bon brushing her curly blue-and-pink mane out of her eyes and blushing slightly. She looked up to notice that the guard had suddenly decided to study the ceiling in detail, his own cheeks flushed. “Well, I think that concludes everything. I’ll see the subject out myself, shall I?” The guard nodded vigorously, wordlessly opening the door without making eye contact.

As they walked back down the corridor, the earth pony researcher knew she should have felt irritated at her partner for such a public and embarrassing show of affection, yet she found herself faintly amused, not least by the guard’s reaction. It seemed like the unicorn’s bouncy nature was beginning to rub off on her. “You’re an unholy terror, you know that?” she said.

“Oh, I know how to push all their buttons in that lab! It gets kinda boring without winding up at least one pony a day.” They came to the imposing wall that marked the boundary of the high-security area. Lyra gave a wistful sigh and pecked her on the cheek. “I suppose this is goodbye, then. I need to tie up a few loose ends back there before I can start packing up the harnesses.”

“Yeah. I’ll... I’ll see you on Friday, then,” she said.

“C’mon! Don’t sound so down! You’re going to love that penthouse, I guarantee it! And I’ve left your favourite alfalfa stew in the fridge back home. Try not to eat take-outs for the rest of the time I’m away, will you?”

“OK, then. See you on the other side.” They embraced one final time, and Bon Bon stepped into the decontamination chamber, exiting the inner sanctum.


Having said goodbye to the researchers in her own lab, with a pang of guilt for the way their work was about to be usurped, Bon Bon walked into the elevator, a portly brown unicorn joining her for the trip back to the surface.

“Exciting times, huh?” he said as the doors slid shut.

“I’m sorry?” Bon Bon jerked out of her own thoughts to address him.

“What with the aug harnesses and such. SI’s really onto a winner here. I’m glad to see

the next generation of researchers are doing things I’ve only ever dreamed of,” he replied, nudging her, eliciting a blush from her.

        “Well, I’m just one of a team, you know...” she said, trying to be modest.

        “Oh, nonsense! I’ve been working on prosthetics long before they were called augmentations. Those were the days. Construction worker’d lose a leg, and I’d be there to whip up an enchantment on a wooden replacement. Beautiful things, they were; had a carpenter on hospital staff, if you can believe that!” He chuckled. “But now you’re making them so good ponies will happily lop their legs off to get hold of them! Good show!”

        “I guess so...” Her gaze dropped to the floor guiltily. Was that all she was good for? Finding new ways to coax ponies into desecrating their bodies? Ugh, I need to stop thinking like this. I’ll be joining the Apple Corps if I’m not careful... Her thoughts were disrupted as the elevator jerked to a halt, an alarm wailing in the background. She felt a dagger of ice stab into her stomach. No... it can’t be. There must have been an accident... The elevator shook, and distant screams could be heard. Smoke began to creep through the vents. “L-Lyra...” she whimpered.

        “What in blazes?! Come on, answer the damn phone!” The unicorn buck had picked up the emergency telephone with his telekinesis and was shouting into it, to no avail. He flung it down in exasperation. “We need to get—koff—out of here!” he exclaimed, smoke causing his eyes to stream with tears. The earth pony stared at him dumbfounded, too wrapped up in her own fears to answer. “Come on.” He opened a hatch in the elevator’s roof, horn glowing as he did so, and sat on his haunches beneath it. Bon Bon clambered on his shoulders and pulled herself through the opening.

        “Wait for me!” he said. He reared up, and she took hold of his forehooves in hers, pulling him up. They both sat on the metal roof, struggling to breathe in the increasingly smoke-filled shaft. She looked around wildly, before seeing a ventilation duct cover on the wall. She trotted over and pulled it open. “Are you mad? That leads further down into the labs! We need to get out!” he gasped.

        “Do you have any better ideas?!” Bon Bon growled. “I’m not gonna die in here... I’m not gonna let her die in here...” She dived through the shaft opening, not waiting for a response. The metallic tunnel was claustrophobia-inducing enough as it was, and it was beginning to become uncomfortably hot and smoky thanks to the fires she presumed were raging below. Coming to another vent cover beneath her, she pushed it open, and dropped down into hell.

She was outside her lab, the glass facade of the section shattered. She scrabbled back from what she saw, cringing at the sight of it. The unicorn who had co-ordinated Dawn’s neural interface earlier was draped over the broken glass, the fragments having gashed his body, his neck bent at an unnatural angle. Inside the lab were the rest of her team, strewn about with horrific injuries to their bodies.

In the centre of it all, amidst an inferno that was consuming the laboratory, a monster cowered.

“HELP ME!” it shrieked, barrelling forward to meet her. Dawn Chorus was still sealed into the exoskeleton, half her mane scorched off, her face splattered with blood. A pegasus was still held in one of her paws.  She sobbed hysterically as the machine bore down on Bon Bon. “I can’t control it! I’m sorry! I’M SORRY!” she howled.  


        She dived to one side, Dawn screaming as the harness slammed her into the wall. It pulled away and swung around to regain its bearings, its unwilling passenger begging for mercy as it did so. She looked up to see a security guard with two saddle-mounted combat rifles round the corner, his eyes bulging as he took in the scene. He glared at the aug harness, and reached forward to bite on his bridle. Bon Bon went cold as she realised what was about to happen. “No! Don’t! She’s not in control— 

The sharp report of the twin rifles rang out, crimson craters appearing on Dawn’s head and chest. She gurgled as her life’s blood drained out of her. With the rider dead, the rogue harness seemed to gain an even greater fluidity to its motions, flinging a piece of debris from the floor at the guard, knocking him down. Bon Bon turned and ran as it stomped over to its helpless assailant, trying to block out the terrible sounds behind her.

        With the guard gone, and her companion from the elevator nowhere to be found, Bon Bon galloped desperately towards the high security area. She ducked into a burning laboratory as another harness, this one mercifully empty of a user, stepped into the corridor, hunting for more victims. A gasp escaped her lips as flames burst from the wall, obliterating another bank of priceless research.

Framed against the incandescent nightmare were four char black limbs, poking out of the wreckage, pointing at her as if accusing her for abandoning her partners and her friends. She stepped back from them, whispering “No, no...” over and over. Not here. Not now. This wasn’t meant to be! Shaking herself out of her terror, Bon Bon peeked out into the corridor. It was clear... for now.

        Hunkered down low to avoid detection, she navigated her way to the high security zone, counting herself blessed that she attracted no notice from the harnesses. Her mind blotted out the images of death and destruction. Worry about that later. For now, she had to find the laboratory containing the horn. A chill ran through her suddenly. What if the clearance was no longer active? What if she couldn’t get in? What if... she died out here?

        As the cream earth pony rounded the final corner, her worries were both assuaged and amplified. The clearance didn’t matter any more. That was the good news. The bad news was that this was rendered moot by the black wall no longer being there.


The path was a blur. Her entire body burned with exertion, smoke stinging and lashing at her lungs. She didn’t remember the path to the lab, her mind simply let her body take control. There was no more time for thinking.

        Bon Bon came to, conscious thought finally flooding back into her mind. She was standing in the middle of the lab she had been in earlier, chest heaving as she took in great gulps of clean air. Parts of her coat were singed off, and her body was adorned with cuts and bruises. It didn’t matter, though.

 In front of her, standing amongst a small crowd of terrified ponies, was a mint green unicorn. Her mint green unicorn. Lyra stared at her as if she’d become a monster from the Everfree Forest.


“B-Bon Bon? What are you doing here?” Lyra asked distantly. “Aren’t you... aren’t you... Oh!” Her stupor wore off, and she ran forward, embracing her partner, throwing her to the floor with the force of the impact. “Why are you here?! Why didn’t you go to someplace safe?” she demanded through sobs. Bon Bon shook her head.

        “I c-couldn’t leave you here! Haven’t you seen what’s out there? Dawn—all of them—they’re all gone! They... they... I saw them just an hour ago...” The two mares held one another, weeping in sorrow for those who’d already perished, and in relief for having found one another. After a few minutes, Lyra leaned back slightly, a reassuring look on her face.

        “It’s alright. You’ve found me. We’ll be safe in here, at least. Nothing can get through these walls. We’ll just... have to wait for help,” she murmured. From the way the other researchers in the lab kept their gaze on the unicorn, Bon Bon could only assume that Lyra had been keeping the calm in the lab before she’d arrived as well. Only, the sounds of the prowling harnesses and their victims could still be heard faintly through the walls. Still out there. Still hunting. But they were safe, surely?

        Her vision clouded with unshed tears, Bon Bon met the gaze of her lover. She was beautiful: her head ringed with a halo of light, eyes of burnished gold still holding a spark of joy, even in this darkest of hours. Her mouth opened, to thank her, to reassure her, to just say something, but the words intended for the unicorn were left unspoken.

The wall behind Lyra burst open in a white flash, debris tumbling forth. She felt herself tumbling backwards, screaming as she was ripped out of the embrace. Her left foreleg hit the ground, snapping from the sudden impact. Agony flashed through her. She looked up—one of her eyes was clouded from something, and refused to clear—to see three harnesses standing in the middle of the lab, amongst their previously safe haven. Each was... occupied? No, that couldn’t be right! Two walked around the lab, callously picking off the researchers as they tried to escape. These weren’t the same as Dawn; they were compliant in the murder of other ponies! And the third... the third held the most precious object in the world in one of its unfolded hooves, as she screamed and twisted, her horn glowing in a futile effort to eject herself from the grip.

        Pure, unbridled fury coursed through the earth pony. She picked up a fallen rod of steel that had cascaded forward from the collapsing wall in her mouth, a scream of defiance working its way around the metal. She charged forward awkwardly on three legs, towards it. A single, futile strike against its foreleg was the only reward, the shock of the blow jarring her teeth. It was unable to retaliate, standing on three legs itself, but its companions were not as burdened. Bon Bon yelled as a vicious blow cracked her ribs down one side, the bar falling from her mouth as she was thrown across the chamber by the force of it.

Vision blurred yet further from the ferocity of the counter-attack, Bon Bon groaned as she tried to regain her bearings. She was near the entrance to the lab, the security guard there already dead, his neck broken by the force of the explosion. And there—right next to him—a pistol. It was her last chance. She crawled forward on three legs towards the pistol, jaws hanging open in anticipation. Not until it was too late did she see the augmented pony walking calmly towards her, whisking the pistol away with a casual flick.

The third cruelly stomped down on her exposed hind legs, and she swore it laughed as it did so. These... things... were monsters! She couldn’t... couldn’t function. No more. Three of her legs were nothing more than incandescent pools of agony, unmoving, useless. One of her eyes was gone, she was sure of it. She raised her head, one last time, to see the harness walking away. Lyra was still held in its grip, now limp and lifeless. NO! NO!

“LYRA!” The other two harnesses turned back to her. “LYRA!” She inched forward, dragging herself forward on her last good leg one... bit... at a time... No good. The exoskeleton vanished into the smoke with the last of her hope. She resigned and rolled over, panting from exertion, and felt something pull at her tail, yanking her backwards. A weak cry of pain escaped her lips, the broken glass adorning the floors of the facility lacerating her back as she was dragged into the centre of the room. Above her, framed by a spotlight, was a monstrous artificial leg. This was it. The killing blow.

“Lyra... f-forgive me...” The leg came down. The pain ended.

<<Prologue                                                                                                                         Chapter 2>>


Many thanks to RavensDagger and Burraku_Pansa from SALT for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]

Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 2: Death And Rebirth

        “She’s still alive! Over here...”

        Lyra gazed at her, still locked in their embrace. She said nothing. She didn’t have to.

        “What happened to her?! Oh, Celestia...”

        “Get her to the medical facility! NOW!”

        The spark in her eyes, the warm smile on her lips. That was more than enough.

        “She’s stopped breathing...”

        “No! Come on, stay with us!”

        “OK... stabilising. What a mess...”

        Lyra reached forward, caressing her cheek. “We can change the world...” she whispered.

        “It is worth it. Go ahead with the procedure.”

        “...but nothing will tear us apart,” Bon Bon finished.

        “We can fix her.”

        “I love you. You know that, right?”

        “We can fix everything.

        “I’ll always love you.”


        Bon Bon awoke with a jerk, tangled helplessly in her bedsheets. She struggled against them as if drowning, gradually freeing herself from her fabric prison. Laid atop her bed, she curled up against the cold, quietly sobbing until the pain of the nightmare—the memory of that awful night—gradually ebbed away, leaving her spent and shivering.

        She pushed her sweat-soaked fringe out of her face to regard the clock on her bedside table. 4:12 AM, it decreed. Hardly a healthy time to awaken, but like every other fragment of her life, her sleeping schedule had been thrown into chaos ever since... ever since... that day. Six months had done nothing to heal her.

 Beyond that was a damaged photo frame, a shrine to that golden past, when she still shared her life with another. Perhaps fittingly, the glass of the frame was cracked in a spider’s web pattern, separating the two ponies in the photo, a scar from her hurling it across the room in a fit of rage. She wished she hadn’t, but at the time, the first time she’d seen it after the incident, it had been too much to bear. Both subjects were now lost to her. One had been taken from her by the very devices she’d helped invent, and the other... changed beyond all recognition.

        She hadn’t just lost her lover that night. She’d lost the very feeling that she was still equine.


No natural pony had a body like this. Her cream coat suddenly gave way to a sleek, matte black surface at the shoulders, extending all the way down to her hooves. Her hips had been replaced too, fused to artificial approximations of her hind legs, the same black material extending up to her flanks and almost obscuring her cutie mark. Surgical sutures criss-crossed her chest, the only evidence of the tinkering with her internal architecture, artificial components replacing their failed organic counterparts. They could fix anything, even a broken heart. But only literally. She’d been built upon, changed, improved. Her body was no longer her own, but a billion-bit experiment, irrevocably attached to augments most ponies could only dream of. And all it had cost was her life and her soul.

        A trip to the bathroom was just another exhibition of paradise lost. The lyre, still casually dumped in the same place on the sofa where it had been abandoned a lifetime ago. The same bowl that had held her alfalfa stew, stained by the mould that had grown in it. It had taken her nearly two months after returning home, as weak and wobbly on her new limbs as a newborn foal, to bring herself to clear out her last meal. The fractured mirror she’d never bothered to replace, its damage a consequence of the same fury that had claimed her photo frame. Mirrors reflected what was really there; the discordant, broken image of a pony it presented to her was the only reflection she deemed fitting.

        The augmented pony shuffled around her cavernous apartment, slowly going through the same ritual she had developed since she’d returned here. Her forehoof unfolded into a paw to take a black, woollen longcoat from a hook on the wall. It had been on mail order, the only thing to welcome her home once discharged. She’d hoped to show it off to Lyra, once. She shrugged it on, and opened the door to the balcony, and was met with a harsh, freezing wind, a relic of a winter not quite passed. As the door closed behind her, Bon Bon looked down at her augmented limb, folding and unfolding her hoof again and again. The Griffon Paw was her partner’s legacy, and she would be with it until the day she died. Whether that was a blessing or a curse, she couldn’t possibly say. She looked out upon the sleeping city of Canterlot, nestled against the mountain as the biting gale blew about the metropolis. And she thought.


        Eventually, pangs of hunger forced her to retreat back inside, shivering from the cold. It had been nearly two hours since she awoke, most of that time spent contemplating... well, everything and anything. Ever since her resurrection, her life had been busier than ever before, preparing her for a new existence as an Aug. Rehabilitation and physiotherapy, training on using the more clandestine augmentations that had been installed into her, a reawakening of combat skills that had grown rusty since leaving the Canterlot police force. Yet, even with this to focus on, she’d felt a loss of purpose. Arguably one of the most advanced pony enhancement projects ever, and nothing to actually work on. Left to its own devices, her mind easily wandered into unwelcome territory, dwelling on things perhaps best forgotten.

        She stood in front of her fridge, looking at the still unfamiliar face reflected in its polished steel surface. As she had suspected at the time, she’d lost the use of one eye thanks to the explosion in the lab, and its twin had fared little better. Not good enough. In their place, smooth alabaster orbs had been inserted, blazing golden irises obscuring the lenses and mechanisms hidden within. The force of the blow from the aug harness’ leg to her head had fractured her skull. Not good enough. An intricate framework had been inserted to knit together the bone, and parts of it extended out from just behind her eyes to accommodate shaded lenses, currently retracted. Somewhere along the line, somepony had decided grafting sunglasses to her face would be a terrific idea. Wonderful.

        And—she pushed aside her blue and pink mane—she’d once been an earth pony. Not good enough. Because there, inserted neatly into the circular scar left on her forehead, was the only other miraculous survivor of that laboratory: the horn aug. That had been a bittersweet discovery upon waking. She’d gotten her wish, but the one pony she truly wished to see her as a unicorn was lost to her.

        A discreet sound emitted from the holoscroll she’d left on the worktop. Somepony wished to contact her. Bon Bon pulled it towards her, absently tapping at the surface while she rooted around in the refrigerator for something vaguely resembling breakfast. The face of a white unicorn appeared on the scroll, framed by her immaculately curled indigo mane, her blue eyes sparkling with an energy that nopony had any right to possess this early in the morning.

        “Oh, my dear! I hope I didn’t wake you!” Rarity exclaimed, her voice made slightly tinny by the second-rate enchantments on the device.

        Bon Bon stared down into the flat device, a window onto Rarity’s world. She’d spent ninety minutes on a windswept balcony. Of course she looked a mess; it was anathema to the notoriously prissy unicorn. “No... been up a couple of hours, actually,” she said flatly. “Something important?” Stupid question. The head of PR for Sparkle Industries hardly contacted employees at such unsociable hours for a casual chit-chat.

        “Why yes, as a matter of fact. Um...” Rarity seemed taken aback somewhat by Bon Bon’s deadpanning, a rare slip of the polite facade she normally maintained. “Twilight wishes to meet with you. Today, at ten.” Twilight? The Twilight Sparkle? She sighed slightly. Her previous interaction with the head of the company had been an awkward apology delivered some time after that fateful night. The bookish unicorn had meant well, and her meetings with her before that had been cordial, but she’d let the encounter sour her relationship with her overseer. No amount of grovelling would bring back the dead. What did she want now? “I know you last met under unfortunate circumstances, but she means well. Please, my dear. Don’t let it rule over your life.”

        Rule over her life?! That was all she had left; that one night had torn apart everything she’d held dear, and now she was being told to just forget about it? “I’m sure she does,” Bon Bon growled, letting her resentment simmer, for now at least.

        “Also, there’s your monthly appointment at the MANE clinic at eight,” Rarity continued, seemingly oblivious to Bon Bon’s building anger. “Please could you attend this time? I know it seems like a waste of time, but implant rejection can strike without warning, and...”

        “Fine!” she snapped. “Anything else? Or are you done organising my life for today?”


“No, that will be all. Twilight shall explain the rest later. Goodbye.” The white unicorn vanished from the scroll. Superficially, she’d brushed off that comment, but Bon Bon knew that was another black mark against her. Nothing mattered as much as image to a pony like Rarity, damn her. Twilight’s right-hoof mare manipulated all and sundry, even without using the fearsome amount of social augs she had installed, and she revelled in it.

She glared at the magical device, imagining Rarity’s face to still be portrayed on there. Always watching, always observing her subject, her experiment, but never caring about the pony behind it.

She felt a familiar red flash of fury, giving a frustrated scream. When she dared to look down, the holoscroll had been torn in two, each half held in her paws, sparking as the enchantments leaked out of the metallic sheet. Not again. The scroll had been relatively cheap, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that yet another object had fallen afoul of her wrath. This had never happened before the incident. How long until she lashed out at another pony?

The augmented unicorn sank to her haunches, the broken holoscroll fluttering to the ground. She stared at her unfolded hooves in horror. What have I become?


        MANE: Magical Augmentations for a New Era. The monolithic sign blazed its brazen welcome to all those passing on the street, a monument to the organisation’s own philanthropic ideals. Augmentation for all ponies who needed it. And could afford it. Bon Bon looked up at the vast marble facade of the building, stretching a full six stories, almost to the top of the structure, large tinted windows set into the stonework at every floor.

It tried to blend in with the more traditional architecture around it, and would almost have succeeded, had it not been for the sheer number of augmented ponies passing through the doors. Most ponies who were physically upgraded worked as manual labourers, away from the affluent Upper Canterlot district the clinic was located in. The vast majority of residents in this area had neural and internal enhancements, if any. The very richest echelons of society tended to look down on those they saw as ‘polluting their bodies’. Aristocrats.

        Ignoring the pointed looks and whispered, poisonous comments from a pair of passing socialites, Bon Bon made her way through the ornate wooden doors of the clinic. As she stepped inside, she was greeted with a modern interior quite at odds with the old-fashioned exterior, all clean whites and sombre greys. Directly ahead of her was the main reception, where several young mares were seated, all unicorns, each fending off the enquiries of their customers. A couple of them looked particularly tired and haggard, a result of having been unlucky enough to work the graveyard shift. MANE kept its clinics open 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of its employees. She waited patiently in line until she was flagged over.

“Welcome to the Canterlot MANE clinic! How can I help?” the young mare asked brightly. Bon Bon stared at her for a second; that peach coat, that wonderful, helpful aura...

“Of course it’ll be alright!” Dawn Chorus exclaimed. “Why would the investors back out now? We’ve been working on this for over six months now, and we’re way ahead of schedule!”

“I’ve got ponies nipping at me from every corner of these labs, Dawn, telling me why this won’t work. Look, let’s face it, this is never going to go into production. Just another wasted idea,” Bon Bon said.

“No it isn’t.” The little peach mare glared at her. “I believe in you. We all believe in you. These aug harnesses are better than any bid from T & S, and they are going to work!”

“...Is something the matter?”

“What? No. Sorry. Lost in my thoughts,” she said. “Ah, um, I had a routine appointment. Under the name Bon Bon,” she quickly blurted out, before her voice cracked. Even the way the peach pony chewed her lip while consulting the screen was the same... She tried not to think back to that night, her friend trapped in one of those infernal exoskeletons...


“ it’ll be about quarter of an hour. Um, Miss?” The receptionist looked up at her, concern lining her face. “Are you OK? I said it’ll be about fifteen minutes ‘til we call you over. Is that alright?”

Bon Bon nodded, then scurried off to the waiting area. She had to stop zoning out like that. Maybe Rarity was right. Perhaps she was getting too caught up in the past. Her soul-searching was cut off by a plaintive gurgle from her stomach. After the destruction of her holoscroll, she’d been too upset with herself to contemplate breakfast, and had fled the apartment soon after. Now, though, the cafe built into the waiting area was giving off heady aromas that she couldn’t help but follow. Bon Bon had been sticking to a diet recently, but surely a poppy seed and lemon muffin or three didn’t hurt. With a large cinnamon latte on the side, maybe?

Before she knew it, she was sitting with her overzealous order at a small table. The only evidence of the muffin’s existence was crumbs; the memory of them passing her lips simply didn’t exist. She really had been that hungry, then. Before she could eat another, she noticed a little plum purple earth pony filly sitting on her haunches nearby, looking up at her, green eyes wide open and sparkling with awe.

“Uh, are you lost, little one?” the augmented pony asked hesitantly. She’d never been good around kids. The filly shook her head, messing up her brushed lime-green mane.

“No, I was looking at you,” she replied. “Why do you have sunglasses on? It’s still morning.”

Bon Bon smiled slightly, and willed the lenses to retract. They did so with a barely audible snick, revealing her golden eyes. “Better?”

Somehow, the filly’s eyes opened even wider. “Oooh. That’s so cool! And wow—these are amazing!” She gestured towards Bon Bon’s unfolded hoof, still slightly sticky from the muffin it had recently handled. “These augs are incredible! Where did you get them?”

The older pony was astonished by the filly’s enthusiasm. Most ponies treated Augs with indifference or outright contempt; admiration was rare indeed. “Sparkle Industries. I work for them,” she said.

“You do?! Woah... I always thought your implants were better than T & S, anyway,” the filly replied in a conspiratorial tone.

“...Right. And how do you know so much about augs? It’s not really a healthy thing to obsess over, is it?” Bon Bon said flatly.

“Oh, all of my school friends sneak me magazines about them,” the little pony said with a wave of her hoof, sounding old beyond her years. “They’re so interesting! Who wants to play with a stupid doll when you can look at robot legs instead? And when I grow up, I’m gonna be just like my momma and poppa!” At that, another, older pony rushed over, her eyes bulging in embarrassment. She was the opposite colouring of the filly: she had a pale lilac coat and deep green mane. Presumably mother and child. Her forelegs were artificial, gleaming chrome encasing both leg and shoulder, and there were signs of implants along her jawline.

“Goodness, I’m so sorry!” the mother exclaimed, pulling the filly towards her. “Plum Tree, I told you not to go wandering off! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”

“Sorry, Mom,” Plum Tree muttered. Her gaze never left Bon Bon’s artificial limbs as she was bundled into her mother’s metallic embrace.

“Ah, she wasn’t... oh dear.” The mare blushed as she took in the scale of the lone pony’s augmentations. “I’m so sorry! My little Plummy will go and badger anypony she sees with implants. I knew it was a mistake to bring her to a MANE clinic, but what with it being the weekend...”

The cream pony shook her head. “No, she wasn’t being a bother. It’s nice to get some positive attention for once,” she said.

“Oh, I know what you mean,” she replied, stretching out a silvery limb. Plum Tree was growing restless, shifting and muttering. Her mother sighed, reached around into a saddlebag and pulled out a small magazine. “Plum Tree. Here. Please could you not run off this time?” There was no answer, the filly having already snatched the publication away to read it. She looked back up, and held out her leg to shake Bon Bon’s. “Plum Pudding, by the way.”

“Bon Bon,” the unicorn replied. She shifted over, allowing the earth pony to pull up a chair. The purple mare sat, tapping her hooves together anxiously and biting her lip. “First time here?”

“How did you...” Plum Pudding began.

“Everypony’s nervous the first time they’re checked up on. I know. They really try their best to scare you.  Implant rejection, neuromantic enchantments going wrong, all kinds of stuff. How long’s it been?” she replied in a sympathetic tone.

“Just under a month. I’ve only just got the hang of using them. I hope they don’t have to take them off again!” the purple pony said with a nervous laugh.

“Don’t worry. Really. No matter what the Apple Corps say, augments are perfectly safe for almost everypony. You’d know by now if something was wrong.”

“Yes... of course. Nothing wrong...” Plum Pudding’s voice trailed off, her gaze slipping away to her filly, who’d buried her nose in the magazine.

“Nothing?” Bon Bon said. As soon as the word left her mouth, she cursed herself for being so forward. Plum Pudding blanched, looking guilty.

“It’s just, well, I... I...” She sniffed, tears collecting under her eyes. “I worry about Plum Tree. Ever since her daddy...” She gulped, and collected herself. “Her daddy’s gone to Everfree for work, building Mare Cognitum. He won’t be coming home until the summer, at the earliest.”

Bon Bon nodded in empathy. “She misses him?”

“We both do. But it’s not that. He... well, you have to understand, this was before the aug harnesses were announced... Oh no. “He had to be augmented permanently. Completely subsidised by MANE, of course.” Please, no. “But when he came home... when she saw him...” Tears slid down her face. “She was terrified of him. Refused to see him any more, wouldn’t come out of her room. It broke his heart, seeing his own daughter reject what he’d become. And then he was gone. Not long after that, I found a pile of augmentation catalogues and magazines under her bed. I think... I think she’s trying to make sense of what happened, but it’s becoming an obsession.” Plum Pudding held out her silver forelegs. “And now this...”

“What happened?” Bon Bon asked quietly.

“I work down in the Skyport district, in a warehouse. Celestia knows, it’s been hard enough to find a job recently. I’m lucky to have even this. And then, a couple of months ago, the foremare gave me an ultimatum. There were augmented workers coming in soon, able to handle far larger loads than any natural pony. They were letting all the Naturals go. But she liked me, so she let me have a choice.”

Her eyes bored into Bon Bon’s, a resentful spark burning within. “Get augmented, or lose my job. I can barely afford to keep us above the breadline as it is. I couldn’t find work elsewhere, and the implants at least had some payment plans. So there you go. I had my legs replaced, and now I get to come back here on a regular basis, for the rest of my life, just so I could keep my job,” she said, her voice becoming quieter and quieter. “I just hope—for her sake—it’s worth it.” She slumped back in her chair, before returning her gaze to the other augmented pony. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t pile my woes onto a complete stranger.”

“Don’t be,” Bon Bon cut in. “Sounds like you needed to get it off your chest, at least.”

Plum Pudding nodded, and opened her mouth to say something. She was interrupted by the peach receptionist from earlier, who was hovering expectantly nearby. “Ah, Miss Bon Bon? We’re ready for you now,” she informed them.

“Thank you. I’ll just be a minute.” Bon Bon stood up, and retrieved a small card from the inside of her coat. “Here. If you need any help—or anything—you’ll know where to find me.”

The purple mare’s eyes widened. “No! I couldn’t possibly...”

She waved a hoof to stop her. “From one Aug to another. I know what it’s like. That feeling that you’re not... you any more. The first time I saw myself in a mirror after the operation, well, let’s just say everypony needs some support in times like those.”

        Plum Pudding hesitantly took the card, storing it in her saddlebags and bobbing her head gratefully. “Well, thank you. That means a lot to me.”

“Don’t mention it.” She turned, and looked down at Plum Tree. “And Plum Tree?” The little filly gazed up at her. “Take care of your momma and poppa, OK? They’re good ponies.”

“I know!” she exclaimed, beaming up at the augmented unicorn. “They’re the best ponies in the whole wide world!”

Bon Bon nodded, looking up to see Plum Pudding flashing a grateful smile at her. She nodded in acknowledgement, and followed the peach unicorn to the surgery. For once, she’d done something right.


The room was small, yet spacious. Light streamed through windows set high up in the sterile white walls. The floorspace was mostly unoccupied, with only a bed, set against the wall for visiting patients, and a plush chair for the clinic’s most valuable asset: their neuromancer.

The unicorn buck was smaller than most, wearing a doctor’s coat, swept back to reveal a most bizarre cutie mark: a network of pale blue lines, roughly resembling the shape of a pony. Sparkling azure eyes hid behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, worry lines and crow’s feet forming about them as their owner focused upon the document held in his dark grey hooves. A glass of iced tea hovered beside him, cradled in the same turquoise glow that surrounded his horn. He gave a start as Bon Bon entered the room, shaking his head slightly to displace the lilac mane obscuring his vision.

“Ah! Bon Bon! A pleasure to see you again!” he exclaimed. “It’s... been a while, hasn’t it?” She couldn’t help but notice the reproachful edge creeping into his words.

“It has indeed. Although I notice my legs haven’t fallen off, so I think we can rule my missed appointments out as unnecessary,” she replied curtly.

“I see how it is. You give a pony a job in augmentation design and suddenly they know so much more than their local, friendly neuromancer!” he said, gesturing to the bed. With a small huff, she walked over and set herself down. As she set her back against the wall, Bon Bon noticed the neuromancer had closed his eyes, and was resting his head upon his steepled forehooves.

“Now, then. Shall we begin?” he asked.

“If you insist...” He set the tea down, and his horn’s glow turned to an azure blaze. Bon Bon shuddered and grit her teeth, feeling the neuromancer’s arcane touch gradually working through her body. Tingles spread through her as he examined her limbs, vivid colours and otherworldly noises rising and fading in her perception as her augmentations reacted in sympathy to the enchanter’s prodding. She felt her heart skip a beat as the alien feeling worked through her chest, a not completely unpleasant sensation, although certainly uncomfortable. A single gasp worked its way out of her mouth as her horn was examined, a final flourish to the magical probing.

“My apologies. I’m afraid that horn plays havoc with my normal procedure.”

“You don’t say?” Bon Bon replied weakly. “I take it there were no anomalies?”

He shook his head slightly, still in the same meditative position as before. Suddenly, his eyelids flicked open, pinning her to the wall with his intense gaze. “Do you know how long I’ve spent trying to contact you?” Memories of torn up letters and dismissed holoscroll calls flashed through Bon Bon, igniting an inferno of guilt within her. “Do you even have any idea why I spent that long?”

His sudden change in demeanour frightened the augmented pony. “Well, I...” Whatever excuses she had in her mind evaporated like puddles under the midday sun as his eyes continued to bore into her. “Can I make a guess?” She tapped the artificial horn fused to her forehead, eliciting the smallest of nods from the stallion.

“It’s non-functional. The enchantments for it were destroyed in the attack. Useless,” she spat. “My only experience of using it was in a magical simulation they hacked together for me, which anypony can use. I’m nothing special.”

Au contraire. I would argue you are one of the most important ponies in Canterlot, if not the whole of Equestria,” he countered. She waited for an expansion on the statement, but the neuromancer remained infuriatingly silent.

“Any reason why?”

“You seem to hold yourself in high regard with your knowledge of augmentation technology. You tell me.”

The cream pony slumped back against the wall and shut her eyes. She already knew why he was so interested in her. “My implants are quadruple complete leg replacements, along with essential internal organ and chest cavity repairs, and numerous cranial augmentations. Category Five operation: you don’t get more extensive than that,” she began. “For such an intrusive procedure, neural enchantment degradation would be expected to manifest itself between fifteen to twenty-five days after initial installation for earth ponies and pegasi, with unicorns lasting between three to five weeks. It’s been twenty-six weeks since I was... operated on, and since then my aug enchantments have experienced no detectable degradation, nor have they been re-applied,” she continued, rattling off points as if reading from an internal checklist.

She tapped her horn with a hoof again. “Now, even with the assumption that this makes me a unicorn, this places me more than ten standard deviations above the mean value for the general population, an unprecedented length of time for enchantments to exist. My limbs should have stopped working four months ago. I shouldn’t even be alive by now.” Her golden eyes flicked open again. “Am I close?”

The grey unicorn clapped politely. “I see you have a far more profound knowledge of your implants than I give you credit for. Your outstanding compatibility with your augmentations is a cause for observation, indeed. You are a remarkable pony, Miss Bon Bon.”

“A freak, more like.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as to call you that.”

“No?” She snorted. “What else could I possibly be? Nopony should react to augs in this way.”

“I would say more like a miracle, actually. You have apparently transcended the limitations our physiology places on us. Quite amazing, really,” he said.

“Do you think I should be celebrating this?” she snapped. “Do you even know what it’s like? Being stared at day after day, being accused of violating the... the natural order? I lost everything that night, and everypony since acts like I should be thankful for these augs or ashamed of them!” Her voice rose to a furious crescendo. “And now what? You want to ‘observe’ me as well? Why not join the queue!”

She ceased her rant, chest heaving slightly. The entire clinic had probably heard that.

“I had hoped you would look past your own woes for a moment,” he said icily, after an eternity passed. “I realise your upgrades carry unfortunate emotional connotations, but they also represent something more positive. The fact that it is somehow possible for you to take on augmentations with no ill effects whatsoever is unheard of. Imagine if we found a way to apply that to everypony! No more would we tie them to the MANE clinic. No more ponies struggling to pay for their next enchantments. Don’t you understand?”

Bon Bon tried not to let his words overwhelm her. Of course she was a freak, an outcast from society. She didn’t even fit in with her own sub-species anymore! As if she could help anypony... But then, the face of Plum Pudding emerged from her memory, fretting over the future of her child, willing to augment herself for the sake of her daughter. If she could be emancipated from the tyranny of her enchantments... “I see,” she said.

“I don’t wish to tie you down, Bon Bon. Celestia knows, my life is miserable enough in this gilded cage...” He looked down at his cutie mark and sighed. “My blessing and my curse. I can help thousands of augmented ponies, at the cost of my entire freedom. There are many out there who would ponynap me, or even kill me, for what I am. So I get to spend the rest of my life in these secure confines for my own safety, treating those forced to return to this clinic for the rest of their lives. Augmentation enchantments hurt everypony, even those who apply them. Imagine a future free of them.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” she said flatly.

 “Yes, I know it sounds completely idealistic. Many of my colleagues would oppose this, as they would be put out of a job, but... if you ever need convincing, just head down to the Under Warrens and see what happens to those who can’t afford neuromantic treatments. We’ve practically enslaved them!”

Another spout of guilt burst through her. “I was a detective for CPD on black market augs for four years. You’re preaching to the choir,” she said, trying to ignore the feeling. “Don’t try to guilt trip me into believing I can help them.”

“Fine. So you know what it’s like down there. All I’m saying is, if any path of research could lead to a breakthrough...” He left the sentence hanging.

“If I can help, then I will. But this is a pipe dream. One outlier is no evidence for a universal solution. Now, unless you have anything else to discuss, I’ll stop wasting both your and my time.”

The unicorn flapped a hoof towards the door. “No. That will be all. A full check-up will hardly be necessary.” As she stepped out of the room, he raised his voice. “Oh, and Bon Bon?” She turned her head to face him. “You should be aware that someday you may find yourself able change the world, whether you want to or not. And if you reject that opportunity, don’t be surprised if the world leaves you behind.” He smiled wolfishly. “Just my advice.”


        As Celestia’s sun rose above the mountains and shone across the ivory spires of Canterlot, the citizens of the capital city of Equestria aroused themselves from slumber, setting out into the cold morning air. Despite it being the weekend, many ponies were still involved in work, rushing to and fro and weaving in and out of the more leisurely crowds, much to the chagrin of Bon Bon.

        She pushed her way through another knot of ponies watching a unicorn street performer, who held the crowd in rapt silence whilst she conjured a bouquet of flowers from thin air. The cream pony stopped for a moment to watch her. The performer remained silent, instead expressing herself through her magic. It was impressive, if superficial.

As the crowd applauded politely, the unicorn bowed and turned to leave. Bon Bon froze as she noticed the purple wizard’s hat fly atop the performer’s head in a luminescent burst, accompanying a similarly-coloured cloak that was tied about the mare’s shoulders. It couldn’t possibly be... no. Her coat was the wrong shade of blue, and the mane was a pale yellow, not silver. She breathed a sigh of relief; Twilight would probably blow a blood vessel if that particular loudmouth came within a mile of her ever again. Some unicorns apparently had no idea when to drop a grudge.

Shaking herself from her stupor, she continued through the boulevards of Upper Canterlot. Her augmented limbs were hidden beneath her longcoat, and she was far from being the only pony wearing sunglasses. Even in the middle of winter, dawn’s light could be painfully bright for the dwellers of the alabaster city. In that preciously rare moment, she felt normal again.

However, as the noise and presence of other pedestrians filtered away, she found herself alone once more, on the road to the last place in Equestria she wished to be at that point in time: the star-shaped tower of Sparkle Industries. The monolithic structure dwarfed the other buildings around it, dominating the skyline of the Canterlot plateau.

The main tower was set back from the rest of the city, shielded by the smaller buildings that made up the rest of the cutie mark, with an ornate staircase leading to the main entrance. The closer Bon Bon came to the building, the harder it became for her to take another step, as if some malevolent force pushed her back. The augmented pony’s breaths came in ragged gasps as the raw pain of her memories threatened to overwhelm her. Steeling herself, she took a deep breath and walked to the main doors, set at the apex between two points of the star.

The lobby was a truly phenomenal piece of architecture: light, airy, and seemingly endless. The floors above had been cut away, allowing a dizzying view of the transparent ceiling countless stories above. Light filtered through the vast panels of glass that formed the external walls, bathing the area in early morning sunshine.

Ponies walked to and fro amongst the balconies and connecting bridges that populated the sides of the cavernous room, with banners hung down from the structures. Each colourful piece of fabric extolled the virtues of the company and their products to all who passed through. Bon Bon found herself wandering slowly along the floor, gazing up at the spectacular view. She’d... forgotten this. The last time she’d passed through here was as another pony, one free of augmentations; returning now felt otherworldly.

Her thoughts were brought back to earth with a bump; literally, as it turned out. In her state of awe, she’d managed to walk into the main reception desk, much to the bemusement of the pegasus mare sitting behind it. She chuckled slightly as the candy maned pony got back up off the floor, nursing her bruised ego. And her bruised rump.

“Well, I can see somepony’s awfully impressed with the view!” she laughed. “It’s good to have you back, Miss Bon Bon.”

She nodded in appreciation. “Thank you. It’s been a while... too long.”

With a sigh, the lemon yellow pegasus bowed her head sympathetically and spoke up. “I know. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for what happened.”

“It’s not as if it were your fault, Bon Bon said quietly. “How have things been since? I’ve been kept in the dark somewhat.”

The receptionist swallowed, as if gauging how best to react to the augmented pony’s question. “We took a big hit in the incident. Over a hundred employees wiped out, an entire lab section gone, everything’s been in turmoil since then.” She scrubbed a hoof through her electric blue mane nervously. “I think we’ll all be glad to see you’re back. Just to prove that we didn’t lose everything.”

The unicorn could tell her presence intimidated the pegasus, although whether that was due to her implants, or the fact she was so closely tied to the attack on the laboratories, she couldn’t say. “I see. That’s kind of you to say, but I’d imagine everypony would rather move on than keep being reminded of the attack.” Hypocrite. “Surviving it didn’t make me anything special.”

“Perhaps. I don’t know. It’s just... ever since, everypony’s been on edge. Twilight’s more paranoid by the day, more and more ponies talking about leaving the company, even Miss Colgate’s lost some of her sense of humour...” OK, that last one was worrying. “But—oh!—I shouldn’t be talking like that!” she exclaimed, tapping her forehooves nevously together.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Bon Bon reassured the pegasus. “I take it my office hasn’t been moved? There were some... things in there I wanted to retrieve.”

The yellow mare shook her head. “No, Twilight made sure it was left untouched until you returned. Although she gave strict instructions for you to see her directly.”

The unicorn’s brow furrowed. “That sounds suspicious.”

“I wasn’t told anything else. She just wants you to go straight to her,” said the receptionist with a shrug.

Fighting her rising unease, Bon Bon thanked the pegasus and made her way through the lobby to the elevators. On her way, she passed a stone memorial, about the height and width of two ponies, set discreetly near the wall. Her stride stopped as she looked up at it. The stone was inscribed with a list of names and cutie marks, a small horn or set of wings marking out unicorns or pegasi respectively. Paralysed, she found her gaze involuntarily wandering up the monument, searching out lost friends. A small stab of sorrow passed through her as she saw a songbird atop a rising sun, and the name next to it: Dawn Chorus. Memories of that night began to flow through her. As she looked down the alphabetically arranged list, her stomach twisted itself into tighter and tighter knots. I... J... K... L. No. No... not yet. I can’t. She pulled herself away from the obelisk with a small, strangled cry. She couldn’t bear to see her lover’s name inscribed amongst the list of lost souls. Not yet.

A shudder ran down her spine as she turned her back on the memorial. She’d had enough pain generated by her own memories. Why did Twilight force her to return now? In a daze, she walked to one of the elevators in the centre of the tower, tapping the button for the very top floor. She hoped she could keep her composure when she met her boss.

Bon Bon’s mind was still aflutter as she reached the top of the tower, barely registering the personal assistant sitting outside waving her through. She came to as she walked through the ornate wooden double doors, each carved with one of the occupant’s triumphs. Nightmare Moon glowered at her from her left and Discord mocked her from her right as she entered into the vast office. The penthouse had been positioned to give a glorious view of Canterlot Castle and the rolling hills of Equestria beyond; in the distance, rainbows cascaded down the sides of Cloudsdale, flocks of birds wheeled above the foreboding green mass of the Everfree Forest and, barely visible, the trails of smoke from hearth fires rose over Ponyville. The past, the present, and the future, all through a single window.

She found her view obscured by a huge carved ebony desk directly in front of her, positioned between the entrance and whoever was occupying it. It would have added a great deal of gravitas to the pony seated behind it, had it not been for the adolescent purple dragon curled up atop it, his wing nubs twitching slightly in response to whatever dream he was having. Next to him, a particular white unicorn sat surveying the world outside, her back turned to the cream pony and her head inclined slightly toward the dragon. She was dressed in a graceful design, all sweeping curves of deep magenta fabric, with a small, frilly ruff as a nod to current Canterlot fashion. Best not to disturb her, she thought. She was in no mood to confront Rarity. Although, that left the question: where was the pony she was here to meet?

 “Bon Bon!” came an exclamation to her left. She turned to see a far more modest desk set away from the door. Behind it sat a lilac unicorn, waving to her shyly. She raised herself from her seat to walk around the desk and greet the augmented pony. Everything was the same about her as the day Bon Bon had first set eyes on her all those years ago in Ponyville, from her straight-cut blue mane and tail, two thin stripes of pink and purple chasing through it, to her sparkling purple eyes and her starburst cutie mark. Her coat gleamed with the lustre of a recent spa date.

 The one exception to this was her right foreleg, which switched abruptly from purple coat to polished ebony halfway between elbow and shoulder. The artificial limb was a piece of art, beautifully carved from the dark wood, and inlaid with a golden thread that wound its way along the leg’s length, an homage to the prosthetics of yesteryear. “It’s good to see you again,” said Twilight Sparkle.

“Likewise.” The word felt as hollow as her soul.

        “How was your appointment at MANE?”

        “It went well. Too well.” A puzzled look crossed Twilight’s face. “The neuromancer’s cottoned on to my enchantments not fading. I think he’s suspected the horn aug of having more capabilities for a while now.”

        “Ah. Oh dear. I imagine you’ve kept it a secret as best you can, though?”

        “Anypony who asks, it’s purely a cosmetic thing. But he’s not just anypony, is he? In fact, while I was there, he was harassing me about how this could be a breakthrough in augmentation technology. As if this company wasn’t doing its utmost to study the horn itself.”

        Twilight’s brow furrowed. “Well, at least he won’t have much reason to spread rumours. I’ll ask the director of the clinic to keep an eye on him, though. We don’t want another security leak.”

        “Why did you bring me here, Twilight?” she interjected.

        “There... were a couple of things. Things that I didn’t want you to hear from a holoscroll call, or a letter. I wanted to tell them to you personally.” Bon Bon motioned for her to continue. “I’m sure you’re aware of the inconclusive investigation of the incident. That it was nothing more than a tragic attack by a group of anti-augmentation terrorists, aided by a sympathiser in the Deep Labs. It’s a lie.”

        The cream pony took a moment to reply, stunned by the sudden accusation, and the conviction in her superior’s voice. “A lie? I know the Canterlot Police Department isn’t the most efficient organisation out there, but they wouldn’t falsify an entire investigation, especially one as high profile as this,” she scoffed.

        Twilight shook her head vigorously. “You don’t understand! I went down there a day after the attack, while the detectives were at work. You remember the fires, how they behaved? Didn’t they seem too hot, too bright, too aggressive to you?”

        Bon Bon swallowed, trying not to smell the smoke or hear the terrible crackling and screaming once more. “I was running for my life. I didn’t really have time to stop and investigate a fire,” she said quietly.

        “Oh... I’m sorry. I forgot...” She dug a hoof at the ground awkwardly, and cleared her throat. “It didn’t seem to behave right for fire, magical or mundane. I went down to the labs a couple of days after the attack. It was very weak, but the residue from the magic used that night was still there. For the most part, it was spells I recognised, but around the burned areas it felt... wrong; like nothing I’d ever felt before. I’ve been delving through books on ancient and obsolete magic for months, and I’ve finally found what looks to match the fire spell used.” Horn blazing, she levitated out a formidable tome from her desk and showed it to Bon Bon on the relevant page.

It was like no book she had ever seen. The font was a heavy, hoofwritten script, all barely legible loops and curves. In the centre of the page, a large illustration was present: a draconequus revelled amongst blazing orange flames, and other creatures seemingly composed of the inferno cavorted beside him. Atop the page was a heavily stylised title. “Infernalis Discordiarum,” she murmured. “Commonly known as Chaosfire, this baleful spell will create a ferocious blaze that spreads seemingly at random, and destroys all it comes... into... contact... with...” Her voice trailed off as she remembered the way the fires had burst out of walls and annihilated the research banks.

        “It matches the residues perfectly,” Twilight said grimly as she put the book away again.


“And? So the attackers used an obscure casting rather than a common fire spell. I don’t see what that has got to do with the whole investigation being falsified.”

        “The last recorded instance of Chaosfire was by a unicorn mage in the service of a wealthy landowner, who used it to flush a dragon out of a nearby cave over two hundred and fifty years ago. Soon after, the mage vanished, and was never seen again, presumably languishing in some dungeon or banished from Equestria. Either way, this type of magic is forbidden by Royal Command, and archaic to boot. It is certainly not a run-of-the-mill spell a terrorist organisation would—or could—use. They had outside help, and that help had an astonishing knowledge of magic. But the police didn’t find the mystery residues suspicious; in fact, when I enquired, they said they were of no relevance! Somepony is hiding the truth, and they don’t want us to know.”

Bon Bon sighed. This is what she’d been brought here for? To have conspiracy theories thrown at her? “Twilight, how in any way do I tie into this? I’ve relived it enough times already. I don’t want to keep being dragged back to that night,” she said.

“I know. That’s why I wanted to offer you closure. A chance to know what happened, and perhaps bring whoever was responsible to justice. I’d hoped I could trust you to unearth the truth where official channels failed.”

“Me,” Bon Bon said flatly. “Out of all the ponies you know, me.

“I hired you out of respect for your work in the police force. You chased down black market augs for years! I wanted you in the company because you understood augments like a researcher never could: why ponies wanted them, and how desperate they could become in getting them. And now, I thought you could put those skills to use once again,” Twilight countered.

The cream pony took a step back, feeling the gravity of what was being asked of her. Go chasing after criminals again, criminals with access to a fearsome array of resources? Perhaps finally find out what happened to Lyra and those ponies wearing the harnesses? But then, she remembered the white unicorn dispassionately doling out her appointments for the day to her, and the doctor who saw her as nothing more than a test subject. “No.”

Twilight’s head jerked back slightly. “No? Bon Bon, you don’t understand... your augmentations, I... I...”

“So that’s how I pay you back?” she said in a dangerously quiet voice. “These aren’t any normal augs, these are military grade! All the combat training, all the augs I neither wanted nor needed, they’re all to make me your personal attack hound, aren’t they?”

“Well, m-maybe...” Twilight stammered.

 “So now what? I’m not stupid! Your rehabilitation scheme trained me to survive in the most hostile environments; that’s hardly a typical physiotherapy regime! I may even end up having to kill somepony if I do this. You know that, and you’re willing to throw me into that situation anyway! You don’t want justice, you want revenge,” she snapped, pointing an accusing talon at the unicorn.

“Bon Bon, I’d don’t want you to kill anypony, it’s just if—”

“Then how do you explain this?” With that, she raised her foreleg and shot the blade out of it, the lethal metal extension sliding out over her hoof almost silently. Twilight yelped and leaped back, and the dragon stirred, swinging his head round at an unnatural speed with a snarl, glaring at her with baleful green eyes. Even Rarity shifted her head slightly to regard the situation.

“Please, just put it away, and I’ll explain everything,” she said anxiously. Bon Bon complied, never taking her eyes off of Twilight’s number one assistant. “Spike, she didn’t mean any harm.”

The dragon settled down slightly, but kept his gaze fixed upon Bon Bon. “Alright,” he said in a curiously high-pitched tone. Evidently his voice hadn’t matured with his body in the years since coming to Ponyville. “But if she tries anything else...” An ominous puff of smoke emerged from his nostrils.

“I’m sorry. Still a bit nervous around swords after that... attempt on me.” Twilight waggled her artificial leg by way of explanation. “And you’re right: you do deserve an explanation of what’s going on.”

“Why the top-tier augs?” she asked.

“Because we owe it to you.” They both turned to see Rarity, who had since made her way across the room. “At the end of the day, you were caught in that ghastly incident by a failure on our part. We both felt that you deserved better than market-grade implants, whether or not you would use them to their full potential later. Consider them a gift, or an investment. Whatever makes you comfortable, my dear.”

“Nothing’s going to make me comfortable. Look at me. There’s barely a piece of me left that hasn’t been altered or replaced,” Bon Bon said. Rarity bobbed her head sympathetically. “But... you did what you had to do. I suppose I wasn’t a pretty sight after the attack,” she admitted.

“No. My dear, I can reassure you, you do not want to know what your condition was after that night,” Rarity said, meeting Bon Bon’s gaze with her own sapphire eyes.

“And as for going on this wild goose chase?” Bon Bon continued.

“Every other lead’s gone cold. It’s been six months; this spell residue is practically the only thing we have left. But it isn’t a wild goose chase, Bon Bon,” Twilight said, a hurt tone entering her voice.

“Really?” she said flatly.

Twilight stomped the floor with her artificial hoof. “Yes, really, Bon Bon. I was given this company by the Princess in order to help ponies. To improve them. I’ve worked for over ten years on that goal, and when I’m attacked, I’m supposed to just roll over and accept it? Those attackers hurt my friends, hurt my family, and I will ensure that they pay for that, even if I have to hunt them to the ends of Equestria. And if they think they’re safe just because the official channels have dried up, then they’re sorely mistaken. Because I will never abandon my friends, no matter how hopeless the situation. I wish I could say the same of all ponies.” A defiant spark burned in her eyes. Bon Bon found herself subtly impressed with the normally quiet unicorn’s determination.

“What exactly can we do with the information we have, though?” she asked.

“I... I don’t know,” Twilight admitted. “This may be nothing. But, the timing of the attack, the sheer magnitude of the damage they did, not to mention their mastery over our aug harnesses, and the targeting of the horn aug? No. There must be something—anything—that leads to us shedding some light on the attack. Don’t you want to know who perpetrated this? Who took Ly—”

“Don’t use her as a bargaining chip. Don’t you dare.

“Alright. I’m sorry. But please, Bon Bon. Please consider this. You’ll be bringing closure to a lot of ponies—myself included—and perhaps we can stop this happening to another aug company, and another group of ponies. You’re... you’re all I have left to investigate with. Even Princess Celestia refuses to look any further into this. Please.”

Bon Bon took a step back. She closed her eyes, bowing her head. She’d vowed not to let this take over her life. She’d told herself she could let go of the past. And yet... and yet, six months on, the memories of that night still haunted her every waking moment, and the nightmares that plagued her in her sleep. Was she really going to spend the rest of her life flashing back at every little reminder of her old life? Closure... it was nothing but a glimmer of hope, but it was something to cling to. Something.

