Author’s Note: This story is currently undergoing maintenance. Originally the Prologue and Chapter One could be found at the same link. That has changed. Please follow the link at the bottom of this chapter to go to the prologue, that is, if you want to...thank you! :)
"The Eques System houses numerous opportunities for those ambitious enough. While the many habitable worlds have much to offer in terms of employment, one of the most venturous businesses takes place off-world in the vast vacuum of space. Space Trucking can not only be very profitable, but may also offer a level of adventure one could never find on-world. However, it is also one of the most risky forms of self-employment one can undertake with some of the highest fatality rates."
- "The Eques System and You" Vol. 2
"PLEASE CLEAR THE AREA! REPEAT: PLEASE CLEAR THE AREA!" A robotic voice blared with urgency. Engineers and other personnel took heed and retreated to a safe distance, leaving the large landing area clear and ready for a ship.
The docking bay personnel remained in a group and looked on as an ancient freighter lumbered into the docking bay. As it came in for a landing its rotating drives changed direction causing it to slow and then stop in a hovering position. It slowly lowered until it was no more than a few feet off the floor. The landing gear engaged as the thrusters deactivated. The old ship groaned and bounced slightly as it touched down.
A rugged and heavyset earth pony pushed his way to the front of the crowd. He wore dirty overalls and a hat that was in desperate need of a wash. He yelled with a commanding tone as he motioned a hoof at the freighter. "Alright, you mooks, move it! Let's get this hunk-of-junk serviced and ready to leave!"
The group sprung into action. They brought out hover platforms and placed them around the ship. Workers stepped onto the platforms and rose up to clean the cockpit windows and check the engines. A large coolant tanker with a huge hose lumbered out of a nearby garage. A few workers grabbed hold of the hose and hooked it into a port on the side of the ship. After the connection was made the tanker hummed to life as it began pumping in fresh coolant.
As the workers continued with their jobs the boarding ramp on the ship lowered. A lavender unicorn appeared trotting down the ramp, her mane and tail bouncing lightly with every clop of her hooves. She was followed closely by her hovering orb-bot companion.
"Great landing, Spike!" The purple unicorn said to the orb-bot with a smile.
"Thanks, Twi, I do my best." Spike said as he bobbed happily at Twilight's side.
The overall-clad stallion trotted over to the pair with an angry look on his face. "Twilight Sparkle! I should have known! Only you would land a piece of junk like that in my nice clean docking bay."
"Too bad the same can't be said about your clothes." Spike rudely pointed out while hovering above the two ponies.
"Spike!" Twilight scolded.
"Well, it's true, just look at them."
The stallion grunted. "A real stallion enjoys getting dirty at work. All you bots and all these newfangled machines have made most ponies go soft. They’d rather sit in nice cushy chairs while machines do all the work. They don’t appreciate hard labor anymore! Well, you’ll find none of that here! All my workers are of the organic variety!"
"We know, Greasy," Twilight said while rolling her eyes. "You've told us all this before. Anyway, looks like you've taken on a few more employees since we were last here."
Greasy grunted again. "Buncha slackers is what they are. Wouldn't know hard work if it came up and kicked them in the flank."
Suddenly a young colt trotted up to the group. "Mr. Slacks! Something’s wrong with the coolant tanker!"
"Let me guess." Greasy responded as he turned his attention to the probie. "All lights are green but no more coolant is being pumped into the ship."
"That's exactly right." The colt looked surprised. "How did you know?"
Greasy narrowed his eyes and gave Twilight a bored look and then tilted his head back towards the colt. "Did you check the gauges?"
Suddenly Greasy became very irritated. "Yeah, the gauges. You know, those little glass circles on the sides with the needles in them."
The colt looked at Twilight and then back at Greasy with a confused and worried look on his face. "Uhhhh..."
"Oh, for crying...the tanker is empty!" the stallion yelled while stomping a hoof. "Refill it and get back to work! And stop wasting my time with stupid problems or you’re gunna have to find yourself a new job! Is that understood!?"
