She was well aware of the freezing water surrounding her, regardless of the shots Dr. Applejack had given her. Solid Sparkle ascended from the murky water and surveyed the surroundings. The cold air pinched the skin of her exposed cheeks as she made her way to behind a ventilation unit.
“This is Sparkle, Princess, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear my faithful student” replied the always calm, soothing voice of Solid Sparkle’s long time teacher and commander, Colonel Celestia.
“Looks like the elevator in the back is the only way up”
“Just as I expected, you’ll have to take the elevator to the surface, but make sure nopony sees you”
Across the dock, Sparkle could hear the elevator siren, and an echoing voice...
“Stay alert. She’ll be through here, I know it. I’m going to go swat down a couple of bothersome parasprites”
Sparkle leaned around the corner she was pressed against and caught a glimpse of the source; a blue unipeg with a dark blue mane, a crescent moon adorned her flank. The pony ascended in the lift, out of view; Sparkle knew she had to keep close behind.
She got down and crawled underneath the unit she’d been hiding behind, and moved, silently and swiftly over to the stack of crates, taking the briefest of moments to notice the guard pony patrolling between the other crates. She moved with prowess, circling around the crate-maze, until she was directly behind the guard pony, and as silently as she had arrived there, the guard pony’s neck was snapped. By the time the body had hit the floor, the lift was moving again, this time carrying Solid Sparkle, the finest espionage pony in all Equestria, up into the chilly early morning.
“This is Sparkle; I’m in front of the candy disposal facility”
“Excellent my faithful student”
“How’s that sneakin’ saddle workin’ out sugar cube?” chimed a voice. It was Dr Applejack.
“It’s nice and dry but it’s little hard to move”
“Bear with it, it’s designed to prevent hoofothermia; this is Alaskhoof you know.”
“Sparkle”, Celestia interrupted, “two squadrons of Pegasus ponies just took off from Gallopena and are headed your way”
Sparkle reared her head over a crate, catching a glimpse of the huge contraption in front of her. It was a seat attached to two enormous candy canes on top. A variety of different sized cogs and gears connected them to an array of levers and buttons, all coloured brightly, some with streamers and ribbons adorning them.
“A Hind Leg D? Princess, what’s an Everfree Gunship doing here?”
“I have no idea, but it looks like our Pegasus diversion got their attention, now’s your best chance to slip in unnoticed. We only have 18 hours left until their deadline and...”
She was cut off before she could finish her sentence by a crashing sound, evidently, Sparkle thought; somepony had tripped over something on their end.
“You must be muffin to sandwich egg mayonnaise in this kind of derp”
A long silence followed as it seemed everyone tried to make sense of the statement.
“Oh... eh, I haven’t introduced you two yet, Sparkle this is Derpy, she designed your radar, and is our data analyst for this mission”
“Nice to banana, Solid Sparkle”
Sparkle stood there with the same confounded expression she had been wearing since Derpy spoke.
“What?” said Derpy.
“...nothing” Sparkle finally replied. “I just hadn’t expected an Equestria-class designer of military technology to be so...”
She struggled to find a way to finish that sentence. Derpy seemed nice enough; she didn’t want to hurt anypony’s feelings, especially if she didn’t want to spend the next 18 hours talking to herself.
Finally, Dr Applejack broke the silence.
“Be careful sugarcube, them genome ponies have highly developed senses, on account o’ the gene therapy”
“First I want you to infiltrate the disposal facility and locate the DERPA chief” Celestia ordered.
And with that, Sparkle was away. She crept up behind another crate, noticing a guard patrolling ahead. No need to take him out, she thought, she could just creep around. She waited for her opportunity, the guard turned away, and she rushed ahead, pressing herself against the wall. Just up the stairs and into the duct now, she muttered to herself. Before she could make a move though, she heard a voice close by, the voice of the guard.
“Huh?! Whose hoofprints are these?”
Damnit, how could she have been so short sighted as to not notice the trail she had been leaving in the snow? Thinking quickly, she rushed around the crate in a full circle until she was behind the guard. In one solid swoop, she knocked him clean out with her hoof.
Before she moved on, something caught her eye. The guard’s cutie mark; it was a red exclamation mark. This wouldn’t have stood out if she hadn’t seen it before. Everypony knew a cutie mark was related to the certain something that made him or her special; nopony had the same cutie mark as another. It only just hit her that all the guard ponies she had seen had this exact same cutie mark.
“What can ah do ya for?”
“Why do all these guard ponies have the same cutie mark? It’s impossible!”
“Well, y’see it’s a result of the gene therapy. Ever since we recovered Big Macintosh’s remains, we been tryin’ to isolate the ‘soldier genes’, and use gene targeting techniques to implant them into the guards. Unfortunately, since they’re now workin for the terrorists, we kinda wished we hadn’t. But they ain’t perfect, that’s why they need Big Macintosh’s remains, to finish the work we started.”
She pondered this, but briefly, she knew she had to press on.
Within minutes she found herself crawling awkwardly and uncomfortably through an air duct. It was acrid and cold, and full of bunnies scurrying around. She could swear a small white one kept looking at her, almost angrily. “Maybe I’m just going crazy” she thought, as the bunny seemed to beckon her onwards.