“Follow the sweetie trail, huh?” she said quietly, casting a glance back at her cutie mark. “Just like old times.” She looked up, her tinted lens retracting to reveal her golden gaze. The cream pony looked into Twilight’s eyes. “I don’t have any choice, do I?” She opened her mouth to say something, but Bon Bon carried on regardless. “I’ll never forgive myself if I turn this opportunity down. I might not find out who did this, and I know it won’t bring her back, but this is the only hope I have left. I’ll do it. Luna pity me for it, but I’ll do it.”

The acknowledgement seemed so small for such a monumentous decision. Rarity nodded gracefully, and Twilight let out a breath she’d been holding and smiled. “Thank you, Bon Bon. Thank you,” she said. “I’ll release all the information I have on the attack to your company account. We can start as soon as possible... and after one more request.”

Bon Bon felt her shoulders sag. “You have more to ask of me?” she asked in a disbelieving tone.

“Only a formality. As you know, we salvaged as much of the research as we could from the Deep Labs, and continued work with it. We’ve had a certain breakthrough that may be of interest to you.” Twilight barely seemed able to contain her excitement. “With your permission Bon Bon, we can finally apply the enchantments required to activate your horn aug. We can make you a true unicorn.”

        Bon Bon took a step back. “Oh... that would be...” Wonderful? Great? About damn time? “...nice.” She inwardly cringed at her choice of words. Twilight, however, smiled warmly.

        “Excellent! Then we shouldn’t waste any more time. You have a lot of very interested ponies waiting for you,” she said, as her horn ignited in a white glow.

<<Chapter 1                                                                                          Chapter 3>>


Many thanks to RavensDagger and Burraku_Pansa from SALT for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]




Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 3: First Contact

        Bon Bon had to admit, being the test subject had none of the allure of being the researcher. While the ponies studying her were safely sequestered behind shatterproof glass, she was strapped to a medical gurney, various pieces of monitoring equipment surrounding her. The room was large and sterile, with blank white walls reflecting painful amounts of light from the fluorescent strips above. In the chamber with Bon Bon was Twilight, who was hovering a holoscroll in front of herself, along with a small gem that pulsated gently with all the colours of the rainbow.

        “You’re absolutely sure about this?” Bon Bon asked nervously. She’d never heard of aug patients having to be restrained while their enchantments were placed on them, or for that matter a non-neuromantic unicorn being able to build the enchantments. “Shouldn’t this be done in a MANE clinic? By a neuromancer?”

        “No. This is classified research; I can’t just entrust this to anypony. Besides, after the incident, I took personal command of the horn aug project. This has to be me. Somepony else might have gotten this wrong,” Twilight said. “All the enchantments are held in the soul gem. I only have to apply them.”

        “If you insist,” Bon Bon said hesitantly.

        “I’m not the Bearer of the Element of Magic for nothing, Bon Bon,” Twilight chided her. “Technically, I am a neuromancer; I’m able to cast all the requisite spells. I just don’t like to advertise that fact.” The rainbow-coloured gem—a soul gem, as it was colloquially known—floated down and touched against Bon Bon’s artificial horn. “Ready?” Bon Bon gave a slight nod and closed her eyes.

        A moment later, the world exploded. Bon Bon gasped and struggled as a bolt of lightning worked its way through her body, blasting away any other sensation. Augmented limbs strained against the restraints, trying to pull away from the intense waves of magic that washed over her body. Impossible shapes and colours flooded her vision, and an otherworldly roaring built up, overwhelming the unicorn’s senses. Bon Bon felt her artificial heart skip and shudder at the strain, and a strangled cry emanated from her lips. Twilight was going to kill her!

        Then, as if Celestia had felt her plight, the intensity fell away. Bon Bon could still feel the magic pouring through her, but now it was calm, as though it had changed from a raging torrent to a meandering river. The cream pony revelled in the sensation, taking deep breaths. Her horn, once little more than an inert object, began to pulsate gently with the ebbs and flows of energy. Bon Bon reached out to try and touch it, that alien, yet comforting presence in her mind.

        As she did, the magic faded to nothing. Bon Bon opened her eyes to see Twilight on the point of falling unconscious, with beads of sweat lining her brow. The soul gem was nothing more than ash on the floor now. A pair of researchers rushed in, one bearing a glass of water in her telekinesis. The exhausted unicorn took the water and drained it in a single gulp, before wiping her forehead.

        “Did it... did it work?” Twilight asked weakly, waving a hoof at the gurney. The other researcher undid the restraints, allowing Bon Bon to climb down and drop to the floor.

        “I don’t know...” Bon Bon said, gingerly touching her newly-enchanted horn with her hoof.

        “Try it out... Here, try levitating this pencil. Twilight yanked the implement out of the pocket of the pony sitting near the gurney, who was lost in the holoscroll, monitoring the readings from the operation.

        Bon Bon stared at the wooden stick, at a loss for what to do. “You remember the simulations, Bon Bon. It’s exactly the same process,” Twilight said encouragingly. Bon Bon knew that; she’d practised the mental activities countless times in preparation for this day. What stayed the augmented unicorn was the feeling of dozens of expectant eyes on her, willing her to do the impossible.

        She took a deep breath, willing her horn—her magic—to reach out and levitate the pencil. It stayed resolutely on the ground. No, come on! The augmented pony grit her teeth, trying not to fall to the schoolfilly error of using sheer brute force to manipulate objects. Bon Bon was on the verge of giving up. Her eyes rose from the pencil to Twilight, and she opened her mouth to offer her resignation.

        And then... then there was the slightest sensation of pressure melting away, not so much a dam bursting as a piece of parchment gently yielding to a hoof press. A collective gasp rang out from the observers. Bon Bon looked up to see the pencil hovering above the ground, enveloped in a gentle blue glow. She marvelled as it spun and moved about as she willed it from within her mind. A beatific smile grew on Bon Bon’s face as she floated the pencil in front , gazing at the blue glow—her blue glow. She was a unicorn.

        “It worked,” Twilight whispered. Her gaze rose up to meet Bon Bon’s, delight sparkling in her eyes. “It worked!” Bon Bon let her magic fade, the pencil clattering to the floor. “This is more than we ever hoped for.”

        I sure hope it was. Nopony was gonna refund her all the bits they spent on this project.

        Bon Bon gave a start at the voice. Apparently, nopony else had heard it. She hadn’t finally cracked, had she?

        Oh, stop being so melodramatic. Wait... had it just read her own thoughts?

They did tell you everything that came with the aug, right? No? Ugh... Gimme a sec. The voice cut out, and a moment later, a deep blue face poked around the door, grinning at her. “Yeah, you’re not going crazy. I can just...” ...project my voice into your head now, it said.

“Colgate?” Bon Bon breathed.

        “Yeah. Long time, no see, huh? What is it, two months since I last spoke to you?” Colgate said casually.

        “I—” Bon Bon was cut off by Twilight, who shot an annoyed look at Colgate.

        “Colgate, we haven’t started testing yet,” Twilight said reproachfully.

        “It seems like you haven’t even told her all the features of the horn aug,” Colgate retorted. Twilight paused for a moment, then rolled her eyes and waved a hoof in admission. “You’ve heard of the Hydra aug, right? Telepathic link?” Colgate asked. Bon Bon nodded. “Built right in.” The blue unicorn tapped her own horn. “Equestrinet access too! Trust me, you are gonna waste so much time watching... ah...” Colgate appeared to have become acutely aware of Twilight’s glare boring into her back. “...I mean, um, let’s just say you’ll never need a holoscroll again!” she finished, before swiftly retreating.

        With a sigh, Twilight turned her gaze back to Bon Bon. “Despite revealing some rather unsavoury habits, Colgate is correct. A variation of the Hydra aug was installed for long-range communication. It’s silent, as well. Just... in case you ever needed that,” she said, with a flicker of her eyes to the other researchers. Evidently Bon Bon’s true purpose hadn’t been revealed to the company at large.

        “I see. Although, uh... how am I supposed to use it? I’m kinda new to this whole unicorn thing,” Bon Bon said.

        “You need to... focus on the pony you wish to speak to, and think what you want them to hear. Once you’ve done that, you’ll both be able to hear one another’s direct thought until you terminate the connection,” Twilight said. Looking at the confused expression on Bon Bon’s face, she scratched the back of her head. “Sorry. I’ve never been good at explaining.” Bon Bon shook her head. She envisioned Twilight in her mind, squeezing her eyes shut tightly.

        Like this? the augmented pony thought hesitantly.

        Exactly! Twilight’s voice came into her head. Bon Bon opened one eye a crack to see the other unicorn’s lips hadn’t moved.

        I don’t really see this catching on, she admitted. Do I have to concentrate entirely on you?

        It takes some practice. For privacy’s sake, you won’t project your thoughts into a connected pony’s head without consciously willing it. But it should take less effort to send thoughts once the initial link is established.

        Bon Bon switched her focus slightly. So if I think Colgate should have waited before bursting in like she always does...

        “Hey!” Colgate narrowed her eyes at the cream pony. “The first thing you do with one of the most advanced communication augs on the market is insult me with it?” Bon Bon shrugged. “Heh. Well, if you’re able to do that, then it’s working as well as it ever will. All up to you now. I’d like to stay and chat, but I guess you’ve got tests to be sending yourself to sleep with. And I’ve—”

        “Got hackers to stop and flanks to kick?” asked Bon Bon.

        After a moment’s hesitation, Colgate nodded, a sad smile on her face. “I’ll catch up with you later,” she said quietly, exiting as abruptly as she’d entered.

        “Bon Bon.” The cream pony gazed over to Twilight. “Before we start stress testing, could I have a word with you? About what I told you earlier?” Bon Bon nodded, and Twilight led her over to a corner of the lab, away from the researchers. “I’m sorry to have to ask this of you so soon, but I have a task for you. Tonight.”

        “It’s what you’re paying me for, isn’t it?” she deadpanned. Twilight bit her lip.

        “I know. It’s just that I need the utmost discretion; not to mention it’s potentially dangerous and I’m not sure if you’ll be ready—”

        “Twilight. I can do this. What is it?” Bon Bon reiterated.

        Her superior nodded. “OK. Tonight, there’s a scheduled protest outside the MANE clinic. The usual... ‘evils of augmentation’, with a few ‘the Princesses are out to get us’ crazies mixed in. It’s just... they have a somepony giving a speech. Somepony I haven’t seen in a long time: Fluttershy.”

        “Fluttershy? I thought she stayed out of this sort of thing. I hadn’t heard about her in years.”

        “Neither had I. We’ve met less and less, and resorted to writing letters... I knew she was growing distant, but never to the point of outright opposing me. Whatever it is that’s spurred her on, it’s pushed her to the point of standing up in front of hundreds of ponies, to speak out against augmentation!” Twilight exclaimed.

        “So what do you want me to do?” Bon Bon inquired.

        “Keep an eye on her. See if you can talk to her, or get in contact,” Twilight said.

        “Can’t you just go and talk to her yourself?” Bon Bon asked.

        “I think the protest would turn rather ugly if the head of Sparkle Industries just turned up for a chat with her friend, in the middle of a crowd of anti-aug demonstrators.”

        “So you want me to spy on her?”

        “No. I just want you to try and find out what turned her against us. And... protect her.” Twilight sighed and stared at the ground. “I’ve seen these ‘peaceful’ protests turn into riots one too many times to trust them. If she got caught in the middle of it all... I can’t let that happen. She’s not just my friend; she’s a Bearer of an Element of Harmony! If anything happens to her, the consequences for Equestria could be catastrophic.”

        “I understand, Twilight. I can do that. I’ll see if I can talk to her after her speech,” Bon Bon said.

        “Thank you. I’ll end the testing at about five o’ clock and let you rest. The protest proper shouldn’t start till later this evening. I’ll see you then.” Twilight smiled and walked out of the lab, Bon Bon following her. As she walked out of the door, she observed the vast array of obstacles and objects scattered around the lab, and felt the attentive gaze of two dozen researchers just itching to test the full potential of the horn aug. She rolled her head from one side to the other, working the cricks out of her neck.

        “OK, then. Let’s do this.”


        Bon Bon sat back and sighed, a steaming cup of coffee held in her paws. Despite an entire day of stress testing, she still didn’t quite feel confident enough in her levitation to trust it with a container of scalding hot liquid. It had gone better than expected; her magical strength was on par with a young adult unicorn. Some of the researchers had admitted to expecting little more than the odd spark that a filly could produce, while others had excitedly chattered about programming new spells into the horn, and perhaps experimenting to see if there were any spells inherent to her, corresponding to the three wrapped sweets of her cutie mark.

        She had to admit, she found the concept disquieting: the idea that everypony in history had had their own repertoire of magic spells hidden away inside them, and yet only a third had the equipment to ever use them. What purpose did that serve?

        Bon Bon realised she was slipping back into her usual deep thought. Not good. She needed to focus; it wasn’t long until she had to head down to the MANE clinic and act as Fluttershy’s bodyguard... and spy. Her gaze caught the coffee cup. Maybe...

        She cast a furtive glance around the cafeteria; it was mostly empty, with only a couple of ponies occupying the room with her, scattered amongst the wooden tables. They were occupied with the television on the far wall, or staring out of the windows at the city outside, the spires and towers bathed in the afterglow of dusk. Nopony was paying any attention to her.

        A faint blue glow ignited around her horn, and enveloped her cup. Bon Bon took a deep breath, and let go of the cup, her talons folding back into familiar hooves. The cup stayed exactly where it was. She began to grin; she could get used to levitating objects at will. A slight change in thought, and the coffee hovered toward her mouth.

        Bon Bon? She gave a start as Twilight’s voice cut into her mind. Her paws barely caught the coffee as her telekinesis ceased.

        “Yes?” she said testily. She waited a moment, before realising she’d said her answer aloud. Bon Bon rolled her eyes and focused on her superior’s being. Yes?

        Bon Bon, I need you to meet me at the skypad. Immediately. Twilight’s voice held an anxious edge. Bon Bon rose from her seat, abandoning her drink, and began trotting towards the nearest elevator.

        What’s the matter? Has something gone wrong? She mentally cursed herself for not paying more attention to the news on the television. No wonder the others in the cafeteria had seemed so interested in it...

        The protest... it’s turned ugly. This wasn’t just a demonstration; it was a cover for an attack on the MANE clinic!

        What?! I thought the police had the place locked down? What about all the security measures?

        So did I. They’ve formed a perimeter, but... there are hostages inside. They... they took Fluttershy.

        Oh. Bon Bon pursed her lips, and felt a knot of anxiety form in her stomach. Her job had just become a lot harder.

        Just... just meet me on the skypad. I’ll talk to you there. Twilight signed off as Bon Bon stepped into the elevator, jabbing her hoof urgently at the button for the top floor. As the doors shut, she sat down, her mind racing. How in Celestia’s name had another attack occurred in Canterlot? Had the police learned nothing from the deaths of over one hundred Sparkle Industries employees? She let out an exasperated sigh, and moments later, the doors opened out onto the lobby at the top of the building. She paused for a second as memories overwhelmed her—memories of being a normal, unaugmented pony, just going about her life as usual. Bon Bon shuddered, pushing away the thoughts. Don’t think about it, just don’t think about it at all...

        She pushed her way past a small crowd of ponies who were gathered around the television in the lobby, all with looks of faint horror on their faces at the scene unfolding in front of them. Armoured police officers and Royal Guards kept a large circular perimeter around the entrance to the MANE clinic, holding back crowds of protesters and bemused onlookers alike. From the expressions of the ponies being held back, it seemed like the police were just as worried about a riot occurring outside the clinic as they were with the situation inside. The main doors of the building had apparently been barricaded from within.

        Bon Bon ran up the stairs to the skypad to see Twilight pacing around beside a small sky carriage. Hitched to the front was Flint, dressed in an armoured purple jumpsuit. He nodded to her as she emerged from the portal.

        “Bon Bon! You’re here!” Twilight exclaimed. “Get in; we haven’t a moment to lose.” She jumped inside, swiftly followed by Bon Bon. As Flint pumped his wings, pulling the carriage airborne, the two unicorns took their seats opposite one another. Bon Bon noted a couple of discreetly-wrapped parcels on one of the seats.

        “What happened?” she asked quietly.

        “It’s not entirely clear. It must have been an inside job; the cameras inside the clinic have gone dark, and the attackers were able to take control of the building in minutes. They must have been hiding amongst the protesters,” Twilight replied.

        “And the hostages?” Bon Bon continued.

        “Most of the lockdown procedures worked, but about a dozen ponies were captured before they could reach a safe zone. They’re still somewhere in the building. The attackers dragged Fluttershy inside when they raided the clinic.” Twilight stared at the floor, not making eye contact.

        “Twilight, I know you’re worried, but CPD have plenty of experience in sieges. Nothing will happen to Fluttershy or the oth—

        Her superior cut her off. “They’ve threatened to execute the hostages if any move is made on the clinic! She is not just ‘going to be alright’,” she said. “We’re at a stalemate. They can’t get out, and if the police try to go in, over a dozen ponies—including a Bearer—lose their lives.”

        “So what do we do?” Bon Bon said.

        Twilight nodded toward the packages on the floor. “If the police try to barge their way in, the hostages die. But nopony said anything about one pony making their way in undetected.”

        “You want me to go in and rescue them?” Bon Bon asked.

        “Secure them. Make sure they’re safe, then we can call in the cavalry,” Twilight said with a nod. “I know you expressed concerns about your combat training... Well, this is exactly what I feared it would need to be used for.”

        “Simulations can’t recreate a real situation perfectly, Twilight. You’re absolutely certain about this? About me?” Twilight nodded. “It’s the only way to save them, isn’t it...? I can do it, as long as I have clearance,” Bon Bon said.

        “I convinced the officer on the scene that this was the only realistic way to get to the hostages in time,” Twilight said primly. “And in light of our conversation earlier, I’ve picked up some special equipment for you.” Her horn glowed softly, opening the package. There were two black ceramic plates inside, designed to fit around the torso. Bon Bon took them, and began to shuck her longcoat off.

        “Uh, do you mind? I just...” Twilight averted her eyes, and Bon Bon awkwardly strapped the armour to her chest, the padded plates fitting snugly over her. She put her coat back on, and cleared her throat. Twilight turned back to her, and opened the other package, revealing a small, dark grey item the size of a pistol, with a large, bottle-shaped device attached underneath.

        There was a click as Twilight’s magic depressed a button on the side of the device. It unfolded, a long barrel extending from one end as a stock unfurled from the other. A handle and trigger pushed their way out of the bottom, and the bottle rotated outwards, causing the entire frame to take on a shape closer to that of a rifle. As a final flourish, a small box with a lens popped out of the top, forming a scope.

        “A P-21 ‘Naptime’ tranquiliser dart rifle. Breach loaded, single shot, powered by compressed air, and completely concealable in public,” Twilight said. Bon Bon took it in her own magic, admiring the design. “I thought about what you said earlier. And you’re right: I shouldn’t force you into killing ponies. This will allow you to neutralise any threats, non-lethally.” Twilight tossed a box of darts to her as well. Bon Bon opened the box, counting out the dozen projectiles inside. Another flick of magic, and she broke the barrel, slotting one of the darts into the chamber, before closing it and folding it back down into its pistol form.

        “Thank you,” Bon Bon said as she tucked the rifle and darts away in her coat. “That should be all.”

        “I have a standard-issue ten millimetre pistol here, too. Just in—”

        “That’s all,” Bon Bon reiterated.


        “The occupiers are armed, Bon Bon. I don’t want to leave you defenceless if the worst comes to pass,” Twilight said reproachfully. “You should have a contingency.”

        “If I’m going in undetected, I shouldn’t need a weapon that’s only going to draw attention to myself, should I?”

Twilight opened her mouth to say something, before waving her hoof and nodding slightly. “Just stay safe, Bon Bon,” she said quietly.


A few minutes later, the carriage touched down on a building next to the MANE clinic. The air pulsated with noise: anxious and angry shouts from the crowd, whistles and sirens from the police and angry shouts from the Royal Guards. It produced a perverse carnival, great masses of bodies swaying back and forth against the circular barricade outside the clinic. Several fires burned in litter bins, sending thick, black smoke into the air.

Bon Bon disembarked from the carriage, looking out onto the scenes below. As she stepped down onto the white stone of the building’s roof, Twilight called out to her.

“Bon Bon!” The cream pony looked over her shoulder at the unicorn. “Good luck... and stay in touch,” Twilight said, tapping her horn. Bon Bon nodded her thanks, and Flint pulled the carriage away to a safe distance. She turned towards the MANE clinic, where several armoured pegasi circled overhead, keeping watch over the occupied building. A narrow metal bridge linked the tower she was on to the clinic, which was currently guarded by two police officers, both in heavy, urban camouflaged riot armour. One was a pegasus, hovering agitatedly beside the bridge, the other a stocky earth pony with a saddle-mounted water cannon and tear gas launcher. The earth pony beckoned Bon Bon over.

“Hey! You the ‘specialist’ from Sparkle Industries?” he called over the ruckus. She nodded primly. “Heh. I’ve heard some choice phrases about you and yer boss tonight. Think you can... Wait...” He pushed his mirrored visor up with a hoof. “Bon Bon?”

Bon Bon’s lenses retracted, and she stared at the dark grey face of the stallion. “Iron Clad?”

“It is you! What happened to you?” the earth pony said, indicating Bon Bon’s augmentations. “You were never one to want upgrades, back in the Department.”

“I... didn’t have a choice,” the augmented unicorn said quietly. “What about you? Riot squads now?” she asked, eager to change the subject. Iron Clad didn’t seem to notice, grimacing and slapping his breastplate with his hoof.

“Yep. Just promoted to Captain, and I get this mess handed to me...” he said.

“And we’re up here, guarding a Luna-damned bridge,” his partner snapped. “Shouldn’t we be, I dunno, in there? Securing the hostages those fucking terrorists have held up?”

“Watch yer language, Storm Front! Have some respect,” Iron Clad said testily.

Storm Front landed, snapping his deep blue wings shut. “So, first we’re caught short-hooved, with riot gear against a paramilitary attack, and now we have one auged up ex-detective doing our job for us? No, I’m not gonna watch my language. I think you’ve got bigger problems to deal with, Captain. Beginning with her.” He pointed a hoof at Bon Bon.

“We go in there, even with armed squads, those hostages will die, Lieutenant,” Iron Clad retorted. “I get a request to send in one of the best black-market detectives we ever had, with stealth augs to boot, to go secure them? Damn right, I’m gonna give the order.” He turned back to Bon Bon. “You’ll have to forgive my colleague’s behaviour. We’re all a bit edgy after that other attack six months ago.”

“Yeah, you and me both,” Bon Bon said, wiggling her artificial foreleg slightly. Iron Clad nodded his head in sympathy.

“So you got caught up in that, huh? Damn shame. Still, I gotta say, six months is a helluva short time to come back from the dead. I know I wouldn’t be going in there alone if it were me in yer horseshoes.”

“Don’t worry about me. Twilight had a surprising amount of foresight when it came to my training,” Bon Bon reassured him. “What’s going on in there?”

Iron Clad looked embarrassed. “We don’t really know. Somepony must’ve hit the security circuits. All the internal cameras are dead, and the lockdown procedures got delayed. We’re looking at something like twelve to fifteen hostages, with anything upwards of thirty hostiles inside.”

“So they all charged through the front doors?”

“Some of them. But the clinic also has access routes into the sewers and catacombs. Heavily alarmed, and with intruder counter-measures, but what with everything else going down, I think it’s fair to say they came through those tunnels, as well. As for the protest... it all happened so fast. One minute you got ponies waving placards. Next, gunshots, chaos, ponies running everywhere. We couldn’t clamp them down fast enough,” Iron Clad said morosely, shaking his head.

“And the threats towards the hostages?” Bon Bon asked.

“One message, thrown out of a window. They said if anypony gets within twenty metres of the building on the ground, they kill one hostage a minute till they leave. Anything like a full-on assault... they all die. Fortunately, we have snipers keeping ‘em off the roof and away from the windows. They won’t know till it’s too late if we get a single infiltrator in on the roof.”

“And did they have any demands? This is just an elaborate form of suicide otherwise,” Bon Bon said.

“The usual... abolition of augs, compensation for those who’ve had to pay for neuromantic treatment,” Iron Clad said. “Your usual anti-aug nut, except these ones are armed and dangerous. Even if we wanted to negotiate, it’s not like we can give them anything they want.”

Bon Bon nodded. “If that’s all, then I won’t waste any more time.” Iron Clad saluted, and pushed his visor back down.

“Hey.” Storm Front had landed next to her as she walked onto the bridge. “Remember, you screw this up, the blood’s on your hooves. There are a lot of innocent ponies in there,” he warned her.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said icily. As she made her way swiftly across the bridge, she heard a commotion behind her.

“...You say anything more like that, Lieutenant, and I will bust your ass all the way back to Traffic! Is that clear?” Iron Clad barked.

“Yes, sir...” Storm Front said. Bon Bon rolled her eyes. Pegasi always were the worst in tense situations. She trotted over to the access door, and pushed it open. Unlocked... That didn’t bode well. Bon Bon’s horn glowed softly, and she pulled out the tranquiliser rifle, unfolding it as she descended the stairs into the clinic.

So, I guess you’ll be needing some assistance? Or would you rather charge in there blindly?


Yeah, Twilight’s set me on the case. The police were kinda reluctant to give her any information on the attackers, so... I just hacked into their comms. They’re... not exactly confident about the situation in there. Particularly not now that the onus is all on you.

I know. Just had a run-in with a jumped-up riot cop myself. Anything else?

I got you some maps of the clinic. At that, a large window appeared in front of her, drowning out the usual biometric readings that hovered at the edge of her vision.

Colgate, I can’t see!

Whoops! Sorry. Don’t panic. The window shrank down a little, allowing her to see the dark corridor around it.

Better. It contained a wireframe map of the floor she was on. As she willed it, the map moved between floors, covering each storey, all the way down to the basement.

OK, so you’ve got six stories above ground level, plus two levels of basements. Likeliest place for the hostages is on the second floor, in this staff room. The map moved to the relevant floor, with the room in question marked out in red. Easily defendable, no windows, hoof recognition locks on the doors. Question is, how to get to it. Top floor is all offices, but the two floors beneath you are patient rooms and wards. They got locked down in the attack, and it’ll be difficult to get through there without being seen. You could try the ventilation system...

Air ducts as a route into the building? 

Hey, if it stops you getting shot up, I’d say it’s a viable strategy. But you can always take the stairs like a good little filly if you really want.

OK, fine. I’ll see if I can find one.

Sure thing. Stay safe, and holler if you need anything. I’m not just a pretty face, y’know! Bon Bon swore she felt just the faintest hint of amusement from Colgate as she severed the telepathic link and minimised the map. She took a deep breath, pushing open the door at the bottom of the staircase, the rifle levelled in front of her.

The door opened out into a small T-junction at the end of a longer corridor, the space filled with cabinets, mops, and toolboxes that had been hastily tidied away. The cream pony stepped carefully over the detritus, ensuring she didn’t disturb any of the mess. Flattening herself against the wall, she caught the rifle in one unfolded hoof, and sneaked a look around the corner.

The corridor extended towards another white wall in the background, flanked by large panes of frosted glass that were set into the offices’ walls. Halfway down the corridor, with her back to Bon Bon, a pink unicorn mare with a ragged white mane poked her nose into a few of the offices. A sawn-off shotgun was nestled in her telekinesis, its handle wrapped in a crimson glow.

Bon Bon quickly pulled her head back behind the wall, lest she be seen. If there was only one pony here, she could probably pick her off with a tranquiliser dart...

“What are you doing?!” The augmented pony gave a start, mind racing. Had she been discovered? Another peek assuaged her worries; the unicorn was now looking into another office, the shotgun hanging loosely at her side, rather than levelled. “Are you two going to spend all night in there?”

“Hey, hey, hey! This office belongs to the head honcho of this place! Who knows what we’ll find in here!” came the reply from within.

“What, you think she has a notebook titled ‘Evil things I did today’? Stop pretending you can hack that computer and make yourself useful,” she sneered. “And Graffiti! Put down that spray paint.”

“Just a minute, just a minute.” The third voice had an oddly tinny quality to it. The mare snorted and stamped her forehoof.

“Look, just ‘cause you’re sore you don’t get to raid the really juicy stuff in here, it doesn’t mean you get to order us around. If you’re gonna be so anal about it, go check the door to the roof or something, the first voice said. Bon Bon’s blood went cold. She would be discovered if she stayed here, and she doubted she could take on three armed ponies at once. She quickly dived across the gap to the other side of the T-junction, just before the mare let out a frustrated sigh and stamped her hoof again. She began walking towards Bon Bon’s hiding place.

Bon Bon crouched down by the wall and propped the tranq rifle against it. She counted off the hoofsteps as they came closer and closer, the mare grumbling under her breath. She tensed up as a pink foreleg appeared in front of her, the shotgun swinging around as its owner regarded the door.

“Ugh... as if anypony would think to come through here,” the mare muttered. This was it. Bon Bon sprang up, forehooves unfolding. A quick chop to the horn sent the shotgun to the floor as the mare’s telekinesis winked out. Her shout of surprise died in her mouth as Bon Bon’s other foreleg wrapped around her throat, squeezing tightly. She pulled the pony off of her legs and dragged her back behind the wall.

Pink forehooves scrabbled desperately at the artificial limb, and the mare’s azure eyes looked up in horror at Bon Bon’s shaded gaze. A last few weak kicks of her hindlegs and she slumped down, the last of her breath choked out of her. Bon Bon released the grip and gently lowered the unicorn to the floor. The cream pony carefully placed an ear to the pink mare’s mouth, listening for the weak rasps of breath, and pushed her into the corner. One down.

Taking up the rifle again with her magic, she edged down the corridor to the director’s office. The faint sound of a spray paint can being shaken and triggered emanated from the open door.

“I’m done here; I’m gonna see what else there is up here,” said the tinny voice. Bon Bon ducked inside the nearest doorway, sighting down the tranq rifle’s scope. As she waited, a blue earth pony emerged from the office, a narrow band wrapped around his neck. To her relief, he turned away from her and began walking. Perfect.

She took a breath, and sent a dart sailing through the air, straight into the stallion’s paint brush cutie mark. He continued walking for a few seconds, oblivious to the projectile lodged in him, until the tranquiliser entered his system. He wobbled on his legs, and fell sideways, hitting the plate glass with a thunk. Damn. 

“The hell was that? Grafitti?” The final pony came out, a tan pegasus with a saddle-mounted combat rifle, eyes casting about, until he saw the unconscious body of his compatriot. “Graffiti!” He ran over to the earth pony, before seeing the dart stuck out of his flank. He looked up, directly at Bon Bon, and his eyes went wide.

Before he had a chance to bite down on the bit and fill her with lead, Bon Bon leapt forward, swinging the stock of the tranq rifle into the side of his head. He staggered back with a muted cry, as she dropped the rifle and tore the bit out of his mouth telekinetically. The pegasus rallied and reared up, wings pumping. He aimed a wild swing at Bon Bon with his forehoof, but only touched her mane as she dodged to the right.

An unfolded paw darted up and grabbed the hapless pegasus’ forehoof. The paw extended slightly out of Bon Bon’s leg and spun rapidly in a complete revolution, taking his limb with it. A horrific crack resonated throughout the corridor as the buck’s leg dislocated at the shoulder and the bones snapped under the stress. His eyes went wide, and Bon Bon only just shoved her other forehoof in his mouth in time to muffle his scream.

She twisted to hold the pegasus from behind on two legs, pulling his broken limb with her. Her other forehoof still muffled the sobs emanating from him. His hindlegs scrabbled at the ground for purchase, and his wings batted against her body in a futile effort to escape. Bon Bon tugged harder, and the sobs became high-pitched whimpers until he finally passed out from the pain, wings fluttering slightly as he slumped against her. She let him drop to the floor, and sat down heavily.

The rifle was gathered up in a blue glow, broken open, and reloaded with a new dart. Bon Bon regarded the ruined foreleg of the pegasus, and the tranquilised earth pony beside him. A glance up the corridor confirmed the unicorn mare was still prone. She let out a heavy breath.

One floor down.


Augmentations Activated

Horn: Basic Telekinesis

Allows the user to dexterously manipulate small objects, as well as magically responsive surfaces.

Using experimental compounds and enchantments, a prototype unicorn horn augmentation has been developed by Sparkle Industries. Although the exact capabilities of the aug are unclear, it is able to replicate the most basic of unicorn spells; telekinesis.

Horn: Hydra Mod

Telekinetically connects users, allowing communication through thought, emotion, and even remote optical and aural implant access.

        Developed by studies of its namesake’s neural processes, the Hydra mod can remotely link ponies in         

        absolute privacy. Different varieties can also connect in more sophisticated ways, even allowing minds to

temporarily meld; however, the cost of higher mental integration rises exponentially, placing even the most basic versions of this aug well out of the price range of the public.


<<Chapter 2                                                                                          Chapter 4>>

Many thanks to RavensDagger and Burraku_Pansa from SALT and to Darth Rex for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]





Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 4: Black Dawn

Bon Bon stood back and admired her hoofwork. She’d dragged the three ponies to the door leading to the rooftop; their muzzles and legs were tightly bound with duct tape found amongst the cleaning supplies, just in case one woke up early. The rest of the roll had been stored in her coat, lest she need any more impromptu restraints.

The augmented mare also relieved the earth pony of his neck accessory; a small brass box on a fabric band. It was a voice modulator, designed to be pressed against the vocal chords so earth ponies and pegasi could speak while manipulating objects with their mouths. Perhaps it could be used to fool the other attackers in the building.

A cursory check of the offices had been fruitless; there were no air ducts on the floor, and she would be forced to take the staircase down. A wonderful place to be ambushed.

As Bon Bon trotted down the corridor, the director’s office caught her eye. Like the others, it had suffered badly in the attack, with papers and cabinets strewn about. DEFILER had been sprayed across the entirety of one wall, along with some other, more obscene phrases. She gazed at the computer inquisitively; the translucent orange screen flashed with warnings, and a small white box was plugged into the side of the terminal. A closer look revealed the terminal had detected a hostile presence attempting to gain access, and had completely locked down, presumably the work of the mystery device.

However, access had briefly been gained; perhaps the pegasus had been better at hacking than his comrade gave him credit for. A notification showed that one e-mail had been printed off before the lockdown. The cream pony walked over and snatched it up; presumably it was worth something to have been extracted like this. Her eyes scanned the page.


To: [email protected].equ

Subject: URGENT - Subject Sherbet


I know that you have been very cooperative in this difficult time, and MANE have been extremely generous in allowing temporary private usage of their facilities. However, I must ask for one more favour.

Subject Sherbet is showing signs of rapid recovery, and is now free to wander the streets of Canterlot once more — and that includes your clinic. And by extension, the patient records.

I’m sure I don’t have to spell out for you what will happen if Sherbet pries into their medical files. Augmentation was necessary for their survival, but not to the extent ordered. If the subject discovers this, it will jeopardise any further developments.

I implore you once more, should the subject come looking — and they will   falsify the records, wrap them in red tape... I don’t care how, just keep them from the truth. You will be reimbursed for your efforts, of course.

Bon Bon’s blood ran cold. Was that... her? Sherbet? Golden eyes scanned the document again, but there was no timestamp, no indication of where or when it was sent. Surely not... She’d seen her medical records, accessed them on a holoscroll as soon as she could after the incident, if only out of a sense of mourning for what had been lost. They couldn’t have worked that quickly. ‘Sherbet... is free to wander the streets of Canterlot again.’ No, she’d had access long before they could discharge her. She breathed a small sigh of relief, then felt a pang of guilt. Somewhere out there, there was another pony like her, except their augs had been unnecessary...

The augmented unicorn suppressed a shudder. Now was not the time to dwell on such things; there were still ponies in danger in the clinic. Tucking away the printed mail, she gathered up her tranquiliser rifle and made her way to the stairs.

Bon Bon crept down the flight slowly, keeping her body flush to the inner wall and the rifle ready. The cream mare turned on the landing between the two flights, and quickly trotted to the door that led out of the stairwell. A cursory glance through the glass panel in the door revealed no ponies, and a corridor fronted with glass, much like the one in the floor above.

However, the rooms in this corridor were sealed off by virtue of steel doors that had lowered over their entrances, and a faint turquoise glow marked the magical wards that kept the ponies inside safe. The lockdown had sealed away a good deal of the clinic’s staff and patients; that was one less thing to worry about, but it also took away a lot of the places she could duck into and hide. She would have to be careful.

The security unit next to the door was disengaged and inactive, the door having been forced open by the marauding attackers. Bon Bon carefully pushed the door open and stepped through, sweeping her head back and forth for any signs of trouble. Nothing yet. She dashed through, and pressed herself against the wall. Bringing up her map, she found herself at a corner in the bottom left of the floor; the outer walls were lined with patient wards, with the stairwell leading to the rest of the building on the other side of the floor to her. In the centre of the room were four smaller rooms, divided by four corridors leading into a central, circular space. Plenty of opportunities for ambushes, if the situation presented itself.

Anxious to avoid anypony sneaking up on her undetected, she opted to leave the clear corridor ahead of her, and turned right. The sounds of sobbing and scared ponies reassuring one another occasionally drifted through the walls of the wards, a subtle reminder of what was at stake. None of the attackers seemed to be here, either. She was about to cross the T-junction leading into the central atrium, when—

“Damn it! Dumb forcefields!” she heard a stallion say. Bon Bon froze.

“Will you quit it? Bangin’ on those things ain’t gonna work!” came the hot-tempered reply. “What? You want to drag more of these poor bastards downstairs?”

“Maybe there’s—”

“Just stop it. I thought we were gonna see some nasty stuff up here... not foals and their parents snivelling in a room...” the mare muttered. “Just get out of here, OK? I don’t need you making things any worse.”



By that point, Bon Bon had already turned tail and cantered back to the corner, before turning it and flattening herself against the wall. Her breaths came in short, sharp gasps as the stallion, a grey unicorn with a red mane, walked out of the T-junction. She ducked back as his gaze swept down toward her. He walked toward her position, and investigated the stairs leading back up to the floor above, poking his pistol ahead of him telekinetically. Thinking quickly, she shot him with a tranquiliser dart, the projectile sinking into his rump.

He didn’t notice until it was too late; he turned back around to see Bon Bon just as the drug kicked in. His legs gave out and he slumped to the floor along with his pistol. She dragged him back into the stairwell, binding him with tape and hiding him out of view of the door. After a moment’s thought, she ejected the magazine from the pistol, and pulled the slide back to remove the round within. She wasn’t going to use it, and she’d be damned if somepony else was instead. Her rifle hissed imperceptibly as she opened the barrel and slotted a fresh dart into the breach.

Deciding against taking that direction again, she made her way forwards, toward the main stairwell. So far, all the rooms she’d come across had been sealed off by the security doors and fields, which meant that any air ducts or alternative means of transit were likely blocked off, leaving the unpalatable option of the likely heavily guarded stairs. Any elevators would already be inactive thanks to the lockdown.

She came to another T-junction, and peeked around the corner. A bored-looking purple pegasus mare slouched at the entrance to the central atrium, her pale green tail swishing back and forth as she trained the twin machine pistols on her saddle down the corridor. Impassable.

“So, has Brimstone gone off on one of his sulky fits again?” she asked suddenly.

“Ugh, yeah,” said the other mare from earlier. “Probably gone upstairs to root through some of the offices or something.”

“You gettin’ cold hooves?”

“No, it’s just... I didn’t think the ponies in here would be so... normal.”

“Hey, don’t tell me you’re growing a conscience now!” The pegasus had turned to her left to address her comrade. Taking her chance, Bon Bon rolled across the opening, barely pulling the rifle to her before the pegasus turned back to where she had been moments before.

“Just don’t go soft on me, y’hear?” Bon Bon rolled her eyes. No wonder these ponies had been posted to the upper floors; they seemed more interested in banter with one another than actually guarding anything. Looking down, she saw a duct leading into the wall. According to another glance at her map, she was now outside the female toilets, one of the four rooms bordering the central space... and the doorway to it looked out onto the main stairwell. Perfect.

She pushed the duct cover up with an unfolded hoof, folded up and stowed her tranq rifle, then crawled into the opening, shutting the cover behind her with another telekinetic flourish. She straightened up and looked around. Nothing out of the ordinary; just the normal stalls and sinks. A large mirror over the sinks had been cracked slightly, and a soap dispenser had been knocked from the wall. A faint trail of pink soap led to the door, with hoof-shaped flecks here and there.

Bon Bon felt a lump in her throat. Had the unfortunate pony cowering in here been pulled away in the same way her friends and researchers had, all those months ago? Had they begged for mercy from their attackers as well? She felt a tremble run through her body... felt the heat of the fires... smelt the smoke... heard the futile screams as life after life was snuffed out... it was all happening again...

Bon Bon!

She jerked as she heard Colgate’s voice ring out in her mind. What?

You OK in there? Your biometric data just went off the charts. Are you injured?

No... No, I’m OK. I haven’t been detected. Everything’s fine.

You sure? You certainly don’t—

I’m fine, Colgate.

OK, OK. Just checking. Also, I got something off the security grid. Apparently, one of the wards didn’t get sealed in the lockdown. And according to the building plans, it has an air duct that goes down to the second floor. You’ll bypass the main stairwell, and you’ll be on the floor with the hostages.

Where is it?

End of the corridor you’re on now. Come out of the toilets and turn right; it’ll be at the end there.

OK. I’ll head there now.

She shook herself, and walked over to the door. Another duct was next to it. She crouched down and peeked through it. On the other side, she could see four pairs of legs stood between her and the door to the stairs; the owners were apparently coming to the end of their conversation.

“So, is Night Light still getting all antsy?” one of them said.

“Yeah... she looks really spooked. Listened too much to those Black Dawn types, I think. Practically brainwashed her into thinking every Aug was the spawn of Nightmare Moon...” the other replied.

“We all listened too much. This was a stupid idea; we’re all gonna end up dead!”

“Hey, we’re making a stand, right? Right?”

“Yeah... sure. Just make sure nopony goes in or out of here. Those Black Dawn ponies scare the hell out of me.”

        “You and me both, brother. Everfree.”

        “Everfree.” The two ponies bumped a forehoof against the other’s, and one turned away and left.

        Cute. One of Canterlot’s most notorious gangs has a secret hoofshake. Colgate’s amused tone cut in.

        The Everfrees and Black Dawn? That’s worrying.

        Black Dawn are the only group capable of pulling a stunt like this. They don’t want to say it, but the police know it. You should hear all their little euphemisms and metaphors just so they don’t have to admit they got outmanoeuvred by this bunch of wackos. The Everfrees are just being used as fall guys. We’ll worry about the whys and wherefores later.

        Bon Bon lifted the grate, and crouched down, aiming down the scope of her rifle. She shot the stallion in the leg, counting off the seconds before he collapsed to the floor. She crawled through the opening, casting her gaze about to ensure she wasn’t detected by any of his comrades. Her hoof unfolded, and she dragged the gang member back by his tail, before unceremoniously shoving him into the duct and closing it behind him.

        She reloaded her rifle, and trotted down the corridor. As she reached its end, she saw the one broken ward; its magical forcefield hadn’t activated, and the door had been prised open. Gazing within, she saw the lines of bullet holes in the far wall, and the cracks on the large window, which now looked out on night-time Canterlot. The beds and medical equipment had been overturned and thrown on the floor, any drawer or cabinet torn open and its contents scattered. On the floor was a hoof-stitched doll that had been ripped open, spilling its white stuffing out onto the tiles. Next to it were more pieces of debris, tufts of hair and... blood.

        Bon Bon grit her teeth and shut her eyes, trying not to fall back into her nightmares. They’re still here. You can still save them. Focus. Her breath caught sharply in her throat. She walked forward, one hesitant step at a time through the ruins of the room, to see another duct built into the wall, just below the ceiling. To her dismay, the security shield here was still active, a shimmering azure glow protecting the duct from infiltration. A small unit was located next to it. She crouched down near it, ensuring the bed blocked her from view.

        Colgate? I need to get through a security field, she thought.

        You mean you didn’t get any training in non-standard network access? came Colgate’s incredulous reply.

Not that much... I had a little rudimentary knowledge. I know how to access it, but that’s all. And non-standard access...?

        Well, ‘hacking’ doesn’t sound very professional, but that’s half my job. C’mon, I know I wrote some magical simulations for you.

        Yeah,  but they weren’t exactly comprehensive; I was concentrating more on telekinesis and combat training.

           Ugh... never mind. You’re just gonna have to pick it up, and fast. See the terminal? Access it magically, and tell me when you’re in.

        Bon Bon nodded, and focused on the terminal. The feeling in her horn was subtly different to when she used telekinesis; a rougher, less refined flow, as if the terminal was already fighting her. As she did so, an interface similar to her map popped up, showing her lines of runes, which gradually cleared to show a network of differently coloured talismans.

            They were connected by a network of gently pulsating white lines, with a blue talisman at the left edge highlighted. The network of shining lines led through several white symbols, some circular, some triangular, before terminating in a green orb at the right. Just above it was an ominously glowing red talisman, shaped like a shield.

She frowned at the interface. With a small mental flick, she noted she could move her focus to other talismans, causing windows containing percentages and commands to pop up when she shifted to them. She sifted through her memory, trying to recall anything about how this part of her augmentations worked. Lost, she decided to call for support.

OK, I’m in. Now what?

Alright, I’m assuming you can at least move around the interface?

Yeah... I’ve got that. What about the percentages? And the different nodes?

Blue’s the home talisman, the access point. White’s data banks: if they’re triangular, they may have useful information in them, circles mean they’re junk to you. Green is the access port to the terminal, and red is for all those nasty security enchantments trying to keep you out.

This seems... oddly specific.

Well, hacking augs aren’t exactly legal. This one was custom-made for you.

So you wrote it to be simple enough for a foal to use?

If you’d rather sift through several thousand lines of programming runes, I can oblige.

Just... tell me what to do now.

        Right, right... those percentages are a rough guess of how likely you are to be detected by the security enchantments if you capture the talisman. The aug handles the hard part; you just have to make a path between the blue and green talismans.

        That’s it?

        If the security detects you, then it will try and lock down the remaining talismans and trace the intrusion. The aug will hold it off for as long as possible, but you’ll have to make that path fast, or abort. If it reaches your home talisman, you’ll get kicked off the network, and you might be locked out for good.

        OK... here goes nothing. Bon Bon concentrated on the white talisman nearest to the blue, and brought up the list. Capture... 15%. She willed it, and noted that it turned blue over the course of a few seconds. Now, a blue line connected the two talismans. She could repeat the process, and did so, connecting two more talismans to her path. This was too easy.

    Then, just as the thought occurred to her, the interface flashed red, and a timer appeared, counting down from twenty seconds. Damn.

        Don’t panic. Just keep going, you’ll be fine.

        Bon Bon registered her affirmation, but it was hard to concentrate with the angry red talisman now sending out crimson lines through the talismans to counter her own blue path. She cursed quietly as the talisman she’d selected was overwhelmed by the defensive enchantments, slowing down her capture. She nervously regarded the timer as she finally alighted on the green orb. The process seemed painfully slow as she ticked off the seconds.


Four... C’mon!

Three... The blue glow around the orb flickered brighter, but refused to break through.

Two... She gulped.

One... Bon Bon was about to break the link, when...

            “Access granted,” the arcanely produced voice murmured. She let out a breath she wasn’t aware she’d been holding as the interface changed to show her an option to disable the field. She did so, and allowed the magical connection to close. The air duct was now exposed.

Is hacking always this stressful? she asked caustically, as she lifted the cover.

Eh, you’ll get used to it. Today, an air duct, tomorrow... the world. Bon Bon rolled her eyes and crawled into the ventilation shaft, beginning her descent towards the second floor... and the hostages.


        Having crawled through what seemed like an endless silver tunnel, Bon Bon finally found the exit from the ventilation shaft. She pushed open the cover and emerged into a small break room. Next to her was a plush blue sofa, with a coffee table in front of it. A large television was mounted on the opposite wall.

    As she walked out into the room, she heard a commotion outside; a mare was sobbing, and a stallion was shouting at her. Swiftly, she ducked behind the sofa, just as the door swung open. She winced as she heard a crash and a cry of pain from the mare being bodily flung onto the table. Risking a peek, Bon Bon felt a chill run through her as she recognised the receptionist from that morning laid on her back on the table, a thin trail of blood running from her nose and a small golden ring around her horn. Her legs strained at the tight bonds around her ankles. Around her neck was a thick steel collar, with an ominously blinking ruby set into it.

Behind her, a green unicorn stallion dressed in a black jumpsuit levitated a machete to one side, his lips drawn back in a snarl. Accompanying him was an earth pony mare in similar garb, with a ten millimetre pistol clenched in her teeth.

“Please, I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” begged the receptionist.

“I warned you. Any escape attempts, any magic, and you’d be in for it,” he said in a perversely sing-song voice.

“It slipped off! I swear!”

“Oh, sure. So convenient that magic dampeners come off so easily, eh?” He paced around the table to the receptionist’s head, and laid the tip of the machete against her neck. “Fucking Defilers. You make me sick.”

“N-no! Don’t kill me! Please!” she cried.

“Kill you? Now why would I do that?” he said. A look of relief briefly showed on the mare’s face, before he continued. “No, if you’re so in love with the idea of Augs, why don’t I let you become one? Upgrade a thing or two? Now, what should it be? Your horn?” The blade hovered to it. “Or perhaps your leg?”

“No! NO! N-n-not my horn!”

“Leg it is, then.” He beckoned over his companion with a flick of his head. The machete cut open the receptionist’s foreleg bindings, and the two black-clad ponies held her down, one foreleg each. The captive unicorn twisted and fought, screaming as the stallion lined his weapon up over her shoulder. He raised the weapon and swung it down...

… Only for it to be blocked by an unfolded black hoof, which gripped the weapon tightly.

“Bad move.” Bon Bon swung her horn down into the stallion’s muzzle, pushing him back as he grunted in pain. Blindly, she leapt to one side and flung the machete to the other, hearing the sharp pop and crack as the startled earth pony’s shot went wide and shattered the television screen. The cream pony rolled forwards, before charging the mare down. Bon Bon’s horn blazed, yanking the pistol out of her opponent’s mouth. The other mare grunted in pain as the grip tore against her teeth, and stumbled slightly. The unicorn pivoted on her foreleg and sent the earth pony flying backward with a powerful buck.

The mare scrabbled to stand up again, wheezing in pain from her bruised ribs. Before she could alert anypony else, Bon Bon silenced her with a vicious uppercut that sent her sprawling onto the sofa. The cream pony leapt on top of the hapless mare, pressing her unfolded forehooves against her throat as the earth pony weakly struggled against her, before falling limp from the lack of air. Faint rasps emanated from the mare’s mouth as she fell back.

“I’ll do it, you son of a changeling, I swear!” Bon Bon flicked her gaze to the side to see that the receptionist had gathered the machete in her own telekinesis and had it pressed against the stallion’s throat, having removed the dampener with her free legs. She had rolled over sideways, her hindlegs still bound. However, he simply chuckled.

“One more false move, and I’ll kill you all,” he taunted. “You want to gamble twelve lives on me hitting this button before you can kill me?” The receptionist blanched, and dropped the blade hurriedly. “Good.” He grinned at a small device held in one forehoof, the other being used to staunch the flow of blood from his nose. Apparently, he was unaware of Bon Bon watching him. Thinking quickly, she pulled the detonator out of the stallion’s hoof with her magic. He yelped in surprise, before the receptionist dragged herself towards him and slammed her forehoof into his head. And again. And again.

Bon Bon walked over and gently pulled her away from the now-unconscious stallion. She was hyperventilating and trembling; the occasional sob escaped her lips. She tried to soothe the distressed unicorn by turning her away from the scene, pulling away the bonds around her hindlegs. After a few moments, the peach-coloured pony calmed down slightly, taking great gulps of air and snivelling.

“Y-you saved me...” she said. “Wh-where did you come from?” Her eyes met with Bon Bon’s, and a flash of recognition ran across them. “You! How did you... Are you with the police? Where’s the rest of the squad?”

“I’ve been sent in to clear the way for them. It’s just me.”


Bon Bon pointed at the detonator held in her magic. “The attackers said that they’d kill every hostage in the building if the police invaded. I was sent to get you out of harm’s way before the riot squads secured the clinic.”

“I... I see.” She gulped again, her gaze drifting back to the centre of the room. “They were going to... going to... Oh, Celestia... I almost killed him...”

Before the unicorn started panicking again, Bon Bon laid her hooves on her shoulders and spoke to her. “You did a very brave thing just now. I need your help, OK?” She nodded. “Where are the rest of the hostages?”

“In a room in the centre of the building... I think most of the ponies on this floor are busy raiding the operating theatres; I didn’t see many when they dragged me here,” she said hesitantly.

“Nopony’s guarding the room?”

“They don’t need to.” The mare’s horrified gaze swept down to the collar around her neck. “They put these on us... they said if we tried to escape or leave the floor... the collars would explode.”

Colgate? There’s a problem with the hostages... they’ve got collars on.

Lemme see... Bon Bon felt a slight mental pressure, which eased as she allowed Colgate access to her optical implants. Oh, shit. They use these in griffon prisoner of war camps. How did they smuggle these things into Canterlot?

I don’t know. We need to disarm them, though.

OK. I’ll patch into the police comms now... hopefully they have the disarm codes for these. You’ll need to find the central unit to get the codes into them. Just don’t touch it; they’re wired to explode if they’re tampered with.

Got it.

The mare blinked at her. “What now?”

Bon Bon frowned. “I need to get to the unit controlling the collars so I can disarm them. Did you see anything like that?”

She nodded vigorously. “Yes... they put some sort of box in with us in the room.”

“Can you take me there?”

The mare ground her forehoof in little circles. “I can... but what if they come back?” She pointed at the unconscious ponies. “They might hurt us again...”

“I can protect you.” Bon Bon regarded the two ponies. “Put on one of their uniforms and raise the hood. At least then they won’t wonder why there’s a prisoner wandering around if they catch a glimpse of you.” She complied, stripping the mare of her uniform and clumsily climbing into it. Bon Bon did the same for the stallion, feeling uncomfortably hot under her longcoat and armour as she did so. When they were both done, Bon Bon wrapped the pair in duct tape and dragged them behind the sofa. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” the mare muttered.