The colt's ears flattened as he lowered his head. "Yes...yes Mr. Slacks, right away." He galloped off back toward the tanker.
Greasy turned back to Twilight. "You see what I have to deal with here? Buncha idiots."
"Don't you think you were a little hard on him?" Spike asked while bobbing around the stallion.
Greasy attempted to follow Spike with his eyes but found it to be quite a challenge. "Wouldn't expect a machine to understand. If the kid doesn't learn then he has no chance. If he's lucky he may grow up to become half the hard working stallion I am."
"Yeah, and be just as unlikable, too."
Taken aback by the comment, Greasy gave Spike a very angry look.
Twilight grinned widely as she gave a nervous chuckle. "And that's our cue to leave." She aimed her horn at Spike and it began to glow. Suddenly a faint, purple-hued light surrounded the orb-bot.
"Hey!" Spike shouted in surprise as a force pulled him out of the air and into a pocket on Twilight's flight jacket.
"So long, Greasy Slacks," Twilight said as she galloped out of the docking bay.
With an angry look still firmly etched into his face, Greasy watched as the purple unicorn boarded an elevator and disappeared behind its doors. Greasy's expression softened as he seemed lost in thought for a moment. Then he looked down and gave a sigh. He raised his head and gazed around as if searching for something. He spotted the colt he yelled at before. His expression changed to a more lighthearted one as he trotted over to see if he could lend a hoof.
Twilight exited the elevator at ground level and found herself in the bustling business district of the planet’s capital. Not much had changed since her last visit to Canter107. It was still one of the most beautiful planets she had ever been on, and rightfully so: it boasted the cleanest air and clearest skies in the Eques System. The Royal Family, along with all the other alicorns, currently called this planet their home. Far in the distance one could easily see the amazing structure of the Royal Palace as it rose up above all the other buildings. It almost seemed to touch the clouds.
The capital was as busy a place as ever. All about brightly colored ponies of all different races and shapes and sizes went about their daily lives: browsing the shops, talking with friends, trading goods, taking jobs, or just strolling about. Twilight even noticed a few bipedal species from the Outer Systems among the crowds.
Twilight took a deep breath, letting the clean filtered air fill her lungs. She held it in as she gazed up at the beautiful blue sky. Dotting the sky were ships of all different types: hover-cabs transporting fares, small freighters transporting goods; way up a battle cruiser could even be seen slowly making its way across the sky.
Twilight released her breath and took off into the crowd. She bobbed and weaved her way through until she found what she was searching for. An empty hover-cab waited quietly near a bakery shoppe. She dove into the vacant passenger seat of the cab and the door glided shut after her.
The unicorn driver turned his head back at her. "Where to, lady?"
"Canter Palace, please," Twilight politely responded.
"You got it."
The cab lifted up above the crowded streets and zipped off in the direction of the palace.
The driver guided the cab calmly through the air. "It's been real hectic at the palace recently."
Twilight raised her brow. "Really, why is that?"
"You kidding?" the driver said while glancing back in the rear-view mirror. "You really haven't heard?"
"I've been off-world and I have to admit that I haven't read much holo-news recently," Twilight responded.
"You young ones," the driver said with a light shake of his head. "Anyway, Selene is gone."
"Yup, just up and vanished."
"That's impossible." Twilight said while shaking her head.
"May be but it is gone. The Princess Celestia just got back about three days ago and reported that not a trace of that old prison world was to be found."
"What about Princess Luna?"
"They don't know. It's presumed that whatever took the planet also took the Princess as well as all the other inmates."
"But what in the galaxy could take an entire planet?" Twilight asked quietly as she put a hoof to her chin and thought.
"Be darned if I know but maybe you can ask about it yourself. Provided you can get anywhere near The Princess Celestia that is."