A ringing in her ear caused her to stop; she was receiving a codec transmission.
“Twilight, it’s been a long time.”
Sparkle recognised the voice instantly, but it had been a long time since she’d heard it.
“Dr Whooves, what are you doing here?” she said.
“I needed to get away, so I moved here to help train espionage ponies like you.”
“Well there’s no one I’d rather have in a foxhole than you.”
Sparkle had known Dr Whooves for years; he had helped in her training (along with Celestia of course). Everypony found him to be a bit eccentric though, and as such many treated him as a bit insane.
“Well if there’s anything you need Sparkle, you have my frequency.”
Finally she reached an opening. The room she descended into was nice and warm, a welcome relief from the blistering cold outside, but she was in no position to relax. To reach the elevator she could see, she would have to go all the way around a large walkway.
“Sparkle, if you try walking along there normally, your horseshoes will make a lot of noise and probably attract attention”
It was Dr Whooves again.
“Try fitting your socks over your horseshoes.”
“Err, sure” she replied.
Sparkle had absolutely no idea how she would accomplish that, considering she had no socks to begin with and she certainly wasn’t up for sitting down in the middle of enemy territory for an impromptu footwear change. In the end, she gave up on the idea and simply vaulted over the railing.
After managing to get in the elevator unnoticed, and descending a floor, Sparkle once again found herself crawling through a duct. It wasn’t as cold this time, but she still crawled as awkwardly and uncomfortably as before.
She reached a grate and peered through it; but the pony she saw wasn’t the DERPA chief. It was a young blue Pegasus, with an astoundingly bright rainbow coloured mane which matched her tail. She was anxiously flying back and forth in small bursts around her cell, muttering some things Sparkle couldn’t quite make out.
No time to worry about her right now, Sparkle thought, inching forward until she came to the next grate. This time she had found her target.
As she dropped down into the cell, its current occupant gasped and recoiled apprehensively.
“Who... who’s that?” he cried.
“I’m here to save you; you’re the DERPA chief, Spike Anderson, right?”
“Here to save me huh? Who sent you?”
Sparkle dusted herself off from her trip through the duct and finally got a proper look at the DERPA chief. To her surprise, he was a dragon; only a small dragon albeit, but a nervous looking purple and green dragon.
“I’m the pony they sent here to save your worthless butt. But first I want some information, about the terrorists. Do they really have the ability to launch a concentrated sugar missile?”
“They... could launch one...” said the dragon, still looking shocked at the pony that had dropped from the ceiling.
“But I thought this place was just for keeping the dismantled warheads?”
The dragon’s eyes shifted briefly, he was thinking about his next words carefully.
“What I’m about to tell you is classified information, ok? We were conducting field tests with a new type of weapon, a weapon that will change Equestria.”
Sparkle couldn’t hide how unnerved she was feeling at this moment. Her eyes narrowed as she listened to what he said.
“A weapon with the ability to launch a sugar filled, diabetes loaded attack from anywhere in Equestria. A diabetically equipped walking battle tank.”
“Metal Hoof... it can’t be...”
Sparkle regretted mentioning it after seeing the look on the dragon’s face when he realised she knew.
“How did you know that?! Metal Hoof is one of the most secret black projects” said the dragon.
“We’ve had a couple of run-ins in the past” said Sparkle, remembering her time in Zanziflank Land, and Outer Hoofen.
“There’s not much time. A few hours ago, Metal Hoof fell into the hands of the terrorists, they’re probably already finished arming the warhead; these guys are pros”
Sparkle jumped out of her skin as two loud bangs came down on the door.
“Hey, shut up in there will ya?” came the voice of a guard.
The dragon looked at him through the slot in the door, giving him a waving gesture before turning back to Sparkle, who was now pressed against the corner of the room.
“But I thought you needed a key to launch it, like a code or something?” Sparkle asked, breaking the silence.
“You mean a FRIEND code. Yes there is a code, you need two to launch it though, I know one and the SaddleTech President, Cake, knows one. But...”
Sparkle was immediately back on edge.
“...they found out my code...”
“YOU TALKED?” said Sparkle angrily.
“No, they have a psychic, someone who can read people’s minds... he found out my code.”
“This is bad...”
“Yes, and it’s only a matter of time before they find out Cake’s too. But there is a way to stop the launch... the cards”
He handed Sparkle a small yellow and black card.
“You need to input that card to deactivate the warhead, there’s 3 slots though, for 3 keys. They’re keeping Cake somewhere in the 2nd floor basement. Hurry before they get his code.”
“Got it, now I’m going to get you out of here”
“Wait...” he said, “uh... you haven’t heard any other ways to disarm the warhead have you... from your bosses or anyone?”
“Are you sure?”
“I just said no.” Sparkle was beginning to grow irate with him.
“Does Canterlot plan to give in to the demands...?”
“I DON’T KNOW. This has nothing to do with my orders.”
“But what about the Ponygon?”
Before she could finish her sentence, the chief let out a horrible wail. Fire of all different colours shot from his mouth and Sparkle had to dodge to avoid being singed. Clutching his chest, he slowly fell to the floor as Sparkle looked helplessly on, unsure what was happening, less sure how to help.