“Let’s go, then,” Bon Bon said.

“Wait...” The mare picked up the machete, and used her forehoof to daub some of the blood from the stallion’s forehead onto the blade and the front of her borrowed uniform. “They were scared of him... even the other attackers...” Her voice quivered, and she swallowed nervously as she regarded the newly soiled weapon. “I don’t think they’d disturb him.”

“Clever.” The unicorn gave a small smile, and began to walk out of the door, holding the machete out in front of her. Bon Bon followed, her head bowed as if subservient to her. She kept her gaze cast about as they turned right out into a corridor. As they passed an operating theatre, she saw more black-clad ponies inside, laying waste to the medical equipment. Fortunately, they seemed to be more interested in their destructive task than the ponies walking past outside.

As they made their way across a small open area filled with desks and terminals, Bon Bon noticed a pony take a look at the bloodied machete and turn away, shaking his head and muttering. She found herself pondering how that stallion commanded such an intimidating presence amongst these ponies. As she looked at the wall behind him, she saw exactly the thing she’d feared: a large, crudely drawn sunrise in black paint, with Black Dawn written underneath.

The unicorn’s pace took them quickly through the corridors to a heavy door with a small security terminal next to it, designed to grant access by scanning the retina of an authorised pony. As they stopped, Bon Bon heard a noise from within. She held up a hoof to stop the receptionist.

“...and he’s gonna chop her up! You realise what trouble you’re in? Even I’m scared sometimes of that psycho, and your little friend just went and upset him!” She frowned at the other pony; apparently another member of Black Dawn was in there with the hostages. Bon Bon pulled out the voice modulator and wrapped it around her throat. She beckoned the unicorn to stand back, and thumped on the door with a hoof.

“Hey, let us back in! We’re done out here!” she said, hearing her own voice unnaturally altered.

“Ugh, I thought we sorted these doors... hold on.” Bon Bon tensed as the pony inside walked up to the door and opened it. A deep green set of eyes widened in surprise as he saw the pair of unicorns outside. The flat of the machete caught him in the throat, killing any cry for help he could have made. There were gasps and screams of shock from the captives as Bon Bon pushed the green pegasus onto his back, before smartly taking a dart from her coat and injecting it directly into his jugular. He barely had time to react before the drug kicked in and sent him into unconsciousness.

“Oh... g-goodness...” a brown pegasus mare stammered next to her. She was wearing a rumpled doctor’s coat, and her dark grey mane shook with her. Her forelegs were tightly bound to the arms of the chair she was sitting on, keeping her wings pinned behind her. The other captives in the room were similarly bound, some struggling against the ties, others slumped down, having resigned themselves to their fate.

“Wait! The collars...!” another captive exclaimed. Bon Bon leapt up and ran to the centre of the room, where a metallic box the size of a pony’s body ominously waited. She ran around to the other side of the container, which had a small screen embedded in it. Her blood ran cold as she read the words on it.

Unauthorised presence detected. Input authorisation codes or collars will auto-detonate. You have 60 seconds to comply.

“Shit,” she breathed. Colgate? The collars have armed themselves. I need the authorisation codes!

Wait, what?! You just charged in there? I’ve only just wrangled the disarm codes out of the police!

Then what do we do?! The link was ominously silent for a couple of seconds.

OK... the unit will broadcast the detonation signal at the end of the countdown. Hack it, and I can modify it to send out the disarm signal instead.

You’re sure?

As I’ll ever be.

Bon Bon took a deep breath, trying to ignore the terrified sobs of the captives in the room. She focused on the unit, and linked herself to it, bringing up the hacking interface once again. It was a different network to before; she paid little mind to the shape as she carved a path to the green talisman.

Only... this time, it felt different. More hostile. Wrong. Her anxiety made her sloppy, and she swore under her breath as the security enchantments caught her and broke the link. Bon Bon’s eyes flickered to the screen: thirty-five seconds remaining. She shuddered, and tried again. The mental strain was beginning to get to her, and the link broke again as the enchantments threw her out. Her interface flickered with warnings of detection; she had little leeway left before being locked out of the system. Bon Bon let out a cry of frustration.

Hang in there. You can do this. Colgate sounded nonchalant, as if the lives of a dozen ponies didn’t depend on her being successful. But the reassurance buoyed her up, and she linked herself up for another attempt. Yet again, the red lines made their way out to terminate her attempt, but this time her concentration held, and the blue lines from her own connection made their way to the other end of the network. At long last, the green talisman fell to her. Access granted.

OK, we are in. Where are you, you little scamp...? Ah ha! Goodbye detonation, hello disarm code!

Bon Bon risked a glance at the screen. Ten seconds. Colgate?

Let it count down. It’ll send out the codes.

She cast a nervous glance around the room. Every captive pony looked at her in horror. Of course. She’d spent the last minute staring at the countdown to their deaths in their eyes. If you’ve made a mistake...

I haven’t. It’ll all be fine. Five seconds. Trust me.

...OK. She watched the timer run down. Three... two... one... She closed her eyes, not wanting to see what came next.

 A faint clicking emanated around the room. Bon Bon opened her eyes again to see that the collars had disarmed and unlocked, and were now hanging loosely from the captives’ necks. Some looked at her in disbelief, while others wept in relief.

“Th-thank you...” the brown pegasus breathed. “Whoever you are... thank you.”


The next few minutes were spent making sure the room was secure and that no more Black Dawn members would come to check on their captives. The explosive collars were stacked carefully in the corner, and the unconscious pony bound up as tightly his prisoners. Bon Bon’s talons and the machete made short work of the captives’ bonds; each one stood up, rubbing their ankles as they were freed in turn. The unicorns eagerly swept the magical dampeners off their horns; more than one levitated the ring as a test that their magic hadn’t been permanently erased.

“Oh, Peach Juice! I thought you... I thought you weren’t coming back!” the pegasus exclaimed as she had the ropes around her legs cut. She jumped up and pulled the young unicorn into a tight hug.

“Heh... I’m OK, Dr. Pinion,” the receptionist murmured as she returned the hug. “Thanks to her.” She indicated Bon Bon, and frowned. “Miss Bon Bon, right?”

Bon Bon nodded. The hostages gave thankful murmurs, and Dr. Pinion walked over to her. “When that brute dragged Peach away... I thought I’d never see her again. Thank you, again. I feared that we’d never leave here alive when they put those collars on us,” the mare said. “Although, I don’t recall any security specialists being registered at this clinic.”

“It’s a complicated story,” Bon Bon said. “I was sent in on behalf of Sparkle Industries to secure the hostages taken.” Her eyes cast about the room, and her heart sank as she saw unicorns, earth ponies, even a zebra... but the only pegasus was stood right in front of her. “All of them.”

“Well, this is the full compliment, I believe,” Pinion said.

“No... There’s at least one more. Fluttershy.” The name drew blank gazes from the prisoners. “Pale yellow pegasus, pink mane? Three butterflies for a cutie mark. She was giving a speech at the protest, and the attackers snatched her in the confusion.”

A polite cough came from the corner of the room; the zebra had raised her forehoof. Bon Bon nodded to her. “I work as a porter in the basement storage; when the raiders dragged me up to the lobby, I believe I saw them take your... Fluttershy... down there,” she said in a faintly accented voice. “They also had Dr. Glia...”

“The neuromancer?” Pinion suddenly exclaimed, causing the zebra to flinch back. “Oh, Celestia.... if anything happens to him...”

“Then I need to get down there, and fast,” Bon Bon said. “They could escape through the catacombs if we leave it too long.”

Pinion nodded, and pulled a small card out of her coat. “Here: lockdown clearance. It should allow you to reactivate the elevators and access the basement. Please be careful with it; anypony could open up the locked-down wards if it fell into the wrong hooves!”

“Don’t worry; I won’t let any more ponies be captured. I’ll lock this room from the outside. Don’t draw any attention to yourselves, and the police will be along soon enough. And, Peach Juice?” The unicorn nodded. “Keep the others calm. You’ve handled this far better than I’d expect a civilian to do so.”

“Of course. I owe you my life... or at least, my leg,” she said shyly.

“Please, just keep everyone safe,” Pinion said. She had a wing draped over a blue earth pony colt, only just old enough to have his cutie mark, who was clinging to her foreleg. “The staff at this clinic... we’re like one big family. If anything were to happen to them, even the neurom... I mean, Dr. Glia...”

“You have my word,” Bon Bon said quietly. “I won’t let anypony else die,” she added, under her breath. As the door closed behind her, she pressed the card against the retina-reader. It flashed red, and she heard the clicking of the deadbolts falling into place. She gave a furtive glance around; apparently, none of the Black Dawn members had heard the commotion in the room. That was a relief; she doubted the doors would last long if any of the terrorists decided they really wanted to get back into the chamber.

Twilight, I’ve secured the hostages.

Good! Colgate informed me of the bombs. Good work, Bon Bon... without you, I—

Fluttershy wasn’t amongst them.

She... she wasn’t?

One of the hostages saw the attackers take her down into the basement. Catacomb access is down there; hopefully they’ve still got her in the clinic. They have the neuromancer, as well.

...You know what’s at stake. Don’t let them take Fluttershy.

I won’t. I’m on my way.

Bon Bon swallowed. She felt the pressure from what Twilight had left unsaid; there was a very real danger Fluttershy and the neuromancer would end up ponynapped or dead if she screwed up now. She shuffled along the wall, checking her map to ensure she was heading towards the elevators. The cream pony held up at a corner; a brief glance down the hallway showed her three of the jumpsuit-wearing ponies, apparently debating about which operating room to upend next.

“You hear that screamin’ earlier?” one of them asked.

“Yeah... y’know, I didn’t think he’d actually cut one of the Defilers up. Seemed all bark and no bite to me,” another replied.

“Who gives a damn, anyway? As soon as they’re done screwing around in the basement, we’re outta here. One pony missing a few body parts ain’t worth shit when the rest of ‘em have had their heads blown off,” the third snorted.

“We’ve messed up. Nopony’s gonna want to listen once we murdered a bunch of civvies,” the first voice said.

“We can scare it into them. Nopony ever listens to some mewling little Apple Corps protester, either,” the third growled. “We should probably head on upstairs; I swear I heard one of those Everfree idiots fire off a round a moment ago.”

“Ugh... sure. Maybe we should put a collar on one of them. That’ll probably smarten the rest of them right up!” The three laughed, and made their way into the staircase. Bon Bon shook her head in disgust. The Everfree gang members were perhaps misguided, but the ponies in Black Dawn had no such qualms when it came to killing civilians. She toyed with the idea of introducing them to her own blades...

A shudder ran through her body. No, whatever she thought of them, she wouldn’t let herself sink that low. Never. The cream pony quickly made her way to the elevator, which had a security field over it, similar to the shielded rooms higher up in the building. Bon Bon’s horn glowed, and placed the card against the call button panel. To her relief, the shield deactivated, and the doors opened.

She stepped within, somewhat disconcerted to find that both sets of doors were mostly made of glass. Bon Bon hoped she wouldn’t been seen by anypony as she made her descent, but this made things somewhat more difficult. Looking at the floor selection, she noticed that the buttons for the basement had been hidden behind a panel, presumably to stop unauthorised personnel going down there. The unicorn hesitated for a second, before selecting the button for the lower section of the basement. If the worst came to pass, at least she could head off the occupiers before they fled into the catacombs.

The doors closed behind her, and Bon Bon pressed herself against one wall of the elevator to minimise her profile. As it passed the ground floor, she peeked out through the glass. The lobby was a mess: bullet holes in the walls, paper and debris strewn about by the chaos. On the floor were several smears of blood, and Bon Bon’s blood ran cold as she saw the body of a security guard slumped against a wall, either mortally wounded or already dead.

 The tables and chairs from the cafe were wedged against the main doors as an impromptu barricade, and several ponies in makeshift combat armour watched the doors and windows carefully. Each one was heavily armed: machine guns, shotguns and combat rifles, either mounted on saddles or held telekinetically. One unicorn even hefted a small minigun. Where in Equestria had they gotten this sort of firepower?

Take a look, Bon Bon thought to Colgate. They’re expecting an all-out siege.

I’m lookin’. I’ll let the police know; they’re charging in there blind as it is.

Bon Bon felt the slight pressure fade as the lobby slid out of sight, and returned to her hiding place until the elevator came to a halt.

“Basement level minus two,” the intercom informed her. “Soul gem storage and emergency catacomb access. Authorised personnel only.” As the doors slid open, she gave a start as a Black Dawn unicorn walked up to the doors, his grey face adorned with a frown.

“The fuck is going on?” he growled, levelling a shotgun at Bon Bon’s chest. She gulped and looked up into the stallion’s green eyes, letting her lenses slide back. “How the... an Aug?!” he snarled. Her mind went into overdrive as she tried to come up with a reason why she was wandering around the clinic unmolested.

“I’m with you, you idiot!” she said, hoping against hope her bluff would work. “How did you think we disabled the security systems? Wishing on a star?”

“You... what? You’re the hacker?” he spluttered.

“Yeah... nothing beats being able to wire yourself straight into the system,” she said, indicating the unlocked elevator.

“But... but... Just Cause said we’d never accept Augs...” The stallion shook his head in denial, his shotgun wobbling uncertainly in front of her. "You're lying, you must be!"

“Well, everypony lies. ‘Sides, you take what you can get. You think I wanted to get augmented? I was forced to. MANE deserved this,” she spat. “Now, you wanna tell me what I need to do, or you gonna sit there ogling my implants all night?”

The stallion blinked, before lowering his weapon. “We’ve, uh, been stuck out here. Five of us,” he explained. “A couple of the higher-ups dragged the neuro guy into the gem storage room and tripped some sorta switch. We can’t get out back through the catacombs now,” he said.

Bon Bon grunted, and waved a hoof. “Just take me to it.” As she followed the stallion, she began formulating a plan for quite what she would do when confronted with five armed hostiles. A swift check of the map found the basement level sorely lacking in hiding places; a left turn at the oncoming T-junction would bring her to the soul gem storage, while heading straight on merely led to toilets and janitor's cabinets. She tried not to listen to the suspicious muttering of the pony leading her.

"How d'you stand it? Must drive you crazy, having metal just shoved into your skin like that," he said.

"I manage," Bon Bon grunted. She felt herself tense up as they rounded the corner. Sure enough, four other Black Dawn ponies stood in front of an armoured door, looking frustrated at the barrier to their escape. The looks turned to anger as they registered that she was augmented, and several gun barrels swung up to point at her.

"Whoa, whoa!" her unlikely companion exclaimed. "She's with us! She's gonna hack the door and get us out of here!"

"You're not serious," a yellow mare growled through her voice modulator, a machine pistol gripped in her mouth. Bon Bon surreptitiously unfolded all four of her hooves and lowered her centre of gravity slightly as she waited for the peace to finally shatter. "She's an Aug. She needs to be killed!"

"No, no. She got the elevators working again; we can all get out of here once the lockdown's broken!" He looked at the cream pony, a slightly desperate look on his face. "Right?"

"You're too damn gullible for your own good," another mare growled.

"I agree," Bon Bon said. A forehoof came up, slamming the unfortunate stallion's head into the wall as her horn blazed, snatching up the shotgun. The unicorn dived to one side as a flurry of gunfire started up. She landed behind a crate, squeezing off a shot into a fire extinguisher on the wall next to the other ponies. The pressurised container exploded, a cloud of carbon dioxide bursting over the Black Dawn members. The volley of bullets temporarily ceased as the hapless ponies coughed and spluttered, trying to get out of the suddenly inhospitable atmosphere.

Bon Bon wasted no time in exploiting the distraction, galloping forward to engage her enemies head on. She dropped and slid across the floor as the first mare fired off another burst from her machine pistol, the projectiles whizzing harmlessly over her head. Augmented hindlegs exploded outward in a powerful buck, and the mare squealed in pain as she fell back.

The augmented unicorn rolled to one side, narrowly avoiding a shotgun blast to the face. Ears ringing from the noise, she looked up to see a male unicorn now levelling the weapon at her with an acid green aura. An unfolded forehoof caught the muzzle of the gun and yanked it to one side just before he squeezed off another round. Bon Bon's limb flowed with the recoil, sending the stock flying back into the stallion's rust red muzzle. Blood splattered from his ruined nose as he staggered to one side.

The cream pony gave a yelp as she felt something wrap around her neck; she'd let somepony get behind her. Stupid. An orange earth pony mare grinned evilly at her, bringing a pair of saddle-mounted combat rifles to bear. Bon Bon groaned as she felt the grip tighten. She could survive without taking a breath longer than natural ponies, but not indefinitely...

"Got you. You fucking Defiler. I'm gonna make you pay for everything you did," the mare spat. The rope around Bon Bon's neck tightened in concert, preventing her from replying. "You're not gonna die yet. I'll make sure of that." She bit down on the bridle of the saddle, twin gunshots ringing out. The augmented unicorn grunted in pain as she felt the bullets slam into her body armour. The Black Dawn mare appeared positively deranged as she walked closer.

"No... Not tonight," Bon Bon croaked. The other mare frowned in confusion, before recoiling back with a yell as a blade shot out of Bon Bon's foreleg. The limb swung around in a wide arc, slashing across the muzzle of the earth pony. It proved distraction enough; the rope loosened, allowing her to slam her attacker backwards. She gave another buck, hearing ribs crack. With a roar, she tore open the front of the stolen uniform, telekinetically yanking out her tranquilliser rifle.

Her anger at allowing herself to fall into such a compromising position manifested itself in a brutal melee. Bon Bon's paw grabbed the foreleg of the strangler, a pastel green unicorn mare with a pink mane, who was wheezing and clutching at her stricken chest. She hurled the incapacitated pony against a wooden crate. The container shattered under the impact, and the mare scrabbled desperately to get away, her faltering purple glow plucking at a fallen gun. She got no further as Bon Bon leapt on her and brought a hoof down on the back of her head, knocking her out cold.

The augmented pony swung around, pointing her tranq rifle at the final mare, who was staring at her in horror, the bridle pushed away from her mouth, her muzzle bleeding profusely where Bon Bon’s leg-blade had slashed her. Before she could get away, Bon Bon grabbed her up by the scruff of her neck.

"No! No! I didn't mean it... I don't wanna die!" the earth pony wailed, shaking in fear. The show of cowardice sent new anger flaring in Bon Bon.

"Neither did all those innocent ponies you put bomb collars on," Bon Bon hissed.

"They're not innocent! They're traitors to all ponies—" The mare cut off and cried out in pain as she was held up by her mane.

"Any one of them is worth a dozen of you. Consider yourself lucky I don't gut you here and now. You don't deserve this," Bon Bon said quietly. The mare whimpered in fear as the tranquilliser rifle discharged a dart into her throat, her body shaking as she lapsed into unconsciousness. She was dropped unceremoniously to the floor.

As she reloaded the tranquilliser rifle, Bon Bon regarded the carnage in the corridor behind her. One pony was still laid amongst the wreckage of the crate, unconscious. The rust red stallion sat with his back to the wall, stunned, a hoof against his crushed muzzle. The yellow mare whimpered and pawed at her broken jaw and split lip. The all-too-trusting unicorn who had confronted her in the elevator laid on the floor, groaning and twitching, a huge lump apparent on his forehead.

Satisfied there would be no more resistance, Bon Bon tore off the Black Dawn uniform entirely, and pulled out the lockdown clearance card, pressing it against the entrance terminal. As the armoured door slid open agonisingly slowly, she hefted the tranq rifle once more. One more room. One more.


The augmented unicorn crept through the dimly lit room, anxiety roiling inside her. She kept the rifle levelled in her blue glow, golden eyes sweeping back and forth for any sign of movement. On the shelving around her, soul gems glowed gently in transparent drawers, bathing the corridors in an eerie rainbow aura. Her ears pricked up; if any pony caught her in these tight corners unawares, she'd be as good as dead.

            She tensed as she heard the faint clopping of hooves from somewhere in the room. From the sounds of it, it was only a single pony. Perhaps they had bound the neuromancer, and were coming to investigate the door opening? Thinking quickly, Bon Bon trotted quietly to a position where she could see the entrance, tranq rifle hovering expectantly. Come on, come on... Where are you?

                After a moment of unnerving silence, she began to wonder whether the intruder had had the same idea as her, leaving them in stalemate. Before she could ponder this too much, the soul gems began glowing and pulsating, brighter and brighter. Squinting at them, Bon Bon noticed that the rainbow glow was gradually changing to pale blue. What in Equestria was happening to them? Suddenly, each one lifted itself off of the bottom of the drawers, and began to fade out. Too late, Bon Bon recognised the glow as telekinetic. Her head snapped up as a bright pulse of light shone through the corridors; it had to be the intruder!

                She wasted no time, trotting down the corridors towards the glow, the soul gems gradually fading out of existence. And as she rounded the corner, she froze in shock at the sight that greeted her.

        It was obviously a unicorn. The same blue glow surrounded its forehead as it did the soul gems. That wasn’t what stayed Bon Bon. What gave her pause was the skin-tight purple suit, the dark blue cape, the stylised, wide-brimmed hat, and a pair of translucent goggles that glistened as the wearer turned to face her.

        Somehow, a visitor from a sleepy town two decades away had arrived. The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well stood before Bon Bon, her telekinesis levitating every last gem in the room. The cream pony forgot herself for a moment, simply staring in shock at the costumed mare. It... It had to be a glitch in her augments. Surely. Nopony could possibly still think about the short-lived hero...

        Colgate... are you seeing this?

I am... But that's impossible! Nopony’s worn that costume since Rarity mothballed them! The costumed unicorn began to glow brighter. Never mind that now, move!

              Bon Bon snapped back to attention just as the other mare began to complete her teleportation spell. "Wait!" she yelled, leaping towards the costumed hero. Too late. She passed through the other unicorn as the spell completed, and crashed into one of the racks of drawers, sending her to the floor. Slightly dazed from the impact, Bon Bon climbed slowly to her hooves, gathering up her tranq rifle. Dismay filled her as she looked around. The blue glow had ceased; every last soul gem had been taken.

                "Oh, well done, well done indeed!" came a mocking voice from behind her. The augmented unicorn's head swung around towards its source, seeing an ajar door at the back of the room. She picked out a sign above it: Catacomb Access. There couldn't be any more, could there? "Really, your efforts in beating up Canterlot's finest scum have been commendable, but I think the buck has to stop here," it continued. Bon Bon began to trot towards the door, holding up her weapon. "That's right. Come closer. I want to see this." She pushed open the door, and gasped at the sight inside.

                Stood before a large metal hatch were two unicorn stallions, both stood on their hind legs. One was the neuromancer, his eyes dilated, terror apparent on the grey buck's face. Behind him, with a red foreleg wrapped around the neuromancer's neck, was a grinning unicorn with a short-cut brown mane, two revolvers held in his white telekinetic glow. One's barrel pressed against the side of the doctor's head, and the other pointed menacingly at Bon Bon. What shocked her, however, were the stallion's eyes: brilliant green irises and thin, black slits of pupils, like a dragon's. What kind of pony was this?

                "Well, this was bound to happen." The mysterious stallion chuckled, the guns in his control never wavering. "I knew the security loophole couldn't be trusted."

                "Put him down," Bon Bon demanded, acutely aware of the stallion's instability. “Just put him down, and nopony has to get hurt. I’m sure there’s some... agreement we can come too.” Standard CPD hostage procedure. Still got it.

                "I'm part of the coming dawn, Miss Bon Bon," he laughed. "And you could not possibly comprehend what I ultimately want. For now, though, that lockdown clearance card shall suffice."

                The augmented mare gave a start. "You know who I am? How—"

                "I know everything about you. And don't play coy with me. Those bomb collars don't just fall off, you know. Give it to me, and drop your weapon. Otherwise, I may be tempted to try out my own," he said, pulling the neuromancer tighter, and pulling back the hammers on the revolvers. Bon Bon's eyes narrowed behind her lenses. She flung aside the dart rifle, floated out the card, and began to walk slowly toward him. "Good. I'm glad you're so cooperative—"

         "I've been shot at and threatened more times than I can count," she interrupted. "Six months ago, I watched my own creations go haywire and kill over a hundred ponies. I lost my body, my lover, everything that night." By now, she was stood directly in front of him, the revolver pressed against her forehead. Her lenses shot back and revealed her golden glare. "You. Don't. Scare me."

         She waited, staring him down, looking into those chilling slits of pupils. Before her eyes, the pupils swum and changed, reverting to regular elliptical shapes. He began to tremble. "W-wait! I don't... I can't stop it! They... They're—"

         Bon Bon stared at the stallion, reluctant to intervene in case either of the firearms he was wielding were fired in his panic. "He's insane! He keeps changing! You have to put him down!" the neuromancer blurted out. The stallion said nothing, apparently fighting some sort of internal struggle. As he did so, the two revolver barrels slowly angled away from their targets.

         "Just... Put the guns down, and I can help you," she said uncertainly. He nodded, until suddenly he blanched and his gaze filled with fear.

        "I can't! I-I'm..." His pupils shrank back to the slits, and another evil grin crossed his face. "I'm in control." Barely quick enough, Bon Bon swatted the revolver away from her head with her magic, the bullet whizzing past her ear. She staggered to one side as the deafening boom of the shot threw her off-balance, before looking up to see the stallion shoving the neuromancer against the hatch. She raised a hoof futilely as the other revolver rang out, leaving a bloody hole in the back of the grey unicorn's head. He spasmed as his body dropped to the floor, lifeless. The augmented pony let out a cry of rage as the mysterious stallion flipped the gun and held it against his own forehead.

        Just before he ended his own life, Bon Bon body tackled the other pony, the wasted shot causing her already-punished ears to ring for a second time. She threw the revolver away with her own magical glow, and dragged the murderous unicorn to his hooves.

        “Not this time, you bastard,” she growled, wrapping her foreleg around his neck, suppressing his breathing. “You’re not taking the coward’s route out.” His eyes turned back to normal, the slits widening out into ovals again, but the stallion’s weak cries of protest soon died out as he went limp. Bon Bon flung him to the floor in disgust.

        She regarded the unconscious stallion, and the unmoving body of the neuromancer, his glassy eyes staring into oblivion. Her hoof unfolded, and she closed the lids. A glint on his doctor’s coat caught Bon Bon’s eye. She picked it up with her magic: it was an identification card. A name, an occupation, a cutie mark print, and a portrait photograph. The last two had been half-obliterated by a dark blood stain, the photo of the doomed neuromancer mocking her. The one she couldn’t save.

        It was cast aside with a curse, and she slammed a hoof into the metal hatch with an enraged cry. No neuromancer. No Fluttershy.

        Just two more ponies she’d failed.


        Augmentation Activated

        Horn: Basic Hacking

Although technically illegal, mods to hack into magical communication and security systems have been used in corporate espionage for almost as long as modern augs have existed. This experimental model from Sparkle Industries uses advanced enchantments and a comprehensive user interface to allow operatives to break through common security measures in seconds.


<<Chapter 3                                                                                          Chapter 5>>

Many thanks to Burraku_Pansa and to Darth Rex from SALT for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]


Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 5: Awakened

        Bon Bon stretched and shifted beneath the sheets in the bed she was using. Still groggy from sleep, her mind began churning up more memories, stimulated by activities in the clinic.


Adrenaline coursed through her veins; artificial muscles tensed in anticipation of the next strike, and golden eyes narrowed, sizing up her opponent. He danced back and forth on his hooves, a cocksure grin on his striped face. Barely three metres separated them; a distance that could be closed in a heartbeat if he so desired. She tried to read his movements, looking for any clue as to his next—

            Bon Bon's ears rang as he transformed into a black-and-white blur. A hoof had reached out and slapped her in the side of her head. Before she could react, he planted another blow to her chest, pushing her onto her haunches. The augmented mare looked up, expecting to see her zebra opponent temporarily motionless in front of her, open for a counter. She frowned when he instead was balanced on one foreleg, body high up in the air. Why would he sacrifice so much balance—

            The question was answered as his hindlegs crashed into her shoulder, dumping Bon Bon onto her side. With a grunt and an exasperated sigh, the cream pony stayed down. She really needed to learn how to counter that high kick.

            "You think too much," the zebra stallion said in an amused tone, his native intonation overlaying the Equestrian speech. "No flow at all. I could read you like a book." Bon Bon unfolded her forehooves in irritation, before thinking better of it. "No wonder I took you by surprise!" He chuckled good-naturedly. Oh, she would show him surprise. 

As he walked within her range of attack, the mare leapt up, a solid punch aimed at his head... Correction: where his head had been. Instead, her forehoof was caught in the grip of his ankle, the striped stallion having dodged to one side. He cocked an eyebrow, and just as Bon Bon realised her centre of gravity was far too far forward, he yanked at her limb. She went flying forward and landed heavily on her front.

            "And I thought you said you were ready for a real sparring match," he continued calmly. The cream pony wasted no time, springing to her hooves and spinning around. With a growl, she lowered her head and charged, hoping to use her horn aug as a crude weapon. In her fury, the agility of her opponent was forgotten; a mistake she paid for with a blow to the ribs. She stumbled, winded, only to feel a resistance against her forelegs. And then, as she tripped, Bon Bon felt a hoof beneath her stomach, pivoting her over. The augmented mare landed heavily on her back with a cry, staring upward into the sparkling green eyes of the zebra. He placed a hoof against her throat.

           "Yield?" he asked.

           Anger and frustration finally got the better of Bon Bon. She let out another ferocious growl of rage, rolling and aiming a punch at his head. As she did so, a bronze bracelet around her leg glowed with a deep blue light, stopping her attack just short of striking. He looked at her disdainfully, and his hoof moved down slightly to her chest, pushing her back to the mat on the floor.

           "A killing blow. You do little to keep your rage in check. Disappointing," he said quietly as he turned away from her.

           The augmented mare slumped to the ground, embarrassed. As her lenses slid back, she screwed her eyes shut tight. "I... I'm sorry, Zantos," she mumbled. Her ears burned as she did so.

           Zantos chuckled again, causing the augmented unicorn to turn toward him in confusion. He took a swig from a bottle of water at the edge of the room and trotted back toward her. "You confuse me, Bon Bon," he said. "You tell me you wish to incapacitate, not kill, with your blows, and yet you strike with the most terrible fury. You tell me you feel adept in your fighting style, and yet your coordination and impulsiveness are more akin to a colt after his first mug of hard cider." She noticed the hint of sadness in his eyes. "Are you sure you wish to continue today? There is no shame in ceasing to spar if one's composure is not correct for it."

          Bon Bon shook her head vehemently. "No! No. I'm just... a little shaken up. Had a bad dream last night, that's all." She hoped the white lie would be enough to placate him. From the sympathetic look he gave her, it wasn't.

          "Dreams? Or memories?" the zebra asked quietly.

          She looked away, not wanting to expose her emotions. "The... the latter. I just... it keeps coming back. That night. Felt helpless. Still do," she mumbled.

           He nodded. "Then we can stop for today. I don't wish to cause any—"

           "No!" Bon Bon exclaimed, causing Zantos to step back in surprise. "Out there... Out there I have to put up with ponies staring at me, with Twilight and Rarity scheming Celestia-knows-what about me, my own screwed-up life..." The mare halted before she went into a full-blown rant. "This is simple. I try to hit you. I try to stop you hitting me. No ulterior motives. No constant dwelling on the past. In here, it's the only place I really feel alive any more." Zantos nodded and grinned.

           "Very impassioned!" he said. "So I'm the only thing that makes you feel alive, eh? That's the kindest thing this knackered old zebra's heard in a long time!" A slight blush appeared on Bon Bon's face as she realised what her comment could be construed as. "Well, if you insist, we shall continue." He held out a hoof to help her up. The unicorn reached out for it, before hastily retracting her foreleg as though burned. "Good! You're learning!" the zebra laughed. "Never assume friendliness when in danger."

            As he turned away to put a few metres between them again, Bon Bon found herself looking over Zantos, still burning slightly from her inadvertent compliment. She may not have entirely been of that persuasion, but he was uncommon enough to warrant staring. Wearing an upstanding striped mane and braided tail, as was zebra custom, the stallion had a compliment of scars, courtesy of his several years spent in a mercenary company towards the beginning of the griffon civil war. He had ten stories for every scar, although the zebra outright refused to verify which were true, or indeed where exactly he had served. However, given his evasiveness and frightening proficiency for martial arts, it was almost certainly something deniable: black ops, or even worse. His glyphmark verified his warrior’s prowess: dark, thorny lines woven in the shape of a spear and shield, earned when Bon Bon was little more than a foal.

            Like her, he was visibly augmented, his hindlegs prosthetic in their entirety. Gleaming white plastic partially covered black artificial muscles. Expensive, bespoke Sparkle Industries fare. Around each of his hooves, the zebra wore bronze bracelets, same as Bon Bon. They were enchanted to prevent too-powerful strikes from causing harm, vital in training Augs to understand their new strength. Zantos turned back to her, and sat down on his haunches. He patted his artificial legs with his organic forehooves.

            "Now then... You understand, these are weapons," he said, indicating his legs. "But the difference is, I strike too hard with a foreleg, I break bones. I strike too hard with my augmentations... I crush skulls, rupture insides. I become death incarnate."

            "Of course I understand that," Bon Bon said dismissively.

        “Do you? You allow rage to take command of you far too easily,” Zantos retorted. “Rage makes you weak, makes you dull. I know you wish to resist the urge to use your implants as an easy way out. That requires as much mental training as it does physical.”

        “I... I see. You’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this,” Bon Bon glanced down at her black forelegs. Weapons. "I mean, I would have taken your head off had it not been for—"

        “I have seen soldiers succumb to the rage. Become... killing machines. They discard their equinity freely,” the zebra said darkly. “You are not like them, Bon Bon. You have temper where they have none. But, you must seek calm. Always. Otherwise, your training will be useless."

"I try, Zantos. I really do," Bon Bon said. She took a deep breath. "Sometimes, I think the one I'm angry at is me. Like I should have been ready that night..." Her voice faltered.

"Then all the better that you ask for serenity. Come to terms with your situation; turn it to your advantage. Otherwise, an opponent may simply use it to make you their puppet. I found every griffon I ever faced had that weakness: find the right taunt, and suddenly, they are your plaything. Such an angry species." He chuckled again.

Happy to change the subject, the cream pony pounced on the opportunity to uncover more of his murky past. "I take it you faced off against a lot of griffons, then?" she asked nonchalantly.

Zantos smirked. "Ah, I forgot your hunger for my wartime stories," he said. "If you must know, it was enough to facilitate my augmentations." He patted his hindlegs again, gazing fondly at the black and white limbs.

"Got too close to the talons?" The zebra looked offended.

"Anything but! These were my own choice. Both hindlegs, a few reflex boosters... All mounted in the Skyloft MANE clinic. Wonderful griffon city. You should visit sometime, probably after the war's end," Zantos said. He noted the puzzled look on Bon Bon's face. "What?"

"You chose your augs? You hardly ever use your hindlegs in combat! I always assumed you had them because of injury," Bon Bon explained.

"You choose your weapons carefully, Bon Bon. I had no desire to kill my opponents when I could easily knock them down with the forelegs I already had. But the hindlegs... I can spring forward at ease. Speed is survival. Of course, I could deliver some powerful bucks as well. Let me tell you, no matter how enraged a griffon is, if you slide beneath them and buck right between the hind legs... That fight is good as over." The stallion grinned, then looked thoughtful. "I should teach you how to do that someday."

Bon Bon sighed and looked away. She observed her own artificial limbs, the alien things attached to her. Oh, they behaved according to her whims, they were enchanted to have as much sensation as the real limbs they masqueraded as, but they weren't her. Her musings were disturbed by a half-heard statement from the zebra. "What?”

"I am sorry if I caused offence," he said. "I sometimes forget the manner in which you came about your implants."

"No, it's not your fault. I’m just yet to accept what’s happened to me. I didn't have a choice. Hell, I've even got swords built into my legs—"

Zantos waved a hoof contemptuously. "A sacrilege. No self-respecting master of this art needs more than their own hooves. And they are your hooves, Bon Bon. You may not feel that way; you may feel that they have strength beyond your control. But they are yours. Never lose the belief that you can use a situation to your advantage." He walked over to her, and gently lifted her head up. "You still have that inner spark. You can yet be the master of your own fate."

The cream pony looked up into his earnest gaze. She set her jaw and stood up, setting herself into a stable pose facing him. "Heh, you're right, Zantos. I think I lost so much, I forgot what I still have." The zebra backed away to a fighting distance. "You make a good therapist, you know that?"

"As you said, simplicity. The mind tends not to wander when in mortal peril." He shifted himself into a fighting stance, and swished his tail a couple of times. "Now then... ready for another round?"

Bon Bon grinned, and her lenses slid back into place. "Of course." She focused, watching the zebra's movements carefully. And there — the slight tensing of muscles, the narrowing of eyes — the cream pony slid to the right as Zantos leapt forward with his augmented hindlegs. As he landed behind her, Bon Bon gave a swift kick with her left hindleg, before jumping forward and spinning around. She misjudged the distance, receiving the tip of a forehoof across her muzzle.

Swallowing the rising anger from the blow, the pony faced down the zebra, both opponents rearing onto their hindlegs. The limbs folded and shifted subtly, placing the two equines into bipedal postures. Bon Bon raised her forelegs, and slapped down — one, two — probing strikes from Zantos. She leant back as a third punch was thrown, hitting the stallion in the side of the ribcage as his own hoof skimmed harmlessly off of her mane. Her other forehoof smacked against his ear, disorientating the zebra. A thrill passed through the unicorn as he stepped back, looking confused.

A feint, her mind reminded her, right as she moved in to bring him down. The mare cried out as she was struck in the chest. Not used to having her centre of gravity so high, the blow sent her crashing to the floor, onto her back. Bon Bon looked up in dismay as she saw the final blow coming. Defeated again.

You can turn any situation to your advantage. The thought rang out in her mind. Time seemed to slow as the mare contemplated the mess she was in. Nothing to be done... unless her predicament could be turned against the zebra.

Waiting for the opportune moment, Bon Bon folded her hindlegs, and bucked, planting her hooves firmly into Zantos' belly. As he grunted in pain, falling back, the cream pony used her new-found momentum to flip herself over onto her hooves. A forehoof unfolded and gripped a black-and-white hindleg, yanking it forward. The zebra gave a cry of surprise as he began to fall and spin on the spot. His back was now to the mare, who wasted no time in jumping back up onto two legs. He fell into her waiting forelegs.

Bon Bon wrapped a limb around Zantos' neck, holding him at an angle. His hindlegs stretched out in front of him, the tips of the hooves barely touching the ground. Any attempt to move would cause him to fall. His forehooves swung around futilely, trying to find a way to free himself from the grip. Realising his predicament, Zantos looked up at her. The lenses slid back. "Yield?" she asked.

The green eyes sparkled as the stallion grinned broadly. "Gladly, Bon Bon. Gladly."


Bon Bon leant against the wall of the shower and sighed, turning off the stream of hot water. She reached out with an unfolded hoof and took up her towel. Sitting on her haunches, the cream pony carefully wrapped her dripping mane in fabric to keep it from dangling in her face. She felt clean, sterilised, dulled... Already, the unicorn could feel the rush of adrenaline and the heat of combat draining away, to be replaced with her normal lethargy. She gave another thunderous sigh and stepped out of the small chamber. A larger towel was picked up and scrubbed over her damp cream coat and jet black limbs. Lenses slid back over golden eyes, and the augmented pony began withdrawing back into her shell.

Once she was dried all over, Bon Bon moved to her locker, the large towel draped over her like a cape. The unicorn cast furtive glances around the changing rooms, finding them deserted, to her relief. The last thing she needed was to inadvertently force some poor mare who'd just been hoping to use the gym into the same forced sympathy the rest of the Sparkle Industries employees showed her. Her talon swept back and forth across the lock, typing in the combination. The mechanism clicked, and the locker door swung open.

The mare rummaged around inside, pushing aside the longcoat hung on the rail. Her fumbling disturbed something on one of the shelves, causing it to flutter to the floor. Bon Bon looked down and picked up the item. She could have sworn her artificial heart skipped a beat as she saw what it was. A photograph. Of her, before the incident. The old Bon Bon, happy, loved, intact. The old Bon Bon, and... and...


The breath she'd been holding in came out in a sob. The hoof holding the photograph folded in on itself, crumpling the relic, distorting the smiling faces. Suddenly, as though it had become unbearably hot, the photo was thrown to the floor. Bon Bon turned away from the unwelcome reminder, scrunching her eyes shut. How? How had she let the past barge itself into her life again? She had tried to let go, time and again, but she could never bring herself to cut the ties truly. The unicorn cursed herself silently, remembering the lyre, the photos, the last remnants of the time before... Just can't let go, can you? A voice inside her berated.

"Bon Bon?" The augmented mare gasped and jumped at the sound, whipping around to its source. The sudden movement caused the towel to slip and fall from her shoulders, exposing her fully. In front of her, Colgate looked at her, a small gym bag next to her and an apprehensive look on her face. "You alright?"

The cream pony stared at her in shock for a moment, before noticing the deep blue eyes slipping down her body, to the seams where augmentation met living tissue. She snatched up the towel, casting it back over her shoulders. "I'm fine," the cream pony snapped.

"You sure? You looked a little..." Colgate's voice faltered slightly.

"What? Weak? Helpless?" The blue unicorn flinched at each of the accusations.

"No!" She took a step back, deep blue eyes wide in shock. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—" Bon Bon's stance softened slightly.

"It's alright," the cream pony said quickly. "I'm the one who should be sorry." She gave a brief sigh, turning her head away slightly. "I seem to have a bad habit of doing this," she explained, pointing at the crumpled photograph. It was picked up in a dull gold glow and smoothed out. Colgate's lips pursed as she looked at it.

"You don't have to blame yourself for this, you know," the unicorn said quietly, after a seemingly endless silence.

"Yes, I do!" Bon Bon retorted. "Why can't I let it go? Why do I keep doing this to myself? Every time I think I can move on, I just see something else I left behind, that I couldn't throw away!” Her chest heaved, and her body burned with impotent rage. Zantos’ advice was lost in a blazing flood of self-loathing.

“Bon Bon... it’s been four months. You went to Tartarus and back that night; nopony’s expecting you to just shrug it off. I’d be more worried if you threw away every last memory you had,” Colgate said reassuringly. She walked closer, and tried to place a hoof on the other mare’s shoulder. Bon Bon flinched away as though she’d been branded.

“N-no... don’t... I don’t want you to see me like this,” she mumbled.

“Like what?” There was a faint click as a hoof unfolded, and the towel once again fell away. A talon gently caressed the seam of one shoulder.

"Like this. A monster. A machine. A half-pony," Bon Bon spat. "You remember me... from before. You've seen what I've become." Her lenses slid back, golden eyes glowering at the blue unicorn.

"You're not a monster. Don't you think for a second you're something less because of those augs," Colgate said firmly. The cream pony shook her head vehemently.

"No... you don't understand. Not the augs so much. The anger. The rage... I can't control it. I can't." She looked up at Colgate, blinking back hot, humiliated tears. "What am I? I'm not even in control of myself." Her talons scraped against the tiles on the floor as she dragged them back, the augmented mare gradually pulling herself into a miserable, crouched position. Colgate made another move toward her. "Don't! Please! I don't want to hurt you..." Bon Bon trembled with contained emotion. "Please, just stay away from me, Colgate. I'll just hurt you, too. I can't stop myself..."

A faint sigh escaped Colgate's lips. "Hiding from the past isn't gonna help, either, Bon Bon."

"I'll just ruin you like I did everything else. Like the mirror. Like the photograph..." There was a pregnant pause.

"Alright, then." Bon Bon looked up in surprise. Colgate had picked up the gym bag again. "I'll leave you be. If that's what you want.” The cream mare hesitated, then gave a brief nod. “I'll wait for you."

"What do you mean?" Bon Bon mumbled, gaze boring into the floor.

"If I'm forcing you to confront your past... that's something you've gotta sort out yourself. So, I'll stay away. For now." The unicorn turned to walk away, gym bag over her shoulder. She looked back to Bon Bon, a slight grin on her face. "Just don't keep me waiting up too long, y'hear?" She waited, until it became apparent no reply was forthcoming. The blue unicorn trotted out into the gym, shutting the door behind her.

In the centre of the changing room, Bon Bon gradually uncurled, a whispered response coming from between dry lips.

"I'll try."


Bon Bon rose with a start, her golden eyes flicking open. She raised a hoof to her forehead, rubbing it in response to a faint headache. In fact, her entire body felt slightly out of synch. With a grunt, the unicorn let her head drop back to the pillow. More reminiscing upon the past. Zantos... Why did I remember him?

Her last training session with him had only been last week, and yet it felt like an age ago. But then... last night, for once, she hadn't been training on a dummy, or a patient zebra who would pick her up and implore her to try again if she failed. Last night, the enemy was very real, and wanted to kill. Last night, she'd protected real ponies for once.

And, loathe as she was to admit it, Bon Bon had felt a thrill at the MANE clinic. The spark, the adrenaline, the purpose, had burned inside the cream pony as she stood in harm's way, and shame and perverse pleasure now blazed in equal measure in the mare's mind as she contemplated it. Likely by now the police and Royal Guards would be swarming over the beleaguered clinic, securing evidence, pulling terrified patients out of their locked-down rooms. But still... she had taken down an entire building under siege single-hoovedly, something she could have only dreamed of back in the police force. For the first time in long time, she gazed down at her augmented limbs not with disgust or horror, but a faint pride. Perhaps she was some use, after all.

And then, her positivity broke down as the face of neuromancer drifted across her memory, and the sight of thousands of soul gems disappearing in front of her eyes. Here she was, feeling proud of saving a hoofful of ponies, when her failures in the clinic's basement had put Canterlot into a neuromantic crisis overnight. Bon Bon shook her head and crawled out of bed, groaning at the aches she could feel in the muscles that were no longer there. She scanned through the information her artificial eyes fed into her vision, looking at the time... Nearly two o’ clock. I’ve slept all through the morning?!

Well, good morning, sleepyhead! an all-too-cheerful voice exclaimed. Or afternoon, technically. You back in the land of the living yet?

Colgate, I don't recall telling you to be my personal alarm clock, Bon Bon grumbled mentally.

You've had a long enough lie-in, Colgate retorted. There was a brief pause. Whoa, are you hung-over or something?! Your biometric data does not look healthy at all...

That's impossible.

Uh, I hate to tell you BB, but you crack open one too many bottles of hard cider to celebrate, you'll be just as bad as the rest—

No, I mean it actually is impossible. I have an anti-toxin talisman built right in.

...Have I ever told you how much I hate you sometimes?

Don't I know it, Bon Bon remarked dryly. Must be augmentation fatigue...

Oh, yeah. Guess that's what you get for gallivanting around all night beating up anti-aug extremists, eh?


I'm sorry! Just consider it a trade-off for the anti-hangover chip eh? Anyway, get your augmented flank down to your office, and make yourself presentable. You have visitors, Colgate said, her voice taking on a business-like tone.

I do? What about? Bon Bon asked. Shouldn't I go down the clinic first? The police must be itching to interview me.

Actually, they're up to their eyeballs in suspects and witnesses at the moment, the director's snapping at anypony who looks vaguely important, and the boss is running her own magical investigation of the missing soul gems. I think you can leave it a couple of hours.

But who— The mental link closed abruptly, eliciting a frustrated grunt from the unicorn. The dimly-lit room contained several bunk beds for those working irregular hours, although it was currently as deserted as it had been when she’d collapsed into the welcoming folds. Fortunately, the nightmares that normally plagued her sleep had given way to more benevolent memories.

After a brief shower in the adjoining bathroom, the augmented mare began gathering up her belongings, rooting through a locker for some additional accessories. On went a lilac Sparkle Industries jumpsuit, with the longcoat swiftly being placed over it. A pair of sturdy black canvas saddlebags were picked up in her telekinesis and placed over her flanks, the armour plates going in one side and the still-folded tranq rifle the other. Ready for anything — or so the unicorn hoped.


        Exiting the room, Bon Bon trotted swiftly to the nearest elevator, tapping the button for her office’s floor. As the doors closed, she idly wondered who might be visiting. It wasn’t as though she had been particularly well-known throughout the company: just another face on the quarterly newsletter. The prestige of being head of the aug harness team had long since been eclipsed by being the tragic sole survivor of the attack.


So... well-wishers, perhaps? Her involvement at the clinic was under wraps, but word must have spread that she had returned from her absence. Maybe the researchers wanting to see how her horn was holding up after a surge of unprecedented activity... or maybe Rarity needed another session abusing her social augs. The mare’s face darkened at that thought.

        Whatever it was, Bon Bon just hoped she didn’t have to be the centre of attention too long. Her hoof tentatively pushed open the frosted glass door of her office, and



        Whatever Bon Bon had been expecting from her ‘visitors’, she hadn’t been expecting that. She sat in a stunned pose on her haunches, mouth agape. Her office was crowded with ponies, a banner was hung from the ceiling, and all manner of snacks and treats adorned her desk. In front of her, standing at the entrance to the room, was a pink earth pony with enough augmentations to rival the unicorn’s own.

        “Surprise!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie. “Do you like it? It was supposed to be a ‘Welcome Back’ party, but after you got called away last night, we ended up making it ‘Congratulations, You’re A Unicorn Now!’” The mare beamed at her, bouncing slightly on pink-enamelled legs, each one emitting a few flakes of confetti or bubbles from ports above the hooves as she did so. Springs were faintly visible through translucent pink plastic panels in the limbs. Her blue eyes sparkled and glowed with the aura of implants, and her coat faintly shimmered with ethereal patterns. Bon Bon stared at Pinkie, entranced by the sheer scale of augmentations, before she snapped out of her stupor.

        “It’s, uh... ah...” What was she supposed to say? Behind Pinkie, Colgate craned her head around the door and waved sheepishly. “That’s... very kind of you.” The earth pony grinned and wrapped an artificial foreleg around Bon Bon’s shoulders, leading her into the crowded office. Once inside, Bon Bon found a full dozen ponies crammed into the small room, with every available surface used either to hold food and drink or as an impromptu seat.

        The augmented pony’s heart lifted a little as she noticed familiar faces: researchers who had been absent or working elsewhere that fateful night. She noted a flicker of pity, or even fear, amongst a couple, but for the most part, the only emotions on show were contentment and acceptance. Bon Bon relaxed just a little as a tide of well-wishing rolled over her. It felt strange... genuine. It startled the mare slightly to realise that she was so used to the masks and facades of Canterlot’s ponies that she’d almost forgotten what real happiness looked like. Maybe Twilight had given something back to her...

The unicorn was jerked out of her introspection by a half-heard prompt from one of her guests. She gazed blankly at him for a second, before remembering his face. A junior researcher in the Deep Labs, on vacation when Bon Bon’s world had ended. Fate had dealt with him kindly. “Welcome back,” he repeated.

        “Ah... yes.” She felt the expectant gazes of the small crowd upon her, and almost instinctively took a step back, once again fearful of being judged against her past self. But then, there came a faint poke at her foreleg from a deep blue hoof. The mare’s eyes followed the limb up its length, into the reassuring smile of Colgate. Rallying slightly, Bon Bon cleared her throat and retracted her lenses.

        “Thank you all... I must admit, I wasn’t expecting this,” she began. “It’s... it’s good to be back.”

        “Are you back for good?” a unicorn mare asked. “It’s been difficult ever since the attack...” The mare’s eyes jerked open, and she shuffled her hooves uncomfortably, before dropping her gaze to the floor. “Uh... I mean, not to trivialise what you’ve been through—”

        “It’s alright,” Bon Bon reassured her. “I know what you mean. But, as I’m sure you’re aware, we have a new project to assert ourselves with.” She sent a brief burst of magic through her new horn, the black material lighting up in a faint blue glow. Most of the ponies’ eyes went wide with surprise; only a couple had been present during the activation and tests the previous day, the rest having heard only through hearsay that Lyra’s magnum opus had been successful.

        “So... you’re coming back to the Labs?”

        Bon Bon shook her head. “Unfortunately not, at least for the foreseeable future... I’ll be the test subject for the horn aug so we can have a proper demonstration for AugCon. Although it’s debateable whether Twilight would rather get the MANE clinic running again first.”

        “This is getting ridiculous... If Augs aren’t safe in Canterlot, then where are they? Don’t the Princesses care about us any more?” said a male pegasus. His terse questioning sent a ripple of anxiety through the others, and Bon Bon had to hold back an exasperated sigh. She thought this gathering was to welcome her back into the fold, not for her to deliver proclamations to the remnants of Spakle Industries’ elite researchers. Wasn’t that Rarity’s job?

        “Look, I realise it’s been a hard year. I know we’ve all had to adjust, and we’ve all had to get over losing... so much...” The augmented pony took a deep breath and continued. “But that does not mean we give in to terrorists and criminals. The Bearers of the Elements didn’t back down in the face of terror, and neither should we. We strive to make ponies’ lives better. I guess I’m living proof of that.” She unfolded a hoof and held it up by way of emphasis. “Ask yourself what Black Dawn wants, or even what the Apple Corps want. Ask yourself what we get if we give up. If we keep up the work we’ve always done, things will get better.” Bon Bon nearly choked on that last, bitter lie as it left her tongue.

        Nevertheless, it had the desired effect. The small crowd around her brightened up, and the quiet sound of hooves trampling against the floor in applause filled the room. To her relief, Pinkie came to her aid. “C’mon, everypony! We’re here to have fun as well, y’know!” A generic sort of party music began to play, and the cream pony was slightly taken aback to find that it was playing from within Pinkie’s own augs. The earth pony gave her another smile, and moved away to begin entertaining her guests, leaving Bon Bon to sink down onto the sofa, next to Colgate.

        After a moment’s awkward silence, Colgate ventured, “Well, that was a helluva speech.”

        Half a dozen things she could say passed through Bon Bon’s mind, but she simply responded with a simple “Thanks.”

        “So... are we on speaking terms again? Or just through the ol’ Hydra? I mean—”

        “Yes.” Bon Bon interrupted. “Yes, of course we are. I’m sorry... I should never have pushed you away like that.”