The rest of the cab ride went on in silence as Twilight's brain shifted into overdrive. However, no matter how many theories and ideas she formulated, she just couldn’t come up with anything that could make an entire planet disappear. It was a mystery. Or a cover-up. No, couldn't be. As far as Twilight could remember the royal family had never been dishonest with the citizens of Canter107 before. Unless maybe now there was a reason for it. Twilight would have to ask Princess Celestia.
"That’ll be 32 bits, please," the driver said. "Just insert your bit card into the receiver slot on the back of my seat."
Twilight removed a thin device from her jacket and inserted it into a slot on the back of the driver's seat. Her bit card gave a cheerful confirmation beep. Twilight pulled it out and slid it back into her pocket.
"Thanks much!" the driver called out as Twilight hopped out of the cab. "Good luck finding your answers!"
The passenger door on the cab glided shut and the cab lifted off, heading back to the business district.
Twilight Sparkle turned around and found herself standing before the front gates of the immense structure that was the Royal Palace. The gates were quite intimidating in their sheer beauty and size. Made of solid gold they towered above the purple unicorn and shone brilliantly in the midday sun.
Adorned in royal armor, two fit pegasus guards stood on each side of the gates. They were like statues as they gazed off into the distance. While they seemed to be completely ignoring Twilight, she knew they were more than well aware of her presence.
Twilight took a few seconds to mentally prepare to introduce herself to the guards. Satisfied with what she was going to say she trotted forward. Her hooves clopped loudly over the smooth marble that covered the grounds outside the gates. However, she only made it a few feet when she noticed the guards' eyes were suddenly and uncharacteristically looking up and watching something. Twilight heard wings flapping followed closely by the sound of hooves touching down on the marble ground.
"Twilight Sparkle, my faithful student."
Twilight's eyes went wide at the sound of the incredibly familiar voice. She quickly spun around. Princess Celestia stood tall before her. The Pinkish White alicorn Princess was dressed in her usual royal garb complete with brilliant gold tiara, necklace, and golden shoes covering her hooves. Her brightly colored mane and tail flowed through the air even though there was no real wind to speak of.
"Princess!" Twilight shouted with joy.
Twilight was about to rush forward but stopped herself. Instead she lowered her head and bowed before the Princess.
"Oh, Twilight, you don't have to bow for me," The Princess said with a smile. "But thank you for the gesture."
Twilight Sparkle straightened herself back up. Princess Celestia moved up to her and gave her a motherly nuzzle. Twilight closed her eyes and nuzzled back.
Despite the Princess' apparent familiarity with the young lavender unicorn the two guards kept a close eye on the both of them. However, they couldn’t help but smile a bit at the loving sight before them.
After they finished nuzzling, Twilight backed up so she could get a good look at the much taller alicorn Princess. It had been over a standard Canter 107 year since they last saw each other and as usual Princess Celestia was unchanged. She still looked as young as she did when she first took Twilight under her wings and began to teach her about the wonders of magic and knowledge.
"How did you know I was here, Princess?" Twilight asked.
Celestia looked out towards the docking bay. "I just happened to see your ship coming in for a landing. I decided to stay out on the balcony above and keep an eye out just in case you decided to stop by." The Princess looked back at Twilight. "And here you are. I hear Mr. Slacks loves it when freighters that are particularly old land at his docking station. I'm sure he was absolutely thrilled to see you."
"Oh, yes, he was simply jumping for joy." Twilight said sarcastically and rolled her eyes.
The two shared a friendly giggle.
"How's Spike?" The Princess asked. "Is he still on your ship?"
Before Twilight could finish a front pocket on her jacket began rustling as a muffled voice came from inside. Princess Celestia leaned in close. Suddenly Spike wiggled free from his warm prison and hovered into the air.
"Spike?" The Princess said while straightening back up.
"Twilight stuffed me in there." Spike accused as he bobbed around the Princess.
"It was for his own good," Twilight assured. "Greasy looked like he was going to use him for field goal practice."
"Trouble keeping your voice simulator muted again, huh, Spike?" Celestia asked while giving the orb-bot a smile.
"He was being mean to somepony and I was just being honest."