After a few seconds, there was silence. The chief lay face down on the floor, tail limply hanging between his legs. He was dead.
“The chief... what happened?”
She was on her codec, hoping her comrades would be able to shed some light on the event.
“I dunno sugarcube; it looked like a heart attack but...”
“A heart attack?” Celestia interrupted, “no...”
“Princess, are you hiding something from me?”
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! This operation is security level red, only the ponies in charge have complete access to the file” she replied, sound offended and slightly hurt by the accusation.
“You expect me to believe you’re in charge of this operation but don’t have complete access to the file?!” Sparkle’s voice quickened as she finished her sentence.
“I told you my faithful student, I’m just here as your support.”
She paused for a while, waiting to see what Sparkle would say, before deciding now wasn’t the time.
“...we don’t have time to debate, Sparkle. Get out of there and find Cake.”
Sparkle surveyed the mess around her. The cell was morbid enough as it was without the dead body now covering the floor.
Sparkle leapt back to the corner of the room as she heard the guard approach. The door unlocked, Sparkle expected to have to leap out at any moment and overpower the guard when he noticed the body. But she was surprised, no sign of any guard waiting to come in. Carefully as she could, she slowly ventured outside the cell.
Sparkle stopped dead, and then turned to face the source of the voice. It was a guard. A small, femininely shaped one at that.
“Luna? No, you’re not...” said the guard. Sparkle could tell from that voice there was something off about this soldier; she went to reach for her handgun.
“DON’T. MOVE.” The guard repeated.
“Is this the first time you’ve ever pointed a gun at a pony? Your hooves are shaking” Sparkle asked, seemingly oblivious to the gun in her face.
“Can you shoot me, filly?” she asked.
“Careful... I’m no filly...” came the reply.
“Liar. I saw that scared look in your eyes; they’re filly’s eyes if I ever saw them. You’ve never shot a pony before, am I right?”
The guard’s hands were shaking more than ever. Sparkle may have been the one with the gun pointed at her, but she definitely wasn’t the one feeling threatened.
“You haven’t even taken the safety off, filly.”
“I TOLD YOU, I’M NO FILLY!”
“You’re not one of them, are you?” Sparkle asked. It was more of a statement; she had been able to tell this from the start.
“Open that door” commanded the guard, “you got a card, don’t you?”
“SO WE CAN GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”
Sparkle had little time to ask more questions. Before she knew it, the room was swarming with guard ponies, attracted by their shouting.
“Looks like we’ll be a little delayed...”
Sparkle drew her handgun, unhindered this time, and moved for cover around a small corner. With three well placed shots, she dispatched three separate guard ponies, and swiftly returned to the corner. She caught a glimpse of the guard who had held her up across the room, who looked nerve racked. “What are you waiting for? Shoot!” she cried.
“AARRRRRGHHHHH!!!!” cried the guard, unloading a whole magazine into the bodies of another three guards.
Sparkle repeated her shoot, hide, reload cycle a few more times before finally there seemed to be no more guards left. Cautiously she rose from the hiding spot, ready to continue the questioning. But before she could speak, the guard, who seemed to have gained a lot more confidence now they weren’t staring death in the face, piped up.
“Thanks for the help” she snorted derisively.
“Wait!” Sparkle cried, as the guard ran for the exit and round the corner, towards the elevator. Oddly, Sparkle found her eyes drawn to the soldier pony’s butt; watching it rhythmically sway, she knew whoever this guard was, she was female.
As she watched, an intense flash of yellow light seemed to engulf her field of vision, and Sparkle realised she wasn’t viewing the same room anymore. Three ponies were standing around a body strapped to a bed, from the angle she was viewing at, Sparkle couldn’t get a look at any faces.
“You fool, you’ve killed him! Now we’ll never get that detonation code!” came the voice from one pony.
“Aww, I’m sorry, I partied this one too hard... oh wait, you can NEVER party too hard!” chirped another, far happier sounding pony.
“Boss, The Great and Powerful Mantis has a good idea...” said the third.
Sparkle jolted on the spot as her vision shifted back to the room she was in. She realised she was still staring at the guard pony’s butt, until that is, the guard pony turned around. She was in the elevator.
“WAIT!” cried Sparkle.
Before she got a reply though, the doors slammed shut. It took her a moment to take in, but a figure was now floating in front of the doors; a blue unicorn with a silver mane.
“Good pony, just like that...” said the figure, punctuating the sentence with a self-satisfied giggle.
The next thing she knew, the room was back to normal. No floating ponies, no yellow vision.
“Doctor, I just had a hallucination. Was it from the nanomachines?” she asked, over the codec.
“Nah Sparkle, the nanomachines are functionin’ properly.”
“Then what was that?”
“It must have been The Great and Powerful Mantis, the terrorist’s psychic. Although don’t be askin’ me how she did that, with her fancy mind tricks.”
“So that was Mantis.” she said, more to herself than the others.
Sparkle took a quick moment to gather her bearings, before getting in the elevator to begin the search for Cake.
****** To be continued ******