        “It’s fine,” Colgate replied. “I don’t blame you. Just as long as you’re back in the land of the living, I’m happy. I have to admit, I didn’t think you had it in you to pull something like that out of the air. You been taking lessons from Rarity?”

        “I guess... I dunno. Last night changed me. I don’t know what made me jump in like that, but I’m glad I did it. I’m done giving in to... whatever it is trying to drag us all down. I want to fight back.”  

        The blue unicorn recoiled slightly in mock surprise. “Whoa, there. You really are serious about it, ain’tcha? Just... try to remember who’s on your side, OK? I don’t really want to be on the receiving end of one of your takedowns.” Bon Bon gave a chuckle, and the pair of ponies fell into silence again, watching the party from the side. Involuntarily, the cream pony rubbed her shoulders, wincing from the aches and pains of augmentation fatigue.

        Almost immediately, Pinkie was standing beside her, a plate stacked high with baked goods balanced across the earth pony’s back. “Ooooh, I nearly forgot! These are for you!” the pink mare exclaimed, reaching up with an unfolded hoof similar to Bon Bon’s. The cream mare stared at the proffered snacks, each one a dark block of cake with a heavy, treacly texture that positively oozed sweetness. They looked as though they would sit on the stomach as lightly as a lump of reinforced concrete.

        Gingerly, Bon Bon levitated one of the cakes, and took a tentative bite. Almost instantly, she felt a rush of energy through her body, the heaviness in her limbs lifting somewhat. Without regard for present company, the cream unicorn devoured the rest of the bar, and the other three bars held in Pinkie’s hoof. When she was finished, her stomach felt utterly full, but the grogginess that had plagued the mare since awakening had left completely. She felt good.

        “Mmmf... those were great...” Bon Bon mumbled quietly.

        “Oh, I know! I only started making this recipe last week, and I’ve already lost count of how many I’ve had!” Pinkie said happily. “Good thing I’ve got a whole factory for making these!” The augmented unicorn noted her wastepaper bin, which was overflowing with the distinctive pink packaging of the Sugarcube Corner Company.

        “And there goes my aug fatigue,” the cream pony said, swinging a foreleg back and forth in appreciation. “How did you get the magic to transfer so fast?”

        “You’ll have to ask Pumpkin Cake about that! And even then, it’s all ‘glucose crystalline matrix’ this and ‘accelerated arcane injection’ that... Just don’t tell her it’s ‘just enchanting sugar’. I did that once, and she threw a baking tray at me.” Pinkie raised her gaze to the ceiling in thought. “Or was it a cake tin?” She shook her head and smiled. “Anyway! I guess I can say these are Sparkle Industries–approved, huh?” A pink hoof pointed out the mere crumbs left on the plates.

        “Well, I—” was all Bon Bon could say before she was interrupted.

        “You bet, Pinkie!” Colgate exclaimed. “I mean, the magical saturation level in the sugar crystals must be near the thaumaturgical limit for that high an arcane osmosis rate, and it tastes incredible. Most stuff this rich in enchanted crystals tastes awful, but you’ve nailed it!”

        “Great!” Pinkie bounced away before Bon Bon could get another word in. She turned to Colgate with a vengeful look.

        “What?” the blue unicorn asked innocently.

        “You realise Rarity’s gonna throw a fit if — no, when — Pinkie actually puts ‘Sparkle Industries–approved’ on the packaging, right?”

Colgate shrugged. “Ah, I’m sure she needs a little bit of excitement in her ivory tower. If Rarity survived in the desert without murdering Pinkie, I think she’ll let this pass.” She looked thoughtful for a second. “Did you know she still twitches if you say ‘chimicherrychanga’?”

Bon Bon frowned. “Uh... no, I didn’t, actually. And for future reference, please don’t try and sound all scientific when talking about enchanted food. I was cringing inwardly when you said that.”

“What? Magical sugary stuff goes in, augs run better, right?” The blue unicorn grinned mischievously.

The cream pony sighed in exasperation. In the crudest sense, Colgate was right; augs ran on energy from their owner’s own body, which was supplied by blood sugar and the innate magic from the owner. Heavy use of augs resulted in fatigue, just like natural muscles would after exertion. Although this could replenish itself over time, augmentation fatigue could be spirited away sooner by intaking more sugar and magic. In a happy symbiosis, raw magic could be stably held in crystalline structures for later use: crystals such as gemstones... or salt and sugar. Snacks to help ward off such ailments were big business, and Pinkie’s own experience as a baker had led her and Sugarcube Corner to a prominent position amongst the augmented populace. That simplification hacked down the intricacies of Aug nutrition to an almost criminal degree...

Yeah, let’s go with that,” Bon Bon said resignedly.

“Anyway, this isn’t the time for serious talk. It’s meant to be a party!” The blue unicorn hopped out of her seat. “C’mon.” Bon Bon followed her back into the middle of the room, much to the delight of Pinkie.

And as the ponies moved around her to the sounds of merriment, and the eyes that followed her did so with benevolence, rather than disgust or fear, the augmented mare felt for a brief second something she hadn’t felt for an age. Peace.


        Several hours later, the party had died down. The guests had left, the decorations and food cleared away, and the office returned to its normal, sombre state. Bon Bon looked at her desk, where a few choice items had been left behind: a small employee identity card that Colgate assured her would mark her out as Twilight’s ‘personal assistant’ and give her access to the ransacked MANE clinic, and two of Pinkie’s cakes in bright pink wrappers, themselves wrapped in a piece of florid paper. She placed the snacks in her saddlebag and tucked the card into an inner pocket of her longcoat.

        The cream pony looked at her personal terminal, left untouched in her six-month absence. By now, Twilight probably had had every scrap of evidence she’d been able to scrounge up sent there. If only Bon Bon had time to just sit down and look through it, maybe there would be something there that could put her mind at ease...

        With a wistful sigh, she left it behind and shut the door. Not now. The raid on the MANE clinic was far more urgent than chasing shadows half a year old. Swallowing a faint feeling of unease, the longcoat-clad unicorn made her way to the elevator, heading down to the lobby.

        As she walked out through the ornate doors and into Canterlot, a wintry gust caused the mare to shiver. It was now dark, the sky still stained with the last remnants of sunset. Bon Bon pulled the coat a little tighter, glad for the thick layers she wore. She trotted purposefully through the streets, following a well-remembered path to the clinic. Or at least, she would have. Groups of disgruntled-looking ponies were sitting on the street’s side warned her of congestion ahead, and even from a few blocks away, it was clear the roads around the clinic were closed.

        Ignoring the warnings, the cream pony pressed on to her destination. As she made her way closer, the cause of the blockage became evident. The barricades from the night before were still erected, and now mostly manned by Royal Guards. Each of the armoured white stallions wielded their traditional spears and piercing gazes, turning away any who tried to gain entry with curt replies. A few police officers were also standing inside the barricade, all wearing their customary royal blue collars.

        Bon Bon approached the barricade, pulling out her card as one of the guards trotted closer, evidently already weary from turning away others.

        “Ma’am, this area—”

        “I’m here on official business. Twilight Sparkle requires me,” she interrupted. The stallion frowned at the piece of identification, before allowing a brief nod. He pulled open a small gap in the barrier with his magic, and allowed her to enter.

        “Miss Sparkle is in the lower basement, although I’m sure you’ll be directed there by one of the police officers. They certainly seem to want to control everything else,” he told her, a slight note of bitterness in his voice. Don’t be jealous if you’re going to cling to the past, Bon Bon thought. There was more than a little friction between the the ancient Royal Guard and the far newer police force. The augmented pony picked her way across the debris-strewn enclave, noting that the abandoned placards from the protest had been broken up and burned in small bonfires to keep the guards warm. Odd... Touched a nerve, perhaps?

        The clinic looked far worse for wear than when she had arrived for her appointment the previous morning. One of the wooden doors had been torn off its hinges, the lobby’s ransacked furnishings were piled against the sides, and the walls were damaged with burn marks and bullet holes. Evidently, the forensic teams had moved on from here; only a few police ponies loitered around the area, apparently on guard duty. In the centre of the room, a dark grey earth pony was being pestered by a petite chestnut brown unicorn mare.

        Bon Bon recognised Iron Clad from his deep green mane and shield cutie mark, metallic forelegs pawing anxiously at the ground and lips pursing as the mare laid into him. She drew closer, out of pure curiosity. The mare had a luxuriant golden mane and tail, both bearing the chaotic, unbrushed look of a stressed pony, and a cutie mark in the form of a black alpha symbol.

        “This is completely unacceptable!” the mare snapped. “My clinic in ruins, several staff injured or even dead, and you couldn’t even extract any useful information from the prime suspect before allowing him to be murdered in his cell?! You incompetents dare to call yourselves the protectors of law and order in this city?”

        “The TrueSight aug is still months from deployment! You expect us to extract information from somepony who has no memory of the night before?” Iron Clad retorted.

        “Who claimed he no memory of the night before. There’s an important difference. Regardless, I thought you would be able to at least guard him from assassination until the aug does become available.” The unicorn looked as though she was ready to spit acid at the unfortunate stallion. “And now this city is hurtling toward a neuromantic crisis, all thanks to a ragtag bunch of fanatics.”

Iron Clad looked like he was about to protest when the mare cut him off. “Just interrogate the others, if that’s within your remit. The fact that we had to enlist the help of Princess Celestia’s protégé and her pet project is embarrassing enough. Give me some reason to still have faith in your authority.”

With that, she turned on her hoof and marched away from the stallion. Bon Bon walked over to him when the other unicorn was out of earshot. “Trouble?” she asked quietly. A relieved look appeared on his face as he turned to her.

        “Bon Bon!” he exclaimed. “I was wondering when you were gonna show up. You feeling OK after last night?”

        “Yeah... A little aug fatigue, but I’m over it.” She rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly. “Friend of yours?” she said, nodding at the chestnut mare, who was now haranguing a Royal Guard unfortunate enough to be passing her.

        “Ugh, hardly. That’s Alpha Wave, director of this fine clinic, and probably the most outspoken member of MANE in Canterlot. Or as I prefer to put it less diplomatically, the queen meanie of MANE.” He scowled at the little unicorn. “Look at her. Not even in the clinic when the attack happened, and now she’s running around making noises like she was tied up next to that bomb.”

        “Just impotent rage. She’s probably just feeling the guilt for it being her clinic that got attacked, despite it not being her fault,” Bon Bon said.

        “I’d like to write it off as that, but the way she treats the police, and her own staff... Trust me, I’ve seen the darker side of that mare one too many times to think of her as an innocent victim,” Iron Clad replied. 

You and me both, Bon Bon thought, remembering the message about Subject Sherbert she had taken the night before.

        “So, I take it you re-took the clinic without too much trouble?” she asked. “I heard a lot of noise while I was waiting to be extracted, but I wasn’t sure if...” The mare left the sentence hanging.

        Iron Clad shook his head. “No, there weren’t any casualties, at least on our side. We had a couple of battle mages from the Guard shield us when we charged in here. Threw in a bunch of strobe grenades, and most of them went down without too much fuss. We had a few rookies take injuries, but nothing major. I think they forgot we have access to arcane shields and stun spells,” he said with a small smirk. “For all their bravado and big guns, they scattered like little foals when we came storming in.”

        “Well, I’m glad I could help, at least. For what good it did...”

        “It was a lot of good, Bon Bon. Those hostages weren’t coming out of there alive until you showed up, and you saved a lot of lives by scouting out the clinic. Don’t get yourself down.” He gestured toward the staircase. “I’ll take you downstairs. Miss Sparkle is trying to make some sense of that unicorn who stole the soul gems... and the other pony you found down there.” They began to walk toward the stairs.

        The augmented mare’s ears pricked up at that, remembering it from Alpha Wave’s rant. “Wait... he wasn’t the ‘prime suspect’, was he?” Iron Clad looked embarrassed, not quite meeting Bon Bon’s eyes. “What?! You let the ringleader be assassinated? How is that even possible? The main police station’s a fortress!” she exclaimed.

        “Look, just keep your voice down, alright?” Bon Bon glared at him, but allowed him to continue. “When he woke back up, he was just like he was when you found him, flipping back and forth between that calm personality and the rambling one that claimed innocence. We placed him in a shielded cell to ensure he wouldn’t use magic to break his way out if it came to pass.”


        “And he stayed as the rambling personality. Don’t know what happened, but he stopped switching. We managed to tease a little information out of him, but he was nearly mad with panic, and from what we could tell, he could only remember things that happened while he was in control of his body. We decided to leave him until we could get a doctor in, somepony who could calm him down.”

        “So he was under guard this entire time?” Bon Bon asked carefully.

        Iron Clad nodded. “Armed guard, cameras, the lot. We asked for a doctor, we got a MANE agent instead. I can only presume Alpha Wave sent one of her finest cronies after him for their own interrogation.”

        The augmented mare stopped for a second. They were now in the corridor where she had duped the unfortunate Black Dawn member the night before, this part of the clinic still looking relatively undisturbed, apart from the wreckage of the fire extinguisher and the smashed crate. A pair of Royal Guards flanked the double doors to the soul gem room, peering at the two intently.

        “Should have seen her. A griffon with enough augs to look like a machine. Not exactly someone you say ‘no’ to, particularly when their credentials check out,” he continued.

“What did she want? What did MANE want, for that matter?”

“Him. She wanted a little chat with that unicorn, same as we did. Said something about suspected neuromantic abuse in his behaviour. Stalled her as long as we could; who did she think she was, taking a suspect out of custody before even we had a chance to interview him? Ten minutes later, we find him dead in his cell. Slit throat, almost deep enough to take his head off.” He rubbed the back of his head with a metallic hoof. “Damned if we couldn’t find any way he did it. Magically restrained, no sharp objects, nothing seen by the guard or cameras. Nothing.”

Bon Bon sagged and let out an exasperated sigh. “You mean this stallion is dead?” she asked quietly, her weary voice carrying a hint of annoyance. “A stallion I was very hard-pressed to keep alive after what he did to the neuromancer, and who probably was the only one who knew what was going on that night? Not only dead, but apparently murdered without any evidence or anypony noticing his attacker?” Iron Clad began backing away from her slowly. An embarrassed flush appeared on his cheeks.

“Bon Bon, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on with this raid. The Everfrees and the Black Dawn members thought they were here for completely different reasons. Those bomb collars and the weapons they were using were at home on a battlefield in the Griffon Kingdoms. A unicorn who could teleport away the contents of an entire room at once. And that... stallion. Look, at this point I’m not sure what to think about any of this,” said Iron Clad, staring uneasily at the door to the soul gem room.

Despite his grand stature and intimidating augmentations, the stallion looked lost. Bon Bon took pity on him and nudged him with her shoulder. “Yeah, I’ve been getting that feeling too. Just do what you’ve always been best at doing, Clad. It’ll turn out alright.”

“Heh, thanks. Now...” He turned to the door. “You sure about this? Miss Sparkle... I’ve never seen her looking as cold as when she went into that room.”

“I charged in here last night, didn’t I?” Bon Bon frowned. “Look, she’s got me by the tail. She knows what I really want. I want the heads of the ponies who killed Lyra, and my friends, and my researchers. Yes, I’m her pet project. The machine ready to do her bidding. But this... this is just busywork. I’m using her as much as she’s using me. I’ll get through this, do what she wants, and then I’m going to keep digging till I find the bottom of this. Because what they forgot—and what she forgot—was that I have nothing to lose, and nothing to stop me.” A predatory grimace appeared on her face. “So, yes. I am sure about this.”

Iron Clad said nothing, but he smiled slightly and nodded. The augmented mare made her way past the guards, waiting for the heavy double doors to open. She took a deep breath before stepping inside, and as she did so, her cochlear implants picked up the merest whisper from the stallion behind her:

“Good luck.”


        Augmentation Activated

        Cranium: Social Amplifier

One of the most common neural implants, the Social Amplifier lives up to its name, by covertly increasing awareness of ‘tells’ when others are lying, persons in a state of heightened emotion, and even spurring the user to inspire or persuade others. Although it has no magical or chemical effect on others and no visual display like more expensive implants, the Social Amplifier enjoys a following amongst the cultural and business elite alike.


<<Chapter 4                                                                                      Chapter 6>>

Many thanks to Burraku_Pansa and to Darth Rex from SALT for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]









Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 6: Night In Lower Canterlot

        Darkness greeted Bon Bon as she stepped into the soul gem room. Or so she thought. Suddenly, the room lit up with an ethereal blue glow, illuminating a few unicorns stood around the edges of the room, and Spike, who was sitting next to the door, gazing intently at the source of the illumination.

        The drawers and shelves that had once held the soul gems had been cleared away to the sides of the room, leaving a cavernous space in the middle. At the very centre of the room came the source of the glow: Twilight’s spells. The unicorn’s horn blazed brightly, although the reddish-purple aura was drowned out by a blue circle surrounding where she was sitting, various arcane symbols flickering and shifting amongst a network of sinuous lines.

        The lines and symbols flowed over Twilight’s body too, causing her mane and tail to drift free of gravity, as though she had momentarily transcended the mortal plane. Her lips moved as she quietly chanted in a language Bon Bon didn’t recognise. The cream pony lifted a hoof to begin to walk toward her superior, before a purple-scaled arm was held out to stop her.

        She turned to the dragon, who had a finger over his lips. “Don’t disturb her. She’s been at this for hours; you haven’t seen what happens if you mess up one of Twi’s spells,” Spike murmured. The tone of his voice made Bon Bon sure he was speaking from experience. Even number one assistants made mistakes from time to time, it seemed.

        After a few minutes, the circle began to fade away, flowing from Twilight’s skin onto the floor, where it dissipated. The unicorn sagged slightly, opening faintly bloodshot eyes. She climbed unsteadily to her hooves. Her three natural legs trembled as they took her weight, the fourth, artificial leg holding firm. Concerned muttering came from those gathered around the edges of the room.

        “I’ve found it,” Twilight announced in a croaking voice. The muttering gained pace a little. “The Skyport district. No doubt the thieves are hoping to ship them out before they get tracked.” A few of the MANE ponies scurried off, no doubt eager to gain the accolade from Alpha Wave for giving her the location of the missing soul gems first. “Now, can somepony fetch me a glass of water?”

        The drink was located and taken up in a deep red glow. Twilight drank it down in one gulp, before walking over and sagging against Spike. The dragon wrapped a comforting arm around the unicorn. Bon Bon felt a surge of concern flow through her at the sight. How much had tracking the teleportation drained her?

        I wasn’t aware you cared so much for my wellbeing, Bon Bon. The mental transmission carried a hint of amusement.

        I’m just not used to seeing you dead on your hooves, the cream pony replied.

        Oh, this? Just an act. The spells were pretty long-winded, but not particularly demanding. Teleport tracking’s old magic... it’s been years since I last had to use a ritual like that.

        An act? Bon Bon thought incredulously.

        Why do you think I’m talking to you through the Hydra? I’ve learned to play my cards close to my chest with MANE. Once they realise they can make use of you, they will do anything to take control of you. I made sure not to explicitly state your identity to Alpha Wave for that very reason, and I don’t want anypony thinking your being here is out of the ordinary. As long as everypony’s staring at me, you’re safe, Twilight explained.

        Appreciated, Bon Bon replied. So, the soul gems are in the Skyport area?

        No, actually, they’re somewhere in Lower Canterlot.  

        Wait, what?! You lied—

        I wanted to make sure that the storm that’s about to be unleashed wouldn’t come down on the slums. You know how much of a tinderbox Lower Canterlot is right now: imagine the riots that will be caused if the entire Canterlot Police Force barged in! No, I’m going to deal with this like we dealt with the hostages: swiftly and discreetly.

        And using me. Bon Bon pulled herself to her hooves and began to walk toward the centre of the room to investigate the remnants of the ritual, half out of curiosity and half to keep up the illusion of Twilight’s exhaustion. The magic had marked the floor, leaving the pattern faintly burned into the tiles.

        I have a contingent of Royal Guards who are still loyal to Shining Armor. I know I can trust them with this task. But if we can pin this unicorn down before he or she knows they’ve been found...

        I thought you wanted me to investigate the attack from six months ago, Bon Bon thought reproachfully.

        I know, I know. Sympathy flowed through the mental bond, its presence marking its sincerity. In that case, there were some ponies that got into the Deep Labs without us ever seeing them. And now we have a unicorn we know can mass teleport. This attack has a lot of similarites with the incident at headquarters; I’m sure if we follow the leads... She left the sentence hanging, causing Bon Bon to let out an exasperated sigh. The candy-maned pony so desperately wanted to delve into the scraps of evidence Twilight had afforded her, but there was no denying her logic. It wasn’t as though six-month-old leads could get any colder...

        Then I’ll go down to Lower Canterlot, she replied. I should have a few contacts left from my CPD days...

Thank you. I’ll have Colgate send you the location I managed to narrow it down to. Now, before we go chasing shadows, I want your opinion on something. That unicorn’s costume. Mean anything?

        The question caught Bon Bon off-guard. Didn’t Twilight recognise the costume she had worn all those years ago? The Mare-Do-Well costume...

        Yes... I’m glad you remember it. All five of those costumes were lost when Rarity moved to Canterlot twelve years ago. The fact one of them’s turned up again is... disturbing.

        It may just be a coincidence, Twilight.

        No. Why would somepony go to all that trouble of sourcing or replicating one of those costumes for attacking a clinic when they could just use any old mask and cloak? No, whoever was wearing that costume knew I would see them dressed up. There was one camera in that room left functioning to take footage of them. This isn’t a coincidence, Twilight thought vehemently.

        You think they wanted to send a message? Not many ponies would know what that costume meant to you...

        Exactly. What did they want to tell me, and more importantly, who are they?

        You want me to be honest? Bon Bon asked. An affirmative feeling came from the other unicorn. I think they wanted to give you the same lesson you gave Rainbow Dash. Humility.

        Humility? That’s... why would they want to teach me humility?  Twilight sounded incredulous. She shifted herself, sitting up and looking straight at the cream pony with her violet eyes. Bon Bon turned to face her.

        They raided one of the most prominent MANE clinics in the capital of Equestria, right under your nose, and abducted one of your oldest friends. And you know as well as I do that with the neuromancer gone as well, Canterlot will run dry of soul gems in less than two weeks. I think... whoever this pony was, they wanted to show you what being helpless is really like.

        That’s a possiblity... but again... what have I got to do with it?

        Bon Bon let out a small sigh. She was afraid she would have to explain this. We’re supposed to be ethical. That’s the ethos you founded Sparkle Industries on. And yet we’re making weaponised augs and helping chain ponies financially to MANE... The violet eyes narrowed slightly, and a thread of irritation began flowing through the mental link. An exercise in hypocrisy. Just like in Ponyville, when you used that costume.

        The stony silence that followed her assertion told her all she needed to know about its reception. Her golden gaze fell to the floor behind the shaded lenses, trying to avoid Twilight’s glare.

        I am quite aware what some... ponies.... say about the company. And what some of them said about the costumes. I didn’t ask you to dredge up some misguided lesson from nearly twenty years ago!

        It’s making you angry though, isn’t it? Twilight let out a long sigh, pulling herself out of Spike’s grasp and walking into the middle of the room. Where she sagged before, the unicorn now positively bristled with tension, short, staccato clicks emanating from her hooves as she trotted back into the centre of the room. Anger makes you do stupid things. Bon Bon felt a twinge as she remembered the wake of destruction left by her own rages: the ruined trinkets, the snapped words, the ache of self-loathing afterwards...

        Twilight had fallen oddly silent, examining something balanced upon her artifical forehoof. As Bon Bon walked closer, she saw what held the other unicorn’s attention: a discarded pale yellow feather, crumpled as if it had been mishandled. I know. Like losing a friend’s trust. Twilight rotated her limb, letting the feather fall to the floor. Find the one who did this, Bon Bon. I need to make arrangements if you can’t return the gems. Or her... Twilight stared at the yellow feather unblinkingly.

        Of course. As she turned to leave, the purple unicorn spoke up.

        “And Bon Bon?”


        She felt the violet gaze boring into her once more. “Don’t ever call me a hypocrite again.”


Half an hour later, Bon Bon found herself in the depths of Lower Canterlot, far beneath the castle and the more salubrious areas of the city. Some regarded the district as a stain upon the visage of Canterlot, a breeding ground for crime and misery. Others merely viewed it as a necessary evil to quarantine the upper eschelons of society from these ills. And yet others called it ‘home’.

The bridge above her rumbled as a train passed overhead, carrying passengers to the very summit of the mountain. The street beneath was rough cobblestone, not marble slabs, and the air was thick with scents, from the pleasant smell of street food cooking to the stink of uncollected refuse. Sounds rang out in the chilly atmosphere, mostly vendors still hawking their wares at this late hour, punctuated by the odd shout or scream in the distance. It may have been dirtier, but to Bon Bon, it felt so very genuine compared to the stuffiness of the upper city.

She nodded to a patroling policepony as she trotted past a vent in the pavement, steam billowing out and forming white clouds that drifted upward. While her destination was some distance away, the cream unicorn was here for another reason. Parts of what now constituted ‘Lower Canterlot’ extended into the mountain caves and catacombs and even the precarious makeshift structures of the Under Warrens, slung on the supports of the city above. However, this segment had once housed the lower-class ponies of Canterlot: the servants, cooks, and clerks to the once-dominant nobility.

And, as in any genuinely ancient part of Canterlot, the nobility had left their mark. Here, it came in the form of ‘nests’: tiny apartments cut into the mountain rock, their entrances deliberately secluded from view and protected by a slew of enchantments. Once upon a time, a noble could have engaged in a secret romantic tryst here without fear of discovery; nowadays, the occupants and their activities were somewhat less salubrious. The want for secrecy, however, was unchanged.

Bon Bon had inherited a nest from a retiring officer in the police force just as she was being transferred into the black market augs division. She’d found it to be the perfect safehouse and home while on long investigations down in the district, and had kept ownership after leaving the force, well aware of its extreme rarity. However, she’d never thought she would be returning to it like this.

The augmented unicorn hesitated at the doorstep. She could try and fool herself into thinking she’d temporarily forgotten the pass phrase needed to unlock the door, but Bon Bon knew the real reason. Last time she had been here, four years ago, she had been a perfectly normal earth pony, a future career at Sparkle Industries beckoned, and Lyra had been alive. Now...

The cream pony huffed and tried to banish the thoughts from her head. Later. I can dwell on this once I’ve caught them. She stared at the door for a moment, before looking around furtively. Bon Bon wasn’t concerned about who saw her at the doormore who would overhear her. Seeing nopony around, the unicorn rolled her eyes and cleared her throat.

“I didn’t put those in my bag.” Bon Bon cringed at the voice she had to pull for the enchantment to recognise her. What had she been thinking when she set that? Nonetheless, the ventriloquism worked, and the door shifted ever so slightly, almost as if it had been fused to the mountain stone. Her horn flared and pulled the portal open. From inside, stale air poured out, bringing the musty smell of a room long unoccupied.

Bon Bon kept her magic flowing, using her horn as a light source. On the wall was a small yellow gemstone, which she pressed with her hoof. Several glass orbs scattered about the room burst into soft light, illuminating the nest. The accommadation was even smaller than she remembered, having been used to living exclusively in a large, airy apartment for the past few years.

The room was square, roughly six metres a side, although a bed, desk and several storage containers intruded upon a significant proportion of that space. A wooden door at the back of the room led through to a small bathroom. As the augmented pony walked through the apartment, her artificial hooves sent up tiny clouds of dust.

Her eyes cast about the room for the object she was looking for. Bon Bon’s horn flared again, pulling out storage containers left and right. Most were bare, having been emptied when she left the police force, but one lid opened to reveal a wealth of bric-a-brac that had either been not valuable enough to take away... or something that was better left hidden.

Items began to lift slowly out of the chest, each held in a pale blue glow, until Bon Bon clucked her tongue in annoyance. She may have had fine motor control with her horn, but there were some things earth ponies could just do better. And until a few days ago, she had been an earth pony, damn it. She put her forehooves on the lip of the chest and began tugging out items at random. After a minute or so, she gave a small cry of triumph as her desired object revealed itself.

Bon Bon gazed at the silvery sheet she had pulled out of the box with a hint of reverance. The holoscroll was a valuable enough item for communication and organisation; however, this particular scroll had more important information on it than most. Information important and sensitive enough to leave it buried down here, too valuable to be destroyed, too dangerous to be unsecured.

        She activated the scroll, tapping at it with a hoof until the list she was looking for opened up. A list of every informant she’d ever had ties with in her time as a black-market aug detective. Bon Bon’s eyes scanned the list carefully. Despite spending several years in the department, there were barely two dozen ponies here. Building the trust required to make a pony an informant took an inordinate amount of time, and the aug black market was a dangerous thing to be involved in. Consequently, the cream mare’s hopes were not high.


        As she scanned the list, her heart began to sink. Each entry listed a name, cutie mark and race, along with the last time they’d been available to contact. Every entry listed a time long before she’d arrived back in the nest, from just after her resignation from the force to roughly six months ago. All her contacts were either dead, gone from Canterlot’s underbelly or had had their tracking enchantment removed. In any case, they were all lost to her.

        The augmented pony gave a heavy sigh. After four years away, the odds of any of her contacts still being alive and loyal to her were slim to none, but she’d hoped there would have been something to help with finding the missing soul gems. Bon Bon flicked absently to another, shorter list of informants who had broken contact while she was still a police officer.

        As her eyes scanned this page, her heart skipped a beat—or it would have, had it not been artificial. There was one entry still active, last traced only an hour ago. She pulled up the entry. Slipstream. A male pegasus, with a three wavy blue lines for a cutie mark. Fairly low ranking, his black market activity merely a sideshow to his job of retrieving anything that fell into the nets slung beneath Lower Canterlot, be it anything from detritus to a unicorn or earth pony who’d misstepped.

Bon Bon tapped the entry again to get his attention, silently cursing how the police force dealt with its informants. Only allowing informants to contact officers directly, and not vice versa, kept the moles from resenting their handlers, but it also meant Slipstream, if he still remembered her, was completely free to reject her summons.

        The augmented unicorn paced around the apartment impatiently, waiting on the reply. She knew there was no guarantee the pegasus would get back to her soon, if at all, but any information he could offer her would cut down significantly on the time it would take to retrieve the soul gems. Bon Bon tapped her hooves together, trying to come up with a way to pass the time, although her restless mind stopped her from concentrating properly.

        In the end, she resigned herself to pacing once more. After a few minutes, Bon Bon felt a mild buzzing from her saddlebag. She dumped the food on the desk and snatched the scroll back out of the bag telekinetically. Holding it in front of her, the augmented mare cleared her throat nervously and activated the device. The scroll lit up to reveal a maroon pony looking at her, his dark brown mane hanging down and nearly covering one of his blue eyes.

        “Well, this is a surprise,” he said carefully. “I heard you quit the force.”

        “I did. Four years ago,” she replied.

        “And you’re still pestering me?” he chuckled. “Y’know, I didn’t even get a goodbye from you!”

        “Because you ran off to join a merc company! How was I supposed to know you would come back?” Bon Bon said irritably. “Why are you back down here, anyway? Last I heard from you, you wanted to make your living completely above the board.”

        “Did I? You’ve a better memory than me. Well...” The pegasus rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. He shifted his body, revealing not the feathered wings Bon Bon was expecting, but augmentations that looked like they’d be more suited to Luna’s guards. Translucent material was stretched between thin metallic ribs, and the flesh where they joined to the stumps of the original appedages looked more badly scarred than she would have expected from augmentation surgery. “I guess that’s a long story, filled with sighs. It’s OK. I’ve found my niche here. What about you?” He indicated her horn and lenses.

        “None of your business,” the cream pony snapped.

        Slipstream said nothing, merely raising his eyebrows in surprise. “OK, no sharing. Fine. What do you want from me, then?”

        Bon Bon checked herself, not wanting to let another pang of anger shut off this valuable lead. She took a deep breath and said, “I take it you heard about the attack on MANE last night?” He nodded. “Well, Black Dawn took along a unicorn who could mass teleport items and stole every last soul gem. Fortunately, my employer tracked the teleport to an area of Lower Canterlot. I was hoping you may have heard something about this.”

        The stallion said nothing for a moment, merely narrowing his eyes at her. “And who’s this employer?”

        The augmented mare pondered whether it was worth admitting who exactly she was working for, before concluding she didn’t really have much to lose to the skeptical pegasus. “Twilight Sparkle.”

        He snorted. “Don’t you mean Alpha Wave?” In response to Bon Bon’s confused frown he continued, “Yeah, yeah, don’t give me that. Even us unfortunate souls have heard of that manticore. Keeping us all poor while she fattens her profits, and damning the ones who can’t afford it? All while Fillydelphia subsidises all MANE treatment as standard? No wonder that place is practically its own city-state these days.”

        “I am not a MANE agent.”

        “Oh, come on, Sweets.” The mare grit her teeth. She hated that nickname. “Just look at yourself. Who can afford that many augs and the neuromancy needed to keep ‘em going? You’re telling me Sparkle Industries just threw all of that at you?”

        Bon Bon opened her mouth to give a retort. She wanted to scream at Slipstream, to see if he would be so snarky after finding out exactly why she was so heavily augmented. But she knew that would do nothing to re-build his trust with her. Instead, the cream pony clenched her eyes shut to keep any tears from flowing, glad of the darkened lenses that obscured them from view.

        A ferocious sigh escaped her lips. “There’s MANE agents tearing the Skyport apart right now looking for those gems, because Twilight sent them there. She doesn’t trust the clinics. That’s why she sent me. Is that enough?”

        “Huh. Is that so? Excuse me a moment.” Slipstream went silent, and Bon Bon cracked eyes open to see what he was doing. The stallion had a vacant look in his eyes, as though he were in a trance. She wondered whether he had some communication module installed. A pang of panic hit her as he came back to attention.

        “What was that?” she demanded.

        “Just talking with a friend up in the Skyport.” Hydra, then. Or something similar. “She’s had a few suspicious types poking around.”

        “So you trust me now?”

        “Maybe... depends what questions you ask.” The pegasus took one look at the exasperated expression on Bon Bon’s face and changed his tack. “Look, Sweets... I don’t know what to tell you. Yeah, I hear about illicit soul gems and pretty quickly at that. The Dreadnoughts always get the griffon’s share. Y’know, being the big bad augmented ponies down here. This one’s no different.”

        “I know where they are, though. How often do you hear exactly where a treasure trove of gems is?”  The pegasus shrugged, causing the augmented mare rattled off the rough location she had to Slipstream. His eyes went wide.

        “Mercy...” he mumbled.

        “Mercy? Is that the unicorn’s name?” she asked quickly.

        “Uh... uh... yeah! Like, a codename!” So, absolutely not the unicorn’s codename, then. Or maybe not even the name of a real pony at all, if he’s deflecting that quickly.

        “Slipstream, if you know anything about this... Those gems need to be returned. The neuromancer was killed in the attacks, and Canterlot—”

        “Will be just like the rest of us? Oh dear.” Slipstream looked nonplussed.

        “So you’re angry about the Augs left down here. You’re sure you want to condemn every augmented pony in this city to that fate?” She slid back her lenses, staring down the buck with her golden eyes.

        He stared back for a moment, before letting out a long sigh and dropping his gaze to the floor. “Fine... I’ll tell you what I know. But I want to meet you. See your cutie mark. I want to know this is really you. I trusted you once, Sweets. Maybe I can trust you again.” He looked around, before grabbing a piece of paper. “You remember our old meeting place, right? The coffee house near the Under Warrens?”


        “Meet me there in an hour, alone. I’ll tell you what I can about... a-about Mercy.” He cleared his throat and broke eye contact again. “See you there,” he said quietly, just as the link closed.

        Bon Bon rolled up the scroll, taking up the bag of food. Hunger was now mixed with trepidation at the pegasus’ demeanour after his verbal slip. Who or what was Mercy?


        After hurriedly locking up the nest, Bon Bon trotted through the chilly streets of Lower Canterlot. This close to the edge of the mountain, there was virtually no protection from the wickedly cold winds that blew up from the plains below. It would be even worse out in the Under Warrens, precariously built outward from the mountain itself rather than carved into the rock, but the cream mare would have considered herself unlucky if she had to venture into that ramshackle district anytime soon.

        Her memory served well enough, and she found the coffee house without incident. How long since I last came here? She was pleasently surprised to find it practically unchanged, a traditional little cafe like one would find in Ponyville. It had always amused Bon Bon that some of her informants insisted on meeting in a place that sold giant, pink cupcakes and served tea in dainty china cups when most usually did business in derelict warehouses and shady back alleys.

        Shrouded in nostalgia, the cream mare didn’t pay attention to the door as she walked closer, and consequently ended up on her rump as a customer exited the shop and bumped into her. Bon Bon began uttering her apologies before looking up to see who she’d collided with. A pair of astonished green eyes looked down at her, framed in a black-and-white striped face.

        “Bon Bon! This is a surprise!” Zantos said, laughing mirthfully and extending a hoof. The pony took the offered limb, pulling herself to her hooves.

        “Zantos. I could say the same,” she said slowly.

        “Well, I live not too far away. You take what indulgances you can, no?” The zebra guiltily wiped a few crumbs from his muzzle. “So, I hear my training came to fruitition last ni—”

        “Shhhhhh!” Bon Bon hissed. “Nopony’s supposed to know about that!” She frowned. “How did you even find that out...?”

        Zantos moved to one side to allow ingress to the shop and rubbed the back of his neck. “There were rumours I heard of a single pony on the rooftops before the police raid. And bomb collars on the hostages. And a Sparkle Industries sky carriage. I wondered, who have I met at SI who could make their way through that carnage?”

        The augmented unicorn let out a sigh of relief. Nothing too easy to put together, then. “I see. Well, yes. Thank you. I think things would have been even worse had I not been trained by you.”

        The zebra nodded. “I’m glad you kept your cool. I’m proud of you.” The unicorn’s lips twitched upward in a rare smile. “Now, what brings you to this part of Canterlot?”

        Bon Bon opened her mouth to answer, weighing what she could tell Zantos. She settled for a half-truth. “There was a unicorn in the attack who teleported away with some important... technology. Twilight tracked their destination to somewhere in this district. I’m meeting with a friend who might know something.”

        He raised an eyebrow. “Do you trust me so little? I am not one to spill my secrets readily,” he said reproachfully.

        The cream mare considered her options. She had been forthcoming enough with Slipstream, and she knew she trusted Zantos further than the pegasus. “The unicorn took the soul gems. All of them. I can’t let that powder keg become common knowledge. I need to get them back, and fast,” the unicorn explained. An idea came to her. “I’m meeting with a pegasus stallion called Slipstream. He’s the only informant I have left from being a police officer and he seems to know more than he’s letting on. Mentioned something called ‘Mercy’.”

        “Hmmm...” The zebra looked thoughtful for a moment. “I have heard the name, but when I enquired further, I received a... rude response.” He gazed sadly at his augmented hindlegs. “From both citizens and the more approachable gang members. I suppose one who can afford care at MANE is not welcomed by Mercy. However, I do know about Slipstream. An odd one. More moral than most ponies around here, but he has an strange way of showing it. Be careful around him,” he said darkly.

        “I will. Thanks, Zantos. I’ll see you around.” The unicorn nodded to the stallion and went inside. Even at this hour, the shop buzzed with activity, ponies gathering for food, caffeine or companionship. Her eyes scanned the room, until she saw a maroon pony with a pair of translucent batwings seated at a booth. She walked closer slowly, taking care not to do anything to alarm her informant.

        “Interesting choice of venue,” she said quietly, slipping into the booth’s other seat. As she did so, Bon Bon pushed her coat aside slightly, revealing the three wrapped sweets on her flank. Seeing her cutie mark, the pegasus shifted and looked up.

        “Not like I’m gonna bump into one of my associates here,” Slipstream replied with a shrug. “So, you turned up after all? You must be desperate if I’m the first pony you turn to.”

        “Well, not a lot of choices to be had, really. Black market’s a dangerous place,” the unicorn replied nonchalantly. Eager as she was to get her information, Bon Bon had already resigned herself to the lengthy verbal dance all informants led their handlers through, skirting around the issue until there was nothing else left to say.

        “I’ll say. Lotta ways a pony can end up in trouble, even for just saying the wrong thing.”

        “Like the word ‘Mercy’?” Slipstream glared at her.

        “Are you gonna drop that or not? It was a slip of the tongue, that’s all!” he snapped, batlike wings extending outward in agitation.

        “Mmhmm.” Bon Bon retracted her lenses, staring down the irritated pegasus. In the awkward pause, Slipstream gave a waitress who had been hovering nearby a dismissive hoofwave. She left momentarily and meekly returned with a cafetiere full of hot, black coffee and two cups, before fleeing to another, more amiable table. “I’m sure it was, Slipstream,” the cream mare continued calmly, pouring the beverage with her telekinesis.

        The pegasus ground his teeth, ignoring the cup of coffee now set in front of him. “What? You still gonna try and pull some mind game with me?”

        “I’m not the one making a big fuss out of this,” Bon Bon said. “If it’s a slip of the tongue, why so anxious?” Seeing the look on his face grow ever more thunderous, she decided to change her approach. “I’m not trying to trick you, Slipstream. I’m just curious as to what’s so important about where the soul gems are.” The unicorn reduced the intensity of her gaze, and raised one forehoof to rest her head upon it. “I know you’re a good pony really, Slipstream. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in this... line of work.”

        The stallion sighed and rubbed at his eyes with his forehooves, a vague expression of regret showing. “Appreciated. Sorry. Just a little wound up over this.”

        “I get it. We all have our secrets.”

        “Yeah, but some secrets have a habit of killing the ponies who spill ‘em, don’t they?” he said resignedly. “What’s it matter? You know where those gems are. I don’t see why you need me around.”

        “Your reaction was enough, Slipstream. I don’t need a social aug to tell it’s an important place. Other ponies I’ve talked to know of something called Mercy. The name’s no great secret,” Bon Bon said, grateful for the little tidbit of information Zantos had given her. “I’m assuming if I go there, I’ll find out what it is anyway. I just want to know if my turning up there is... going to cause anypony to be upset.”

        The pegasus sniffed, and sat back for moment, contemplating. He took a long swig of coffee, still in silence. Bon Bon indulged him his stalling; there was little to be gained from pressing an informant who wanted to take their time, as frustrating as the balance of power was. For all she was able to do, Slipstream could sit there all night. Fortunately, he eventually piped up, “OK. OK. Come with me. If I’m around, there shouldn’t be any upset. This place... it’s place for ponies to go if they’re sick, or injured.”

        Bon Bon raised a surprised eyebrow. “That’s it? That’s what you were getting so shifty about?”

        “Well, there’s not many doctors ‘round these parts, and you just try getting a filly running a fever or a worker with a broken leg all the way up to the Upper City. Ain’t easy,” Slipstream explained. “And you know, we Lower Canterlot types get suspicious of somepony official-looking poking their nose where it doesn’t belong.”

        “Not to mention whoever runs it is willing to run the risk of stealing a whole clinic’s worth of soul gems. Doesn’t seem to quite add up...”

        The comment earned her another glare. “It’s expensive to run, and the Dreadnoughts will pay well for soul gems, what with them being auged up to and including the eyeballs. Now, do you want me to come with you or not?”

        The cream mare bit her lip for a moment. It was painfully obvious to her that Slipstream knew more than he was letting on, but aside from outright threatening him, she doubted there was a way for her to weasel it out of the pegasus. If only I had Rarity backing me up here... The thought raised a smile as Bon Bon imagined the notoriously prissy unicorn making her way through this dirty part of town. “Fine. Let’s not waste any more time.” The pair drained their cups of coffee, and the unicorn levitated a couple of bits out of her pocket to pay.

        The two ponies left the coffee shop, Slipstream looking around in what seemed like mild paranoia. To Bon Bon’s surprise, Zantos was still hanging around the coffee shop, speaking with an earth pony mare quietly. He glanced at her and nodded slightly as the unicorn passed.

        The maroon pegasus led her down an alleyway toward the location of the gems, looking around nervously. Something about the situation felt so very wrong, Slipstream having quickly relented after her inquiries raised such ire. And yet, one would have to be either oblivious or very stupid not to feel at least a little trepidation in the darker half of Canterlot.

        Her ears pricked up at something half-said by the stallion in front of her. “What?”

        He turned to her, green eyes glistening. “I said, I hope you understand this at some point.”

        “Understand what exac—” Bon Bon’s question was cut off by a sudden burst of pain in her left flank. She fell to the ground, more from instinct than any real damage. A few warnings flashed in her augmented vision, but none of her manifold implants had ceased functioning. A cursory glance upward showed several figures stepping out of the shadows, holding various melee weapons. Oh. He meant that. He really is that stupid.

        “OK, tie her up, quickly. Dunno how long that shock’s gonna last,” came a voice from behind her.

        “It’d better last long enough!” Slipstream sounded frantic. “The sooner we turn her over at the Foundry, the sooner I’m not at risk!”

        “Ah, quit shakin’ in yer saddlebags. You’re acting like a filly goin’ in for her first implant,” another voice said, eliciting a wave of chuckles. Come a little closer and try to tie me up. Then we’ll see how tough you are. Bon Bon’s augmentations were ready to go, her lying on the floor an act.

        “Hey, she knows where I live! She wakes up, she’s gonna, she’s gonna... Oh, Celestia...” Slipstream trailed off, his eyes wide and wings drooping as he stared beyond Bon Bon. There was a yell, and an earth pony went sailing overhead, landing heavily in a pile of refuse further down the street. The augmented mare turned her head to see what had happened.

        There, at the entrance to the alley, stood Zantos, an expression like thunder upon his face. He had bucked a fully grown pony a full thirty metres through the air, and for the first time, Bon Bon truly appreciated the power of those augmented limbs. I become death incarnate. She remembered those words now.

        “Hey, hey! Back off!” exclaimed the first voice, a quaver of fear running through it. “The hell do you think you are?!”

        “Just a friend of the mare you’re attacking,” the zebra said, cold anger colouring his voice.

        “Oh yeah? You don’t wanna mess with us! We’re Dreadnoughts!” came a retort. To her surprise, Zantos smiled mirthlessly at that remark.

        “Do you really wish to pull that rank? With your sorry excuses for implants?” he asked them. The only answer came in the shape of a small rock that bounced off the stallion’s head, although it may as well have been cotton candy for all he flinched. Zantos snorted and stamped a hind hoof, so hard that the paving stones beneath it audibly cracked as it came down. He began walking forward.

        “What are you waiting for?! Get him!” Slipstream’s voice nearly broke with panic, and his wings twitched in agitation. To her dismay, Bon Bon realised the pegasus was about to fly away. With the rest of the ponies distracted by the menacing zebra, she swung her head around to get her bearings. Behind her stood a blue unicorn, a small, pistol-like device held in his pink magic.

        The augmented mare’s foreleg shot out, jabbing at the unicorn’s horn. The stallion stumbled back with a cry, falling to his haunches. His magic petered out from the blow, causing the gun to fall to the ground.  Bon Bon caught the stun gun in her own blue glow, turning and catching Slipstream with a blast of electrical magic just as he took off. His wings instantly went limp, sending the pegasus crashing to the ground with a cry. He feebly scrabbled on the ground as the cream pony pulled the weapon closer to her face. She grunted in surprise as her action ejected a smoking sapphire from the side of the device.

        Unable to ascertain quite how the unfamiliar weapon worked, Bon Bon fumbled at it with her magic, earning a strike on the shoulder for her troubles. The blow sent her back down to the ground. Abandoning the stunning device, the cream mare pulled herself back up to face the blue unicorn from before. She feinted with her left forehoof, before delivering a blow to his chest with her right, winding the stallion and dumping him on the ground.

        A flash of motion in her peripheral vision alerted Bon Bon to another pony closing on her right, an earth pony with a baseball bat held in her teeth. The other mare was apparently experienced in using the bat, easily swinging the length of maple wood with motions of the head and neck. However, the cream unicorn paid it little mind. Having legs made of carbon fibre and steel made one somewhat impervious to opponents with blunt instruments.

        The cream pony let the attacking mare swing her bat, reaching up and catching the wood in an unfolded hoof. Keeping the momentum, Bon Bon yanked the pony forward with her weapon, before slamming her other forehoof into the mare’s chin. The unfortunate pony screamed as the teeth gripping the baseball bat shattered from the force of the blow, and she went down, spitting blood and fragments of enamel.

        Bon Bon picked up the weapon with her magic, swinging it lazily to parry the lead pipe carried by a pegasus. He held his makeshift club in the crook of a hoof as he fluttered just above head height. The augmented mare was surprised the gang’s resolve had held this long; ponies this far down the food chain would never fight this hard for their masters, particularly not in the face of such odds.

        As the bat clipped the pegasus’ wing, a black-and-white blur passed Bon Bon, sending the unfortunate gang member across the alley to slam into a brick wall. Despite his bulk, Zantos was able to move as quick as a snake, evidenced by the half-dozen ponies he’d left groaning on the floor in his wake. All that were left were the still-stunned Slipstream and an orange earth pony with enough muscles to rival the zebra’s and a brassy-coloured artifical right foreleg.

In her mouth she held a pair of fang lances, a fearsome weapon used in days of old. A crossbar connected two viciously curved blades that extended on either side of the face like metallic tusks, designed to stab on the bearer’s charge, then slash when up close. The orange mare let out a snort, pawing at the ground as she eyed up the pair facing her.

“Let me handle this. You grab the pegasus if he moves,” the augmented unicorn murmured. Zantos moved back slightly, just as the lance-wielder made her charge. The attack was a touching, if ultimately futile gesture, Bon Bon reflected, positioning the bat with her magic. The other mare made no effort to change her path as the unicorn dodged left, bringing down the baseball bat hard.

The weapon slammed into the orange mare’s artifical leg with enough force to shatter the maple wood, sending shards across the alley and leaving naught but a splintered stump held up in Bon Bon’s blue glow. The charging pony fell to the ground with a yell of surprise, and took another tumble when she tried to get up. Her augmented leg was bent at a horrific angle between elbow and shoulder, a huge dent in the brass.

“You... you bitch! You broke my leg!” the orange pony howled.

Bon Bon threw the ruined baseball bat to the ground, stood over the mare and prodded experimentally at the limb. “Oh, hush. A broken internal structural member and a dented casing. You can have that welded and re-shaped in half an hour,” she said dispassionately. “Can you keep an eye on her?” the cream pony then said to Zantos, who nodded and walked over. The orange pony silenced her griping and gulped as she looked at the zebra’s massive frame and fearsome hindlegs.

The augmented unicorn stepped around the groaning bodies of her would-be assailants and pulled out her tranquiliser rifle from her saddlebag, pointing it at Slipstream as it unfolded. The pegasus seemed to come around from his stupour as Bon Bon advanced, almost going cross-eyed as he stared up the barrel.

“Slipstream...” Bon Bon asked in a dangerously quiet voice. “What was that?”

The stallion seemed to be more ashamed than terrified, his batwings unfurling and slumping to the ground and his entire body trembling. The pegasus’ gaze dropped to the ground. “I... I’m... I’m sorry. I had to do something. I can’t be the one who ruins everything!”

“‘Do something’? You attacked me and you were going to give me to the Dreadnoughts!” the mare retorted.

“Well... it was just to keep you from poking your nose where it doesn’t belong,” he said sullenly.

Bon Bon let out an infuriated snort and stamped her forehoof. “The Dreadnoughts would have stripped me of my augs. You know that. Do I look like I would have survived that?” Slipstream said nothing, looking more and more like a little colt being admonished for a schoolyard misdemeanour. “Just get out of here.”

“W-wait... let me take her to the clinic...” Slipstream mumbled, pointing at the mare with the broken leg. A flurry of profanities still emanated from her mouth, the lances having been discarded on the floor. Bon Bon was about to refuse the request, before she had an idea. The unicorn nodded, and the pegasus gingerly made his way past his incapacited compatriots, helping the mare to her hooves.

Zantos came and stood by her as the pair made off. The augmented mare stared at the two ponies, trying to will a half-remembered spell into activation. Just before they made their way around the corner, a small red triangle appeared over each pony in her enhanced vision, along with a distance tracker. Bon Bon smiled. Now, they could lead her straight to the clinic.

Once they were gone, the unicorn let out a long sigh and sank against the zebra, suddenly weary. “Thank you,” she said. “Probably would’ve been in a lot of trouble if you hadn’t shown up.”

“Nonsense. I saw you fight. Very impressive. I’m glad to see you have contained your anger in battle,” Zantos replied. “I was merely exacting my own retribution. Too many ponies are antagonised by these... gang members. I would hope a smattering of bruised ribs will show them the error of their ways. If not, perhaps I shall use the full force of my augmentations next time.”

The unicorn nodded and stepped back. “In any case, I appreciate the help. And the warning earlier. He always had his contacts, but I didn’t know Slipstream was capable of doing that.”

The stallion frowned. “In his own mind, I am sure that beating you and leaving you to be crippled by the Dreadnoughts’ surgeons was tantamount to keeping MANE away from this clinic. I believe his time amongst the mercenaries gave him a rather bizarre skew to his morals. Nevertheless, he is cowed and you are free to proceed.” He peered down the alleyway. “Although quite why you allowed him to leave when you could have broken him to your will, I cannot say.”

Bon Bon tapped one of her lenses with a hoof. “Don’t worry, I know exactly where he is. And he’s gonna lead me straight to Mercy.” She swept the stun gun off the ground with her magic and placed it in a saddlebag alongside her folded tranq rifle. “Care to join me?”

Zantos’ eyes gleamed as a wolfish grin crossed his face. “It would be an honour.”


        To Bon Bon’s satisfaction, Slipstream proved as unwittingly helpful as she expected him to be. While she roughly knew where the soul gems were, the exact location of the clinic would have taken a good deal longer to find by searching than simply being led to it. To her chagrin, progress through the streets was slow, the pegasus propping up his crippled partner, who was stumbling along on three legs.

        “Why use augmentations? We could follow them simply by how blue the air was,” Zantos quipped, as a fresh wave of profanity came from the mare ahead of them.

        “I bet she was really proud of that leg,” Bon Bon grumbled. The pair were hidden behind a pile of cardboard boxes, eager not to have any more altercations from being spotted by the pegasus they were tracking. Things were not made easier by Slipstream loudly telling anypony who would listen about his assailants, the descriptions becoming more and more embellished as time went on.