"Honesty is an admirable quality, Spike, but please be careful on how and when you use it."
"I'll be more careful, Princess." Spike said as he floated over to Twilight’s side.
"Speaking of honesty, Princess," Twilight said. "I didn't just come to visit. I would also like to ask about something."
"I heard some news about Selene."
"Oh, that. Come, join me inside and I'll do my best to fill you in. And then you can tell me all about the adventures you've had this past year while space trucking."
Twilight nodded and the three of them proceeded toward the gates to the Palace. As they drew close the Princess’s horn began to glow. The immense gates slowly opened, allowing the trio to enter. Then the gates slowly closed behind them.
Hours later the gates reopened and out came Twilight and the Princess as Spike hovered along with them.
The Princess was happy to hear all about what Twilight learned and experienced in the past year as she traveled about the systems delivering goods and meeting new ponies and others. She was equally happy to hear that despite magic being made almost obsolete by technology, Twilight was still making an effort to train in her spare time.
Unfortunately, Twilight was left wanting as the information the Princess shared about Selene was rather lackluster. All the Princess claimed to know was that the old prison world had vanished, her sister along with it.
Something about the conversation seemed off to Twilight. At several points the Princess seemed to pause. Almost as if she had to carefully consider what she was going to say. Twilight trusted Celestia, without question, but she couldn't help but feel that the Princess was keeping a lot of important information from her.
Over the course of her time as the Princess’ student, Twilight had grown used to Celestia’s vagueness when giving assignments. It was how she let Twilight learn mostly for herself. But Selene’s disappearance was a very mysterious and potentially threatening occurrence. Shouldn't the Princess be totally straight with her?
Celestia assured Twilight that she would continue to search for answers but with all that was happening across the Eques system finding the time to travel off-world was becoming more and more difficult. An increase in pirate activity, a new terrorist group calling themselves The Shadow Bolts, as well as the increasing unrest in the neighboring and outer systems were making it difficult for the alicorns, especially with the King and Queen still missing.
Twilight was amazed at how well Princess Celestia was handling it all. If she had that much pressure placed on her shoulders along with the disappearance of pretty much her whole family she would probably spend most of her time curled up in a corner somewhere rocking back and forth.
The group came to a stop just outside the gates as the immense golden doors slowly closed behind them.
The Princess raised her head high and gazed back out towards the docking bay. "Have you had that charming freighter for over two years already?"
Princess Celestia was the only one Twilight ever knew who didn't poke fun at or outright insult the Owlowiscious.
"Two years, one month, and three days." Twilight answered.
"I remember when you first had it brought to the Palace workshop," The Princess said while still gazing out towards the docking bay. "You and Spike worked so hard to get it running."
"And the Aquadria power core almost went thermal when we first powered everything up." Spike bluntly added.
Twilight looked down and blushed with embarrassment. "Thanks to the Palace engineers I didn't lose the Owlowiscious; they're responsible for why it runs as well as it does now."
"Well, the important thing is that you tried," Princess Celestia said while giving Twilight a comforting smile. “You know you could have always just asked for help."
Twilight looked up at her and smiled back. "Thanks, Princess and I know but I really wanted to do it myself."
"I know, Twilight and speaking of getting help, have you gotten yourself a crew yet?"
Twilight made a pained expression as if she was tired of hearing that question. "I'm fine, Princess, I don't need a crew."
"But traveling the stars all by yourself?"
"I have Spike," Twilight said.
Spike bobbed about appreciatively.
"Yes, you certainly do," The Princess said while giving Spike a smile. "But crew mates can be an amazing source of strength and knowledge especially if they also become your friends. And one can always do with more friends."
Twilight sighed heavily. "I'm fine, Princess, really."
Princess Celestia's smile faded and she looked a bit sad. "Are you planning on picking up any jobs before you leave?"
"Yes, I haven’t taken up any in a while and I’m beginning to run short on funds. I was planning on checking out the holo-boards when I got back to the business district." Twilight responded.