        “I believe we would be fully cybernetic beings if your friend’s story was to be believed,” the zebra said. Bon Bon said nothing, instead leading him toward the next load of cover. She was quite grateful for the twisting of words; nopony in earshot would really pay attention to such ramblings. The unicorn did worry that they might be challenged anyway, but the streets seemed to be oddly devoid of gang members.

        “Isn’t this place Dreadnought territory? Shouldn’t we have seen some others hanging around by now?” she asked. Zantos simply shrugged.

        “I could not say. Perhaps we met them all back in the alleyway. Perhaps they believe this area secure and far enough away from Everfree territory to be left alone.” Ahead of them, the pair of ponies they were tracking walked out from the end of the street. To Bon Bon’s dismay, the street opened out onto a square, with little cover and a good deal of ponies milling about, although not enough to cover two equines as distinctive as her and Zantos. She wasn’t entirely sure of the range of the tracking spell, and the last thing the unicorn needed was to lose Slipstream in the crowd. The spiral staircase of a fire escape caught her eye.

        “I need to go up... I can track them from there,” she said.

        “Then go. I’ll stay down on the ground and watch the square. Two figures atop a roof are much easier to notice than one,” Zantos replied. “Don’t worry, I can hold my own if things turn ugly.”

        Bon Bon nodded, and concentrated, adding the the zebra to her tracking. Once the red triangle was hovering over his head as well, she turned and galloped up the staircase. As she reached the roof, she began cantering, careful to avoid any skylights or particularly weak-looking areas. Her golden gaze picked out the alley Slipstream was heading down. To the unicorn’s annoyance, it was in the far left corner of the square, with another alley between her and her target.

        The cream mare pawed the roof, calculating the width of the alley and force required to jump it. She galloped and vaulted gracefully across the edge, rolling on the other side to absorb the impact. Bon Bon moved close to the surface of the roof, prowling along in parallel with pair of ponies. They continued for a short while longer down the street, before abruptly halting. The augmented mare peeked over the edge, seeing Slipstream and the mare standing outside a pair of double doors, looking around furtively.

        She felt a pang of annoyance as she looked at the building. It was a storey higher than the one the cream mare was currently on, and every window facing the alley was boarded up. No clue came from within about what the venue hosted, but Bon Bon knew this had to be the place. This had to be Mercy.

        The unicorn spotted a drainpipe leading down the edge of her own roof. With no other way of safely reaching the ground, the augmented mare unfolded her hooves into talons, flipped herself around, and slid down, gripping the pipe lightly. One storey up, Bon Bon disengaged, landing with a loud clatter behind the pair, just as the doors opened. The pegasus spun around in shock.

        “No! What... Where did you come from?!” Slipstream yelled. He turned around to the now-open portal, where a mountain of a pony stood, clad in a loose, hooded black robe that covered and obscured his body and face. Despite that, the sheer size of him belied his augmented state; the stallion could almost have stood eye-to-eye with Princess Celestia herself. “I... I swear! This wasn’t my fault!” the pegasus begged.

        The hulking stallion said nothing, simply shifting his pose slightly and raising his head to look at Bon Bon. His eyes glowed augmented gold, same as hers, and as he surveyed her, a smirk appeared across his face. The slight change in position was enough to make Slipstream whimper in fear. Tellingly, the mare with a broken leg had fallen utterly silent.

        “Oh, don’t be scared of Charity. Unless you try and damage my clinic, he won’t harm you,” a female voice said from a speaker over the door. Bon Bon frowned. It sounded ever so slightly familiar, but with the distortion, she couldn’t possibly identify it. A camera next to the loudspeaker swung around to regard them. “Now then, Charity, I’m sure you can take Silk to get her leg fixed. And Slipstream, bring our longcoated friend to my office. Do be sure to answer any questions she asks you. I have some rather more important things to discuss with her.

        Bon Bon felt her forehooves unfolding involuntarily, and swished her tail back and forth. Somehow, this voice knew who she was. Likely as not, the teleporting unicorn was sequestered here and had told all about the augmented mare who had nearly foiled their plans the night before. Struggling slightly, Silk limped up the steps to the door. The augmented stallion, presumably Charity, reached out with a tree trunk of a foreleg and hefted the mare onto his back as though she were naught but a bag of flour.

As they retreated inside, Slipstream looked back at Bon Bon, licking his lips nervously. “Well, you heard the lady, I guess,” he stammered. “That zebra around?”

“He’s waiting back in the market. Don’t worry. I’m not looking for another fight this evening,” the cream mare replied. The pegasus nodded, and led her inside. They passed through a small lobby of sorts, before walking out into the clinic proper. The sight made Bon Bon gasp. Her Hydra link to Twilight activated.

Twilight? I’ve found it.

And...? The other mare’s thoughts strained with anticipation.

I think you’re gonna want to take a look at this.


        Augmentation Activated

        Cranium: Tag ‘n’ Track

A popular implant amongst overprotective parents and snooping employers alike, the Tag ‘n’ Track applies an almost undetectable tracing spell to up to three other ponies at will. A visual representation and rangefinder will then be transmitted to the user’s augmented vision. Higher-grade versions can track more ponies simultanously, and give additional data. Sparkle Industries accepts no responsibility for surprise parties spoiled by tracking friends acting suspiciously.


<<Chapter 5                                                                            Chapter 7>>

Many thanks to Burraku_Pansa and to Darth Rex from SALT for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]








Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 7: The Helping Hoof Of Mercy

        Bon Bon sat on the floor, stunned by the view in front of her. Ever since Slipstream’s shock at hearing about the soul gems, she had suspected there was something hidden down here. And true, there were plenty of illicit surgeries in any Equestrian city. But there was nothing quite like this.

        Mercy had been built within an old market building: a vast, five-storey structure with a large courtyard open to the sky. Nets and other camoflague had been stretched over the top of the square hole to keep away prying pegasus eyes, and lanterns full of fireflies lit the space with a soft glow. The atmosphere was filled with the voices of ponies, some quiet and reserved, others loud and anxious. Everywhere she looked there were Augs; nearly every pony sported a physical implant of some description.

Signposts showed the way to various locations within the clinic, everything from Neuromancy to Therapy to Aug Rejection Treatment. Ponies of every kind made their way through the clinic, across the courtyard and the walkways above it, and along the balconies of each of the five storeys. It was vast, easily as large as the primary MANE clinic and twice as busy. And completely hidden away.

“You beat MANE at their own game,” Bon Bon said, turning her head to Slipstream and retracting her lenses. The pegasus scuffed at the floor sheepishly.

“Yeah... pretty much. I guess you realise why I wanted to keep this secret, huh?” he said.

“It doesn’t excuse you trying to drag me off unconcious,” the unicorn said irritably, “but I understand wanting to keep this a secret.” The stallion seemed to perk up a little at that.

“I know. I’m sorry. I get a bit... defensive of this place. They helped me a lot.” Slipstream beckoned to her, and they began to make their way through the throngs of ponies to a staircase. “Celestia only knows what would happen if Alpha Wave knew of the scale of this place.”

Bon Bon suddenly felt a slight mental pressure, remembering Twilight was still waiting upon her and wanting to see what the cream pony had found. Twilight, what I’m about to show you stays between us, OK? This has to stay under wraps.

If you insist... She opened the link, allowing Twilight access to Bon Bon’s senses. The augmented unicorn felt a thrill through the mental link from her superior. This is... this is... incredible! A whole community of Augs, right here in Canterlot, independent of MANE?

They could still be influenced by the Dreadnoughts... Bon Bon replied.

Maybe, but this looks far too large and too organised to be a gang endeavour. Whoever’s running this knows what they’re doing. Bon Bon moved her sight to Slipstream, who was waiting for her at the foot of the staircase, tapping his forehoof. Friend of yours?

An informant. He’s taking me to the head of this place. I get the feeling the teleporter from last night must be here. The leader spoke to me and recognised me. And her voice sounded familiar... I can’t place my hoof on it, but I swear I’ve heard her before.

Whoever it is, stay safe. Don’t take untoward risks to get those soul gems yourself. As long as I know where they are, I can work something out.

I’ll try. The pegasus is gonna be talking to me, so I’ll need to concentrate on him.

Of course. Twilight fell silent, continuing to observe through Bon Bon’s senses. The augmented unicorn walked over to the waiting pegasus, and they began to climb the stairs.

“So... how does this place get by? Keeping it a secret from MANE and the Dreadnoughts?” she asked.

“A bunch of illusion enchantments around the building itself. It’s funded by a bunch of wealthy ponies who have some sort of quarrel with MANE, so there’s no real paper trail, just donations to a ‘charity’,” Slipstream said, waving a hoof about. “And the clinic’s spread through word-of-mouth. That’s how we keep MANE out of this. It never appears to be more than another litttle black market place to them, not worth the trouble of shutting down. As for the gang... they know about this place. And tolerate it.”

“‘Tolerate it’? I didn’t think Dreadnoughts were that forgiving.”

“More like different markets,” the pegasus said with a shrug. “Mercy helps ponies down on their luck, pulls them up. We supply neuromancy and entry-level augs, but anypony wanting real quality go for the black market instead. Not to mention this clinic buys black market supplies and gems from the ‘Noughts. Quite the happy relationship. Not to mention Charity.” He visibly shuddered.

Bon Bon remember the vast, silent stallion who had greeted him. “Who is he?”

“One of the three ponies who run this clinic. Not their real names, I bet, but they call themselves Hope, Faith and Charity,” Slipstream said. “I’ve no idea what Charity is, seeing as he always wears that cloak to conceal his body, but Faith is the one who spoke to you on the intercom. A unicorn with a bit of an ego problem, but a good enough pony. I don’t see Hope around often. She deals with the medical side of things. A pegasus, and a shy one at that.” He shook his head slightly. “Charity has a bunch of thugs and contacts under his command. I guarantee you, somepony makes a threat from the Dreadnoughts, they disappear pretty sharpish.”

“I’ve never seen you as terrified as when you saw him, Slipstream,” the mare said dryly. The pegasus gave her a sour look. “I don’t blame you, frankly. Last time I saw a pony that size...” She trailed off, remembering the last moments she’d spent as an unaugmented pony. Bon Bon felt sick to the pit of her stomach, thinking of the monsters in the aug harnesses, the screams of her colleagues...

Bon Bon...?

“...are you OK?” Slipstream was looking at her in concern. “You kinda zoned out there...”

She blinked a couple of times, waving a forehoof for emphasis. “Sorry. Just... a few unhappy memories. About the augs.”

The pegasus nodded in appreciation as they began walking again. “I figured you didn’t choose to be that way. Although—and forgive me if I’m wrong—weren’t you an earth pony, last I saw you?”

Bon Bon instinctively brushed her full-bodied mane aside, touching the black horn on her forehead. “Prototype,” she said simply. Slipstream grinned and spread his wings.

“Don’t worry. I won’t go drawing attention to it. I had the same problem.” They had reached a set of vertical steel bars that blocked access to the floor above. Slipstream nodded to a security guard, who took a keyring from his belt, unlocking a door in the barrier. They stepped through, the guard re-locking the door behind them.

Bon Bon, you really shouldn’t be using telekinesis around ponies like this! He knew you pre-augmentation! Twilight sounded more concerned than exasperated.

Sorry. I forgot myself. I’ll try to be more discreet. She turned her attention back to the pegasus. “Prototype wings? What happened?” To her surprise, Slipstream’s face fell.

“Well, it all goes back to that merc company. I did join up, and went out to the Griffon Kingdoms. Got a good posting protecting one of the Galefeather clan leaders. Not the chieftan himself, but a close advisor. Anyway, things were going well for the first six months. I saw off a couple of assassination attempts, I was made head of security for this griffon, then... this.” He twitched a wing.

“Accident?” Bon Bon asked, moving around a group of labcoat-clad ponies descending the staircase. He shook his head.

“Attack. I was coming out of a bar—it being a night off for me—when suddenly something lands on top of me. I just feel this agony in my wings... like they were on fire, then nothing, just a pinching sensation in the bases. Then, the weight shifts and there’s this griffon in front of me, practically made of augmentations. She grins, and her talons are red hot and stinkin’ of hot metal. And between them are... what’s left... of my wings.” He let out a huff of breath and closed his eyes. “She’d clawed them straight down, then amputated them with the talons. Cauterised, too, so there was no hope of them healing up and being stitched back on. They were nothing but tatters and scars.” He opened his eyes again, walking out of the top of the staircase onto the floor.

The unicorn continued to listen with a grimace. “What happened then?”

Slipstream gave a mirthless snort. “She made some quip about ‘clipping my wings’, then threw them down on me. I wasn’t listening too hard, being in shock and all. Anyway, while I’m incapacitated, she flies off. Next I hear, the griffon I was sworn to protect is dead, almost certainly by the one who attacked me. I got dishonorable discharge for letting my protection target die.” He shook his head as Bon Bon opened her mouth to speak. “Never said they were fair with dismissal. So, crippled and with no money, I come back to Canterlot. I fall in with the Dreadnoughts again. Only thing I could really do to get by.” His mouth twitched. “Well, that and becoming a police informant again.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bon Bon said. “It’s not easy, losing parts of yourself like that.” She regarded the scars where the stumps of Slipstream’s wings met his augmentations. “So, these are prototypes?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I tried getting regular wing augs off the black market, but every body shop I went to said my stumps were too badly damaged for installation. Either I’d have to have the stumps removed entirely and risk further trauma, or find something that didn’t place too much stress on the nerves.”

“They don’t need neuromantic enchantments?”

“Some, but far less than most augs. Hope and Faith have been working a lot on low-neuromancy implants. Everypony wins,” the pegasus said. “The Augs who took MANE treatment and subsequently couldn’t afford it can have those augmentations installed instead, cutting down on rejection rates and the amount of soul gems they have to go through here.” He flexed his wings, looking back at them. “These wings were an attempt at helping crippled pegasi. They may not be as able as the ones MANE or the Dreadnoughts could sell you, but I only need a soul gem every other week as opposed to once every couple of days. But yeah, I had to stay cooped up here for tests. Being a guinea pig was a small price to pay for flight.

Has it really come to this? Homebrew augmentations made specifically to be low-neuromancy? Twilight’s thoughts carried a tinge of horror.

MANE already guard their neuromancers closely enough, and charge accordingly, Bon Bon replied. I doubt they have a tenth of those resources here. We’re so busy chasing the future we forget those left behind.

Perhaps... We might be able to remedy that our own way, though. 

The cream unicorn was distracted from Twilight’s musing by the sight of another pair of hulking earth ponies, each one sporting large, jet black leg augmentations. The pair glowered down at Slipstream and Bon Bon silently, blocking the corridor beyond, a single door at the end.

“She’s my guest,” came a voice from a speaker in the ceiling, the intonation identical to what Bon Bon had heard outside the clinic. “Do be so kind as to let her through.” As the guards stood aside, Slipstream looked to her nervously.

“Guess I have to leave you here,” he said. “That’s Faith’s office. I don’t know what she wants with you, just...” His eyes flicked up at one of the larger ponies. “Don’t get on the wrong side of her. She seems calm enough, but she uses Charity like an attack hound sometimes.”

Bon Bon nodded her thanks and trotted down the corridor. She’s not the only one. The unicorn temporarily blotted out the connection, unwilling to let her private thoughts about Twilight actually reach the pony in question.

Her forehoof pushed the door open to reveal a medium-sized office. A desk messily covered in paper and with a computer monitor was in the centre of the room, in front of a large, tinted window that looked down upon the courtyard five storeys below. It was also decorated with a few other personal effects, including what looked like a replica of Star Swirl the Bearded’s peaked hat. In the corner, the cloth-covered mountain that was Charity lurked silently, a pair of golden eyes glowing as they surveyed her.

Behind the desk stood a unicorn mare, gazing down at the scenes through the window. Faith. Her light blue coat was remarkably clean for one who lived in Lower Canterlot, and her long, silvery mane tumbled down her shoulders. Her tail was similarly overgrown, trailing behind her. Bon Bon squinted at the mare’s flank, seeing what looked like a crescent moon and wand.

Before Bon Bon could say anything, the other mare turned around, showing her face. Her left eye, gleaming like a chip of amythest, crinkled in a smug smile as she regarded Bon Bon. Her other eye was obscured by the long mane, although she did nothing to push it out of the way. Suddenly, the cream unicorn made the connection, remembering the face alongside the voice.

“You?” Bon Bon said incredulously. “You’re the head of this place?”

“I’m glad my reputation precedes me,” Trixie said dryly.

“You did indirectly lure an Ursa Minor into my home town. And you returned a couple of years later and turned it into your personal fiefdom for a week. You’re not exactly a forgettable pony,” the cream mare retorted. She frowned and tried to ignore Twilight, who had let out an outraged squawk when Trixie had turned around.

“Oh, yes. Well, I believe I paid off the damages... eventually.”

“And how did you go from failed conjuror to heading up an illegal clinic in the streets of Lower Canterlot?” Bon Bon asked, trying not to be sidetracked.

“I could ask how a sweet maker became a heavily augmented special operative, or how a shy librarian mage became a princess, then renounced it to become the head of one of the most powerful augmentation companies in the world,” Trixie said. “Twenty years does a lot to a pony.”

Bon Bon raised an eyebrow. “It doesn’t explain why a pony who only ever thought of herself would suddenly become so philanthropic. Nor why a mare who dubbed herself ‘Great and Apologetic’ still holds enough of a grudge against her old enemy to taunt her.”

“‘Taunt her’? ‘Old enemy’?” Trixie chuckled. “I let you in here on an understanding that we would be able to converse like full-grown ponies, not throw accusations like foals.”

“The unicorn who stole the soul gems must have told you about me. How would you know what I looked like otherwise? Not to mention using the Mare-Do-Well costume...” Bon Bon said uncertainly. The blue mare took a mocking bow.

“Don’t presume to think that Twilight Sparkle is the only unicorn in Equestria who can cast more than a single school of spells,” she said sarcastically. “I stole the soul gems. I saw you running into that room, playing the hero, thinking that everything would all be better if only you stopped the bad ponies. And I knew that Twilight would be watching at every instant, one way or another.” Trixie swept back her mane. In her right socket was not an eye, but a smooth, green glass orb. She stared straight into Bon Bon’s eyes. “And I know she must be watching now. A single operative from Sparkle Industries just happens to go looking for Mercy, right where I teleported to yesterday? Do tell me if I’m mistaken.”

Bon Bon stared down the other unicorn. “That’s not the issue here.”

Trixie smirked and continued, “Tell me, Twilight Sparkle, are you proud of what you’ve done?” A blue hoof swept toward the window. The mental link was tellingly silent. “And as you know, Faith isn’t my real name. Neither was Hope born Hope. In fact, I think you know her by quite a different name.” She smiled quietly to herself as she picked up a photograph from her desk with magic. It showed a hospital bed, with a little filly tucked up beneath the covers. And next to her, a butter yellow pegasus, with pink hair, and three butterflies upon her flank. A wave of sorrow came crashing through the mental link.

That’s why I used the Mare-Do-Well costume. Because you’ve caused your friends to forsake you for your enemies, and broken the country you swore to protect, all with your self-righteousness, Twilight. Do you understand now?” There was no triumph in Trixie’s voice, merely world-weariness. From the Hydra, equal parts horror and regret. Bon Bon steeled herself and responded.

“How did you even know about the costume?” She waved a hoof at the fabric. “I mean, I’m surprised anypony remembers the Mare-Do-Well. I know I didn’t until I saw you dressed up as her.”

Trixie shrugged. “Fluttershy brought it with her to the clinic. I asked what it was for and she told me. Despite her secrecy, she seemed happy enough to talk about her days in Ponyville. Happier times, I suppose.”

“So, you brought me here just to use me as a conduit? To accuse Twilight and humiliate her?” The cream pony felt only irritation for Trixie, for all her talk of ‘no taunts’.

“Partially...” Trixie said carefully. “I recognised your external lenses as a Sparkle Industries implant for combat operations. I reasoned that Twilight would be watching through a Hydra implant. I would apologise if I’d talked at a mare who hadn’t actually been listening, but I hardly think that’s the case.” Her mouth twitched, and Bon Bon felt uncomfortable, as though she were being evaluated on a deeper level. Social implant, perhaps?

“What else, then? The soul gems? Do you want to negotiate?” The cream mare gave a nervous glance to Charity. Zantos may have given her the skills to fight regular ponies, but she doubted she would survive a fight with the augmented hulk without gaining a few scars.

Trixie snorted softly. “I had hoped seeing this place would soften your heart somewhat. Negotiate away the one resource we’ve run dry of? Give up the gems, when we can’t make or buy them fast enough? Don’t you understand? Yes, I enslaved your town for a week, but can’t you see Twilight Sparkle helped enslave the entirety of Equestria?”

“Twilight has no more love for MANE than you, Trixie. And the reality is, unless you give those gems back, the rest of Canterlot will be hammering on your door as well,” Bon Bon snapped.

Trixie gave her an odd look. “Oh, come on. As though MANE can’t create more—”

“The neuromancer’s dead. And the primary clinic’s in tatters after your ‘friends’ were finished with it. Not to mention a dozen ponies nearly got killed as hostages. Are you really that proud of yourself after last night?” Bon Bon had expected an angry reply, or perhaps some form of excuse. To her surprise, Trixie took a step back, horror evident in her one natural eye. The blue mare gave an uncertain look to Charity, who merely shrugged.


“Haven’t you heard what happened in the MANE clinic last night?” Bon Bon asked quietly.

Trixie’s gaze dropped to the floor. “I... heard some news, but I assumed it was a fabrication. All I did was teleport into the clinic!”

The cream mare rubbed her forehead in frustration. To her chagrin, she remembered the discontinuity between the Everfrees and Black Dawn members. Everypony involved had been expecting something different. “How did you hear about this raid? And what did you think was happening?” 

Trixie opened her mouth to speak, before giving Bon Bon a careful glance. “I’d rather you not relay this to Twilight Sparkle.”

Oh, the shoe’s on the other hoof now.  Twilight sounded as though she wanted to leap down the mental link and pummel Trixie herself.

She’s got a social implant, and a powerful one at that. At least, it seems that way from how assertive she’s being. I think she’ll be able to tell if I’m lying.

Nonetheless. Her superior’s tone made it clear there was nothing more to discuss.

The cream unicorn let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine. You’re only talking to me,” she said, careful to keep her downtrodden tone so that Trixie didn’t suspect Twilight’s continued involvement in the conversation.

Trixie narrowed her eyes, but seemed to relent. “All I heard was that there was going to be an anti-aug demonstration outside the clinic, through Charity’s informants. They said that all security systems would be down, and that it might be... prudent to take advantage of that.”

“And the gunshots, screaming, and me barreling through the door to the soul gem room didn’t clue you in that something had gone wrong?” Bon Bon deadpanned. The remark earned her another glare from the blue unicorn.

“Those demonstrations rarely go as planned. I thought things had perhaps gotten out of hoof—” She raised a hoof to stop Bon Bon’s retort. “Nopony thought it would be a Black Dawn raid. I... re-distributed those gems, yes. And I knew enough about the security hack to wear the costume for the cameras. But I would never work with those animals in Black Dawn.” She spun on the spot and waved a hoof at the window. “Look at this place. I built this up from scratch. Why would I ever ally with ponies who would happily burn it to the ground?”

Bon Bon let out a sigh. “I’m only running with what information I have. I’m not saying you outright agreed to help them; practically every pony in there had a different idea of why they were there.” She looked back up at Trixie. “But now you know what was going on there—”

“I’m not giving the gems back,” Trixie cut in. “I can’t. More and more ponies come to us every day, and we can barely keep on top of things as they are.”

“You said you were able to make soul gems? How? A neuromancer, hidden away somewhere?”

“Every unicorn who comes here is asked to donate some magical energy back. There are a few here who are able to actually weave the energy into enchantments, myself included,” Trixie explained.

Bon Bon frowned at Trixie. “What do you mean? Soul gems can only be produced by unicorns with neuromancy as their cutie mark talent.”

The blue unicorn shrugged. “Necessity is the mother of invention. These gems and their constituent enchanments aren’t nearly as good as MANE-grade ones, but they’re all we have. Too many ponies here for any other form of neuromantic treatment.” She looked at Bon Bon, her natural eye glinting. “If we can have a way to create more efficient enchantments, then we’ll be able to stay on top of things. And perhaps we won’t need those stolen gems so badly any more. Maybe you should ask Twilight?”

Fascinating... They figured out how to hack together neuromantic support? This community goes far deeper than I thought it would.

Are you willing to give them the enchantments? More importantly, are you able to?

Yes, I’ve done more than a little unofficial personal research into neuromancy. It shouldn’t be too difficult to catalogue it. It would be highly illegal, though...

I’m pretty sure my current job is on the bounds of legality, Twilight, Bon Bon shot back.

Granted, I’m none too concerned about stepping on MANE’s hooves. But this would be betraying Celestia and Luna’s trust too, and giving away free treatment when some ponies still have to pay a small fortune for it. Twilight sounded reluctant to even list the facts. On the other hoof, I can’t see any other peaceful solution to this, and I can’t say this clinic is an inherently bad thing...

Then what do you suggest?

There was a long pause as Twilight contemplated. Bon Bon began to feel slightly uncomfortable in her silence. Trixie sat at her desk, her cheek resting lazily on an upraised forehoof. Finally, Twilight spoke again.

I’ll agree, on two conditions. First, she tells me everything she can about Fluttershy. If they became friends as well, and if Fluttershy and I fell out of contact... I want to fill in the gaps. I want her back. Twilight sounded hurt, betrayed, even. Second, I want to know how this clinic was founded. Perhaps there’s some future in a structure like this, outside the Canterlot slums. For now, getting those gems back is the only way to keep Alpha Wave from doing anything more drastic, and the only way to keep this situation from spiralling out of control.

I’ll see what she says. Bon Bon cleared her throat, and spoke up, “Twilight would be willing to make that trade... provided she gets a little information out of this.”

Trixie narrowed her eyes at her. “Like what?”

“How this clinic was founded, and how Fluttershy came to you.”

The blue unicorn raised her eyebrows and smirked. “Well, I should have guessed as much. A little history lesson, huh?” She turned back to the window. “Well, there’s nothing too complex to it. Ten years ago, I damaged my eye with one of my show spells. I could have waited a few months for a healing ward to fully restore the vision, but I was an impatient mare, and I could hardly perform shows without depth perception.”

Bon Bon frowned, wondering where Trixie was going with her story. Truthfully, the silent, threatening presence of Charity was making her more uncomfortable by the moment, and she didn’t want to stay longer than absolutely necessary.

“I was living in Manehatten at the time, and T & S—or, the Rich Institute, as it was still known back then—were performing clinical trials for a new eye prosthetic they had produced. I was impatient enough to go for it, and for a while, everything was perfect. I had a shiny new eye, along with augmented vision, and all the free neuromancy I needed.”

“Right...” Bon Bon said.

“Until nine months afterwards, when the trial was suddenly pulled. Along with the funding. And I was left to try and sort out my own finances. In my desperation, I ran to Canterlot, thinking I could secure a show that was well-paid enough to keep my neuromancy going. I was so... sure of myself... I ignored the burning sensations in my eye socket, the nausea, the headaches and twinges. You know, all the usual symptoms of augmentation rejection.” Trixie wore a mirthless smile. “Next thing I know, I’m waking up on a MANE operating table, with my fancy implant dug out and a bandage over my socket.”

“The one service they offer that’s free, huh?” Bon Bon asked quietly.

The blue mare nodded. “Yes... and also the consultation that told me my optic nerve was so badly degraded by the rejection, I would never be able to have another implant installed. And of course, nopony wants to see the conjuror with a big, scary eyepatch... Within a month, I was down here, doing whatever it took to survive. One thing I can be thankful to the Dreadnoughts for: they always have a job going if you’re desperate enough.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Bon Bon said.

Are you, though? It’s surprising just how many ponies fall through the gaps to end up here... particularly the number who thought they were perfectly secure in their homes,” Trixie said, scuffing at the floor, her mouth twisting. “Some of them were able to put together support networks, but they were small and disparate.”

“So how did somepony like you end up leading a clinic like this?” Bon Bon asked, cocking her head.

“None of the do-gooders had a real strategy. I’m an egotist; I’ve always been aware of that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try and get praise through philanthropic means. I thought I could succeed where others had failed, become a hero these ponies needed.” Trixie smirked.

I’m beginning to regret asking her this. I wanted the clinic’s history, not her life story, Twilight said in disgruntlement.

Bon Bon waved a hoof at the blue unicorn impatiently. “Spare me the self-aggrandising. How did you found the clinic?”

Trixie raised her eyebrows, but continued, “Once I managed to gather these various ponies, it was surprisingly simple. I think they just needed somepony to give them the courage to come together, to defy both MANE and the Dreadnoughts.” She waved a hoof to the window. “We found an abandonded market building, and pooled resources and connections. For a time, all we did was try and help ponies down on their luck as best we could.”

The cream pony nodded. “So, when did the clinic become more than that? And where did the names come from?”

Trixe smiled. “An idea from the original Hope. We would have a codename for the clinic, and one each for the heads of medicine and security, and the leader. I’m the original Faith, but there’s been a couple of Hopes and Charities. As for the evolution of the clinic...” She pointed at her false eye. “It began as an experiment. I found an orb the size of my eye and cast a scrying enchantment upon it. With a little refinement, I was able to see through both the orb and my remaining eye. A fully functional ocular implant, with no neuromancy required. And that got me thinking: what other ways could we install augmentations? Cut back on neuromancy? New ways of thinking... When you’re no longer tied into a method that kills ponies if they don’t pay for treatment, you end up taking some radical new approaches.”

How did I know that would translate into a dig at me? Twilight grumbled. Still, this is incredibly interesting. We could learn so much from this place, if Trixie’s co-operative...

“Slipstream was very proud of his wings. I can see that what you’re doing is a lot of help to a lot of unfortunate ponies.” Bon Bon mused. “So, that’s that? Experiments and philanthropy?”

“And staying secretive enough to avoid the ire of MANE. Stealing those gems... I never thought the clinic would grow half as big as this.” She stared into Bon Bon’s eyes. “Promise me these enchantments. I can’t let this clinic fall apart.”

Bon Bon nodded. “I’m sure we can. After Fluttershy.”

Trixie sighed and shook her head. “She never really said much about her past. Came here about a year and a half ago, and refused to ever speak about what she’d done before then. All I can say is she must have had some extensive medical training—she rose to the position of Hope in barely six months—and was staunchly anti-augmentation.”

“Anti-aug and working in an augmentation clinic?” Bon Bon asked incredulously.

Trixie nodded. “Well, Mercy is strictly philanthropic. I think for a bleeding heart like Fluttershy— the Element of Kindness of all things—there was little thought given to augmentation politics when so many ponies were suffering from conditions she could heal. I mean, practically every worldly possession she brought with her was turfed back into the clinic. But, I know little of her past, and she’s spent the best part of two years hidden down here.” She frowned. “So I was incredibly surprised that she was so very adamant that she spoke in public last night. I think she was under the impression she could tame the riots... Or maybe she decided it was time to reveal herself to the world at large again. I couldn’t possibly say.”

“That’s it?” the cream pony asked. “Surely she had a journal, or a computer that she kept? Perhaps we could find the reason she wanted to attend the protests, or—”

“No.” Trixie scowled at Bon Bon. “No. Twilight may not like it, but Fluttershy is my friend now. I’ve kept her privacy for as long as I’ve known her, and will certainly not let Twilight Sparkle’s puppet root through her personal items looking for a reason why she left. Twilight had her chance, and she pushed away her friends for her precious augmentations. I am not betraying my friend’s trust, and I am certainly not trusting you of all ponies to try and find her.”

“You mean you don’t want Fluttershy to be found?” Bon Bon frowned. “It could be the work of a moment to find out why she left.”

Trixie scowled at her. “I trusted you enough to let you in the clinic. And now all you want to do is go digging for why Fluttershy left? Twilight already has her reasons, and she can stay out of this. As can you.” She snorted, and flicked her head toward Charity. “You can leave. Now. Tell Twilight she can expect the soul gems to start flowing back once I get the enchantment instructions. But you...” She glared at the cream unicorn. “Step hoof in my clinic again, and you will answer to Charity. Now get out.”


Dumped out on the streets of Lower Canterlot, Bon Bon paced back and forth, fuming. She’d been spared some dignity in not being escorted out by one of Charity’s brutes, but the conclusion was the same, anyway. Going back into Mercy would mean jeopardising the fragile bargain between Twilight and Trixie, not to mention her own safety...

...which meant that Twilight’s request to her was completely baffling.

Twilight, are you sure you want me to do this? Aren’t the gems more important?

Did you see how vitriolic Trixie bacame as soon as you mentioned Fluttershy’s past? There’s something more here. I don’t like having to ask this of you, but I’m very suspicious now... Hidden past, medical knowledge, and speaking at the protests? I. Need. To. Know.

Fine. Consider it done. Now, I need to concentrate. If Colgate’s available, I’d appreciate having her on stand-by.

I’ll do that. Good luck. The mental link finally cut out, and Bon Bon let out a sigh. She couldn’t help but feel that Fluttershy’s involvement in the clinic incident was running Twilight ragged, and that the normally rational unicorn was placing too much significance on the pegasus’ reappearance. But then again, she couldn’t deny everything surrounding the events of the previous night rubbed her up the wrong way, Trixie’s and Fluttershy’s roles included.

And so, she found herself in the market square where Zantos was waiting. The zebra spotted her quickly and walked toward her, a head higher than most of the ponies who flowed around him. The upright crest of his mane bobbed as he looked down at her. “So, how did your mission resolve?” he asked. “Did you move as a shadow?”

“Actually, as it turned out, the clinic leader was expecting me. So I walked straight in,” Bon Bon answered. “We have our soul gems, and a little more knowledge on why one of Twilight’s old friends suddenly came back.”

The zebra frowned at her. “You say you triumphed, but your voice does not lie. I believe events did not end as you wished they did.”

Bon Bon nodded with a sigh. “You’d be right to believe that. I was allowed to leave peacefully, but I’ll return on pain of being dragged away by the monster in charge of security, and probably ending the bargain we worked out about the gems. And now Twilight wants me to go back in there to steal some intel.”

“Ah.” He nodded appreciatively. “So, of course, there’s only one solution I see here.” Zantos grinned.

“Remain unseen?” Bon Bon said, the corners of her mouth twitching upward. The zebra nodded again, and clapped her on the shoulder.

“I’m glad to see you’ve taken your training to heart,” he said.

“So, uh... do you mind being a living coathook?” When Zantos looked at her in perplextion, she explained, “You’d be surprised how easily a change of clothes can make ponies not notice you.” He shrugged and nodded, and Bon Bon began to get changed.

Her magic levitated her saddlebags to the floor, and off came the coat and the jumpsuit. She pulled the two halves of the body armour out of the first saddlebag and put them on, one on her back and one beneath her belly. They clipped together, the vest just covering the seams where her augmented limbs met the remmants of her organic body, along with her cutie marks.

Next, Bon Bon removed her folded tranquiliser rifle and an accompanying holster. She strapped the holster around her waist, placing the rifle within, and tucked a box of darts into a loop on the belt. A few hairbands floated out of a pocket of the longcoat, and she used them to tie back her candy-striped mane into a ponytail, keeping one spare to tie the tip of her tail. Finally, she retracted her lenses with a snick to expose her golden eyes. “See what I mean?”

Zantos looked at her in surprise. “I do. At a glance, you would not resemble the pony who left the clinic. So...” He looked at the discarded clothing. “I suppose I’ll be taking care of this for now?”

“If I’m found out and turned to a pulp by the security ponies, I’d appreciate it if you donated it to a foal’s charity. Not that I’m expecting that to happen.” Bon Bon pulled out her stun gun, remembering the weak shock it had given her. “Except this. If you could get it fixed up for me, it’d be very useful.” She stared up into his green eyes, remembering herself. “Sorry. I don’t mean to order you around.”

“It’s fine!” The zebra laughed. “Don’t worry, I shall watch over your possessions. That’s what friends are for, right?”

“Yeah... friends.” Bon Bon smiled, and bumped her forehoof against Zantos’. He took her bundle and melted away into the crowd once again. The unicorn turned around and huffed, looking back at the clinic. There had to be some way inside without Trixie seeing her...

Her answer came after a few minutes’ prowling about in the alleyways beside the clinic. A ventilation shaft poked out of the wall, a ways above head-height. Bon Bon found a few discarded cardboard boxes, arranging them into an impromptu pile. She climbed them, pushed open the cover with a hoof, and clambered inside. As she crawled along the shaft, the unicorn reached out mentally to Colgate.

You called? Colgate asked.

Could I ask you a favour? Bon Bon replied, slowly shuffling through the vent. I need the blueprints for the building I’m in down in Lower Canterlot. 

OK, checking against your location now... Should only be a moment, as long as the place was built with planning permission. Anywhere in particular you need to get to in the building?

Yes, but I don’t know where that is. When a wave of confusion travelled down the mental link, she clarified, Twilight wants me to find and hack a specific pony’s computer. Unfortunately, I was ‘politely’ asked to leave before I could find out where it is.

Damn... Colgate paused for thought. Would there be any unique network traffic this computer might have? Equestrinet sites this pony might have visited? Any identifiers, perhaps?

Bon Bon pondered how much to tell her. It would probably become swiftly apparent that Fluttershy was the subject anyway once the computer was hacked; Colgate was nothing if not canny. Colgate, it’s Fluttershy’s computer. Anything with her name on, anything about the riots last night, and possibly anything pertaining to anti-aug activists, although that last one may flag up a lot around this place.

Wait, wait, Fluttershy?! What’s she got to do with this place?

Long story. I should let Twilight decide how much to fill you in on the details. It’s her friend, after all. But she has a lot of information sequestered on a computer here, and Twilight wants to know what’s on there.

Right... The usually bouncy unicorn sounded stunned. Sounds like there’s gonna be some trouble brewing with the boss...

You’re telling me. Bon Bon paused as she reached the end of the shaft. Just before popping the cover open, a wireframe model of the building popped up in her augmented vision, gradually zooming down to the floor she was on. Her heart sank as she realised just how many rooms and passageways there were in the clinic; the chances of happening upon Hope’s office without being detected would be slim-to-none.

There’s the map, anyway. I’ll run some network searches, but it might take a while. If you could narrow it down further—traffic flags or physical location—I’ll be done a lot quicker.

Understood. She pushed open the vent and crawled out into a small room. Shelving units held all kinds of odds-and-ends, mostly pieces of augmentations, presumably held in reserve for repairs and replacements. It was dim, and a faint layer of dust covered the shelves; evidently, nopony came in there frequently. Bon Bon figured she could afford to wait until Colgate came back to her with the network analysis.

As she looked around the chamber, she spotted a faint rainbow sheen, glowing out from beneath a sheet. She walked over and pushed the gem aside with a hoof. It revealed a soul gem, placed atop a note. ‘Consider us even,’ it said. Bon Bon noted it had been written on a torn piece of newspaper, the date printed on it from nearly four months prior. She debated internally for a moment, before picking up the gem. Likely as not, the recipient had died out in the mean streets of Lower Canterlot before collecting it; somepony else could make better use of it. She wrapped it in the paper and put it in an empty loop on her rifle holster.

Any luck? she asked Colgate.

Still running. There’s a lot of computers networked to the nearest node, although I reckon most of them are just used for administration, if this is a clinic.

I’ll see if I can narrow it down. Bon Bon walked over to the door and opened it a crack. When she was sure nopony was looking, she quickly stepped out, trotting down the corridor swiftly, lest anypony wonder where she’d come from.

Once out into an intersecting corridor, the unicorn lost herself in the crowd, walking through the floor in a random fashion. Despite shedding her previous outfit, she was well-aware her appearance would not stand much scrutiny to anypony who had been alerted by Trixie. Bon Bon saw a desk, staffed by a pink earth pony mare in a blue jacket. She was stamping papers with her hoof, and looked up hurriedly when Bon Bon approached her.

“Hello there. How may I help you?” the earth pony asked.

Bon Bon concentrated, making sure her voice was altered from the normal one she used. “I’m, uh, a little lost,” she said, taking care to project a slightly ditzy persona.

“Oh dear! Well, what might you be looking for? This is the Neuromancy department here, and, well...” She eyed up Bon Bon’s various implants. “Is that what you’re looking for?”

“Oh! Uh, no... I was told to give a letter to a pony named Hope?” Bon Bon replied, the pitch of her voice rising toward the end of her sentence. “Do you know where she might be?”

The pony frowned. “Well, her office is on the fourth floor, but patients aren’t allowed above the third, I’m afraid.”

The unicorn shrugged. “Oh well. Guess I’ll just give it to one of the security guards or something. Thanks anyway!” She walked away from the desk quickly, the receptionist bidding her farewell as she did so. Fourth floor, Bon Bon thought.

Gotcha. There was a pause. Okay, that’s much better. A lot less noise there. Right... I’ll mark out the most likely computer on the map. No guarantees, but I doubt that’s the wrong one. Oh, and mind the security guards, if there are any; that computer probably won’t be easy to break into.

I figured as much, Bon Bon replied. I’ll head up there now. She walked over to the nearest staircase, trotting up the steps until she reached the third floor. The stairs above that were blocked off by heavy steel bars, with a locked door in the middle. A mechanical lock, to her chagrin. Just the same as the one leading to Trixie’s office.

With a snort of annoyance, Bon Bon exited out onto the third floor, keeping her head down as she consulted the wireframe map. There’s no indication of that door on this map, she thought.

Well, yeah, this map is of the building when it was planned. Anything these guys have done to it won’t show up.

Should have guessed. The cream unicorn continued looking through the map, but it appeared the only ways up to the fourth floor were the four main staircases running up each corner of the building. I guess all the ways up will be blocked, then. 

Likely as not, if it’s off-limits. What about the vents?

There’s nothing that leads between floors, far as I can tell. Bon Bon scowled. Let me take a look around, see what other options I have. There must be a set of keys somewhere... 

Bon Bon continued walking about, anxious not to stay in one place too long and be caught out. She knew staying exposed in the corridors was dangerous, but nothing was going to be achieved by hiding away in an abandoned room. As she entered a section labelled ‘Therapy’, she felt a hoof prod her in the shoulder.

It belonged to a bored-looking pony with a red bandana wrapping up her pink mane, a baton strapped to her waist by a belt. The guard levitated out the nightstick, her orange hoof never leaving Bon Bon’s shoulder. “Just a second, missy,” she drawled.

“What’s the matter?” Bon Bon adopted the ditzy tone again. She felt a pang of anxiety; had she been discovered already? “I’m a little lost.”

“I bet you are.” The other unicorn raised her eyebrow, her tone that of a pony who’d dealt with an unruly patient countless times before. “I don’t see an appointment slip anywhere on you, and I really don’t see why you’ll be needing to bring a weapon in here.” She pointed to Bon Bon’s holster with her baton.

“It’s... non-lethal?” Bon Bon offered. Her gaze dropped to the guard’s belt, where a keyring was hung. Perfect.

“Sure, and I’m the Queen of the Changelings,” the guard muttered. “C’mon, I’ll take you to the security office, and we can lock it up until you get out of your session, ‘kay?” she said slowly.

“Alright...” Bon Bon followed in feigned reluctance, calculating how best to steal away the keys without the guard noticing, and how not to lose her tranq rifle either. The orange unicorn pulled out her keyring, unlocking and opening a door into a small, windowless office. A large chest was against the far wall, which the two ponies approached. The guard disengaged the lock and shoved the lid open; the container was filled with a plethora of weapons, everything from simple clubs to firearms and even a pair of fang lances, each one with a numbered tag tied to it.

“Just drop it in there. I’ll put a number on it, and you can come get it when you’re done,” the unicorn said. She waved a hoof at the chest, keeping her eyes on the weapons within and ignoring her charge. Bon Bon levitated out her tranq rifle and unfolded it, pointing directly at the guard. “Or just, y’know, leave it here. I’d rather not see more trouble on the streets than’s already th—” She yelped as the rifle let out a puff of air, a dart embedding in her flank. Her head whipped around. “What the hay?!

“Oh! Uh, sorry. Trigger slipped,” Bon Bon said, shrugging.

“Y-you dumb, st-tupid...” The other mare’s leg’s wobbled, and she crumpled against the wall, whining as the tranquiliser took effect. “I-I’mmm gonnaaa...”

“I’ll get some help, okay?” A final moan and a snore from the guard’s mouth told Bon Bon she could drop the act. At least when the unicorn woke up, she’d think her unconciousness would be the result of an accidental weapon discharge by a careless pony. Hopefully she wouldn’t think there were any ulterior motives behind it.

The cream unicorn broke the rifle and reloaded, then gently pulled the spent dart out of the dazed unicorn’s flank. She left the unfortunate pony in a curled-up position; no need to cause her more discomfort than necessary. Bon Bon pushed the chest shut and took the keyring off the guard’s belt, placing it on her own instead. She slipped out of the room, folding her rifle into the holster and quietly shutting the door behind herself. She cycled through the keys until she found the one to lock the office.

Bon Bon trotted quickly through the corridors back to the stairwell, and walked up to the locked metallic door. She cast a furtive glance about, checking that nopony was in the immediate vicinity, before cycling through the keys in the keyring. A particularly bulky key looked like it fit; Bon Bon levitated it into the lock, and it turned with a satisfying click. She let out a sigh of relief and moved through the door. She left it unlocked, in case she were too quickly discovered.

She consulted her map of the fourth floor. The staircase was in the north-eastern corner of the building, with Fluttershy’s office being in the centre of the west wing, looking out onto the central courtyard. There was a corridor running through each side of the rectangular floor, with rooms either side. It would be easy to simply trot along and round the corner to the office... if the floor had been left unguarded.

        As she trotted out of the staircase, Bon Bon noticed two mares standing halfway down the corridor. They both had their backs turned to her, one an earth pony wearing a security guard’s collar, the other a pegasus wearing a doctor’s coat. Deep in conversation, neither noticed Bon Bon’s entrance. She tagged them quickly with her tracking spell, wondering how she could get past the pair.

        Bon Bon noticed a small opening halfway between her and the pair on her right, and began quietly walking toward it, keeping her eyes on the two ponies. She slipped into the smaller corridor, the conversation ending just a moment later. The unicorn held her breath and pressed herself against the wall as the two triangles in her augmented vision came closer. The doctor walked past, thankfully not spotting her, but the security guard hung about just around the corner.

        To her chagrin, Bon Bon realised the guard was standing at her post, and now she was trapped in the little corridor. Except... she looked down, and saw an air duct by her hindleg. The unicorn’s horn flared, and she quietly slid the cover open before crawling inside. She emerged into a small room that served as some kind of office; there was a desk with a mountain of paperwork atop it, a couple of shelves filled with tatty medical books, and a window with blinds closed.

        Bon Bon dispelled the tag on the doctor, who was now a floor below, keeping her eye on the security guard’s triangle instead. She paused a moment, pondering how to get the mare to move from her post. Casting her eyes about, she found a paperweight and tossed it into the open air duct, causing a loud clonk. There was a muttered curse from outside, and the triangle moved toward the source of noise.

        Once the guard was out of the way, Bon Bon quietly opened the door and scurried to the right before she could be spotted. She skidded to a halt as a trio of ponies came around the corner, each consulting a clipboard held in the telekinetic grip of one of them. She spotted another short corridor was on the other side of the room she’d just exited, and she dived into it.

        “My results have no bearing on your experiments, Sunflower!” one of the group exclaimed.

        “What would you know? You’re just trying to discredit me so you can take my resources and use them for your own department!” another, presumably Sunflower, snapped back. Bon Bon cautiously peeked around the corner, looking up and down the corridor. Behind her, the guard her returned to her post, looking confused. In front, the trio were having an animated argument, blocking off the route to Fluttershy’s office. Fortunately, a doorway was right in front of her, leading into a file storage room. Inside, sets of free-standing shelves sagging under the weight of years of paperwork.

        A window ran the length of the room, so Bon Bon was forced to crouch down, pressing herself against the wall as she moved to prevent being seen. Outside, the argument raged on between the three doctors, growing more and more heated. She ignored the squabbling ponies, focusing on the door at the other end of the room. Checking her map, the unicorn realised it would lead her out into an open space at the corner of the building, with only the staircase there as cover. Worse, the three ponies were standing right at the corner of the main corridor. It was as though everypony on the fourth floor was inadvertantly making it as difficult as possible to traverse the building.

        She opened the door slowly, taking care not to make the hinges squeak. Across the hallway were stacked a group of crates and pallets. Perfect for hiding behind, except for the three-metre gap between Bon Bon and the nearest crate, one of the arguing doctors facing straight toward it. The unicorn placed a tag on the pony, waiting for an opportunity to move. It came as the medical pony turned her head away to answer a snapped question, Bon Bon winding up and leaping across the gap, gracefully rolling to a halt.

        “Hey, what was that?” A shard of ice stabbed into Bon Bon’s stomach. Damn it. 

        “What was what? For Celestia’s sake, Splint, do ya have so lil’ faith in yer position ya gotta try distracting us with some made-up spook when we gotcha on the ropes?” the third of the trio said.

        “I swear I saw something,” Splint muttered, coming closer to Bon Bon’s hiding place. The unicorn shuffled around a crate, watching the triangle over the alerted pony’s head like a hawk. The doctor looked around for a moment, and Bon Bon held her breath, knowing any movement would give her position away now that Splint was almost on top of her, until... “Hey, maybe they went in here.” The doctor had turned to the still-open door.

        “Or, you’re still seeing things and one of the secretaries was raised in a barn, Sunflower quipped.

        “Hey! Ah was raised in a barn, and Ah shut doors behind me!” the accented pony retorted. The three returned to their quibbling, only this time over birthplaces. Bon Bon rolled her eyes, moving along the crate wall. Once she had passed the staircase at the corner, she crouched down, checking her map. From the looks of it, a nearby vent high up the wall led to a duct passing straight over Fluttershy’s office.

        Unfolding her forehooves, Bon Bon tugged and pushed a large crate into place beneath the vent opening. The three ponies’ blazing argument could be heard along the corridor—not much chance of them seeing her. She shoved open the cover with magic and hopped up on the container, before reaching up and pulling herself into the duct.

        Bon Bon crawled along the silvery tunnel, gazing through the grilles she passed. One room she looked at seemed to be some sort of laboratory, with bits of half-assembled augs and tools lying about amongst charts and graphs and scribbled data. The likeness to the labs at Sparkle Industries wasn’t lost on her. Maybe a little shabbier, but still...

        She shook her head. No point in getting caught up on musing about the past. Bon Bon struggled around a tight corner, keeping her map up in her augmented vision. She was passing over the corridor right now, and there was a grille right in front of her, just over Fluttershy’s office. Perfect. The unicorn closed the distance and pushed open the cover. She gradually climbed down from the hole, falling in an ungraceful heap upon the floor.

        Picking herself up, Bon Bon looked around the office. It was fastiduously tidy—not a single piece of detritus to be seen. The wastepaper bin was empty, the desk clear except for a computer, the glow from the screen providing the room’s only illumination. The lack of mess felt faintly eerie to the augmented unicorn, as though Fluttershy had known she wouldn’t be returning here.

        Bon Bon trotted over to the shuttered window, pressing a small button beside the pane. The blinds gradually opened, lighting up the room and showing the scenes below in the courtyard. The crowds outside moved about, and she could see the rock of the mountain above through the camouflage nets. Quite the view. She turned back to the desk. Searching through the drawers yielded little; they merely contained stationery, and to the unicorn’s surprise, an ice-skating boot. Dismissing a search for any kind of physical journal as futile, she turned back to the computer, concentrated, and opened the hacking interface. A large network of nodes opened up in her vision.

Bon Bon, wait. Colgate’s sudden intrusion made her jump.

What is it? she asked.

This computer’s security is... odd, Colgate mused. I recognise this network shape. It appears on a security system that’s higher-level than your augs should be able to access.

You mean I don’t have appropriate hacking software? Bon Bon asked dryly.

Hey, the hacking augs take time to integrate into your system, just like any other! Colgate retorted. It’s just that you shouldn’t have been able to get the interface up like that... strange.

Well, I’m not going to complain about getting a free pass. And maybe we should sort those hack augs out before it causes me an inconvenience, Bon Bon said, turning her attention back to the interface.

Despite Colgate’s assertions, the security algorithm didn’t take long to fall, the red node winking out in a blue flash as Bon Bon’s hacking overran it. Once broken into, the computer reverted back to its usual interface. The cream unicorn looked through the file systems, only for her eyes to widen as she realised that every file in the system was empty. Colgate, maybe this is the wrong office... she said uncertainly.

Try the mail. It’s not unheard of for ponies to wipe their files when leaving the office and leave a backup locked away somewhere. It’s kinda paranoid if you ask me, but that may have happened here.

Bon Bon nodded to herself, navigating to the mail. She opened it, noticing a plethora of unread mail in the inbox. It was mostly from others in the clinic, but a couple of names stood out: a ‘poster.paint’ username coming in from an official MANE address, and an address labelled as ‘Elusive’. She sorted out the chaff, first focusing on the MANE sender.

A list of mail came up, the oldest dating back to just under a year and a half ago. Bon Bon opened the first.

Fluttershy, I appreciate that you trust me enough to have kept in contact with me after leaving. I have to say, it was brave of you to go before you were ratted out to Sparkle Industries, but you must be careful. Alpha Wave is on the warpath; she’s threatening to close down the Analysis Laboratories until you are found. I think she was hoping to use you as leverage against Twilight Sparkle.

Bon Bon skimmed up through the mail, to one sent a couple of months later.

You’re still in Canterlot? And in that sort of place? I can’t say that’s wise, Fluttershy. What if you’re found out? Or get caught up in some gang war?

She flicked up further through the list. There were various replies from Fluttershy mixed into the mail, gradually changing from fawning and apologetic to more curt. The pony sending the mail had apparently grown more and more worried about Fluttershy’s state, ending in a final mail sent six months ago, just after the attacks at Sparkle Industries.

You’re still telling me you’re safe? After what happened at SI the other day? Are you INSANE?!

Fluttershy, I just want to help. I can’t believe this is the same sweet pony I was friends with. You’ve held me to a vow of silence, and you’ve forbidden me from seeing you. What am I supposed to do? Just let you get killed by some terrorists?

Please come back to me, Fluttershy. I still love you.

She looked at the reply that had been sent. Please leave me alone. There was silence for six months, then a frantic flurry of mail from the previous night, begging Fluttershy to tell them if she was alright, what had happened, where she was... and then a final one about something quite different.

Hey, Fluttershy?

If you’re still there and just ignoring me—and I hope to Celestia that’s all that’s going on—we’ve got the strangest situation. A MANE agent just brought a corpse in. Apparently, it’s one of the raiders from the clinic attack last night. They want us to analyse the body, but it’s giving off magical signals like I’ve never seen.

You’re the best in the business at aug removal and analysis. I know that. We need you here. If you can read this, please come back. I want this pony out of the labs as fast as possible, before some mysterious attack we get done in too.

And I want you back.

Bon Bon repressed a shudder at the language used. Fluttershy evidently hadn’t picked the best pony to stay in contact with from her last job. However, that gave the unicorn an excellent paper trail. So the dead stallion’s body had been moved from the police station to the Analysis Labs...

Colgate, would you be able to dump all of the inbox and sent mail into storage and get it to Twilight? I’ve found something interesting.

Sure. I’ll connect through your Hydra link. Might take a moment... A little progress bar appeared in the corner of Bon Bon’s vision. There we go. What have you found?

Apparently, our friend from last night—the possessed unicorn—is at the Analysis Labs. And those labs used to employ Fluttershy, Bon Bon said.

Seriously? How in Equestria did Fluttershy stay hidden there? Colgate asked.

Canterlot’s a big city, Bon Bon mused. Besides, the Labs are only a subsidary of MANE; they’re not directly connected. No reason for her name to show up anywhere. Although, from the look of it, she was trying to keep her presence in the city a secret from Alpha Wave after she left abruptly...

Huh. That’s probably not gonna sit too well with the boss...

You’re telling me. However, she already knows Fluttershy was down here; I doubt there’s going to be anything more upsetting in this pile, Bon Bon said. I might as well keep looking until the transfer’s complete.

She moved over to the ‘Elusive’ address’s mail, wondering why it kept showing up. The first one came not long after Fluttershy’s flight from the Analysis Labs.

My dear, if everything you’ve told me is true—and I have no reason to doubt it—then, please, come back to us. I know you’ve been hounded for your view on augs, but there’s no reason to shy away; we’re all open-minded, and we’re all still your friends.

Wherever you are, stay safe, at least. Promise me that.

She tried to find the mail that the message was replying to, but infuriatingly, there was no trace. “What happened, Fluttershy?” Bon Bon murmured to herself. She continued through the history, the messages following the same trajectory as with Poster Paint: requests to come back, requests to stay safe, requests to reveal where she was hiding.

Bon Bon couldn’t help but feel a little anxious at the wording of these messages, too. Not for the creepiness of the language from Fluttershy’s former collegue, but the all-too-familiar usages of ‘my dear’ and ‘darling’. Her heart sank as she alighted upon a message from a couple of days ago, sent about the time Twilight was activating her horn aug.

Twilight knows about your involvement in the protests tonight. She’s already getting her—or should I say our—operative ready to protect you, but my dear, you have to understand that you’re walking into the manticore’s den. These ponies protesting are not going to suffer rationality gladly, and I won’t be surprised if this demonstration breaks out into a riot. And if it does, you’ll be right in the centre of it.

Please, don’t do this to me. I’m already worried sick about what might happen tonight. Fluttershy, your presence in Canterlot is already known to Twilight, and she will find you now. I can only assume your break from cover stems from a desire to make yourself known again... but I want to be sure that you want to come back.

We all miss you dreadfully. And I promise, we will get our friends together again, regardless of this dreadful augmentation debate. But I can’t do that without you.

Yours truly,


Bon Bon felt her blood run cold. Rarity knew Fluttershy was here in Canterlot the whole time?! And after Twilight said she’d lost contact years ago... She re-opened the mental link to Colgate. Uh... Colgate, how long until the mailbox is fully transferred?

Just done now! It’s all been sent to Twilight. Why? You sound kinda... worried.

It turns out Rarity was in contact with Fluttershy in secret for the past couple of years. And we just sent their entire conversation to Twilight, Bon Bon replied dryly.

Oh. Oh dear. Colgate paused a moment. But that’s not your problem, BB. Twilight wanted the truth, she got it.

I suppose. Bon Bon felt a small jolt of alarm run through her as she noticed a triangle in her augmented vision gradually coming closer. Her ears pricked up as the faint thumping of a heavily augmented guard came closer. I’ve got bigger problems. She looked up at the duct she’d entered through. It was well away from the desk; she could climb back into it, if there was time to stack the office furniture beneath it. Judging from the jangle of keys from outside, that wasn’t the case. She swiftly closed the mail program and locked the computer, before ducking behind the desk.

“I’m telling you, Charity, we got an alert off’ve Hope’s computer! Somepony’s been using it!” came a voice from outside.

 I’m trapped, Colgate. Guards are about to come through the door, and it’s the only way out, Bon Bon informed her, feeling a faint panic rising.

Hey, you’ve got a thousand and one tricks up your sleeve, Colgate replied. You remember how to access your aug activation interface, right? I definitely recall there being an invisibility augmentation in your implant list.

Bon Bon brought up the menu in her vision, revealing a bewildering array of menus and sub-menus: options, whether or not to activate them, magic consumption. She quickly navigated through to the section labelled ‘stealth’, the sound of jangling keys from the frustrated guard in the background putting her heart in her mouth.

She came to the aug Colgate was talking about. Damn it, I can’t unlock this aug! My body’s isn’t acclimatised enough yet!

Well... if you’ve got a soul gem, now’s the time to use it. Colgate sounded equally anxious, also able to hear the guards through Bon Bon’s hearing.

And where would I get a— She felt a jolt run through her as she remembered the gem she had picked up earlier. Bon Bon’s hoof shot to her belt, and she tugged out the soul gem, tossing the wrapping away. Her heart leapt as she heard the key turning in the lock, and touched the jewel to her horn, crouching behind the desk. Come on, come on, come on...

“Must be in here somewhere,” said the guard, as he walked in. The gem’s rainbow sheen faded away as Bon Bon’s horn absorbed the enchantment, and the aug menu showed the first-tier invisibility aug as ‘activated’. She let out a tiny sigh of relief, concentrated, and activated the spell.

It felt as though somepony had suddenly wrapped her in a skin-tight suit, a slight pressure building across her body. Bon Bon could feel the strain—this was not an aug that treated the user’s stamina kindly. She waved a hoof in front of her face, amazed to see nothing, even though her mind knew the limb was there.

The unicorn stood up from behind the desk. The guard looked straight through her, frowning, and Charity glowered at her from just beside the open door, still clad in his cloak. She began to move slowly across the room; invisible though she was, sound could still give her away. Bon Bon walked carefully past the guard and the hulking, augmented pony and turned the corner.

She was already feeling tired from the mere seconds she had been invisible, and by the time she had reached the crates she had hidden behind earlier, Bon Bon felt as though she’d run a marathon. The unicorn slumped down, sweating and panting, the enchantment finally giving out and rendering her visible again. A frustrated cry of “Well, they must be here somewhere!” came down the corridor from the guard.

“Fan out. Can’t have gotten far. Look for a mare with a blue-and-pink mane,” came a rumbling reply. Charity. Bon Bon curled up behind the crates, keeping as quiet as possible until she heard hoofsteps going past once more. She felt her eyes begin to droop.

Bon Bon? Hey, wake up! She jolted back to wakefulness at Colgate’s voice.

Sorry, I just wore myself out from using the invisibility aug, she replied. How long was I out for?

Only a couple of minutes... but, gee BB, you sure know how to make a pony worry. Colgate sounded relieved. You okay?

Yeah... think I’m gonna need to get a bunch more of Pinkie’s cakes after this, though, she thought, feeling the faint prickle of oncoming aug fatigue. Time to get out of here.

She got up unsteadily, yawned, and made for the nearest staircase, unlocking the barred door back into the public area. Bon Bon wondered whether to take the keyring back to the unconcious guard, but the episode in Fluttershy’s office had persuaded her otherwise. She decided to keep them, just in case Twilight ever needed her to return here.

Bon Bon swiftly trotted down the stairs, occasionally colliding with the wall as she stumbled from tiredness. She knew that soon, she would need to deal with the fallout from the mail archive: the body at the Analysis Labs, Rarity’s secret knowledge, and Fluttershy’s own mysterious past.

But for now, Bon Bon fled through the main doors of the clinic out into Lower Canterlot, toward Zantos, her items, her nest, and some much-needed rest. And then, she would be ready for whatever tomorrow brought.


        Augmentation Activated

        Skin: Trickster Invisibility Augment

A first-generation visual manipulation implant, the Trickster bends light around the user to make them completely invisible. The implants require less magical integration than higher-tier devices, but come at the price of a higher magical strain while in use. A lower-strain alternative gives the user an ‘active camoflague’; blending into the background while still staying somewhat visible. The implants can be upgraded to put less strain on the body, or to disguise the user in other ways.


<<Chapter 6                                                                           Chapter 8>>

Many thanks to Burraku_Pansa of WRITE and to Darth Rex for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]







Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 8: Trial By Fire

        Bon Bon strode around her nest, yawning as she prepared a pot of coffee. Despite her exhaustion the night before, she’d been able to stave off sleep long enough to gather some supplies before retiring to her bed. Rested, she made a simple breakfast and examined her gear she’d retrieved from Zantos.

        Everything was in order and her new stun gun was stocked with lightning-enchanted gems. The zebra had assured her that the restored weapon could bring down even the stockiest of earth ponies... provided they were within five paces of her. Bon Bon put the gun down and took a sip of bitter black coffee, sighing in relief as the caffeine hit her system. She was going to need it. The unicorn had awoken early, Twilight having assured her that contact would swiftly be made about Fluttershy’s mail cache.

        She drained the mug of coffee just as a faint mental pressure came. Bon Bon steeled herself and opened the link.

        Good morning, Twilight, she stated.

        Bon Bon. I think I know what to do. There was a faint mania colouring Twilight’s thoughts.

        Are you OK? You don’t exactly sound like it...

        Well, I wasn’t going to go to bed with a treasure trove of information about Fluttershy waiting to be analysed, now was I? Besides, sleep deprivation is an old friend of mine, Twilight said wistfully. I finished the last of them about a quarter of an hour ago.

        Bon Bon felt a jolt run through her stomach. Wait, all of them? You didn’t...

        You mean about Rarity and Fluttershy being in contact? Yes, well, that was a... barb in the side. But I understand Rarity was caught between a rock and a hard place, seeing as Fluttershy didn’t want to be found. And given that I would have turned Lower Canterlot upside-down to find her had I known she was there... There was a pause as a wave of bittersweet mirth came through the link. Whaddya know? My friends know me better than I do.

        There was an awkward pause. Twilight, I’m sorry. I should have given the archive a closer look—

Don’t presume to tell me what I should and shouldn’t know, Bon Bon. You did as I asked, and whatever information you gave me was my perogative alone.

And the deal with Mercy?

Going ahead smoothly. Or as smoothly as I could hope. Trixie apparently didn’t notice you coming back into the clinic, thankfully.

Well, that’s something, at least. So, what now?

The Analytics Labs. I want you to go there.

Bon Bon let out a faint sigh and rubbed at her forehead. Is this because of Fluttershy?

No. The unicorn from the MANE clinic’s there. Twilight paused. Based on his erratic behaviour, not to mention what little information the police got from him, I’m certain some malicious outside force working upon him. If you could get a biological sample from him—or copy the data already taken—we could re-construct his magical signature and see what information it brings up.

That sounds like a hell of a stretch, Bon Bon admitted. Not to mention the difficulty in infiltrating the Labs in the first place...

You won’t need to worry about that. The Labs specialise in researching aug rejection and disposing of old implants. It wasn’t difficult to get you a pass under the guise of a private inspection of the facilities, in particular their handling of confidential material. I know you’re experienced enough in the field to pass muster, even if it’s not your speciality. I’ll have Colgate give you the location of the agent with your pass.

Fair enough. If that’s everything, I’ll be on my way.

Well... Twilight paused a moment, uncertainty clouding the link. If you can find this Poster Paint, it might help. Apparently sensing Bon Bon’s disparagement, the unicorn continued, Look, they sound like the sort of pony who could be easily leveraged with information about Fluttershy. Easily flustered and manipulated if given enough tidbits. And then you can have them lead you straight to what you want.

That sounds more like a job for Rarity...

I’m sure you’ll be more than capable. Bring me the sample and wipe away the mystery. And if you can find out what Fluttershy was doing there, then all the better.

I’ll do my best. But no more high-risk hacking. Trixie was one thing; getting caught snooping where I don’t belong in a MANE facility when I’m under the authority of Sparkle Industries will be far worse.

Agreed. Then I’ll see you once you’ve got the magical sample.

Bon Bon gathered up her things, dressing herself in her jumpsuit and longcoat, arranging her saddlebags and holstering her two weapons. I’ll be in contact later.

Very well. And Bon Bon?


...Thank you for your concern. I appreciate it.

Don’t mention it. Bon Bon broke the link and exited the nest.


        An hour later, Bon Bon made her way through the chilly pre-dawn streets of Upper Canterlot. The agent from Sparkle Industries had said little, giving her an ID card with a few personal details and a photo on it to allow her access to the Labs. The pony had wished her luck and moved on, probably unwilling to spend more time than necessary in the wintry air.

        Given their association with the darker side of augmentations, the Analytics Labs were hidden away from the more public areas of Canterlot, located amongst a group of Equestrian Civil Service buildings. Unlike the MANE clinics, it gave away little clue as to what was located within. Just another muted marble building on the street, with windows tinted to prevent prying eyes from seeing in.

        Bon Bon’s hooves clacked against the cobblestones as she walked up to the main entrance. She froze in sudden confusion, realising there was no door at street level, despite a set of steps leading up to the wall. Frowning, the unicorn walked up the steps to the wall and gave it an experimental knock. All that happened was a dull clunk as artificial hoof met stone. “I don’t know what I was expecting,” she muttered.

        Suddenly, there was a whirr as a hologram of a yellow unicorn’s head appeared in front of Bon Bon’s face, making the cream pony recoil slightly in surprise. “State your business,” the projection said primly.

        “Uh... I’m from Sparkle Industries,” Bon Bon said uncertainly. She fished out her identification and held it up with her magic. “Here.”

        The holographic mare studied the card briefly with her hard emerald eyes, before nodding. “Ah, the inspector. I do apologise for the inconvenience, but full lockdown procedures have now become standard ever since the attack on Central Clinic. Please stand back.” Bon Bon obliged and the projection winked out. The section of wall in front of her shimmered and gradually coalesced into a grandoise pillared doorway with a thick wooden door.

        After a moment, the door swung inward, revealing the unicorn who had spoken to her through the holographic interface. She stood about half a head shorter than Bon Bon and wore a white lab coat. She shook back her lime green mane, gazing up at the cream mare. “Good morning,” she said.

        Bon Bon nodded in greeting. “Good morning. I believe Twilight Sparkle contacted the Labs concerning an investigation into disposal of confidential implants?” Despite the six-month lull, the language of the experimental aug trade rolled off her tongue easily.

        “Well, I... uh, let me check.” The little mare went quiet and her expression became slightly vacant, evidently tapped into a Hydra implant. She snapped back to the present after a brief pause and gave a nod. “We are aware of this visit. Although perhaps we assumed this inspection would be made later in the day.”

        “Shall I come back later?” Bon Bon asked.

        “Not at all! I am perfectly able to guide you around the laboratories.” The small mare extended a hoof in greeting. “Lime Jelly, at your service.”

        Bon Bon shook the proffered hoof. “Thank you.”

        Lime Jelly turned around and led Bon Bon into the facility, the door closing behind the pair. The corridors were softly lit, with cream-coloured walls and white linoleum floors, reminding the augmented unicorn of her old laboratories. “I apologise if I appear to be glossing over anything,” Lime piped up. “I’m afraid we have quite the conflict-of-interest issue here, as you’re from a competitive firm. Issues of industrial espionage and all.”

“Understandable,” Bon Bon answered. A feeling of unease began to worm through her as she considered the apology. Why was Lime Jelly so eager to tell her that? She began wonder whether having the Sparkle Industries name hanging over her had caused the staff to close ranks.

Her suspicions only grew as Lime Jelly showed her the bare minimum of what she needed to see. The Labs reminded Bon Bon of an aug assembly plant, with some ponies taking artificial limbs apart with the aid of mechanised arms and others studying the parts through microscopes or arcane analysers. She made a show of making notes about the various areas, from the large incinerators that destroyed the failed implants to the secure storage containers. True to her word, Lime glossed over every detail, pointing out only the most obvious points of interest.

“So, where do these implants come from?” Bon Bon asked as they walked down another corridor in the labrynthine Labs. “Do you operate on Augs here, or take them from the MANE clinics, or...?”

“That’s confidential,” the little mare said.

“So you just expect me to believe they just appear out of thin air?” Bon Bon deadpanned.

“Hardly. But I thought you would understand that these devices come from some very unfortunate ponies. There’s no need to pry as to where they had them removed,” Lime said primly.

The augmented unicorn glowered at her. So much for getting to the body of the possessed pony with the leave of the Labs staff. “Is there anypony else I can speak to?”

Lime Jelly stopped in her tracks and stared up at her. “Beg pardon?”

“I’m just saying that this all seems rather... rehearsed,” Bon Bon said airily. “I was wondering whether there’s anypony else I can ask about the facilities who is less prepared for my visit.”

The smaller unicorn frowned for a moment. “Well, there was one pony your employer asked for,” she offered. “I could take you to him.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Bon Bon replied.

Lime let out a small sigh and nodded. “Follow me, then.” She led Bon Bon to a nearby office and knocked on the door. “Poster Paint? The inspector’s here.”

Bon Bon felt a jolt run through her. Poster Paint? Really, Twilight? Her internal musing was cut short as a deep blue pegasus opened the door, grinning apologetically, his red-and-yellow mane in a chaotic state. Like Lime, he wore a lab coat. “Ah! Yes. I heard I was needed. Asked after by Twilight Sparkle herself, eh?”

“Just give her what she wants and get her out of here,” Lime muttered under her breath to him, apparently unaware Bon Bon’s augmented hearing could pick up her hushed speech. The little mare nodded to Bon Bon and scurried off, leaving the pair alone.

“Well, do come in!” Poster said jovially. Bon Bon obliged, walking into the spacious office and closing the door behind her. The chamber was sparsely decorated; a desk overflowing with paperwork, shelves full of augmentation textbooks, a wilting pot plant in the corner. In place of a window, a large painting of the vista from Mount Canterlot hung on the wall. “Apologies for the mess.”

“I’d be a hypocrite if I complained about it,” Bon Bon said. She watched the pegasus walk to his desk, ensuring she was placed between him and the door. Just in case he became spooked enough by her questions to bolt. The unicorn noticed a framed picture poking out of the paper mountain, showing Poster Paint hugging a visibly uncomfortable Fluttershy. “Nice photograph,” she observed.

“What? Oh...” The pegasus frowned at the photo, nudging it down with his hoof. “Just a friend,” he said. “Now, what can I help you with? I hope I can be more receptive. Lime is a very diligent scientist, but she can be rather too uptight when it comes to matters of confidentiality.”

Bon Bon took a deep breath, before looking straight into Poster Paint’s purple eyes. “As it happens, my ‘inspection’ here is to do with that photo.” The pegasus blinked in confusion. “I paid a visit to a rather different clinic last night in Lower Canterlot. You might be aware of it? I was able to access Fluttershy’s mail account. Your name came up quite a lot.”

Poster blanched, looking down at the floor. “F-Fluttershy...” he muttered. “So, I’m sure you’re here on some revenge mission for Sparkle, aren’t you?”

“Hardly. Sparkle Industries isn’t in the business of sending augmented thugs to punish those who displease the CEO. But you’re our best link regarding her. Twilight wants me to track her down, which is why she asked specifically for you,” Bon Bon explained.

“‘Track her down’? What do you mean? Has she left Mercy, too?” Poster asked hesitantly.

Bon Bon gave him an even look. “Actually, Fluttershy was supposed to be speaking at the MANE clinic protest last night. She was snatched when the riot broke out, and as far as anypony’s aware, she was spirited away in the confusion.” Her mouth twitched. “And, seeing as she’s a Bearer of an Element of Harmony, it’s imperative we get her back, and soon.”

The pegasus huffed and clenched his eyes shut. “I knew this would come back to me in the end. I just—” He swallowed nervously. “I’ve never met a pony as perfect as her... Everypony else in this business I’ve ever met has been in it for the money, or the scientific allure. But Fluttershy? She did it all for the patients, for the ones who were suffering.”

Bon Bon sighed impatiently. “Look, while I’m sure you thought very highly of Fluttershy, this isn’t really relevant. I need to know about her past.” He grimaced. “I realise she was secretive enough as it was, but given that she was snatched at the protest and she was looking over her shoulder at Alpha Wave, I can’t help but feel she must have been hunted by somepony for a long time.”

Poster Paint huffed. “Well, quite.” He motioned to the books behind him. “Obviously, Fluttershy was quite skilled in medicine—a natural extension of her cutie mark talent, no doubt—but all I’ve ever heard from her is that she received training at some point after the griffon war began. She went to Manehatten to join a cadre of volunteer medics shipping out to the Griffon Kingdoms, but then changed her mind at the last minute to deal with injured mercs coming back from the front.” He paused for a second. “I’m sure you can gather the significance of her being there at the inception of the augmentation movement.”

The augmented unicorn nodded. “Of course. It might explain why she was so vehemently against them. Misguided anger after seeing the first patients, no doubt.” She rubbed a hoof against her chin thoughtfully. “And, the first research facility for augmentation in Manehatten was...”

“...The Rich Institute,” Poster Paint finished for her. “Yes, it makes sense. Back in the day, they were rather philanthropic in their ventures. It would make sense that she was trained alongside any other ponies willing to be medics.”

“So when did she come here?” Bon Bon asked. She frowned as Poster chewed his lip, his eyes shifting from side to side.

“Uh... well, I don’t really remember. She was here before me, so, um...”

The augmented unicorn rolled her eyes at his attempt at subterfuge. “Let me take an educated guess,” she cut in. “Sometime not long after the ‘tragic’ and untimely death of Filthy Rich and the subsequent folding of the Rich Institute into the T & S Medical empire by his daughter?” Bon Bon raised an eybrow. “About the time it went from philanthropy and kindness to a cutthroat competitive organisation?”

Poster Paint shrugged. “I suppose.” His eyes flicked up to Bon Bon nervously. “You’re not accusing Diamond Tiara—of all ponies—having Fluttershy abducted, are you?” he blustered.

Bon Bon shook her head. “Hardly. There could be a thousand and one ponies out there who might want Fluttershy abducted, given that she spent years in Manehatten. If she was willing to work at the Mercy clinic here in Canterlot, I can only assume she might have spent time at similar places in Manehatten... and made enemies there, too.”

“O-of course.” The pegasus let out a brief sigh and let his wings slump down. “I’m sorry. This whole business... such a shock.” He let out a sigh. “But I’m afraid that’s all I can give you. As you’ve already gathered, Fluttershy never gave much information about her past to the ponies she was presently with, and this place was no exception. I didn’t want to press the issue when she was here; I just extrapolated from what little she allowed to be known.” A look of regret appeared on his face. “Maybe if I’d tried a little harder...”

“I doubt it would have made a difference,” Bon Bon said. She rubbed her chin. Fluttershy’s past seemed to be frustratingly murky, but at least there was a further lead to take. Although, that would be a path to take another day. The augmented unicorn didn’t envy the ponies who would have to try and mine information from the the hornet’s nest of T& S Medical.

“I suppose not.” Poster cast a sad glance to the photo on his desk. “Well, I wish you the best of luck in finding her. I hope she’s safe,” he said, ushering Bon Bon to the door.

“Actually, there was one other thing,” Bon Bon said, standing her ground. “I need your assistance in obtaining a magical sample from the unicorn brought in from the MANE clinic.”

Poster Paint stood agog for a moment and a single laugh escaped his lips. “Would you like me to go and retrieve the Elements of Harmony, as well? Just while we’re on the subject of stealing things that are guarded well enough to make them untouchable?” He shook his head. “Besides, you’ll be needing to break into the central Canterlot police station if you want that.”

Bon Bon snorted in derision. “Don’t be so melodramatic. And of course the unicorn’s body was moved here”—she snapped her head around to face him—“or are you forgetting that we have your entire conversation with Fluttershy on file?” Poster gulped nervously. “Including you begging her to come here and help you analyse it?”  

The stallion rolled his eyes. “Fine. So the body’s here. Doesn’t change matters. We’ve had no luck in discovering what’s causing the magical interference. The corpse is off-limits to anypony unauthorised.”

“Not to you, evidently.” Bon Bon shrugged, trying to take a more passive stance against Poster Paint’s sudden aggression. She raised a pacifying hoof. “Look, I was there on the night of the clinic raid. I saw that stallion, and there was something very wrong with him. Whatever the reasons MANE had for dragging him here, it’s not helping anypony to have him concealed here.”

“I don’t care,” the pegasus hissed. “Alpha Wave had her reasons for taking the body here and I’ll be banished to the moon before I go behind her back. This isn’t just about me losing my job; I could be imprisoned, or even made to have a mysterious ‘accident’ just to get me out of the way!” He grunted. “Nothing is worth that!”

She raised an eyebrow. “Not even if it would help find Fluttershy?”

“N-no. Not even that.” He cast his gaze to the ground. “Don’t bring her into this,” Poster muttered.

Coward. Bon Bon scowled at him. “I didn’t come here to take ‘no’ for an answer,” she said. “And what if that mail archive were to make its way to Alpha Wave, hmm? A little leak, showing you spent eighteen months keeping quiet about Fluttershy’s location when you knew MANE were actively hunting for her?”

Poster Paint let out another mirthless laugh, glaring at the unicorn. “So, blackmail now, is it? Damned if I do and damned if I don’t?” He slammed a forehoof against the ground. “I can spin my way out of knowing where Fluttershy was, but if I’m seen letting you into the most secure part of this facility to pilfer from an asset that was locked away by Alpha herself, then I’m as good as dead!”

“I—” Bon Bon bit her lip as the pegasus cut her off.

“Shut up!” he snarled. “You think you can just barge in here and demand anything of me?” Poster growled. “Maybe because you’re all auged up and you’ve got dirt on me? At least I’m not the one addicted to soul gems and throwing my weight around just because I have a corporation behind me! What if I just say no, huh?! What then?”

Bon Bon filtered out Poster Paint’s ranting as he continued to abuse and accuse her of ever-more outlandish things. I need to convince him without him going to security... She brought up her list of augmentations. Must be something in here...

After a moment’s searching, she found a dormant aug in her system, with the unwieldy name of Social Telemetry And Reconnaissance of Emotions. Rarity’s own social aug? That should suffice. Bon Bon activated it, only to be greeted with a warning that she was possibly untrained to utilise it properly. She dismissed it swiftly, then reeled as her augmented vision flooded with information.

The unicorn felt dizzy as graphs and text danced across her vision, highlighting various points on Poster Paint’s body and face, analysing his speech and body language, providing a near-incomprehensible deluge of data. Bon Bon shook her head, dismissing most of it, eventually settling for just a couple of simple charts and an analysis of his general mood.

“, what, now you’re just going to ignore me?” Poster said with a derisive snort.

“I was just waiting for you to run out of steam,” Bon Bon replied. The pegasus gaped in anger, but she pressed the assault, her new augmentation goading her on to lever his weaknesses. Insecurity, cowardice, pride, tries to shout others down... tell me something I don’t know. “Now that you’ve calmed down, maybe we can talk about this like adults.”

Poster snarled. “You think you can just talk down to me like that?!”

“You don’t seem to have any proper answers,” the unicorn deadpanned. “I asked you about the body. First you lied, then when that didn’t work you tried to provoke me. What exactly are you hiding here?”

“I... I...” The pegasus looked down at the ground for a second, mouth opening and closing. “I’m just trying to protect myself!”

Bon Bon shrugged. “From what?”

“From your blackmail, your abuse of your inspector powers, from revealing things I shouldn’t even know...” Poster fluttered his wings in agitation, dancing back and forth on his hooves.

The unicorn bit her lip, trying not to be too distracted by her augmented vision. Poster was losing his staunch opposition, but the warnings about increased heartrate and breathing suggested he might be heading for another outburst if she kept up the pressure. “Look, I realise I’ve just walked in here and ruined your entire day,” she said, waving a forehoof. “And, believe me, I don’t like this any more than you do. “

“I bet you don’t...”

“But this isn’t a case of just ignoring it and hoping it’ll go away,” Bon Bon continued. “I’m sure that you’re a good pony; I don’t doubt somepony less scrupulous would have sold Fluttershy out long ago if they knew Alpha Wave wanted her.”

The pegasus permitted a brief, small smile, before realising what he was doing and glaring at Bon Bon. “Yes, I’m a good pony,” he hissed. “A good pony who knows when to sit down and shut up? A good pony who looks the other way when needed?” He growled and slammed a hoof onto his desk. “Don’t patronise me! You’re not the one who sits here, day in and day out, having come here thinking I was going to help, but instead ended up looting corpses!” He stopped for a second, taking great huffs of breath. “I don’t know what you expected when you came here, but I am done with buckling and bending over!” Poster crossed his forelegs, scowling petulantly. “Do what you will with the mail. I don’t care any more.”

Bon Bon was about to answer, when another notice flashed up in her vision. Low compliance detected. Use STARE? She frowned in confusion, before selecting the affirmative. Suddenly, she felt a surge of confidence, her lenses sliding back involuntarily, her eyes blazing with some kind of power. She took a step toward him, mind working in overdrive to put together her argument. “You do care. I know that; why would you be so worried about revealing this body otherwise?”

“Well, I—”

She stomped a hoof. “Listen to me. I’ve tried appealing to your better side and you refused to respond. But why? It’s obvious that this situation does disturb you, and you know that the Canterlot MANE organisation is rotten to the core. Why are you so afraid of Alpha Wave otherwise? That mare has power beyond merely being a controller of the augmentation facilities around here. We both know that if I get a sample from this body, it’ll throw a spanner in her works.” Bon Bon began to pace around the pegasus, who had been stunned into silence. “I can tell you’re at breaking point; you wanted to help and you’ve just been caught up in the corruption. But this is your chance. You can help me, and help break through this web of lies around Fluttershy and this dead stallion. Right now, though, you’re being a complete coward.

Poster shook his head mechanically. “I’m... I’m not...”

“You are. You’re the only one standing in my way. You have a chance to stop Alpha Wave in some way, and at least redeem yourself somewhat,” Bon Bon spat. “But no, instead you’re acting like a foal and refusing to help me, all because you’re afraid of consequences. Any consequences. It’s why you didn’t act on Fluttershy, it’s why you’ve sat here and kept quiet all this time, even as you loathed yourself more and more. And now, once again, you’re going to hide behind false anger, rather than acting on your morals.” She stared directly into Poster’s eyes, causing the pegasus to whimper. “I want to find out what happened and what’s going on with MANE. I want to expose whatever corruption caused this. So do you. But do want to leave me to go alone, while you stay here and stew in your cowardice? Or are you going to do what you know is the right thing for once?”

Bon Bon stayed silent for a moment, holding him in her baleful glare. Eventually, she blinked and the spell broke. Poster Paint stumbled backward and let out a quiet sob. The unicorn looked down at the ground, disgusted with herself. What is this aug capable of?! Rarity uses this all the time?

“Y-you’re right...” the stallion said quietly, still snivelling miserably. “I guess I’ve been waiting for somepony to give me the kick in the flank I needed all this time.” He looked up at her. “I’ll help. I can let you into the morgue. B-but I don’t know what I’m going to do about you...”

Bon Bon took a deep breath and smiled. She activated her Trickster aug and Poster gawped as she faded into invisibility. “Don’t worry. I have my ways.”


A little later, the two ponies made their way toward the morgue on the second floor. Fortunately, the early hour had meant that few ponies were around in the Labs, and word had spread about the inspection; nopony suspected the stranger in their midst whilst she was accompanied.

Poster Paint gestured for Bon Bon to press herself against the wall as they came to a T-junction. The pegasus looked around the corner, Bon Bon peeking around too. At the end of the corridor were a pair of frosted glass double doors, a camera above them. “That’s the restricted zone, beyond there,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure if the camera can see through an invisibility aug.” He looked at her nervously. “I really don’t know about this. What if it knows you’re here and sets off an alarm?”

“Given how far away we are from an exit to the building, I doubt it,” Bon Bon said. “I expect this will just be to log visitors, rather than for security.” When Poster raised an unbelieving eyebrow at her, she sighed. “C’mon, you know as well as I do that the arcane detectors you need to see through an invisibility spell are way too expensive to go fitting into cameras. Open the door and I’ll dash in after you.” She looked at the still-immobile pegasus. “Anything else? Guards? More cameras?”

Poster shook his head. “No... there’s no more cameras. They’d rather not have any video evidence of the experimental augs and surgery they’re doing in there.” He rubbed his chin. “There’s one security hub in the centre, with a couple of guards. I’ll need to go in there to have them unlock the morgue, but if they see you...”

Bon Bon frowned. “Do they accompany you to the morgue?”

“No, they just need to verify who you are.”

“Then”—she flapped a hoof at the restricted section—“what exactly is stopping somepony from getting in there? Are you sure you’re not leading me into a trap?”

Poster Paint shook his head vehemently. “The door is the only way in or out and it makes damn sure there’s a reason for you to go in there,” he said. “I don’t think anypony thought about an authorised pony being coerced by a private inspector, though,” he added with a nervous chuckle.

She nodded. “Go on, then.” Bon Bon waited as Poster rounded the corner and retrieved a card from his lab coat, pressing it against the wall. He stood back, waiting patiently as a pale blue glow was projected from a gem above the door, scanning his body.

“Verified,” an artificial voice announced. With a hiss, the doors began to open. Bon Bon was not surprised to see the slabs of glass were well over a metre thick and framed with steel; if her own experiences at Sparkle Industries were to go by, then if a door was worth securing, it was worth overengineering it enough to give a dragon trouble breaking through it.

As Poster Paint walked through and the slabs of glass began to slide closed, Bon Bon activated her Trickster aug, winking into invisibility. She galloped down the corridor, slipping through the doors just before they slammed shut behind her. She disengaged her aug before it left her exhausted and looked up at the pegasus. They were stood at an intersection, with corridors leading off left and right, as well as straight ahead. “Now what?”

“Guard room’s off toward the right,” Poster replied quietly. “Just stay here; there shouldn’t be anypony other than the guards around here this early in the morning. I’ll go and tell them to open the morgue, then we can head on in.” He tapped a forehoof against the ground, biting his lip. “Please don’t go anywhere else. If they catch you...”

“They won’t. And if they do, that’s my problem alone,” Bon Bon reassured him. The pegasus nodded and scurried off down the corridor to the guard’s post. If he gets any more agitated, I won’t need to do anything to get caught. She huddled into the corner for a moment, straining her ears to hear the conversation Poster was having with the guards. From what snatches she heard, they seemed mildly surprised that a researcher was in so early in the morning, but, to her relief, they didn’t seem suspicious enough to investigate why.

A moment after the dialogue died down, Poster Paint returned from around the corner. “Let’s go, then,” he said quietly. “Last chance to back out...” When Bon Bon raised her eyebrows and shook her head, he frowned and muttered, “I didn’t mean you.”

The mare simply shrugged. Don’t pretend you’re growing a backbone now, she thought. She trotted after Poster as he led her down the corridor directly opposite the security door. It opened onto a small antechamber, with surgical scrubs hanging on the walls and a large stainless steel sink on one side. Various bottles of disinfectant surrounded the taps. Bon Bon gave a start as a horizontal plane of green light decended from the ceiling.

“Just a decontamination enchantment,” Poster explained. “Cleans up anypony coming in or out.” As the plane hit the floor and rose back into the ceiling, the frosted glass doors on the far side of the antechamber opened, allowing access to the morgue proper. The two ponies wrinkled their noses as the stench of formaldehyde wafted out of the room. Bon Bon couldn’t help but suppress a shudder as she looked inside. At the far end of the room was a large, reinforced glass window, a faint shimmering indicating an enchantment camoflaguing it to the outside world. A few canisters of gases were arranged in the far corner.  Each wall was covered in vault doors, each one undoubtedly sealing a pony-sized refrigerator, all thankfully closed. However, running down the centre of the room were two marble slabs. One was vacant, but the other...

        Poster cleared his throat. “After you, then,” he said.

        Bon Bon took a few steps into the morgue and let out a startled yelp as the glass doors slammed shut behind her. Her head whipped around and she glared at the pegasus. He had also leapt back, his wings erect in fright. “A set-up?” she snarled.

        “Wh—no!” Poster insisted. “I told you, nopony unauthorised has ever gotten in here before now. Maybe there’s some security system I wasn’t aware of?” He prodded at something beside the door. “Well, whatever’s happened, the morgue’s locked up tight.”

“Now you tell me?” the augmented mare growled. She let out a resigned sigh. “Might as well do what I came here to do...” Bon Bon began to walk forward, then faceplanted the ground as she felt an abrupt tug at her tail. She looked back to see that the tip of her tail had been caught in the doors and that Poster was covering his mouth with a hoof, trying not to laugh.

“I was going to tell you not to touch anything else, but I see that that won’t be nec—” Poster’s gloating was terminated with a shocked squeak as Bon Bon unsheathed a leg blade and severed the offending strands of hair. “What is that?!” he hissed.

Bon Bon flicked her tail in irritation and looked up at him. “I didn’t exactly get to choose which legs they stuck on me,” she said. “If it’s any comfort, all I ever use these for are utility. Not as weapons.”

Poster nodded dumbly and sat down on his rump. “Uh... r-right. Um... what do you want me to do, then?”

“Just stay there for now. I’m guessing the guards don’t know anything’s happened if they haven’t turned up by now. I’ll get the sample, then we’ll work out how to get me out,” she said. Bon Bon walked a little further into the morgue, stomach churning. There was a single computer terminal in the centre of the room, between the two slabs. The analysed sample would be there, but a morbid curiosity propelled her past it, toward the body itself.

Bon Bon stood beside it, barely able to believe that less than thirty-six hours ago, she had wrestled him into unconciousness. His eyes were closed and a pale green sheet drawn over most of his body. Had it not been for the lack of breathing and the removed horn still held to the head by a scaffold, it almost seemed like the stallion was tucked into bed. The mare reached out with a black forehoof, pushing aside the sheet at the deceased’s throat.

She let out a gasp as it fell back; even with the blood cleaned away, the wound was horrific. A schism in the flesh reached across the stallion’s neck, deep enough to almost cleave through the bone. Bon Bon’s head spun as she imagined the sort of force required to cause such damage. Maybe a unicorn desperate enough to end his life could have done this to himself. Or maybe a griffon had somehow found her way into the room, drawn one of those talons across and...

A tremor ran through Bon Bon and she hastily pushed the sheet back. Now was not the time to speculate on such things. Instead, she regarded the computer. As she expected, the terminal was locked. “Got a password for this thing?” she said, turning her head back toward the door.

Poster scratched his head. “Uh… what was it?” He chewed his lip and stared at the ground. “Try ‘false_cadence’?” he said tentatively, enunciating each character seperately. “Musical ponies, eh?” He chuckled.

Bon Bon typed it in and nodded as the terminal accepted the password, opening onto a mess of files and folders. “And where will I find the analysis for this guy?” she asked.

“Good question.” Poster Paint grinned sheepishly. “The password isn’t really the security; it’s more the fact we’re not very good at record-keeping. Take you hours to find what you want.”

The augmented unicorn swallowed a few choice phrases she felt like spitting in the hapless pegasus’ direction and instead decided to call in the cavalry. She opened up her Hydra link and reached out to Colgate. Are you there?

After a few moments, Colgate’s mental presence oozed into her mind, sluggish and in desperate need of coffee. Mmmmm? What’s up?

Did I wake you?

Just burnin’ the midnight oil, Colgate thought back. Anyway, need something?

One messed-up archive. I need to get the magical signature for the dead unicorn out of it, but it might take hours and I don’t have that time. Can you dump it to the Sparkle Industries network like you did with Fluttershy’s mail?

Shouldn’t be a problem. Any direct Equestrinet access?

I doubt it, Bon Bon thought doubtfully.

No problem! We’ll just have to use you as a node. A wave of cheefulness came though the link. Colgate must have detected Bon Bon’s confusion, as she continued, It’s a magical network and you have a horn on your head. As far as the computer’s concerned, you’re a walking, talking aerial. Just fire up your hacking aug and point it at the terminal. I’ll do the rest.

Bon Bon obeyed, connecting herself to the terminal. She couldn’t really comprehend the link, but there was definitely the flow of something detectable to her, like a gust of wind compared to the spoken words she usually heard through her Hydra.



Nothing... it’s just, this all seems to be gibberish. It could be it’s encrypted, but if it were, it’s odd that some of the files seem to be plaintext. Still gibberish, but at least gibberish made of real words.

Well, it is supposed to stop intruders from easily extracting information...

True, true... Colgate stayed quiet a moment longer, before a wave of panic flooded the link, driving a shard of ice into Bon Bon’s stomach. Oh. Oh shit.

What’s happened?

This... this isn’t the real data! It’s just a decoy; meant to keep you distracted long enough to trap you! It must pretend to unlock if you give it a panic word and boot into a dummy system... Tricky bastards!

Then what’s the trap? Bon Bon gulped nervously.

I... I don’t know.

Bon Bon looked back at Poster, who was now stood with his nose pressed against the glass. The pegasus looked apologetic. “What have you done?!” she snapped.

“Th-there’s a false password... if we are forced in here like this,” Poster Paint explained miserably. “Last resort.”

“We had a deal!” Bon Bon hissed. “Whatever happened to standing up to Alpha Wave?”

Poster Paint squeezed his eyes shut. “I guess sometimes you find out you’re not brave enough to do the right thing. I’m sorry,” he said wretchedly.

The augmented unicorn blinked a couple of times, then shook her head. “Then what does the false password do?” she asked.

“It just locks you in there,” he said. His eyes went wide suddenly as he looked up. “Oh no…. why would they install that?!” The pegasus had backed away to the far side of the antechamber and was pointing up at the ceiling of the morgue. “I’m so sorry!” Bon Bon followed his hoof, then blanched as she saw what he was indicating.

From the corner, a weird, pale orange substance oozed from the wall, radiating intense heat. She shook as she saw an ethereal creature emerge momentarily from the liquid, before subducting back again. Bon Bon remembered the illustration from Twilight’s tome, and the dreadful description it came with. “Chaosfire,” she breathed.

At her intonation, the liquid suddenly burst outward, covering the entire far wall of the morgue, blocking Poster Paint from view. Bon Bon gaped and she heard an involuntary moan of terror come out. Her breaths quickened and shallowed, her artificial heart beginning to beat faster and faster in sympathy. Her head spun as hideous memories rose up unbidden. She wasn’t in the Analysis Labs; she was half a city away and six months ago, listening to her friends and colleagues die, watching her life’s work burn, feeling the agony of being broken by monsters, hearing Lyra scream her last...

BON BON! Colgate’s mental yell broke her out of her panic attack. She blinked, realising she had huddled behind the marble slab. The unicorn peeked around the side, whimpering as she saw that fully a third of the room was now afire.

“Oh no... no, no, no...” Bon Bon whimpered.

I’m going to get you out of there, OK?

Colgate’s attempt at pacifying her was lost as a fresh wave of terror washed over Bon Bon. “I’m going to burn!” she howled.

You’re not. Pull yourself together Bon Bon; you can get out of here!

“H-how?” The augmented unicorn gulped, barely clawing her way back into coherency. “That window’s half a metre thick and it’s the only way out!”

Look in the corner. Bon Bon’s gaze flicked over to where Colgate indicated, the other mare having evidently tapped into her augmented vision. See ‘em? Medical gases. Blue one’s hydrogen, red one’s oxygen. Let ‘em out, add a spark and no more window.

“Uh... uh huh,” Bon Bon murmured, still too skittish to think her responses back. She looked nervously over to the burning side of the room, only to see that the fire had barely moved six inches. Whoever had designed this security system was sadistic enough to slowly roast their trapped prey to death. “Wait. What about me? And the sample? I can’t let it be destroyed now!”

You can hide in one of the vaults in the wall. As for the sample? Uh...

“Never mind,” Bon Bon said, scurrying over to the corpse and grimacing. “Sorry about this,” she muttered. She reached out with an unfolded hoof and gingerly tugged at the scaffolding on his head. As the malignant fire flared up again, the unicorn yelped. Desperation overriding her squeamishness, she slid out a leg blade and slashed through the metal supports, pulling out the severed horn. Trying not to look too hard, she wrapped the body part in a couple of paper towels left by the slab and tucked it in an inner pocket of her coat.

A wave of faint revulsion passed through the mental link. Well, I guess that’s good a way as any. Now, come on! Colgate urged her.

Bon Bon ran to the corner, the heat now growing unbearable in the burning room and faint alarms audible throughout the building. She pulled out a red and a blue canister each with her forelegs, tossing them in front of the window. Her talons worked over the valves, opening them fully and being rewarded with a hissing stream of gas from the two. I need a spark. She whipped out her stun gun and pulled out the charged sapphire. Will this work?

Perfect. Just give it a good blast of magic to destabilise it.

She tossed the sapphire under the gas canisters, then wrenched open a vault door as far away from the window and as close to the fire as she dared. Bon Bon scrambled in backwards, keeping her head sticking out. She pulled the door shut, shielded her ears with her hooves as best she could and focused on blasting the sapphire with all her magical strength.

Bon Bon didn’t so much hear the explosion as feel it; the crackling of the fire was replaced by utter silence as the shockwave hit her, seemingly re-arranging her internal organs and leaving her temporarily deaf as her aural implants overamped and shut down to protect themselves. She shoved open the vault door and crawled out. The window, save for a few fragements clinging to the frame, was gone. The body had since vanished into the flames.

Wow. High school chemistry was finally worth it, Colgate thought mirthfully.

Bon Bon shook her head, distracted by being able to hear the other unicorn’s voice in her head perfectly, despite being temporarily deafened. She staggered over to the hole and peered down, impaired hearing throwing her off-balance. From the looks of it, she was on the third or fourth storey, above an alleyway. A dumpster full of refuse was positioned right beneath the hole. Spurred on by her fear of the flames, the unicorn leapt and landed in the trash.

OK... I’m OK... she thought back to Colgate. As her hearing returned, she could hear panicked shouts in the distance and the sounds of sirens. She looked back up at the remnents of the morgue wall, thick black smoke pouring from the opening. So much for trying to be stealthy.

Hey, you’re OK, and that’s all that matters, Colgate reassured her. The sample’s a bonus and I doubt anypony is going to take some neurotic pegasus on face value. ‘The inspector forced me to open the morgue and totally turned invisible whenever anypony else was around me.’ Not exactly an airtight alibi. A wave of amusement flooded through the link. Now, let’s get you out of there before anypony comes looking. I’ll mark out a path through the back alleys on your augmented vision. Just follow it and don’t look back.

I will. Bon Bon pulled herself out of the dumpster, shook off any pieces of detritus clinging to her and began trotting along the faint golden line on the floor her artificial vision marked out for her. And Colgate?


Thanks for saving my life. I... didn’t think fire would set me off like that.

Hey, I just bossed you around. You’re the one who got yourself out of there. Colgate sounded relieved. And don’t you dare think you’re any the weaker for what happened back there. You think I would have been any better in that situation?

...I guess not?

Exactly. Now, get yourself out of there. And take care of yourself out there. A faint sense of exasperation came through the link. Wow, the boss couldn’t time it any worse.

She wants the sample now? Bon Bon thought back.

Today, in person.

Why isn’t she telling me this herself?

‘Cause she’s already on the Hydra. She wants you at the Rose Garden Tearooms at eleven and is busy inviting guests.

What kind of guests warrant that sort of secrecy? That place doesn’t mess about with client privacy, Bon Bon thought, her heart sinking.

Yup, Colgate thought back grimly. Hope you’ve polished up on your debating skills. You’re getting to meet all the other Bearers today. Twilight and Applejack in the same room, and Rarity and Rainbow Dash on the sides? This is gonna be a barrel of laughs.


Augmentation Activated

        Cranium: STARE

A state-of-the-art augmentation developed by Rarity of Sparkle Industries, the Social Telemetry And Reconnaissance of Emotions upgrade offers an unparallelled wealth of data about a subject’s emotional and physiological state, as well as an ability to literally stare the opponent into submission in a debate. The aug’s prohibitive price and ability to run on a plethora of cranial implants gives it the dubious honour of being the most pirated enchantment-only aug on the market.


<<Chapter 7                                                                          Chapter 9>>

Many thanks to Burraku_Pansa of WRITE and to Darth Rex for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]


Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 9: Secrets And Lies

Bon Bon found herself in a cafe in the shadow of the Canterlot mountain. She was huddled over a cup of coffee, trying to calm herself after nearly being roasted alive by Chaosfire. On her way through the district, she’d purchased a new holoscroll to replace the one she’d torn apart in anger a few days before. Her gaze flickered across the surface as she read the news from the past few days. The clinic invasion, the ongoing efforts to capture the perpetrators, the large explosion at the research labs earlier…

        However, she found herself unable to concentrate on the flickering images in front of her, her mind electing to obsess over the events of the past few days instead. Bon Bon rubbed her forehead. She couldn’t quite make heads or tails of any of it; so many extraordinary events strung together, with her at the centre of them all. She pondered Twilight’s discovery of Rarity and Fluttershy’s contact, Trixie’s shock at being implicated in the raid on the clinic, Poster Paint inadvertently leading her into a death trap and destroying the possessed stallion’s body.

        Either somepony knew about and had orchestrated everything that had happened, or a lot of ponies thought they did and kept accidentally clashing with one another. Bon Bon didn’t know which prospect was more terrifying. One way or another, she was developing a nasty habit of being the spanner that jammed somepony else’s gears.

        Bon Bon let out a small sigh as she felt a mental pressure from her Hydra, before frowning in confusion. It wasn’t somepony she’d been contacted by before, that much she could tell. She frowned, trying to reach out and open the mental link to the unknown pony. Momentarily, she looked down and gave a start as she saw the news on the holo-scroll had been replaced by Rarity’s face.

        “Wh-What? How did you do that?” Bon Bon said.

        “You bought the holo-scroll on company expenses, my dear. It was hardly difficult to find out to whom it belonged to, and it’s important we’re able to keep in touch.” Rarity examined her forehoof. “I mean, it has been a good half-hour since you purchased it.”

        Bon Bon rolled her eyes. “Did you forget about the Hydra?” she asked irritably, tapping her horn. “Or is an entirely confidential, uninterceptable communications system not enough of a challenge for you?”

        “Well, while I do prefer face-to-face conversation over a voice in my head, this isn’t down to my personal preferences. It’s more a matter of me not abusing my position of trust with you,” Rarity said. As Bon Bon frowned in confusion, she continued, “It’s just a little matter of etiquette. Inexperience with the Hydra is notorious for letting stray emotions through.”

        “And I’m sure you’d just hate to know what I was really thinking,” Bon Bon said flatly.

        “Indeed.” Rarity raised an eyebrow and placed a hoof against her chin. “In any case, I wanted to ask your consent before mentally linking to you. I wanted to give you a lesson with your new social aug, along with a couple of other things, but I’d rather let you decide whether you want to see them first.”

        Bon Bon narrowed her eyes behind her dark lenses, already feeling a knot of anxiety forming in her stomach. “Go on…”

        “Firstly, when you activated your STARE aug earlier, I trust you found it rather… overwhelming to use?” Bon Bon nodded. “As I thought. I could give you some subconscious pointers as to how to ease its use. I realise it’s not much, but I’m sure you know as well as I do that the mind learns best from example when it comes to controlling augmentations.”

        “I’d appreciate that,” Bon Bon said. “Although, what are the ‘other things’?”

        A flash of concern crossed Rarity’s face. “Ah. Well… As I’m sure you’re aware, every one of the Element bearers—aside from Fluttershy, of course—will be in attendance today. Now, we all agreed to arrive a little earlier than you in order to have our own little chat.”

        “So, it’s a meeting between friends? I can hardly begrudge that,” Bon Bon said. “What’s that got to do with me trusting you?”

        Rarity sighed and rolled her eyes upward in thought. “Because anypony with a Hydra—such as myself—can transmit what they’re seeing and hearing to another user. I think we can both agree that if you’d already let me establish a mental link, your ability to consent to me then opening my senses to you would be somewhat diminished, yes?” Bon Bon nodded. “So I wanted to ask you in this fashion instead: do you wish to see what happens at the meeting before you arrive?”

Bon Bon stared at the holo-scroll for a moment, stunned into silence. “You’d… you’d breach the trust of your friends that easily?” She dropped the device onto the table, her lip curling. “What is this, some sort of sick test?

“N-no, of course not,” Rarity stammered, eyes widening.

“Rarity, I’m not going to pretend that I’m ignorant of the Rose Garden. If ponies go there, it’s because they don’t want to be overheard,” Bon Bon said. “And I’m supposed to believe you’re just going to casually break that confidentiality for some of your closest friends?”

The exasperated exhalation that came from the holo-scroll was loud enough to disturb the ponies on the next table. “This isn’t an offer I’m making lightly, I admit,” Rarity said. “The problem is… well, I fear everypony in that room could use you as some sort of political hoofball. Bear in mind that Twilight will present you as her top agent to a group that includes Equestria’s most outspoken opponent of augmentations and a pony who has been close friends with Fluttershy since she learned to fly.”

“I’m really that provoking?” Bon Bon asked. She looked down at her artificial hooves and slid back her lenses, before letting out a mirthless chuckle. “Who am I kidding? Of course I am.” Her gaze flicked back up to meet Rarity’s. “So, this isn’t a test, it’s just you being devastatingly cynical,” she growled.