"Well if that's the case, I checked the holo-boards out earlier and I noticed a few jobs you may be interested in. Asteroid Uro is willing to pay quite well for any liquid oxygen and a small outer planet named Karlheinz in the Sirius System is currently suffering a famine and would pay just as well for any foodstuffs."
Twilight was surprised. Why would the Princess be checking out the holo-boards? Unless she somehow knew Twilight was going to visit this very day. "Thank you, Princess. I'll take them both on."
The Princess smiled proudly at Twilight. "I knew you would."
Suddenly the same hover-cab that brought Twilight to the palace touched down right next to the group. Its passenger door glided open.
"I called ahead," the Princess said.
Twilight and Celestia exchanged another friendly nuzzle. Then Twilight and Spike said goodbye to the Princess as they got into the cab and headed back to the Owlowiscious.
“I’m shootin’ out of this room
Because I sure don’t like the company
Stop your preaching right there
‘Cause I really don’t care
And I’ll do it again
So get me out of my head
‘Cause it’s getting kind of cramped you know
Coming ready or not
When the motor gets hot
We can do it again”
- My Chemical Romance - “Bulletproof Heart”
O 42: Version 2
Written By: Cat Eats Dog
Edited By: The Lovely Penguin
My Little Pony is owned by Hasbro
The Second Chance
"Designed and produced by Dashovski Enterprises. The Avio 42 series of mid-sized freighters were once the must-have freighters amongst space truckers. Most freighters at the time were either very slow or very awkward. The version one Avio 42 was DE's attempt to combine adequate cargo space with speed and versatility. With 250 tons of cargo space, comfortable living space for a crew of 8, passenger capacity of 22, infirmary, dual laser rotating drives, a single massive hyper jump capable laser propulsion drive, impressive shielding, room for a plethora of different types of weaponry and an Aquadria power core, the Avio 42 was every space trucker's dream. Provided they could afford it at the time. Today most Avio 42s have either been broken down for parts or can be found rusting away in ship graveyards. Other versions were designed and released but none were as widely used as the original version one model."
- "Keep On Flying - The Classics Edition"
"I have quite a few older ships kept here," the old earth pony said as he carefully made his way over the debris-littered ground of the much older ship graveyard. "Watch your step. I don't clean up much. Not sure if you'll find anything you can use. A few ships are rusting away here but it’s mostly just piles of junk. In my own opinion, of course. Err, what exactly are you looking for again, young miss?"
The old earth pony got no response.
"Err, young lady?"
Once again nothing. The earth pony stopped and looked to his side. He was showing around a lavender unicorn and her orb-bot companion. The unicorn was wearing what appeared to be an old bomber jacket and she had a rather unique dark indigo mane and tail that both had a purple and a pink streak running through them. The orb-bot's base color was purple with green spines around part of it, making it appear as if it had a green mohawk. Both the unicorn and orb-bot were no longer following along at the old stallion's side. He turned around and spotted the unicorn giving some old ship her full attention.
He trotted over to her. "Something strike your fancy, miss?"
"Is that an Avio 42?" The unicorn asked without taking her gaze off the ship.
The old earth pony looked over and squinted at the discarded freighter. It was in bad shape. It looked like it was involved in quite a few space battles or perhaps just one big one. Probably what landed it here. Rust and corrosion covered most of what stuck out of the pile of debris it was resting in. It did look like an Avio 42 but its current condition made it barely recognisable.
The earth pony looked at the purple unicorn. He took note of how she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at the ship. It was almost like she was somehow communicating with it. He shook his head clear. "I’m not sure, looks like it. Alls I know for sure is that ship has been here for at least a few decades. May be the version one model? Seems like a real pile. Power core is probably..."
"Do you think it still has its Aquadria power core?" the unicorn interrupted.
The old pony blinked at her. "I don’t rightly know, young miss. I don’t think anypony messed with it since it arrived here if that’s what you mean. Looking around inside a ship in that condition could be dangerous. If you’d like I have a few newer ships dumped around here somewhere. I’d be glad to show them to ya."