“They all want you to succeed, I’m sure, but I believe Twilight may provoke the others to make it apparent that she is the only pony—and faction—that you can trust.” Rarity placed a hoof beneath her chin. “Her actions recently have been worrying. I believe she’s driving you far too hard, far too soon. No offense meant to your achievements, Bon Bon, but to me it seems that she is using you less for your abilities, and more your symbolism as a phoenix rising from the ashes of that dreadful night.”

Bon Bon stood in silence. She shuddered, running a hoof over her body. So many augmentations and implants… enough to bankrupt many companies, let alone an individual. Her training, her rehabilitation, every single instance of danger she’d been sent into… Had that all been Twilight trying to resurrect the Deep Labs through her miraculous survival? “That.. that’s not…” She clenched her eyes shut. “I’m not her attack hound,” she insisted.

“And I agree completely,” Rarity said softly. “Which is why I want to try and reduce her influence over you a little and let you make your own observations. It doesn’t help one bit that every time she’s sent you out, you return with another piece of information that furthers erodes her faith in the world around her.”

“The mail exchange with Fluttershy, huh?”

“That was my fault. I should have been more forthcoming with Twilight.” Rarity sighed again. “But that dragon has long since flown from its cave…” She gave Bon Bon an even look. “In any case, this is the reverse of me being cynical. Primarily, I want you to see that, beyond all the pomp and circumstance of our public expressions, we do still care for each other deeply as a circle of friends.” A faint sadness entered her blue eyes. “I am truly sorry that your arrival later will change their tone.”

Bon Bon simply grunted. “I’m used to it. I guess it’ll be worth it to hear what everypony really thinks of me before meeting them.” She narrowed her eyes at Rarity. “Of course, you’ll have the advantage that you know I’m listening in, don’t you?”

Rarity gave her a sly smile. “Honestly, I’d be supremely disappointed if you hadn’t picked up on that, Bon Bon.” She slid her gaze to one side in thought, rubbing her chin with the back of a forehoof. “Perhaps it’s not ‘everypony for herself’ out there, but I’m pleased to see you have a healthy amount of skepticism in you. So yes, I’m offering you this opportunity, and it stacks the odds in my favour. Whether you think that’s an acceptable price to pay, or indeed whether it’s something I would actually deploy against my oldest friends… well, that decision is up to you.”

There was a faint snick as Bon Bon’s lenses slid out to cover her eyes again. She took a long, deliberate swig from her coffee. Much as she wanted to pretend she was mulling over her decision, Bon Bon knew she would be a fool to pass up Rarity’s offer. But, a fool she would have to be. “Then my answer is no.”

Not a flicker of surprise crossed Rarity’s face. “May I ask why?”

“Because I’m not stupid, Rarity. Twilight may be using me as a tool, but I have my own reasons for taking her jobs, too,” Bon Bon asserted. “I owe her my life for giving me these augmentations. Of course I don’t blindly trust her, but I at least have some respect for her for bringing me back to the world of the living.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “And also, Rarity, your friendship with these ponies is strong enough to activate the Elements. I appreciate your concern, but I’m really supposed to believe you’d pick me over them? No. It might be useful to know what they’re really saying when I’m not there, but I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity just so I can get a leg-up on some other ponies. I can trust my own judgement on this one.”

Rarity gave her a half-lidded smile and nodded. “Wonderful. And you didn’t even have to mention the Rose Gardens’ Hydra scrambling.” She sat back.

“I thought that if you were offering it, you’d had some sort of upgrade to break through the magical hardening,” Bon Bon said. “Unless you really were arrogant enough to believe it wasn’t able to restrict you.”

 Rarity shrugged. “Well in any case, it seems your self-conviction is intact. Good! I’d be afraid if you trusted any of us too much. In any case, I think we’d better cut it off here; you need to get going to the tearooms, and I’ve got all I need to know. Ta ta!”

“Wait—” The image on the scroll winked out, with the news replacing it once more. “Great…” ‘All she needed to know’... Rarity had played her like an instrument! She let out a growl of frustration as she rolled up the scroll and placed a couple of bits as payment on the table. She quickly trotted out of the cafe and onto the road leading to the Rose Gardens, imagining she could feel the ever-increasing number of puppet strings gently tugging on every aspect of her life. “Well played, Rarity,” she said to herself.


Bon Bon stood outside a large white marble building positioned against the mountainside. Countless rose vines climbed trestles carved into the outer walls, and rose bushes populated the borders of the gardens around the property, filling the air with a heady floral perfume. A waterfall fell from on high and forked into two as it struck the roof of the building, twin streams flowing down and around the field, forming a natural moat. Tables were artfully placed amongst the pristinely kempt lawns, ponies sat at each one, sipping tea.

She began walking forward, crossing the moat over a small wooden bridge. A waiter bobbed his head to her as the unicorn passed. A group of graphs and charts sprang up over the other pony, causing her to grunt in annoyance and turn off her STARE aug. No need to have things distracting her now.

“Ma’am?” Bon Bon jerked and turned to face the speaker. A suited unicorn stallion stood to attention beside her. “A pleasure to see you. My name is Silver Service; I was told you would be arriving soon. Please, follow me.”  

“Uh… sure. Thank you.” She trotted behind the stallion as he opened the tall mahogany doors to the tearooms with a flourish of magic. The main atrium of the building was circular, with a large structure of glass capping the roof. Sunlight, refracted by the waterfall outside, fell within the chamber. There were yet more tables of quietly gossiping ponies within the dimmer room, each furnished with steaming teacups and silver frames of tiny cakes and sandwiches. In the very centre was a crystalline fountain, water trickling down the bowls in an imitation of the falling streams outside.

However, Bon Bon focused upon the ornately carved doors lining the edges of the chamber. Silver Service stood outside one, waiting alongside a cream-coloured earth pony. She scrubbed a hoof through her dark red mane and smiled in greeting to her, before her face dropped slightly. “B-Bon Bon?” she stammered.

“Roseluck.” Bon Bon trotted over to the stricken mare. “You… run this place?”

“Never mind that.” Roseluck ran forward, throwing her forelegs around her. “I’m… I’m so sorry,” she murmured. “About Lyra. And what happened. I… I should have…” She let out a loud sigh.

Bon Bon shook her head. “Don’t even go there, Roseluck.” She returned the embrace. “Thank you so much for your words, but… don’t beat yourself up over something you couldn’t have possibly stopped. I’ve done enough of that myself.”

Roseluck grimaced. “I know. I know.” She backed away a little from Bon Bon. “It’s just that I haven’t kept in contact with anypony from Ponyville except Colgate, and that’s only because she keeps trying to break through the magical network hardening here.” She let out a half-chuckle, half-sob. “Such a stupid thing, really. But, then I heard about the attack on your labs from her. I’m sorry I wasn’t… around after that.”

“Rose, it took months for me to keep my head around anypony I used to know,” Bon Bon said. “I... had a lot of things to work through.” She unfolded a hoof and flexed her digits. “In more ways than one. But, at least I’m alive. And at least I’m around to do something about that attack. I didn’t lose Lyra, or Dawn, or nearly everything else just to let the people responsible get away.”

Rose nodded and gave a brief smile. “Well, I’m glad you’re still standing after all this time, Bon Bon. You’re made of stronger stuff than most.” She flicked her head to the nearest door. “I’m sorry. I must have been keeping you. Just… well, if you need a place to come and reflect, or an old friend to talk to, I’m always here.”

“I appreciate it.”

“Least I can do.” Rose cleared her throat, before walking over and placing a hoof on the door, causing it to slide open. “Now, there’s a little antechamber in here. You’ll get sealed in there before the door to the interior opens. Once you’re in, there’s no piece of information that can get in or out, okay?”

“Okay.” Bon Bon stepped into the antechamber, before casting her gaze back at Roseluck and retracting her lenses. “And, Roseluck? Thank you,” she said, as the door slid shut behind her.

She took a deep breath as the antechamber fell silent for a moment. Her hoof tapped against the floor, the only external indication of the knot of anxiety in her stomach. What had Twilight and her friends been talking about in there? And what exactly would her arrival set off?

There was a hiss and the door to the interior opened. Bon Bon stood, immobilised, as five smiling heads turned to face her. Each pony was sat around a circular table in the centre of the windowless chamber, with a pot of tea in the centre. Twilight was sat directly opposite the entrance, with Rarity and Pinkie sat on her left. And on the right was an earth pony wearing a Stetson hat, and a hologram of a rainbow-maned pegasus.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash.

“Bon Bon!” Twilight exclaimed. “You’re right on time. Come in!”

Bon Bon walked forward slowly, taking a seat at the empty space between Pinkie and Rainbow. She simply nodded in greeting, catching a knowing smile from Rarity as she sat down.

Applejack took a great intake of breath. “Well, Ah’ll be,” she said slowly. “Ah didn’t think… well, Ah’d never have guessed it was you Twilight was talking about.”

Rainbow gave a derisive snort. “Is that the best you can do, AJ? C’mon, she saved all those ponies in the MANE clinic! That’s all kinds of awesome!” She tried to slap Bon Bon on the shoulder, only for her ethereal hoof to pass straight through. “Aww, dammit. I keep forgetting I’m not in the same room as you guys.”

Bon Bon’s lips twitched in the smallest semblance of a smile. “Well, it was just my job,” she said quietly. Her eyes flicked up to Twilight. “So, what do you need me for?”

“Ah suppose we all wanted to meet the pony who’s been sortin’ most of Twilight’s problems this last week,” Applejack said, pushing back her hat. “Ah had no idea who it was! And Ah didn’t know… well…”

“How much I’d changed?” Bon Bon said. She flicked her horn with a hoof and smiled sardonically. “Yeah, took me a while to get used to it, too.”

“Not to say Ah don’t appreciate all that you’ve done so far. Rainbow’s right; there’s more than a few ponies who owe their lives to what you did,” Applejack admitted. “It’s just that some of us around this table disagree on a few parts of your ‘job’. Ah’m not sure Ah want to leave the safety of Fluttershy in the hooves of one pony. Too much pressure and too little support. Ah think we should leave this to the appropriate authorities.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “As if that’s going to help!” she said. “The ‘authorities’ were quite happy to sequester away most of the evidence from the MANE clinic and go looking in completely the wrong part of Canterlot for the soul gems!” She waved a hoof across the table. “Bon Bon, on the other hoof, has already located not only the soul gem cache, but a vital piece of evidence, too.”

Applejack gave a cursory glance to Twilight, before looking in askance at Bon Bon. The augmented unicorn levitated the teapot towards her and filled the empty tea cup in front of her, letting AJ stew for a moment. She gave an involuntary twitch as she felt Rarity mentally prod her through the Hydra link, before letting her in. Rarity remained silent, instead driving the dormant STARE aug, giving her promised lesson.

Bon Bon had a feeling of understanding come over her. Under Rarity’s mental instructions, she suddenly realised quite how to apply the right graphs and charts to the ponies sat in front of her. It was like successfully tying a bow for the first time: easy to repeat, harder to put into words, and impossible to perform if one put conscious thought into it. She drove the aug to focus on Applejack, teasing out new information on her… and herself. Too many ponies had been defeated by AJ because of a lost temper. “Do you doubt Twilight?” she said calmly.

“Well, no, but Ah—”

“So I don’t understand what the problem is,” Bon Bon said. “I did what Twilight claims I did, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do those things unaugmented.” She looked up at Applejack. “Is that the problem here? An Aug—Celestia forbid—being able to do more than other ponies? An Aug helping you of all ponies?”

Pinkie gently elbowed her side and shook her head. “Don’t keep prodding her!” she whispered. “Everypony’s not been arguing for so long!” In Bon Bon’s augmented vision, STARE demanded she do the opposite and keep wearing her down.

AJ gave a long sigh. “Y’know what? Yes. Yes it is. You’ve done some brave things so far, but Ah can’t see this go on any longer. Not now Ah know about it. You’ve been through enough already, sugarcube.”

“Because you’re so concerned about Augs?” Bon Bon let out a derisive snort. She held up a hoof to silence Applejack’s protest. “Don’t get coy, Applejack. I’ve worked in augmentation R&D for years, and nearly every day I had to put up with seeing articles and poorly-researched papers from you or your Apple Corps lackeys, deriding everything we did, and trying to paint everypony with an augmentation as some kind of ticking time bomb.” She let out a long, slow breath. “Now, I’m not going to rise to the bait and get angry. And you can speak straight to me; nopony outside this room will ever hear it, anyway.”

Rainbow let out a low whistle, and the faintest flicker of a smile appeared on Rarity’s face. “She’s got you beat, AJ,” the pegasus said.

Applejack scowled at Bon Bon, before throwing her hooves up and sighing. “Fine. Forgive me for not bein’ completely straight with you. Ah don’t think it’s right to have Twilight give you task after task where it’s you versus the world. Aug or not, Ah can’t even begin to imagine the sorta pressure that puts on you! It’s been only half a year since you nearly died and had your body cut to ribbons. What kinda let-up is that?

More than you might think… Bon Bon jerked as she realised that Rarity would have heard her thoughts. However, the other unicorn gave no indication of reception, instead resting her head on a forehoof, watching the debate with lazy interest. “Trust me, it’s better than sitting and moping at home.”

“And in any case, what right did Twilight have to do this to you?”

“I let her.” Applejack gave a choked gasp. “Pre-emptively, that is. Were I too badly injured to give consent, I signed a contract giving permission to install augmentations that would save my life, were that the only option. Given that I was missing a significant portion of my body parts after that night, this was all necessary.” Bon Bon spread her forelegs wide, causing her longcoat to open slightly and show the scars on her chest.

“You weren’t a unicorn back in Ponyville, Ah remember that much,” Applejack growled.

Bon Bon smiled and tapped her horn. “I agreed to try out the prototype not long before… well… everything changed. As far as we’re aware, I’m the only pony in the world who can use this particular piece. Why waste it?”

Applejack began to grind her teeth. “Rainbow, you got anything to say?”

“Hey, leave me out of this!” Rainbow said heatedly. She shrugged her shoulders and sat back slightly. “Just because I wouldn’t stick any implants in me, doesn’t mean I judge others for doing so.”

“That’s your job—”

“So? Everypony in Equestria know the ‘rivalry’ between the Wonderbolts and the Shadowbolts is a load of acting straight off’ve Bridleway,” Rainbow said, wrapping the appropriate word in air quotes. “Captain of the Wonderbolts or not, I don’t get to tell any ponies who want to upgrade themselves what to do unless they’re in my team. In which case, they stay natural. Keeps it fair; you want augs, go to the Shadowbolts.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Fine. You keep yourself outta this, like you always do.”

Twilight cleared her throat demurely. “Applejack, I think that Bon Bon has already proved that she is perfectly willing to take on the sort of tasks she already agreed to. I personally believe she is more than physically capable of succeeding, and—” She cut off with a squeak as an orange hoof slammed into the table.

“That’s just it!” AJ cried. “All of you aug supporters are the same! You think you can fix everything; a new leg here, an upgraded eye there, and then everypony’s better!” She crossed her forelegs, an anguished look crossing her face. “You ignore the ones who can’t upgrade, even if they wanted to. You never account for the veteran mercenary still havin’ nightmares, nor the ponies who ruin themselves tryin’ to pay for their soul gems. Have you seen the sorta lengths some people will go to to keep themselves from aug rejection?” Bon Bon raised her hoof, eliciting a frustrated snort. “Still. You can fix the body with your fancy augmentations, but you can never heal the mind with them. You just tear it further apart.” She narrowed her eyes at the others. “And Ah will not apologise for thinkin’ that way.”

One of Bon Bon’s hooves unfolded and gripped the edge of the table tightly. She felt a comforting hoof from Pinkie on her shoulder, and Rarity shifted herself slightly in her chair, taking a sip of tea.

Don’t rise to her, Bon Bon.

I wasn’t going to. I just want her to stop picking a fight with me.

It’s her way of testing you. You just need to make her snap first.

What? Since when would that help?

Trust me, it’s her method of debating. Let the other sabotage themselves. I’ve lost count of the times she’s conceded to somepony after being broken down by them. Applejack and I are rather close outside of our stances on augmentation; we tend to appreciate one another’s methods of getting under ponies’ skins. Only difference is, she respects the ones who defeat her. I just come up with new methods of retaliation.

You don’t say.

I do! And I’m sure you know the perfect thing to cut her down with.

I don’t think I do… Bon Bon looked up. “So, you’d just leave some ponies crippled, hm?”

“No. But Ah most certainly wouldn’t give ‘em out to perfectly healthy ponies,” Applejack said. “That is what the Apple Corps wants: replacements, not augmentations. No fightin’, no takin’ augmentations off’ve ponies who already have ‘em, but some kinda sane end to this trend. We’re too far down this road already; every Apple wants a peaceful end to it.”

Every Apple? What about… oh! Oh…

There you go, Bon Bon, Rarity said triumphantly.

Bon Bon knew she was a toy in Rarity’s hooves by now. As if enraging the head of the anti-aug movement would solve anything at this stage. And yet, all of Applejack’s veiled insults had combined with the latent anger she had felt since the day she’d woken up in the hospital, new limbs attached and new life coldly dealt to her. She wanted to lash out at another with a painful past, just to make somepony else hurt for once. It was a terrifying feeling, and she couldn’t possibly stop. “Really? What about your sister, Applejack?”

The earth pony’s head jerked back and she glared at Bon Bon suspiciously. “What did you just say?” she said, her voice dangerously quiet.

“It’s just that I had a run-in with Black Dawn at the MANE clinic, and it reminded me—”

“That filly is dead to me!” Applejack cried. “She is not my sister! Not after she put that mask on! Don’t you dare insinuate that Black Dawn has anything to do with mah cause, you… you…” She let out a quiet sob, the others around the table shocked into silence.

Oh, bravo, Rarity stated. Like a red rag to a bull.

Bon Bon simply stared at the mortified Applejack, letting the deluge of guilt wash over her. Rarity, if I make a mortal enemy today, I will be unloading every last gem from my stun gun into your flank, she shot back.

I doubt that will be an issue, my dear. Just wait…

A few moments later, with Rainbow and Twilight trying to calm her down and Pinkie wrapped around her in a comforting hug, Applejack finally ran out of steam. She hung her head, taking deep breaths.

A wave of self-disgust hit over Bon Bon. What had she done? “I’m… I’m sorry, Applejack. I shouldn’t have mentioned—”

“No. Don’t apologise.” Applejack looked up at her. “Ah’m the one who should be ashamed. Ah can’t even imagine what you’ve been through—losing Lyra, the rest of the labs or your augs—but Ah couldn’t help but try and push you over the edge.” She let out a loud sigh. “And yet, you managed to stay standin’.”

Barely, Bon Bon thought.

“Ah can’t say Ah’m entirely happy with what you’re doin’; this is one of mah oldest friends you’re responsible for bringin’ back, after all,” Applejack continued. “Besides, you’re pretty much everythin’ Ah’ve ever stood against. Ah can’t begrudge the implants that let you live a normal life, but you weren’t built to just be normal.” She rubbed her eyes with her hooves. “Not gonna sugarcoat that.”

Bon Bon shrugged. “No need. And no, I wasn’t returned to my past form. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like I said, a lot of what I’ve done in the past few days would have been impossible without my augmentations.” She fell silent for a moment. “I wouldn’t have asked for this, but it’s a responsibility I don’t mind having. I want to help—I want to find out who took Fluttershy, and who attacked our laboratories.” She looked down at her artificial hooves. “It’s the least I can do, given who I am now.”

 Applejack gave a curt nod and kicked back in her chair. “Then that’ll be that. If this really is your choice, then Ah’m satisfied with believin’ you. And, as much as it pains me, Ah can’t accept responsibility for what Black Dawn does, or any of their extremist ilk. But Ah can try to keep the ponies Ah do influence in line.” She flicked her gaze up to Bon Bon. “Just, please keep what Ah said in mind.”

As good as you’re going to get if you want approval from her.

I’ll take it. “Then, thank you for the vote of confidence,” Bon Bon said. She looked at the hologram next to her. “Which just leaves you, I guess.”

Rainbow nodded. “I haven’t got anything against you. The sooner you’re out looking for Fluttershy, the better. I’ve been going crazy here in Manehattan—how am I supposed to practice or manage the team when one of my best friends has been foalnapped?” She rubbed the side of her head. “Got too much to think about right now, and there’s way too many things I’m worrying over I can’t do anything about. It’d make me sleep a little easier if we’re one step ahead of the curve in finding ‘Shy and bringing her back. I’d leave and come and help you, but—”

“Don’t be silly, silly!” Pinkie said. “You have your own friends in the Wonderbolts to take care of, as well. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing—they need you too! Just like we’ll be helping Bon Bon!” She put a foreleg around the augmented unicorn, nearly crushing her with a tight hug.

Rainbow’s ears drooped slightly and the corners of her mouth turned down slightly. “I guess… Still, it’ll be good to see all you guys in the flesh again at AugCon next week.”

“Hoo boy.” Applejack grinned. “Reckon you’re ready to square off with me at the convention centre again, Rares?”

Rarity gave her a wan smile. “Oh, I look forward to it every year! I’ll be sure to make up for my debacle last time.”

And the week-long ‘Bolts shows,” Rainbow said. “You’re all invited, remember.” She turned to Bon Bon. “And that includes you. I doubt you’ll be in Manehattan any time soon, but if there’s anything I can do to help if you are around, come and find me. There’s certain connections you get as Captain, y’know.”

“I appreciate it,” Bon Bon said.

“Okay…” Rainbow looked over her shoulder, a nervous expression on her face. “Oh, geez… I gotta run,” she said quickly. “See you guys real soon!” Her hologram winked out as the rest of the ponies in the chamber bid her farewell.


Applejack cleared her throat. “Ah think we should call it there. Ah think things got a little heated, and Ah need to make another meetin’ later today.” She grimaced. “Sorry to bug out on y’all.”

“It’s alright, Applejack,” Twilight said. “I think we all know we’re a bit too busy compared to our Ponyville days. We’ll see one another soon enough.” Her horn lit up and the door to the antechamber began to open. “I think we should make sure we all plan out our timetables at AugCon; it’ll be good to spend some real quality time together, rather than the one meeting every once in a blue moon.” The other three friends agreed and began to exit the chamber, Bon Bon joining them. As the outer door slid open too, she heard Twilight speak behind her.

“Is this what I gave it up for?”

Bon Bon turned around to see Twilight stood alone in the chamber, shoulders slumped. “What do you mean?”

“The alicornification, the princess status… my destiny, some might say.” Twilight bit her lip and turned away. “I gave it up for this company. To prove that anypony could ascend to a higher level of being, not just somepony lucky enough to be taken in by Princess Celestia. I thought it was the right thing to do—the only thing to do. But all it seems I’ve done is driven my friends against one another.”

“No, you haven’t.”

Twilight chuckled and shook her head. “There’s no need to mince words, Bon B—”

“I mean it. They all care. They care about different things… and maybe those things come into conflict sometimes. But they all want to make the world a better place, somehow.” Bon Bon smirked. “Even Applejack. They all want harmony, in the end.”

“Yes… Yes, I suppose we all still feel the same, deep down.” Twilight sighed sadly.

Bon Bon fell silent for a moment, before tentatively asking, “Could you ever… revert that spell again? Become an alicorn once more?”

“Well, were there to be another extraordinary event of unity between the six of us… Should I ever help to overcome our differences, then perhaps I can return to that state. Until then, I shall remain humble in my physical form.” Twilight smiled ruefully. “But maybe the world’s just grown too complex for a simple thing like harmony to mean anything any more.”

“Maybe. Doesn’t mean you can’t do some good though.” Bon Bon felt a pang of warmth inside her as she remembered her talk with Plum Pudding, disarming the bomb collars, retrieving the soul gems… “It’s what’s keeping me going right now, anyway. Crazy as that is, considering I was nearly immolated a couple of hours ago.” Twilight blanched. “Don’t look that worried, boss. I’d rather nearly get killed and feel alive than stew in the past.”

“I see. And on that note… Colgate tells me you found a biological sample?” Twilight asked hopefully.

Bon Bon grimaced, before reaching into the inner pocket of her coat and pulling out the unicorn’s horn, wrapped in paper towels. “Um… yes. I grabbed what I could before the body was destroyed. This was already taken off when I got there.”

Twilight’s own artificial hoof unfolded and she gingerly took the wrapped package, placing it on the table and gently prodding away the paper. “Oh, yuck!” She backed away from it. “That’s… well, actually quite useful for analysis. Well done. I’ll have the labs analyse it; hopefully we’ll be able to get some information about who was manipulating this pony.”

“No problem.” Bon Bon tapped her hoof against the floor. “How… long will that take?”

“Probably a couple of days. Why?”

“I just… don’t want to be left hanging. Past few days, I’ve been running too fast to keep dwelling on the past.” Bon Bon rubbed the back of her head. “I’m kinda scared about what’ll happen if I slow down again.” She twitched as Twilight walked forward and placed a hoof on her shoulder.

“Then I’ll find something for you to do,” Twilight said quietly. “If it’s bothering you, I’ll give you a task to tide you over.”

“That… would be appreciated. Thank you.” Bon Bon said. She hesitated for a moment, before asking, “You know, your friends seemed pretty… talkative today, Twilight. I’m honestly kind of surprised you’re as close as you still are.”

Twilight grinned and shrugged. “When you’re not trying to manage an image, you tend to be a lot more open,” she said. “I guess I’d forgotten what would happen if I brought a new pony into that little circle, but I’m glad I did. I just wish we hadn’t let Fluttershy slip through the net…”

“She had her reasons, boss. I don’t know what they were: frankly, I’m convinced that she was being coerced by somepony. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t you.”

“Thanks.” Twilight took a deep breath and sighed. “Well, I guess I’d better get going with the rest of them. Head home for now; I’ll be in touch once I have something for you.”


        “Hnngg…” The stack of papers hit the floor with a loud thump. Bon Bon wiped her brow with a hoof, before pushing the door shut. Attempting to levitate an object several times heavier than she’d ever lifted before had perhaps been a little foolish, but she couldn’t help but push herself. She needed some sort of challenge in her downtime.

        She looked around her apartment, softly illuminated in orange light as the sun set. After finally awakening from her darkness, Bon Bon had made an effort to clear up a little. She’d put away some of the more painful reminders of the life she’d never returned to; thrown out the mould-stained bowl that had contained her last meal before the end, washed some of the clothes she’d left dirty, even gone out and replaced her mirror. Once more, she had a proper reflection to look at.

        It felt strange. After all, it wasn’t as though her days hadn’t been filled before the attack on the clinic. And yet, before, it was all training and simulations, something to keep her occupied and to give her a reason to exist, preparing her for some undefined event at some point in the future. Now, she was doing something for real. It was a reason to live. And even better, she could avenge her beloved Lyra. For the first time in a long time, she could look at the lyre in her apartment and feel something other than soul-crushing grief.

        Twilight had made good on her offer of a task while the horn was analysed. She had asked for some research on any anti-aug strife in Canterlot leading up to the clinic attack, although—as Bon Bon had quickly found—there was enough material on the subject to drown in.

To that end, she’d set up a few wooden noteboards along one wall of her apartment, bought several sheep’s worth of coloured wool, and started setting up an ever-growing network of copied newspaper articles, obituaries, research papers and opinion pieces, all connected by a psychedelic spider web of wool. It had become her own little project; trying to nail down something, anything, that could link to either the attack on the clinic or her own labs.

Bon Bon sat down and frowned, looking up at photos of Fluttershy from before her withdrawal from public life, fuzzy shots of unicorns suspected to be some of those in the clinic in the demonstrations that night. She had the entire corporate history of Sparkle Industries up there; even Twilight’s personal fortunes and misfortunes. She grimaced at one article from three years ago; after producing a wildly popular new set of augmented eyes to the market, Twilight had nearly been assassinated by an anti-aug extremist. He’d come at her with a sword steeped in a zebra poison with a truly evil effect: one that would cause wounds to never stop bleeding when infected with it. A photo on the article showed Twilight being taken away just after he’d swung at her, slicing through her knee instead of her neck. She’d survived, although the artificial ebony leg she wore to the present day was a result of it.  

What chilled Bon Bon was that, for all the panic in the faces of the crowd around her and the remnant of her foreleg being hastily wrapped in her coat, Twilight’s expression was stone cold, all her attention on the pony being dragged away by the police. How had she been able to maintain that level of calm? Especially when the revelation of Rarity’s and Fluttershy’s secret communications had thrown her so badly?

Still, that was only one facet of her investigation. Bon Bon went between her new copies of information and the board, trying to tease out a new link. There seemed to be a tantalising trace of something bigger behind the various strings; ponies and organisations rising up to a point, before being cast down again by some sort of mishap or accident.  Various trends of societal unrest and inequality leading back to before even the invention of augmentations. She couldn’t put her hoof on it, but it felt as though she was able to draw connections between far more things than she would have predicted.

A laugh escaped Bon Bon’s lips. Either that, or she was turning into one of those dishevelled ponies insisting a shadowy order was out to control everypony. She always had wondered how a person would draw that conclusion… She was jerked out of her reverie by a tone from her holo-scroll. Bon Bon magically pulled it to her from across the room, thrilled to see how her levitation skills had improved with her paper-hauling. She tapped the device, causing Colgate’s face to appear on screen.

“Hey, Bon Bon!” she said. Her eyes flicked up and to the right as she saw the board behind the augmented pony. “Whatcha doodlin’?”

“Modern art project,” Bon Bon deadpanned. She lifted the scroll around to give Colgate a better look. “I needed something to keep me occupied; thought I’d at least make myself useful. I wanted a better understanding of what might have prompted an attack on a clinic, but… I don’t think I’m getting anywhere.”

“Damn. Well, at least we know nopony could’ve saw this coming, huh?”

“I… I don’t know. I suppose things always look different in hindsight.” Bon Bon frowned in thought as she turned the scroll back to her. “What did you need? Did the horn analysis come through?”

“Yup. Might want to sit yourself down for this one, ‘cause it isn’t pretty…” Colgate said.

“What do you mean?”

Colgate scratched her head. “Well, first things first: the guy from the Analysis Labs was right: there’s some incredibly weird stuff jammed in there. Nopony here has the faintest clue what it is, and for some reason it appears to originate in the blood. We don’t know if this was the method whoever was controlling used to dial themselves in, but it’s not so much unconventional as unprecedented. Blood-borne augs don’t exist.” She suddenly raised her hooves. “Now, we’ve ruled out all infectious magical diseases, so don’t worry about having handled it yourself!”

Bon Bon snorted. “Isn’t that a relief?”

“Isn’t it just?” Colgate poked out her tongue. “So, anyway, that’ll be keeping a few ponies scratching their heads for a while. We did successfully pull the magical signature from him, though… and that’s where things get a little hairy.”

“Just ‘a little’ hairy, Colgate? I was expecting at least moderately hairy if I had to sit down.”

The unicorn in the scroll scowled and drummed her hooves against the desk. “Bon Bon, are you going to let me finish, or am I going to have to come over and wring your neck first?”

“My neck’s just fine.” Bon Bon waved a hoof. “Carry on.”

Colgate rolled her eyes. “Right. Well, as we suspected, there was some magical connection to his horn, a bit like when I transferred the files from the Analysis Labs through you to me the other day. It’s pretty textbook; which makes the unknown magical traces we found in the horn even weirder. They don’t seem to have much to do with any known connection protocol, at least. As for the connection itself, it’s rock-solid.” She rested her chin on a forehoof. “You need a special variant of Hydra to connect to another pony like that, and it doesn’t come cheap. You and I have them, but most ponies—especially the criminals who’ll usually use these to hack into networks without leaving a trace—can’t buy them. At least, not legitimately.”

“So there’s a few hackers out there with these special Hydras?” Colgate nodded. “Though what’s stopping the authorities just monitoring who has them installed?”

“They do. But remember there’s a big black market for these sorts of augs—proxy implants and the like—as well as bootlegs that exploit security flaws that aren’t yet patched.” She shrugged. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“And I guess they must charge accordingly.”

“Yup. So, normally, you only have one or two ponies bridging a gap somewhere between your computer and the target’s, acting as living proxies,” Colgate said. She levitated up a pad and pen, drawing out a rough diagram in explanation. “If you follow the trace, you can get the magical signature of the pony who’s bridging from the computer they connected to, but you’ll be damned if you can find that pony from the signature alone, unless they’ve gotten in trouble before and the police have it on record. And then if there’s another pony attached to them, you have to somehow tease their magical signature out too, despite it being obscured by the first sig. Hydra connections are horrible to try and analyse.”

Bon Bon chewed her lip. “And this one?”

“The entire connection is organic. Every last one a living pony, and there’s dozens of signature traces to find in that one horn. Whoever did this didn’t ever want to be found, and they paid millions of bits to make sure of it.”

“Damn it.” She rubbed her face with a hoof, before raising an eyebrow. “So, that’s not even the worst of it?”

Colgate shook her head slowly. “The magical signature of the next pony along the chain from this guy is on record. That is, Sparkle Industries records.”

“A disgruntled employee?”

“A close relative of a board-level employee, actually,” Colgate said slowly. “Sweetie Belle, in fact.”

Bon Bon blinked, before scratching her head. “What? Since when does a famous singer work on breaking into secure communication networks?”

Colgate grinned nervously. “Actually, when the technological boom began, she was one of the spearheads of breaking cyber security. Not that I got involved in that or anything…”

“I’m more interested how you knew it was Sweetie Belle, if I’m honest.” Bon Bon leaned forward a little. “Seeing as—from what I hear—illicit hackers don’t like giving out details about the pony behind the screen name.”

“Well, you get to know a pony’s mannerisms if they spend their childhood tearing around your home town,” Colgate said with a giggle. “I think we both knew who the other was online, even if we never admitted it to one another explicitly.” She tapped her forehooves together. “Admittedly, it was more curiosity that drove her, rather than profiteering or a misplaced sense of justice, but she dropped out of the hacker communities to go back to focussing on her singing career anyway. Probably didn’t want to torpedo her livelihood by getting caught breaking into to a system she shouldn’t have been in.”

“I see.” Bon Bon snorted. “I suppose this happened at about the same time Rarity helped found Sparkle Industries?” Colgate nodded briefly. “I guess she didn’t want any guilt by association if her little sister was branded a criminal. And holding the magical signature record as a way of ensuring Sweetie stuck to her reformed ways… how very much like Rarity.”

“You’re telling me.” Colgate frowned and leaned back in her chair, staring at the ceiling for a moment in thought. “Although, if you ask me, none of this makes sense. Why would Sweetie Belle suddenly return to hacking? She’s certainly not in any need of money, and she’s an outspoken supporter of augmentation, so her wanting to get back at MANE for something is out, too.”

“Maybe she didn’t know what she was getting into?” Bon Bon asked.

Colgate gave a single laugh and smacked her forehead. “Oh, sure!” She poked her tongue out at Bon Bon. “Might as well stick your hoof in a food processor while you’re at it, just to see if it still works. Connecting to a daisy chain of organic links without knowing what it was for—willingly—is out of the question for somepony as seasoned as Sweetie. You wouldn’t know what information you might be channelling, and something as rare and shady as that chain sure isn’t going to be handling anything wholesome.” Her mouth twitched. “The only reason you’d accept that offer is if you were desperate for money, or were confident you wouldn’t get caught and didn’t care what cause you were helping. With her magical signature on record, she fits neither description.”

“Mmm…” Bon Bon looked up at her board of connections, trying to find anything regarding Rarity or Sweetie Belle. Most of it simply referred to Rarity’s roles in Sparkle Industries and Sweetie’s defences of the aug industry, and even that was sparse. She tapped a hoof on one article, showing the two sisters smiling as they both cut the ribbon for a new shelter for Augs made homeless by their treatment payments. “They both have a big stake in keeping augmentations favourable in public opinion… and now one sister can be implicated in a brazen anti-aug terrorist incident,” she said quietly. She fell silent for a moment, before quietly asking, “Colgate, this is going to sound crazy, but do you think she may have been… coerced into this?”

There was a brief pause as Colgate slowly returned to her sitting position and leaned in close to the camera on her scroll. “That… might explain her doing this, but… why? Who would stand to gain from this?” She ran both forehooves through her mane. “I mean, it’s likely the magical analysis of the chain to the possessed stallion would have ratted her out in time, but given all the funny business with his body, it looks like somepony was trying to stop that analysis from happening. So… is there another group trying to keep Sweetie safe or something?” She buried her head in her hooves. “It makes sense in a way, but I don’t want to believe it’s true. That’s some scary string-pulling.”

“We already know that different ponies were told different things when participating in the MANE raid from Trixie,” Bon Bon said, beginning to pace back and forth. “So presumably someone was trying to engineer that situation and sow confusion amongst the participants. Then there was the unknown—and unseen—assailant that murdered the stallion in the police station, and then his body was kept locked up in the Analysis Labs, waiting to be destroyed by Chaosfire if anypony broke in.” She bit her lip. “Poster Paint mentioned to Fluttershy he had no idea what he was dealing with when analysing the body…”

“ the only useful bit of information those schmucks would get was Sweetie Belle’s involvement in the hacking link, same as us,” Colgate said, completing her thought. “Which would then be released to the police, most probably.”

Bon Bon stopped in her tracks. “So she would have her fall from grace, along with her campaigns and—most probably—Rarity. More fuel on the fire for the anti-aug types, and right before AugCon, too. And I guess the stallion was murdered to ensure he didn’t reveal anything to the police.” She looked apprehensively at Colgate. “Right?”

Colgate held up her hooves. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, here. Might just be jumping at shadows…”

“I need to talk to Sweetie Belle,” Bon Bon said. “Somehow.”

“Then you’re in luck,” Colgate said. “Remember all that excitement a few months ago about DJ-PON3’s tour partnering with Sparkle Industries? It just turned up in Canterlot, and Sweetie Belle is the headline singing act. She’s right here in town.”

“Then I’ll need to find a way to get to wherever she’s staying and—” Bon Bon stopped as Colgate waved a hoof. “What?”

“No need. For one thing, celebrities know better than anyone to defend themselves against fans breaking in to have a little ‘chat’ with them backstage,” Colgate said. She began to grin. “Now, as a connoisseur of electronica, I’ve been paying extra-special attention to how our sponsorship deal with Ms. Scratch has been progressing. And as it happens, my diligence has been rewarded.” She levitated up two long pieces of glossy card. “Me and a plus one get to see the show in the hippest nightclub in all of Canterlot—the Flux Pavillion!” She squashed her cheeks between her forehooves. “VIP access!”

“What?!” Bon Bon glared at her colleague. “I’m trying to perform a serious investigation, and you’re more concerned about some concert you’ve wrangled your way into?” She let out an angry snort.

Colgate quickly waved her hooves and shook her head, eyes widening. “Hear me out. VIPs get to meet the stars after the show—including Sweetie Belle. If you wanna talk to her, then here’s a way to have her delivered to you on a silver platter.”

Bon Bon gave a sigh, before nodding. “Okay, okay. I’m sorry for shouting. That’s… actually not the worst idea I’ve heard.” She frowned anxiously. “Although, what’s stopping her from being pestered by the other fans? Or her getting security to throw us out?”

“It’s not the most foolproof plan, I’ll admit,” Colgate said, gaze flickering away for a moment. “Worst case scenario, you get nothing out of her and it’s back to the original plan of breaking into her room. Might as well give the easy option a go.” She looked back up at Bon Bon, anguish colouring her gaze. “Besides, I just… I just want to see you when you’re not exhausted, or on a mission, or fearing for your life. Just a few hours to unwind and have some fun?”

“I dunno, Colgate.” Bon Bon sat down on the floor, pursing her lips. “I don’t think I can really justify a night on the town during an investigation…” She gave a sigh and gave her friend a small smile. “As long as you promise not to have too much fun?” she jibed.

Colgate pulled off a military salute. “One mediocre night out, coming right up!” she exclaimed. “Call it a date. I’ll come and meet you about seven tomorrow evening. Until then, I think we’ve both got some work to be doing…” She peered past Bon Bon at the boards. “Or, at least, one of us working and the other scrapbooking.”

“Very funny, Colgate.”

“Oh! And I’ll get in touch with Rarity—you’re gonna need to look the part for the Pavillion! Watch this space,” Colgate said.

“Wait—” Bon Bon grunted in irritation as the scroll’s connection ended. “Twice in one day,” she muttered, before looking back at the pile of paper she had dropped. Time for a new focus, then. “Let’s hope there’s not too many skeletons to find in Sweetie Belle’s closet…”


Augmentation Activated

        Horn: Intermediate Telekinesis

As an artificial horn continues interfacing with the user’s arcane biology, it is expected that an augmented unicorn’s magical strength will grow with practice, just as a natural unicorn’s will. Due to the experimental nature and high specialisation of this aug, it is not currently known whether adult magical strength will be attained as quickly as the aug’s integration completes, or whether a more complex growth curve will be observed.


<<Chapter 8                                                                          Chapter 10>>

Many thanks to Faindragon and John Colt for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

Questions, comments, critiques? Get in touch at [email protected]



Deus Ex: Equine Revolution

By Melon Hunter

Chapter 10: Flux Pavilion

“C’mon! What’s the hold-up? We’re almost there!”

“I look ridiculous. I feel ridiculous.”

“Nah, it’s just fashion. Trust me, Rarity knows what she’s doing better than either of us. You’ll be fine.”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes and continued walking alongside Colgate. As it had turned out, her perceptions of nightclubs all being sweaty, cramped rooms trying to emulate Tartarus had been a little off. A courier had arrived at her apartment late in the afternoon, bearing a gift from Rarity. At first, she had thought it a small tent from its shapelessness, but it had since turned out to be a dress.

Maybe she was behind the times on what was fashionable, but Bon Bon couldn’t help but feel a little perplexed by the design. The dress was a dim, pale green, almost bordering on grey, and the fabric didn’t so much hang as flow from her body, with barely perceptible creases forming a network of triangles across the piece of clothing. To her delight, she’d found more than enough pockets sewn into the inside to stash the contents of her saddlebags. Perhaps she couldn’t understand the form, but at least she could love the function.

And then there was Colgate. Bon Bon had been amazed to find how well her colleague cleaned up. Her dress was far more aesthetically pleasing: a dream of sky blue and cream fabric in alternating swirling stripes, almost making her look like one of Bon Bon’s candy creations. In keeping with a recent fad, a tall, silvery ruff extended around her neck, with matching frills at the ends of the sleeves on her forelegs. A pair of miniscule golden hourglasses dangled from her ears, and her mane had been swept back and tied into a handsome ponytail with a gold band, its twin adorning the tip of her tail. Bon Bon couldn’t help but feel a little overshadowed.

“I dunno. I think you may have gotten the sweeter deal here, Colgate,” Bon Bon said.

“Yeah, but can my dress do this?” Before Bon Bon could react, Colgate punched her in the side. Or, at least she tried. As soon as the impact occurred, the soft curtain of material hardened into a wall, triangular sections turning rigid. Her hoof met with a solid clunk and bounced off, leaving the other unicorn utterly unperturbed. “Aaaaaooowwwww!” Colgate cried, shaking her injured hoof and dancing back.

Bon Bon rolled her eyes and waited for Colgate to quieten down. “I did warn you not to do that,” she said.

“Yeah, but it’s so cool! Battle dress! It’s like something out of a bad spy movie,” Colgate said. “It really does suit you.”

“Heh. Thanks. Well, hopefully you’ll be the only pony it needs to protect me from…” Bon Bon trailed off as they rounded the corner onto the next street. The road was almost completely blocked by a huge line of ponies that snaked back and forth, slowly moving inside a brightly-lit building located further up the street. “Oh, great. Are you sure we’ll actually get in there before Sweetie Belle finishes her set? Or leaves Canterlot, even?”

Colgate flashed a grin. “VIP, remember? We don’t need to wait in line like the rest of the punters.” She led Bon Bon past the gargantuan queue, picking up a few irritated glances on the way down. “Prepare to be amazed.”

Bon Bon certainly was. The Flux Pavillion was a lavishly decorated building, its architecture echoing the pagodas of ancient Shenzhoof. Its curving roofs were outlined in a deep red, with dark blue-grey tiles and cream walls. Lights played intricate patterns across the facade in a kaleidoscope of colours, with some sort of enchantment glowing around the perimeter, making the edifice shimmer. A strange wavering in the air turned out to be a deep, rumbling bass, accompanied by higher tweets and twangs of treble, as though the very construct were singing to those around it. She stared up at it for a moment, entranced by the sight of the exterior. “Huh. Guess this explains dressing up as though we were going to the Gala.”

“You bet!” Colgate walked to the front door and flashed a smile at the security guard on the door, showing him the tickets. He nodded, motioning for them to walk through an archway in front of the entrance.

Bon Bon felt a stab of concern as she saw a small amount of magic wrap itself around Colgate’s horn as she entered, creating a nullifying barrier around it. She hoped the blocking spell wouldn’t suffer an unfortunate glitch: quite how would it resolve blocking a horn but not interfering with any augments?

As it turned out, the spell settled for somewhere between the two outcomes. She could feel her telekinetic strength weakened considerably as she walked through the arch, but the presence of her magic was still available to her. Bon Bon decided not to push the new barrier two hard while in sight of the guard, but the strange new sensation kept making her look upward and raise her eyebrows.

Colgate caught sight of her and giggled. “Did the blocking spell fry your brain a little?”

“Uh… no,” Bon Bon said, trying to ignore the compulsion to look up at her horn again. “Just feels weird to have the magic blocked off, I guess.”

“Mm, yeah. All new sensations for you, huh?” Colgate looked around the atrium they’d ended up in. The room was cool and dim, with a single lit hatch off to one side offering a cloakroom, and twin sets of stairs leading off toward an unseen upper floor. The walls were covered in drapes of some sort of enchanted fabric, with eddies of colour and arcane symbols chasing and flowing across them.

The steady stream of customers from the longer queue was gradually feeding into the main chamber of the club through a curved tunnel, its shape keeping out most of the light and sound. Most of those ponies were unclothed, and the few who had brought coats and bridles were leaving them with a nearby cloakroom. Those trickling in from the VIP side of the entrance were similarly dressed to Bon Bon and Colgate, and made their way upstairs to the reserved section. Suitably menacing security guards watched the staircases, ensuring that only the privileged were admitted.

Colgate was able to ascend without incident, but Bon Bon was not so lucky. She felt a hoof on her shoulder, and turned to see the security guard on the stair looking down at her, brow furrowed and eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. “Think you may have the wrong entrance,” he rumbled. “Most of the upgraded lot are in there.” He nodded toward the tunnel.

Bon Bon huffed and returned the stare. “I know which part of this place I’m supposed to be in, thank you so very much.” She pulled out her company ID card and showed it to the guard. “Or is the sponsorship from Sparkle Industries not enough to pay for a proper security outfit?”

The guard stepped back, ears flicking upward in shock. “Uh, look, lady. It’s none of my concern what you’ve got attached to you. Just sayin’ some of the clients up here get real nasty when it comes to Augs, y’know?” He cleared his throat and looked away from her.

“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be able to handle any bigotry I get myself,” Bon Bon said curtly. “Non-violently,” she added, before the guard could talk again.

He stood back, cowed. “S-sure. Just go on through.”

“Thank you,” Bon Bon muttered, trotting past to meet with Colgate, who’d been watching from a little ways upstairs.

“Wow. The hay was his problem?” Colgate asked, looking back over her shoulder.

Bon Bon gave a little grumble. “Ugh. Just somepony so concerned for my safety that he tried to keep me with my own kind down below. Charming.”

Colgate gave a low whistle. “Well, looks like you got him licked. Pretty dumb of him too; ever since the MANE clinic got raided, every anti-aug person in the city’s been keeping schtum.” She shrugged. “Anyway, let’s get back to what we were here for…” She led Bon Bon around the corner of the stairs and through the door at the top.

The heat and the light and the sound of the club slammed into Bon Bon as though it were a solid wall, a cacophony that assailed every one of her senses. She blinked and almost missed a step as she struggled to register everything at once. The large chamber was lit by spotlights in a rainbow of colours and slowly pulsating crystals that splattered the walls with their hues, sending random geometric patterns skittering across every surface. Loud, booming bass pulsed through the hot, sticky air, accompanied by undulating electronic noise and distorted instrumentals, and a wordless set of breathy vocals atop that. Mixed in were the shouts and whoops of the unseen crowd below. Although she couldn’t see the ponies on the ground, she could feel them: faint reverberations in the floor, the hot and heavy atmosphere of the club sweeping across her skin, delivering the smells of sweat and excitement and arousal to her nostrils.

Something drew her to the edge of the balcony, ignoring whatever the VIP section had to offer for now. Bon Bon placed her forehooves on the rail and looked over. The floor of the club was entirely covered by the crowd; mostly ponies, but with a few zebras and even griffons scattered here and there. They were crammed in shoulder to shoulder, but there seemed to be little jostling or bad temper amongst the audience. They moved and swayed in time to the music, with little vortices of disturbance here and there as people added their own flairs to the dancing. Suddenly, she noticed there were also pegasi above the main body of dancers, moving together in their own intricate motions, having the freedom of three dimensions to use in their enjoyment of the music. A couple were even using the wispy emissions of the smoke machine as impromptu props.

On the stage, a neon green earth pony bounced up and down behind a set of turntables, hooves working over the innumerable knobs and dials upon the control panel. He reached down, flicking a new record into play on his equipment, and bellowed “OKAY, CANTERLOT! ARE YOU READY TO PARTY?!” His sudden yell and the responding cheer from the audience took Bon Bon by surprise, causing her to step back and fall on her rump. She looked up as Colgate nudged her in the shoulder and laughed.

“It’s a little bit overwhelming, isn’t it?” Colgate said, voice at a half-shout to be heard over the music. “Wanna go and get a drink? Sweetie won’t be on for a while, and this guy’s nothing to write home about.” She helped Bon Bon back to her hooves and led her across the VIP section.

The upper balcony extended across the rear third of the room, with a bar stretching across the very back, and various seats, tables and sofas lining the walls. The rest of the area was left to another dancefloor, one which was notably less cramped than its larger sibling down below. Bon Bon raised an eyebrow as she noticed a faint golden glow surrounding the bar. As the two mares reached the magical perimeter, the noise and heat of the club faded away somewhat, nullifying the sound of the crowd and leaving the music dulled. They each hopped up on a stool. “So you seriously enjoy places like this?” Bon Bon asked.

“Yeah! Call it a refusal to grow up, but you’d sooner catch me in here than at an orchestral performance,” Colgate replied. “I dunno. This sorta music really gets me going.” She stared at a menu on the bar for a moment and frowned, before shaking her head and grabbing it with a hoof. “Dammit, I hate not having my magic,” she grumbled. She gave the menu a cursory glance, before tossing it to Bon Bon. “Take your pick!”

Bon Bon’s forehooves unfolded into paws, and she flicked through the cocktail menu, trying not to look at the prices down the side too hard. Generous pay packet or not, those numbers were enough to make anypony’s wallet hurt. She pursed her lips at the selection, barely registering the listed ingredients. What was she doing? When was the last time she’d used alcohol as anything other than an emotional painkiller? And what was she doing here, in a place she obviously didn’t belong?

She let out a faint sigh, mind working through a train of thought she hadn’t wanted to entertain. Obviously, she hadn’t been especially interested in going out like this since the attack, but even before that watershed, when was the last time she’d done something fun with Lyra? Something together? Now she cast her memory back, it felt like even before the end of her world that she’d been caught in an endless web of work… work that ultimately had all been for nothing.

A chill ran down her spine. Did she regret the time because it was lost more than because she could have spent it with Lyra? The more Bon Bon thought about it, the more she gained the feeling her grieving was based less around the loss of Lyra and more the end of her old life altogether. It wasn’t like they’d been a completely steady couple; the past two decades had been punctuated by earth-shattering rows and multiple break-ups, some years long. She’d had to learn to live without her partner before. Except now, there was no going back. They’d both died that night, in some way. Bon Bon had just been lucky—or unlucky—enough to return to the land of the living. And ever since Twilight had set her to work, given her a new purpose, her demeanour had improved immeasurably.

Which led to the most uncomfortable question of all. Had she been mourning Lyra all this time, or herself? 

Bon Bon gave a start as she felt a nudge to her shoulder. “Huh?”

“You alright?” Colgate asked. “You looked pensive again. Everything alright?”

“I-I think so. I was just thinking about… about her.” Bon Bon bit her tongue as Colgate’s expression changed to one of sympathy. “I mean, I just…”

Colgate leaned over and hugged her. “It’s okay. Do you wanna get out of here? We don’t hav—”

“No! No. It’s fine,” Bon Bon reassured her. Her ears drooped a little as she leaned back, leaving the embrace. “But I think I may have gotten it all a little mixed up this whole time. I dunno. This time a couple of weeks ago, I was so down I could barely get out of bed each morning, and yet here I am.” The words tumbled out of her mouth in her haste to explain herself. She absent-mindedly fiddled with a lock of her curly mane. “I thought it was so wrong of me to get out of that state of mind so quickly, but… I think I realise that I was depressed about the wrong thing now. I’ve spent years without Lyra in the past, but I’ve never had to deal with this before.” She waved her forehooves by way of explanation.

Colgate stared at her in silence. She blinked rapidly a couple of times and drummed a hoof against the bar. “Huh. Is that so?”

Bon Bon nodded morosely. “I… I know. It’s been nagging away in my mind for a little while. I think me asking Twilight to give me something to fill the past couple of days made me realise…” She shook her head and stared at the floor. “Makes me feel selfish. I forgot all about Lyra and focused on myself.”

A blue hoof reached out and was placed beneath Bon Bon’s chin, raising her head so her gaze met Colgate’s. “Don’t even begin to think that way,” Colgate said, an unusual amount of force behind her words. “Bon Bon, I know you care. I’ve seen you hurting; I know you miss Lyra. But just look at how much you’ve been through! Nopony should ever have to take the situations you’ve had thrown at you. You’re stronger than anypony else I know.” She crossed her forelegs, continuing to look at her with a piercing stare. “And yeah, maybe at some point you stopped grieving for her and started on yourself, and didn’t even realise it. That doesn’t make you a bad pony.”

Bon Bon said nothing, instead simply clasping her forehooves together.

“Besides, we all have our own ways of getting past things. Somewhere between barely feeling sad and wearing black for the rest of your life usually seems to cut it,” Colgate said. “And, like you said, dealing with ‘this’. Getting most of your body replaced by augs kinda takes front and centre, emotionally speaking. But the thing is, Bon Bon, you survived. Whoever those attackers were, they threw everything they had at you, and you survived. It may look a hell of a lot different to what you had before, but you’ve still got a life. And nopony will begrudge you rebuilding it.”

The words took a moment to sink in, but when they did, a small smile formed on Bon Bon’s lips. “You think so?”

“I do! And of all the ponies who’ve ever been, Lyra will be the least likely to tell you to hold back,” Colgate said. “Trust me. It’ll do you no good to think it’s wrong to move on.”

“Yeah. I guess.” She clenched her talons together. “I’m still angry at them. Whoever they were. They took everything away from me that night. I want to get some closure somehow.”

“I get it.” Colgate pursed her lips a little, and softly said, “But remember you need a ‘you’ to come back to. Don’t let them win by breaking yourself hunting them down.”

Bon Bon nodded, and her shoulders slumped a little. “It would help if I didn’t rely on Twilight giving me missions to keep me sane…”

“What do you think this is?” Colgate drew herself up to her full height and grinned at Bon Bon. “You’re right. You need more hobbies than going into the crappiest parts of Canterlot and beating up mooks who get in your way. And here we are: in one of the classiest clubs in Canterlot, and not a mook in sight. Why don’t we call this a test run? A taster of life beyond Sparkle Industries!”

Bon Bon hesitated a moment, but in the end, she couldn’t help but return the grin. Her ears flushed a little as her gaze wandered over Colgate once again. She really did look good: not just physically, but emotionally. She couldn’t quite comprehend how Colgate had remained so cheerful all this time, what with being so close to those lost in the attack, nor why she’d chosen to help the lost soul Bon Bon had become and try to remain her friend. All she knew, was that friendship was the rock she hadn’t realised she’d needed all this time. “I think I could take you up on that offer.”

“Great! Then here’s to the first night of the rest of your life!” Colgate looked around and scratched her head. “Wait, that would have gone better if we had glasses to knock together…” She rapped her hoof on the bar, sending an apron-clad stallion her way.

“What can I get you?” the barpony asked, smiling warmly at the two ponies.

“I will have a Manehatten, please,” Colgate said. She turned her head to Bon Bon. “And you?”

“Oh! Uh…” Bon Bon realised she’d barely paid attention to the menu at all. Throwing caution to the wind, she placed a talon down at a random spot and looked to see where it was pointing. “Give me a… Shanghoof Gutpunch?”

The barpony’s smile grew to a full grin. “You’re talking about the drink, right?” He began chuckling at his own joke.

There was a moment’s stillness, Colgate’s eyes flickering nervously between him and Bon Bon. The lack of an answer slowed and eventually stopped the barpony’s chortling, grin fading to a desperate grimace. After dragging out the silence a little longer than necessary, Bon Bon let out a tiny snort and said “What do you think?”

“Ah… um… the d-drink, of course!” he stammered, scurrying away to fetch the ingredients.

Colgate burst out laughing. “Oh boy! He does that joke every time somepony orders that drink, but I have never seen him go off like that!” She remained giggling all the way up to the unfortunate barpony bringing them the drinks, barely looking at the pile of bits Colgate gave him in return.

Bon Bon looked suspiciously at the drink Colgate pushed toward her. It was bright blue: almost as though somepony had distilled poison joke into a liquid. She picked it up in a paw and sipped at it trepidatiously. It was sticky, sweet, and had a vaguely tropical taste. And more than enough alcohol to make its ‘Gutpunch’ moniker true.  Good enough for her. “To a first night out, then?” she offered.

“I’ll drink to that!” Colgate exclaimed, clicking her own glass against Bon Bon’s. They both drank deeply, leaning back against the bar and surveying the floor in front of them. “Y’know, it’s not exactly lively up here. You wanna show ‘em how it’s done once we’re finished here?”

“I’m not really qualified to dance like that…”

“Oh, don’t be like that. It’s a club. Just move sort of in time with the music and nopony will complain,” Colgate retorted. “‘Sides, I really want to see some of these guys prancing around in their dresses along with us. If we’re going to embarrass ourselves, I don’t want us to be the only ones going down.”

Bon Bon considered it for a second, then nodded. She took a great swig of her drink and smiled at Colgate. “You’re on.”


“I thought you said that guy wasn’t anything to write home about!”

“Guess he must have upped his game!” Colgate yelled back. She giggled and nudged the stallion next to her. “Thanks for joining us! You know, you are allowed to dance up here.”

The other stallion blushed and nodded, walking back to the rest of his comrades at the sofas. Since Colgate and Bon Bon had gotten up on the dancefloor, they’d been attracting various other ponies in the area, their dancing apparently having been enough to get the others to overcome their shyness and join them. Now that the DJ’s set was over, it appeared the magic had faded, leaving the pair alone again.

Colgate rolled her eyes and snorted. “Seriously, what is it with this lot? You spend all this money to get in and then spend the whole time sitting around?”

“They have this little thing called ‘dignity’, Colgate. Maybe you’ve heard of it? I think we might sell an aug that could give you some,” Bon Bon quipped. She giggled as Colgate’s jaw dropped. “Hey, you’re the one who got me to drop my inhibitions. Don’t get all offended at me now!”

“Fine. But no more Gutpunches for you!” Colgate poked her tongue out.

Bon Bon returned the gesture, the smiled. That had been… fun. The best time she’d had for months, certainly since she had been augmented. The musical set had passed in a whirl of colours and noise, her time spent dancing with ponies of every race and hue, and for the first time she could remember, she’d gotten lost in the moment. No distractions, no dark thoughts, just her and the present. She could get used to that.

For now, though, that had ended. The DJ had said his goodnights and left the stage, and now the crowd shifted restlessly as they awaited the main act of the evening. She felt a tug at her dress as Colgate pulled her closer to the edge of the balcony.

“Best view in the house!” Colgate explained. She looked up wistfully at the pegasi flying about in the club. “Well, almost the best. Man, I wish I could fly at times like this…” She rubbed at her back.

“Yeah… shame that’s illegal.”

“I know.” Colgate folded her forelegs on the balcony’s barrier and laid her head atop them. “Dumb Alicorn Protocol. No wings if you’ve got a horn—”she looked sideways at Bon Bon“—and I guess the other way around, now. If we go commercial with the horn aug, that is?”

Bon Bon shrugged, pulling herself up by her forelegs to lean over the barrier. “I have no idea. I didn’t even know it existed until about thirty minutes before the attack. Now we know it works, I’m sure we’ll pursue it, but Lyra said each horn matches only one pony. I guess SI will have to iron out the issue of tailoring horns to ponies before announcing it properly.” She smiled sardonically and rapped a hoof against the metal bar. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to make a keynote speech at AugCon this year.”

“I’d like to see that!” Colgate exclaimed.

There came a wave of gasps from the audience as the room suddenly went dark, barely illuminated by the glowing sigils on the walls. The stage filled with smoke, and ponies began jumping up and down and whooping excitedly. Bon Bon was a little surprised to see Colgate amongst their number, hopping on her hind legs, squealing in delight and eyes screwed shut.

“Fillies and gentlecolts!” a voice proclaimed. “We are proud to present not one, but two of the finest performers Equestria has ever produced! Put your hooves together and raise the roof for DJ-PON3 and her guest star, Miss ‘Sweet Beats’ herself, Sweetie Belle!” At that, the club erupted, a wall of noise from the crowd drowning out every other sensation in the room.

Bon Bon watched intently as two figures appeared through the thinning mists of dry ice, one behind a truly monstrous deck of equipment, the other stood in front of a slender microphone stand.

A pair of spotlights burst into action one after the other. A beam of cold blue light illuminated the decks, showing a white unicorn with a messy mane of alternating dark and neon blue, eyes hidden behind a pair of magenta lensed sunglasses. She grinned and waved, before running her hoof over one of the records in front of her, sending out a burst of electronic noise. “How are you doing, Canterlot?” Vinyl yelled, sending up a fresh wave of euphoria from her adoring audience.

A beam of pink light then shone down on the other figure. Bon Bon’s eyes went wide. Despite having seen numerous newspaper pictures, she had still really been expecting something like the little filly who used to tear around Ponyville. The truth was anything but.

Sweetie Belle was a pony transformed, standing tall and slender on a set of white enameled augmented legs, their material blending smoothly into her alabaster coat. Her green eyes sparkled with a sultry delight as she regarded the crowd. Her mane and tail were long enough to reach to the floor, still styled into large, puffy curls and lustrous enough to reflect the lights trained on her back. Her cutie mark, a silver quaver with a pink heart as the notehead, shone proud on her flank. She smiled wanly, before her horn glowed green and picked up the microphone, holding it close to her lips. Unlike Vinyl’s swift and excited welcome, Sweetie dragged out her actions, keeping the crowd in a momentary suspense, fixing them with an alluring half-lidded glance. “Good evening, Canterlot,” she purred, sending up a wave of cheers from the ponies before her. “This is truly a pleasure.”

“She really is Rarity’s sister, huh?” Colgate said from beside Bon Bon.

“Yeah… you could say that.”

Sweetie paraded across the stage, back to the audience. She suddenly stopped, head whipping around with a mischievous smile, microphone held close to her mouth. “So you’re here to see our little performance, are you?” Another rounds of whoops sounded out, and she grinned and nodded to Vinyl, who stuck her headphones on. “Well, I can promise you, this will be a night you’ll never forget.”

At that, Vinyl swept her hoof across the decks, starting up her musical set. The lone sound of a guitar, lightly dusted with electronic distortion, began to play, soon followed by the thunderous beating of a bass drum. Sweetie began tapping her forehoof on the ground, counting out the beats to her part. She took one look down the length of her microphone, before flicking her gaze up to the audience.

Broken heart,

I didn’t think it’d hurt so bad

You’ve only lost your healing touch,

They always said,

Sticks and stones will break your bones,

But now I’m free of their clutch.”

I’ve replaced myself,

Washed the pain away,

Try me now,

Try me now,

Iron heart, machine soul,

Try me now,

Try me now,

Cut me up, and make me whole,

I am more than a mare,

Cut me up, and make me whole,

I am more than a mare!”

The stage erupted in pyrotechnics, and the crowd went wild as the bass beat blasted through the air, Sweetie and Vinyl both rocking their heads along to the rhythm. Bon Bon huddled into herself a little as even the VIP section joined in, jumping around in a crush to rival the audience below. After a moment, it quietened down again, letting the guitar—and Sweetie’s honeyed voice—be heard once more.


Poisoned words,

But you’re the one who’s left behind,

You’re a dying breed, lashing out.

Shout me down,

Try to pull me back to earth,

I’ll push you back, ‘cause you’re without.”  

I’ve replaced myself,

Washed the pain away,

Try me now,

Try me now,

Iron heart, machine soul,

Try me now,

Try me now,

Cut me up, and make me whole,

I am more than a mare,

Cut me up, and make me whole,

I am more than a mare!”

The bass instrumental sounded once more, only Sweetie’s head stayed rock still this time. Her foreleg slammed against the floor in time to the beat, and she stared upward, meeting the gaze of those up in the VIP section. Bon Bon felt a little unnerved by the singer’s gaze; she couldn’t help but wonder how the Naturals up there with her felt. ‘Dying breed’?

Upgraded, immortal,

Attacking the ones who’d stall,

I am the future!”

Sweetie Belle belted out the chorus one last time, ending on a triumphant and seemingly endless “I am more than a mare!” The crowd reached its euphoric peak, overriding the last dying beats of the song. Vinyl punched the air in the background, and Sweetie Belle gave a deep bow to the adoring fans. “Thank you!” she cried.

“Wow.” Bon Bon stared at the stage as Sweetie Belle spun around and laughed, revelling in the applause of the audience and readying for her next song. “That was… provocative.”

Colgate raised her eyebrows, then nodded. “You like?”

Bon Bon looked down at her own artificial forelegs and grinned. She thought of the security guard trying to stop her, the dirty looks on the streets she sometimes got. In that moment, Sweetie Belle’s song resonated with her, more deeply than anything she’d heard before. “Yeah. I think I do.”


She spent the rest of Sweetie Belle’s set captivated, entranced even. Not enough to jump around with the rest of the audience, but Bon Bon was lost in her own way. Sweetie had a beautiful voice, and the looks to go with it, but each of her songs had a darkness to it she had been surprised by. Betrayal, loss, anger, all wrapped up in silky smooth vocals. And her barely-disguised contempt for the Naturals who stood in the way… She knew she should disapprove, but there was a not insignificant part of her that nodded along with that message. And, with all the snipping from the Apple Corps, from Black Dawn, from half the population of Canterlot, it felt good, just for once, to push back. Maybe she could get into this music scene after all…

“Hey, set’s finished. I think they’ll be calling us over now,” Colgate said, nudging her.

“Huh? Oh, yeah.”

“I take it you enjoyed it, then?”

“Definitely. We should do this again some time,” Bon Bon replied. Her mouth tugged upward at the corners slightly. “Maybe when we don’t have to interrogate one part of the leading act. I think I might have to do a bit of musical research once I get home.”

Colgate laughed and ruffled Bon Bon’s mane. “Atta girl! I knew I could turn you to the dark side.” She turned her head and nodded toward a security guard who had appeared near one of the staircases, beckoning to the gathered VIPs. “Looks like that’s our cue. Let’s meet the stars, shall we?”

The guard checked each one of the VIPs who came to him, matching names to faces and cutie marks. Apparently, only a chosen few of even the privileged ones were received by the artists, and no chances were taken on an imposter getting in. Bon Bon felt secretly relieved Colgate had come up with her plan. For all the hacking, sneaking and breaking and entering she’d had to do the in the last week, it was nice to be led straight to the source of the information she needed for once.

Bon Bon’s lenses slid back into place as the group was led into the most exclusive section of the club, with a dim, wonderfully decorated room backstage to welcome them, its two side flanked by cushioned benches. Sat slightly apart on the long sofa were the stars of the show, now more relaxed than their stage personas. Vinyl lounged back, grinning in welcome to her guests. Sweetie Belle, on the other hoof, sat at the far end of the sofa, staring at the ponies she was ostensibly there to meet. Bon Bon saw a faint flicker of her lips as each guest flocked to the older unicorn, leaving her partner alone.

Okay. Looks like Ms. Scratch’s reputation is doing all the legwork for us, Colgate mused. Now’s your chance. Go talk to Sweetie Belle; I’ll keep everypony away from you if I can. Just hit me up if you need to ask anything.

Got it. Bon Bon shuffled past the small crowd gathering around Vinyl, instead walking to the other side of the enclosure. Her STARE aug came to life, ready and waiting to analyse every last detail of her next conversation. She saw Sweetie Belle’s face light up as the singer realised she had a fan of her own to entertain, before the delighted expression was swiftly buried beneath a carefully applied mask of casual apathy. Didn’t want to appear too desperate, apparently. Bon Bon sat down opposite her and smiled. “Hi.”

“Hi! Glad to see I wasn’t entirely forgotten,” Sweetie said, applying a sultry drawl to her words. She reached one lengthy white foreleg behind her to rest upon the top of the sofa, the other’s forehoof unfolding into a paw like Bon Bon’s, talons fiddling with her curly waterfall of a mane.

“I’m kinda surprised it’s this uneven, actually,” Bon Bon said. Seemed like that was a sore spot for Sweetie, if her vocal analysis was anything to go by.

“Ugh. Don’t be. After all, Vinyl’s been DJing since I was a little blank flank. Figures she’s the one with all the fans when it comes to these meetings.” Sweetie glowered for a moment, before remembering herself. She gave Bon Bon a half-lidded glance, before her eyes widened. “Wait, I remember you!” Her voice cracked slightly from her exclamation, causing her to clear her throat and lower her tone again. “Ponyville, right?”

“Yeah. A lifetime ago. I’m Bon Bon.”

Sweetie nodded eagerly. “The sweetmaker. It’s all coming back now.” She giggled and closed her eyes for a second. “Don’t tell me; you’re still down there!”

Bon Bon grit her teeth for a second. Probably best not to give Sweetie the full history. “Not any more, sadly. Aug business, these days. Via the police force,” she said haltingly.

“Hm.” Sweetie looked over to the group around her co-star. “Aug business, huh? I guess it’s just a coincidence that you’ve got the Chief Comms Officer from Sparkle Industries tagging along with you.” She sat back and raised an eyebrow. “I mean, no offense, Bon Bon, but most of the kids following my music have barely got their cutie marks—or at least, that’s how it feels. It’s kinda unusual for ponies older than me to be big fans.” She reached behind her with one of her lanky forelegs, talons outstretched. A stallion came from some unseen place, putting a small cylinder in her paw and lighting one end. Sweetie leaned forward again, taking a long drag on the cigarette and puffing a cloud of smoke into the already polluted air. “Why not retract those lenses? It’s kinda rude to wear ‘em indoors.”

There was a snick as Bon Bon put her lenses away. She looked at the cigarette and frowned. “Isn’t that bad for your vocal cords?”

Sweetie shrugged and took another puff. “Filter augs. Rated for poison gas, so I think they can handle smoke just fine.” She let go of the stick, letting it hover in midair with her magic, and gave a triumphant little smirk to Bon Bon. “Now, how about you turn off STARE?” She giggled again as Bon Bon gave a start. “Oh, c’mon. I’ve seen the patterns in Rarity often enough to know when it’s on. If you’re going to ask me something, let’s do it on an even footing.”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes and obliged. Well, if Sweetie was this clued up, at least it wouldn’t take too long to bring her up to speed. “Done. Don’t worry about it.”

“Good.” Sweetie curled up a little, bringing her hindlegs up beneath her, a mischievous smile chasing across her face. “Now, I’m gonna go ahead and assume that you’re not just here to tell me how much you love my music, as much as I wish that was the case.” She bit her lip and gave Bon Bon another half-lidded gaze. “Lemme guess: did my sister put you up to this?”

“Actually, no. She didn’t.” Bon Bon glowered at Sweetie. The arrogant act was already putting her on edge. Like older sister, like younger sister, it seemed. She tried to ignore her growing irritation. Best not to get thrown out or make her quarry leave. “I came here of my own accord. Colgate is genuinely a fan, though. And maybe I could be too, after this evening. Who knows?”

Once again, the emerald eyes in front of her went wide. “Is that so?” Sweetie gazed sideways at Colgate and smiled. “Well, isn’t she full of surprises…” Her attention snapped back to Bon Bon. “Still, what is somepony from Sparkle Industries here for, if not the music, or from my sister? I mean, I’ve had Rarity breathing down my neck my entire life. Why stop now?”

Bon Bon took a deep breath, trying to formulate the most diplomatic way of telling Sweetie Belle what she had to. “Sweetie, your magical signature came up in an… unexpected place.”

Sweetie gave a derisive snort. “Oh, really? That’s it? My magical signature’s been on record for years, all thanks to Rarity.” She huffed and crossed her forelegs. “Figures. Just a silly little hobby I had when I was young, but she just had to go all the way and blacklist me as a hacker. Great. You think I don’t know I’ll be arrested if my magical signature ever turns up in an info trail? You honestly think I’d be stupid enough to go and hack something with that hanging over my head?”

“But it did show up.” Bon Bon insisted.

“Well, maybe somepony spoofed it!” Sweetie cried, flinging her forelegs up in exasperation. “How the hay should I know?”

Bon Bon frowned, activating her Hydra. Colgate, could anypony have spoofed Sweetie’s signature?

Uh… no. That’s pretty much the Crystal Heart of infomagic. Crack that, and you’d make it pretty much impossible to track any hacker ever again.

Right. She looked at Sweetie Belle and raised her eyebrows. “I think we both know that’s not true, Sweetie. Look, I get that you—”

“Where was this signature?” Sweetie Belle interjected. She took another swift drag on the cigarette, as though it were responsible for her irritation.

Bon Bon sighed. No sense in beating around the bush. “There was a stallion. In the MANE clinic. We analysed his body after he died in the attack; there was some odd magical connection going on with him, and there was an entirely organic daisy chain of links coming from him. You were the first signature we pulled out of that mess.”

Sweetie said nothing, instead meeting her gaze with a furious glare. The cigarette was mashed into an ashtray on a table beside her, and she let out a loud snort. “Are you serious?” she asked quietly. Before Bon Bon could reply, she continued, “Just look at me!” She flung out her legs. “Do you see these? Do you think I am one of those anti-aug nuts, or those morons who start whining after they get implanted? I didn’t have an accident! Or had these blown off in a war, or whatever! I was augmented willingly! You seriously think I had anything to do with that attack?” She grunted, snatching a fresh cigarette from the stallion hovering nearby. “Besides, I was having the mother of all migraines at the time. Not in a fit state for hacking. Vinyl can vouch for that. I don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, but you’ve got nothing on me.”

“Look, I’m not accusing you of anything,” Bon Bon said slowly. “Trust me, it surprised us just as much.” She shrugged, spreading her forelegs in a pacifying gesture. “I’m just saying: the signature is there. You were used for some sort of connection, and maybe you didn’t know it. Maybe somepony somehow took control of your cranial implants without you knowing?”

“Trust me, I would know,” Sweetie muttered darkly. She looked away, tapping a thumb talon on the end of the cigarette, sending tiny specks of ash to the ground. “I’m sure Colgate would already know this, but I’m not stupid. Certainly not enough to go dipping my hooves in shady offers that hook you into an illegal infolink. I wouldn’t have done that, even before my singing career took off. Whatever goes on in my head, I control it.” Her eyes met Bon Bon’s. “You understand?”

“And you’re sure nopony else is telling you how to exercise that control?” Bon Bon asked. “If that’s the case, we can protect yo—”

Protect me?” Sweetie Belle exclaimed. She let out a sarcastic laugh and shook her head. “Are you serious? Of course, I’m sure this all comes from my sister; my sweet, loving, caring, overprotective sister. No. I’ve spent my life trying to carve my own path, and Rarity’s spent most of hers ensuring I don’t make her look bad.” She inhaled another lungful of smoke, tapping a hind hoof against the ground. She held it in for a moment, before letting out a great, opaque breath. “Look. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if this was some ruse by Rarity to try and rein me in again. Falsifying the results or something. Whatever it is, I’m sorry you got caught in it. But it’s not me you’re looking for.”

Bon Bon sat back, taking in Sweetie’s assertion. She stayed silent for a moment, her conversational partner thankfully willing to return the lack of words and instead glower at the floor. So she thought this was all just a bit of inter-sibling politics? She decided to dare to turn STARE on for just a moment, while Sweetie was looking elsewhere. Obviously, something was off about the situation, and she doubted it was Rarity’s doing. The aug flickered over the singer, working what it could out of her. Agitation, heightened adrenaline, even a little excess sweating… She was covering up something, and it seemed she hadn’t quite learned the poker face her older sister had. “I… see.” She quickly turned the aug off again as Sweetie looked back up at her. “So, if you’re not hacking, what do you do these days as a hobby?”

Sweetie’s ears perked up a little, evidently glad to be rid of the awkward topic. “Oh! Uh… well. Aug modifications. Hacking hardware, not software.” She stretched out her legs, eyes glistening with pride. “These babies are completely customised; you wouldn’t find these in a MANE catalogue.” A smile spread on her face as her pitch heightened and her speech sped up. “And my eyes! I had some lenses injected: they’re still natural, but I get better night vision and glare reduction over somepony who isn’t modified, and I’m programming new modes for ‘em all the time! I’ve kind of been working up toward building new modules from scratch. There’s all kinds of ponies down in the lower city who are interested in this sort of thing!”

Bon Bon allowed herself a small smile as Sweetie happily babbled on about her new obsession. I wonder if this has anything to do with Mercy… A thought suddenly struck her as she looked at the singer. Her mane was awfully long, and had the sort of volume and lustre that only a hair growth potion could really give. The same sort of potions used by MANE after shaving a patient’s head for surgery. And who said MANE were the only ones inserting new modules into ponies’ craniums? She reached out for her magic, and found that just a little was still available to her. The blocking spell hadn’t quite applied itself correctly. Bon Bon sent it flowing into her horn, and gave Sweetie’s mane a little shove to one side.

The hair fell away, and before Sweetie had time to react, Bon Bon spied a circular mark through the strands of pastel pink and blue, the red of healing flesh not yet obscured by the rest of her coat. “Interesting scar you’ve got there,” she said.

Sweetie’s eyes snapped open in mortification, and she hastily rearranged her mane, staring at Bon Bon. “You didn’t,” she hissed. “Get out. Get out!” She jumped and squeaked as her exclamation brought everypony else’s attention her way. “I… I mean… I’m done here.” She quickly fled the area, heading away to another part of the backstage.

Bon Bon quailed a little in the spotlight of attention, too. Give her a bunch of armed Black Dawn activists over this any day of the week. What if she got thrown out now?

“Wow. What did you do to upset her?” Vinyl said, looking over the top of her sunglasses.

“I… don’t think I did anything,” Bon Bon said. “We were just talking about her augs, and she snapped.” She braced, hoping the lie would be accepted.

Vinyl shrugged and grimaced. “What can I say? Poor gal’s been stressing out something chronic recently. Maybe she was just a little too high-strung tonight.” She flicked her head to one of the stallions running security. “Go check on her, will ya?” As he nodded and left, she turned back to Bon Bon. “Sorry about that. You wanna hang around a while longer?”

“Sure…” Bon Bon joined the rest of the group. Well, that was a bust, she complained. First Trixie and now this. This is turning into a bad habit.

I’m curious. The hay did you do to her? Colgate replied.

Sounds like Sweetie’s got one hell of a chip on her shoulder. She denied any involvement in the attack, or getting manipulated by anypony. She even went as far as accusing Rarity of making this signature connection up. A wave of incredulity came through the link. I know. Anyway, she started blabbing about custom augs and such, and I got curious…


And I gave a her a little hairstyling. Turns out she’s got a surgical scar on her head that’s healing up. Somepony’s been digging around in there recently, and she did not take kindly to me knowing.

Shit. She’s a homebrewer? There could be anything in there!

You think she’s got a malfunctioning custom aug? Something to stop her getting caught and it went wrong?

Something like that. We need answers. This could get very nasty, very quickly if she keeps using that augment.

Got it. First, I need to get out of here…

Uh huh. Well, take a look. I think this is the best I’m going to be able to do.

After a moment, a wireframe map of the club unfolded in Bon Bon’s vision. She took a look through the backstage area, noting the positions of the dressing rooms and looking for any easy way in. It seemed as though there were a few vents here and there, eventually leading to the dressing room ceilings, but with no easy way to access them. She nodded to herself as a set of bathrooms showed up on the map. I guess I could ask to visit the little filly’s room. Guess I’m going to have to give them the slip afterward. She got up and looked at one of the guards, fidgeting theatrically. “Would it be alright if I went out… you know?” She nodded toward the door.

Vinyl noticed her request and laughed. “You’re not a prisoner! Show her where the bathrooms are, Padlock.”

The guard nodded and motioned for Bon Bon to follow him. She hopped out of her seat and walked after him back into the corridor. Personally, she was a little relieved to escape the chamber legitimately. The passageways were narrow, and the ongoing performance meant that ponies were rushing back and forth constantly. Her invisibility aug would have been rendered useless by an inevitable collision. After dodging a few stagehoofs and runners, the security pony stopped in front of a door and nodded to it. “In there,” he said. “I’ll wait out here and take you back once you’re done.”

Bon Bon nodded and walked into the room. There were several cubicles inside, and as far as she could tell, there was no other way out. She had around five minutes to come up with a plan to escape. The realisation made her pace back and forth and grumble. Unless she could somehow slip away while being led back and not raise any sort of alarm, this had all been for nothing.

Just as she prepared to go back outside, defeated, her Hydra sounded up again. Okay. this is kinda weird. The security unicorn left in here just got a look on his face and whispered something in Vinyl’s ear. Sounds like there might be trouble brewing…

Okay. Is he going anywhere?

No, but I think the others might. Your escort could’ve gone to join them. This is as good an opportunity as any to get to Sweetie Belle.

Got it. Bon Bon opened the door and peered around. The corridor was deserted. Oddly enough, she could still hear the thumping music in the background. Whatever was going on backstage evidently hadn’t stopped the show. She consulted her map, looking for the nearest vent entrance.

It was in a nearby store room, high up on one wall. After a little undignified clambering up the shelves lining the walls, Bon Bon was able to push the cover open and climb in. She dragged herself along by her forehooves, her dress evidently not having been designed for traverses through ventilation shafts. What kind of self-respecting dressmaker would neglect that detail when producing a garment?

After a painfully slow crawl through the shaft, Bon Bon noticed the tell-tale beams of light showing up ahead, indicating a cover. She moved up to it and pressed her face against it, checking for any occupants of the room. Oddly enough, a red curtain was drawn across the space, blocking off most of the room from view. However, her hearing couldn’t pick up the noise of anypony moving behind it. Had it not been for the muffled bassline, there would have been silence. When she was satisfied it was empty, she looked for any personal effects that might tell her the pony the room belonged to. She spied a hairbrush lying on a table, and willed her vision to zoom in a little. She nodded to herself when she saw the strands of pastel pink and purple tangled in the bristles. Sweetie Belle’s hair.

Bon Bon pushed open the vent cover and climbed through. She reached out her forelegs for a soft landing, before having to suppress a yelp as the dress tangled in her hindlegs and caused her topple over, landing in a heap on the ground. Thankful that nopony was around to see her, she leapt up and dusted herself off, happily noting that the dress hadn’t been damaged in her fall. Looking around the room at ground level, she found it to be oddly spartan, with little more than a dressing table and a chair furnishing the place. Granted, it was lavishly decorated, in a style matching the atrium, furniture all crafted from rare wood and fine silk. She pursed her lips and tentatively pulled back the curtain, nearly gasping in shock when she saw what lay on the other side.

Bottles upon bottles covered the area: on the floor, lining a desk pushed against the wall, and even strewn across the bed. Most were empty, but a few still had caps left on. Bon Bon pushed one over and looked at the label. Sleeping pills. Another showed a brand of painkillers. She felt a stab of anxiety in her stomach as she looked at the array of bottles. This wasn’t just some normal insomnia problem, surely. What had Sweetie done to herself?

Bon Bon stepped carefully across the room, trying not to disturb the pill bottles. On the table were a few bits and pieces from various augs, mostly from different manufacturers, as well as sets of scribbled notes. Sweetie wasn’t going to let a little thing like a concert tour get in the way of her tinkering, it would seem. She raised her eyebrows as she saw a holoscroll flickering beneath the sheaves of paper. Maybe she could pull out some information from here before Sweetie came back. To her lack of surprise, the device was locked with a security spell. She started up her hacking aug and set to work.

Suddenly, the world went dark. Bon Bon toppled over and collapsed onto the ground. She tried to move her legs, but they were as dead as the composite that comprised them. She felt terror flare through her body as breathing became a struggle, diaphragm desperately trying to fill her artificial lungs with air. She gasped for breath, trying to stabilise herself enough to cry for help. Somehow, nearly every aug in her body had shut down. Mercifully, her heart was still pumping, but unless somepony could reboot the rest of her, she was going to stay here, blind and paralysed, until her underused muscles in her chest gave out and stopped refilling her lungs.

The seconds seemed to drag on for aeons, every breath a marathon struggle. Bon Bon tried calling for help, but could barely manage a croak from her lips. A cynical part of her mind mused that maybe augs weren’t all they cracked up to be. At least regular body parts didn’t usually have abrupt magical failures.

After what seemed like an eternity, Bon Bon heard the door open and hoofsteps walking in. “Hel-lo?” she gasped. “Plea… plea’ help…”

“What a surprise,” Sweetie Belle growled. “I should have known it would be you, snooping around in here.”

“Swe’ Belle?” Bon Bon breathed. “Lungs… I…”

“What? Oh, horsefeathers! Sorry!” There was the sound of a horn lighting up with magic, and Bon Bon’s lungs returned to their normal function. Her vision also swam back into focus as she took a great gasp of sweet, sweet air.

“What did you do to me?”

Sweetie waved a hoof to the dismantled augs. “I told you I was into aug modification. Changing the parameters, the enchantments. Simple enough to lay a trap to break in and hack somepony else’s, if they open themselves up via hacking. Interesting little security flaw.” She frowned at the holoscroll. “Damn it, I didn’t set the trap to shut down augs on internal organs! What did you do to this scroll?”

Bon Bon turned her head to face Sweetie Belle, still spread-eagled on her back and immobile. “I didn’t do anything beyond trying to hack it!” She stared upward. “I mean, maybe the horn aug did something? It interfered with the blocking spell on the door…”

Sweetie walked over and prodded at Bon Bon’s horn, eyes wide with wonder. “Whoa. I thought this was aesthetic only. I mean, I guess you used telekinesis earlier, but…” She fell silent for a moment and shook her head, frown returning to her face. “That still doesn’t give you any right to go poking around in my things! What is wrong with you?! You’re worse than Rarity!”

Shapes flickered around Sweetie’s face as Bon Bon reactivated her STARE aug, which had come back along with her vision. “Look around you. Sweetie, you’ve gotten yourself mixed up in something that’s out of your control. I know you’re scared, but you’re not helping anypony, least of all yourself, by trying to cover it up!” She felt her speech was a little diminished in effect by her prone, sprawled position, but she carried on regardless. “Do you think this signature trace is going to stay hidden for long? Do you think the police will hesitate for a moment to arrest you when they find out about this?” Well, assuming they can get anything now the body’s been destroyed…

“I… I… Don’t try to blackmail me!” Sweetie yelled. “There’s nothing wrong! Nothing!” She clutched at her mane with a hoof, tugging at it in anxiety.

STARE flickered some more, warning Bon Bon to stay off the fearmongering. “Alright. Alright. Just… talk me through this. What exactly is going on? What’s got you needing sleeping pills?”

Sweetie blinked rapidly and looked around the room. Her horn lit up, shutting the door and pulling the curtain halfway across. She sighed and turned away. “It’s just a little insomnia,” she murmured. “I’ve been having trouble sleeping ever since I had tha—the tour started.”

“Had what?” Bon Bon said, putting pressure in her tone. “The implant in your head?” She clucked her tongue as Sweetie pursed her lips and folded her ears back. “Sweetie, I need to know. Look, the truth is, Colgate and I came here for you. Not to take you away, just for an explanation. About anything that might have happened that night the clinic was attacked. Fluttershy was abducted there, and we’re trying to hunt her down.” She looked at her, trying to keep her expression as gentle as possible. “I promise, whatever you tell me doesn’t go to the authorities. Same as we the magical signature being traced. It gets kept in-house. Whatever’s going on, I want to help you.”

There was a long silence as Sweetie Belle paced back and forth, deep in thought. She looked at Bon Bon and sighed again. “Alright. But you’re not getting your legs back until I decide, you understand?”

Bon Bon had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. It wasn’t as though Sweetie could keep her prisoner indefinitely, but at least giving her the illusion of control would keep her pliable. “Sure.”

Sweetie nodded and sat down on the floor. She drummed her hoof on the ground and rolled her tongue in her mouth for a moment. “I… was playing around with hacking augs.” She shrugged. “Look, I’m not gonna lie, I love messing around with computers. If I’d been born ten years later, I’m pretty sure that’s what my cutie mark would have been about. So yeah, it was pretty heartbreaking when Rarity made me submit my magical signature to the record. Same as everypony else who has that done to them.” She shuddered and grimaced. “I can’t really describe it to a non-fanatic. It’s… a violation. Like somepony constantly watching you. I mean, I’m sure you remember the riots we had a few years ago when they tried to get everypony to have their magical sig put on file?”

“A few of my friends in the riot squad took some scars. You could say I remember them all too well,” Bon Bon said coldly.

“Right, right…” Sweetie began to fiddle with her mane again. “She said it was so I didn’t wreck my career, or the pro-aug cause, by getting caught where I shouldn’t have. But I know she did it to control me. So I didn’t hurt her.” She glowered into the middle distance. “Ever since, I’ve been trying to get around that record. Not just for hacking. For anything. I hate thinking that some legitimate mistake in tracking might get me arrested or accused. I hate having to be paranoid about something as little as that.”

“Can’t you just use a computer?”

Sweetie shook her head. “Not as good. There’s a reason all the best hackers are unicorns. Staring at a screen and using devices to interact has got nothing on tapping in, seeing it in your vision, controlling the program with your thoughts. Way faster, and more precise. And when you’ve been channeling magic most of your life, it gets just that bit more intuitive. So yeah, organic links are the only way, really.” She turned around and rummaged in one of the drawers of her desk, pulling out a crumpled packet of cigarettes. She pulled one out and ignited it with a spark from her horn. “Sorry. Just getting a little worked up…” A drag of smoke later, she continued, “Problem is, spoofing your magical signature can’t be done. It’s why the signature record works so well. You catch a hacker, and you make sure they never get a line of work in that field again. They’re tainted.”

Bon Bon raised an eyebrow. Where was she going with this? “So, what? You found a way around that?”

Sweetie nodded, smug grin appearing on her face. A little twinkle appeared in her eyes again. “Yeah! I did. Not without a little help, though…” She sucked the cigarette thoughtfully. “No one pony in particular. Just a lot of forum posts and such from other ponies trying to do the same thing. They all weren’t getting anywhere, but the more I looked, the more I saw a pattern. I started researching more, and I found some articles and journals on experimental implants, new hack methods, you name it.” Her horn lit up and picked up some of the paper from the desk. “Took me a while, but I was able to put together a prototype add-on to the Hydra. If my calculations were correct, it would shift your magical signature just enough to avoid detection.”

“And were they correct?”

Sweetie snorted and rolled her eyes. “No, not really. This was about a year ago. I went to a mod specialist down in Lower Canterlot. I’d met him online before as part of the aug modding community, but this was the first time I saw him in person.” She rubbed the side of her head. “I didn’t just want to prove this aug worked. I wanted it. I wanted to use it. I knew he was one of the best custom aug makers and installers out there. Probably works with the Dreadnoughts, given his skills and him being in Canterlot, but I don’t judge.”

“For somepony who’s so paranoid about getting arrested, I’m surprised you were so flippant about meeting a potential gang member,” Bon Bon said. She snorted in amusement as Sweetie’s head recoiled.

“Yeah, well, maybe I got a bit ahead of myself,” Sweetie said, looking away and scowling. She hugged herself tightly, staying quiet for a moment. “In any case, it never came up. He was just as interested as me in the design, though. We spent the next few months refining it, and eventually building it. A custom aug that nopony except the two of us knew about.”

“And then he installed it for you?”

The question earned her a furious glare from Sweetie, who pointed at her head and hissed, “What do you think? Yes, of course he did! You only had to go and push my mane aside in front of everypony!” She huffed and rolled her eyes. “Thanks for making me look like I’d just lost my mind in public.”

“I was just curious,” Bon Bon said innocently. She tried shifting her back as best she could into a more comfortable position. “So, you’ve had the completed version in there how long?”

Sweetie rubbed the spot where her healing wound was. “Just over two months. Scar got an infection, so it’s been taking its time healing. But the aug worked. It really did! Every hack I attempted, verified as having my new signature! I was free.” She blinked rapidly as she realised her sudden change in tone and let out a sardonic snort. “See what I mean? Give me half a chance and I’m babbling away.”

“I’ll say.” Bon Bon frowned and nodded toward the pill bottles. “And what went wrong?” She sighed as the singer screwed her eyes shut and turned away. “Sweetie, come on. You’ve told me this much.” She fell silent as tears began to trickle down Sweetie’s cheeks.

“I don’t know!” Sweetie Belle whimpered. The remnant of the cigarette dropped to the ground and was hastily stomped on. “I don’t know… I’ve messed myself up. Everything was going fine, and then I started getting these migraines…” She clutched at her head and sobbed. “For hours on end! I’ve never been in such pain in all my life. But I couldn’t tell anypony! Not now. If MANE found out I’d made this, or the police, I’d never see the light of day again.” She took a breath and continued, “And then I had insomnia, too. I was going crazy from sleep deprivation, and the fear of the migraines. So I started taking a few pills. They got me relief. Some sleep, and the migraines went too.”

Bon Bon looked around the room at the amassed bottles. “Sweetie, even without the aug, you need to see a doctor. This—”she let out a breath and softened her tone—“isn’t healthy.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Sweetie snapped. “Of course it isn’t! But it’s better than what was going on before!”

“So, you have a malfunctioning aug,” Bon Bon reiterated. “Has it been doing anything strange on the hacking side of things?”

Sweetie nodded mechanically, her voice growing numb. “My friends—the ones online—started noticing my signature in strange places. Places I hadn’t been to. I… told them they were being stupid. Or maybe that the modder I’d worked with had his own copy and was using the same spoofed sig.” She began to tremble and bite her lip. “B-but then I started taking notes. When I had migraines, when I was z-zoned out on sleeping pills…” Her throat pulsated as she gulped. “Always the same time. The aug was breaking into systems when I was least able to control it. I’d say someone was controlling it remotely”—her horrified gaze flickered to Bon Bon—“but that would be crazy, right?”

The corner of Bon Bon’s mouth twitched. “If I’m honest, I’m willing to take any explanation, given the things I’ve seen. The stallion in the MANE clinic seemed to have some sort of remote control affecting him.” She licked her lips.

“No! It can’t be! That’s impossible!” Sweetie grasped a chunk of her mane, breathing becoming quicker and heavier. “The Hydra has to have consent from its owner to work! Besides, it was only me and the modder who knew how it worked and he… he…” Her voice dropped to an awful whisper and her pupils dilated. “He left a backdoor. He’s sold me out.”

“Sweetie, who is ‘he’?

She wasn’t listening. Sweetie Belle fell backward, back slamming against the desk. She slid down it slowly, clutching her mane with her paws, horrified gaze staring into the distance. A moan escaped her lips as she began hyperventilating. “What have I done to myself?” she whimpered. “Why didn’t I try to fix this sooner? Why did I trust him?””


“I had a migraine! During the MANE clinic attack!” Sweetie’s hindlegs scrabbled against the floor, pressing her against the desk. “That’s where my signature came from, and it wasn’t spoofed, and… and… and…” A horrible keening sound came from her mouth. “How many ponies did I kill?

Bon Bon had to lay there as Sweetie broke down altogether, sobbing and screaming. Her attempts at comforting her went unheard, and apparently she could forget about having functional legs for the rest of the day. Her head whipped around as the door crashed open, revealing a wild-eyed Colgate.

“What the hell did you do to her?!” Colgate’s question was a little ambiguous, but soon resolved as she ran to Bon Bon’s side and laid her forehooves on her. “Bon Bon? What’s happened? I couldn’t contact you on the Hydra; I thought something must have happened to you! Can you get up?”

“No… my augs got immobilised by a trap in her holoscroll,” Bon Bon said. “Just a misunderstanding. But I don’t think they’ll be reactivated just yet.”

Colgate looked over to the hysterical Sweetie and blanched. “What happened?”

“We had a chat. I think her hacking add-on has a backdoor. Somepony’s been using her as a proxy agent without her knowledge.”

“Oh…” Colgate stared at Sweetie Belle for a moment, and gulped. “Yeah, I can see how that might upset you…”

“What’s going on in here?” Vinyl also appeared in the door, glaring over the top of her sunglasses. “Sweetie?” She rushed over and hunkered down next to her, throwing a foreleg around the weeping unicorn. “You’d better have one hell of an explanation for this,” she said darkly.

Sweetie’s sobs finally let up a little, and she lifted her head away from Vinyl’s chest. “N-no… it’s okay. She’s helping me. I haven’t been entirely truthful, recently.”

“You can say that again,” Vinyl said, gazing around the room at the amassed bottles. “Jeez, first all the bouncers vanish, now this. What the hay, Sweetie?”

Sweetie Belle stared at the ground for a moment, before spilling out a halting, abridged explanation of her custom aug. Both Vinyl and Colgate listened in wide-eyed shock at her admission.

“Well,” Colgate began. “I guess we could take you back to Sparkle Industries for the night. There’s some test chambers there that can block out any external magical signals. At least it’ll prove somepony’s doing something to that aug if you can get a decent night’s sleep.” She held up a hoof to stop any protest. “Look, nopony needs to know, alright? Twilight’s pretty good at holding cards close to her chest.”

For a moment, there was no answer. It hadn’t really occurred to her until now, but Bon Bon suddenly noticed just how exhausted Sweetie Belle looked, bags now visible under her puffy eyes, shoulders slumping down. And if the aug had been disrupting her usual brain patterns ever since installation, it had to have been months since she had a natural sleep.

Sweetie nodded slowly. “Please. I just want an end to this.”

Before anypony could react, there came the sound of an electric spark, and a grunt of pain. “What was that?” Colgate asked. Whirring gears and actuators could be heard, coming closer and closer. “I don’t like the sound of this…”

And then, a nightmare appeared in the doorway. It was a mechanical monster, with a wild-eyed, wine red mare stuck inside it. She was clad in some kind of exoskeleton of metal and composite, hydraulic cables snaking across the frame. The ends of the forehooves unfolded into talons, just like Bon Bon’s, but these were fearsome weapons, huge metallic claws that scratched at the floor and doorframe. Mounted on one foreleg was a device crackling with lightning magic, acting as an oversized stunning weapon. She heaved her shoulders against the door, too wide to enter. “You!” she cried, looking at Sweetie Belle. “I need you! I need your head!”

“What is that thing?!” Vinyl exclaimed. The three ponies backed away against the far wall, leaving Bon Bon on the floor.

Bon Bon looked up, and a flash of anger passed through her as she noticed the silver plugs adorning the mare’s hide. The same plugs she had invented, the same ones used for the aug harnesses. Somepony had stolen her innovation! “That’s my damn invention!” she yelled. She looked back at Sweetie Belle, who had gone back to her panicked catatonia, staring at the exoskeleton. “Sweetie! Let me back up! Hey!” Her yelling jerked the younger unicorn out of her state, and her horn lit up, blasting Bon Bon with magic.

After a few moments, she felt the sensation return to her augmented limbs, and she clambered back to her hooves. She glared at the mare on the other side of the room. The facsimile did a poor job of emulating her original design: the frame was far cruder than the sleek prototype Dawn Chorus had worn, and the plugs had caused scarring and deformation of the flesh surrounding them. This was a secondary concern, however, to the fact that this machine was blocking the only exit from the room.

“What do we do?” Vinyl whimpered. The doorframe heaved, cracking the plaster around it.

Bon Bon looked back at the rest of the group. She knew better than to search for a secret door, but then her augmented vision showed up something interesting: a weakness in the wall. Reboot confirmed. Sparkle Industries leg model FP-396 enchantment update applied, said a message in her sight. Run live demonstration? She willed her consent.

She yelled in surprise as her augs left her control for the second time that night. Bon Bon galloped forward helplessly, before spinning around and planting her forelegs firmly against the ground. Her hindlegs folded back, and she realised what posture the implants had placed her in just as the coiled springs of her rear limbs shot outward in a buck that could have snapped an apple tree in two.

The weak wall exploded outward in a shower of plaster, leaving a cloud of dust and a hole just big enough for a pony to fit through. The other three ponies stared at her, before she cried, “What are you waiting for? Go!” They piled through, Sweetie first, followed by Vinyl, then Colgate. Bon Bon heard a bellow of rage behind her, and turned to see the exoskeleton-clad pony stuck in the doorframe, now unable to go back or forth. She glowered back, still incensed by seeing the perverted version of her invention, but ran to join the others nonetheless.

As she joined the group running through the tight corridors, they saw one of the bouncers lying halfway out of a store cupboard, and slowed to help him. His breathing was shallow, and his eyes half-closed. “Stun gun,” Bon Bon said. “Intruder must’ve have been trying to keep casualties to a minimum.” She looked up at Vinyl and Sweetie. “He’ll be alright. You’re the ones this pony’s interested in.” They nodded, and reluctantly continued down the hallway.

Sweetie let out a cry of relief as they came to the emergency exit, only to run to it and hammer her hooves against it ineffectually. “What’s happening?” she cried. “The door won’t open!”

“It’s been welded shut.” Colgate had reached the door as well, and was looking over the frame with a grim expression. “That pony’s trying to trap us!”

All four heads whipped around as there came a loud crash in the distance. Bon Bon tried accessing the demonstration again, only to find that it refused to work. How had it gone?

As it turned out, the point was moot. The exoskeleton and its wearer appeared at the far end of the corridor, and the pony climbed through the doorframe, grinning maniacally. “Got you now,” she growled, pupils dilated and nostrils flaring. “Gonna get your pretty little head, Sweetie.”

Sweetie let out a frightened cry behind her. Bon Bon had had enough. She’d been put through the wringer herself by a bad attitude and a hack job on her augs, but the singer had seen enough trauma to last her a lifetime already. No need to add a deranged, murderous pony wearing a stolen aug design to the mix.

The perversion of the aug harness had already stoked the fires of her rage, and now the coiled spring that was Bon Bon was finally let go. She shot forward, rising up to strike the other mare beneath the chin and stun her. She was careful to keep Zantos’ training in mind and hold back on her power, letting her punches and slaps hurt and stun, but not break bones. She ducked beneath a frantic swipe from the claws, then deflected the other foreleg before it stuck her with the stun gun.

Bon Bon rallied as the other mare stumbled a little, evidently still not used to wearing her exoskeleton and left off-balance by her clumsy blows. She drove the harness wearer back with a flurry of blows, until she stood just outside the doorframe.

Now, the muscle memory came back, and Bon Bon found herself able to execute the powered buck perfectly. She spun around as the other mare reared up, and slammed her hind hooves into the narrow breastplate held in place by ribs. The exoskeleton and its wearer went flying backward, and its wide shoulders lodged firmly in the doorframe with a loud crunch. She nodded in satisfaction at her immobilised opponent. “Who sent you?”

“‘M not gonna tell!” the other mare yelled, face turning red with exertion as she tried to free herself. “Let me go!”

“Not when you’re threatening to murder a pony. What is this?”

“I need to.” The mare’s voice lost its manic edge, and her eyes seemed to return to normal momentarily. “I need to save my husband.”

The proclamation caught Bon Bon off guard. “What?”

“Just let me go!” The aggressiveness returned, and Bon Bon was still a little slow off the mark. She yelled in pain as one of the massive forelegs reached down and grabbed her mane, pulling her off the floor. “Why do you have to get in my way?” The other paw awkwardly reached out, trying to grab her body.

Bon Bon cried out in pain as her body weight threatened to scalp her. A gasp of fear escaped her lips as the other paw began to squeeze her. She could feel the horrendous amount of power behind the grip, ribs seemingly creaking from the stress. Much more, and her torso would be crushed to a pulp.

She sighed in relief as the pain of being squeezed arrested and subsided. Bon Bon looked down to see the dress harden around her, giving protection from the huge pressure being exerted. Immediately thankful for Rarity’s design decision, she took a deep breath to calm herself and analyse the situation, now that there was no imminent danger of being killed. Her gaze alighted on the numerous cables and tubes powering the exoskeleton, all of them unarmoured. If only she could sever them...

Bon Bon waited for her chance to free her forelegs. She really didn’t want to show off the fact she had swords in her legs to civilians, but there was little choice. As the mare let go of her body, looking puzzled, the blades slid out from her forelegs, eliciting gasps in the background. She lashed out with them, slicing through the hydraulic hoses on the exoskeleton. Dark fluid sprayed from the ruptured pipes, coating the vicinity. She fell to the ground as the exoskeleton’s limbs failed from the lack of pressure, eliciting a cry of pain from the armoured mare as her own limbs were yanked downward too.

The mare continued trying to wiggle and pull her way out, seeming to ignore the damage she was doing to her own body. Blood was leaking out from some of the plugs in her flesh, and there were dark bruises across her coat as she tried to free herself from the harness.

Bereft of her own weapons, Bon Bon walked over to the immobilised leg and braced her hindlegs against it, digging her talons into the the stun gun. She heaved, and pulled off the mounted device. It still crackled with lightning energy, and she pressed it against the mare’s coat. She jerked, and fell still, breathing turning shallow and body going limp.

Bon Bon sat down and let out a breath, retracting her blades. It barely registered that her dress was covered in hydraulic fluid, or that her mane was a tangled mess. She was just glad to have survived the encounter.

“Wow. Just… wow.” Vinyl stared at Bon Bon with an open mouth. “You saved our flanks! If you hadn’t been here…”

“It’s okay. I’m just glad I was.” Bon Bon slowly walked over to Sweetie Belle, who had curled up into a quivering ball. “It’s alright. You’re out of danger now.”

The young unicorn uncurled a little, frightened green eyes staring up at her. “I just want to be somewhere safe,” she murmured. “Please get me out of here.”

“We need to get outside,” Colgate said. She looked up at the welded door that led outside. “How are we gonna do that without having to got through the main stage?

The question was answered a moment later as the door went sailing through the air and hit the far wall of the alleyway with a crash. Bon Bon turned around and admired her handiwork. There was something oddly therapeutic to kicking things like this: no wonder Zantos did the same thing whenever he could.

She ushered the rest of the group outside. Vinyl gave a concerned murmur as she saw the half-dozen security guards strewn around the exit and ran to the nearest. Evidently, the intruder had been hard at work before she entered the building. Fortunately, they were all in the same state as the guard inside the Pavilion: unconscious, but with no lasting damage. Sweetie Belle regarded the scene with a blank stare. Bon Bon put a foreleg around her and pulled her close to try and comfort her.

She opened up her Hydra link as Sweetie trembled. Twilight, can you get corporate security to the Flux Pavilion? I need to escort somepony back to HQ… and somepony else we need a good, long talk with.

There was a silence in the communication, and Bon Bon wondered if she’d been ignored. Then, Sweetie Belle?

She’s here. But she needs taking care of. She paused for a moment. I think Rarity might need a word with her. And as for the other pony, she’s wearing what looks like an aug harness prototype. I don’t know what’s going on, but I think I may have just scratched the surface of something big, boss.

Consider it done. Stay where you are, I’ll send an escort. We need some answers.


Augmentation Activated

        Legs: Power Buck

Ergonomic study of earth pony fruit farmers has revealed the most efficient method for shaking, breaking, and otherwise perturbing objects in the environment. This upgrade automatically configures limbs into an optimum position, allowing the user to kick through weak walls, doors, and send untethered items high into the air


<<Chapter 9                                                                          Chapter 11>>

Many thanks to Faindragon and John Colt for pre-reading, and to KibugamiKenzo for the incredible cover art.

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