The purple unicorn shook her head. "It's a fixer upper, sure, but an Avio 42 as intact as this one is a rare find. Even without its original power core.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It looks so sad. I think...I think it deserves a second chance.”
The aged stallion looked back over the old freighter. All he saw was something that, to him, a second chance would have been wasted on. Wouldn’t have even made for good scrap.
Suddenly rustling and metallic clanks could be heard as the unicorn’s orb-bot companion rose up out of an opening in the old freighter. “It’s still there!” he shouted excitedly as he floated over to his companion. “The Aquadria power core is pretty worn out but it’s definitely still there.”
A huge smile formed on the unicorn’s face as she turned her head and looked right at the aged owner of the ship graveyard. “I want this ship.”
The earth pony looked back, right into the unicorn’s violet eyes; he had seen that look before. His daughters have given it to him plenty of times. There would be no convincing her otherwise. He shrugged. “So, let’s talk price then.”
Using her magic the unicorn levitated a small electronic card out of a pocket on her jacket. Surrounded in a purple-hued aura, the bit card spun in the air and presented itself to the earth pony. He looked at the small display on the card and his eyes went wide.
"Will that be enough?" the unicorn asked.
It was more than enough. Way more than enough. Much more than he would have asked for but he wasn't about to say that. "That...will do just fine."
"Great!" the unicorn exclaimed with a smile, "I assume it will also cover towing and delivery charges?"
"Sure, I'll have a team get right on that." The old pony struggled to control his own growing smile.
"Please have the ship delivered to Twilight Sparkle care of the Royal Palace on Canter107.”
"The...Royal Palace..." he stammered.
The purple unicorn nodded, turned, and began to trot off, retracing the steps she previously took to get to her new ship. Her orb-bot companion floated along with her.
"Young miss, wait!" The old pony called after her.
The unicorn stopped and looked back. “Yes?”
"What about the name?"
"Name?" the unicorn asked, tilting her head to one side.
"Every...Uh...good ship needs a name. What should I put down in the paper work?"
The unicorn looked back at the ship for a moment and then turned back to the old pony. "Owlowiscious. I'm going to call it ‘The Owlowiscious’ or 'O 42' for short."
“Leave your book
and leave the mirror
cause you’re already stunning
The sky above
was never clearer
and the engine’s running
So cast aside
you’re novelty ties
and bury your vendettas
Life is pain
but we’re OK
now now now now
now no no no
Are you all ready
are you ready get set
are you ready get set
are you ready?
Are you all ready
are you ready get set
are you ready get set
- Fatty Gets A Stylist - “Are You Ready?”
"Holo-boards, h-boards, or just HBs are common abbreviations used by space truckers, mercenaries, and bounty hunters to refer to holographic imaging boards where one can acquire delivery jobs and other assignments. HBs are commonly found in places known as Hubs. Hubs are commonly found in docking stations. For more information on Hubs please see Chapter 6. HBs tend to be sub-space capable, granting even the most isolated of planetoids and systems the ability to post job offerings throughout their system as well as multiple other systems with haste and ease."
- "Space Jobs for Dummies. A Reference Guide for the Rest of Us." Chapter 2
Dressed in the standard garb of a mechanic complete with work belt and multi-pocketed overalls, the pink, curly-haired earth pony was seated on her haunches on the floor of her workshop. Spread out before her and resting on a towel was an assortment of tools. She looked up from them and glanced across the room at a door. The door was decorated with three floating party balloons; the same image that appeared on her flank so many years ago. She gave the door a pleasant smile as she remembered the moment she got her Cutie Mark.
Pinkie Pie’s smile faded in an instant as she cringed at the sound. Her boss was angry again. Very angry. His shouting grew louder as he drew closer and closer to the door that led to her workshop. While she didn’t know exactly what the problem was this time, she did know what the final outcome would be.
She scanned the area around herself. She looked at all the tools, equipment, and other commodities she was given when she acquired her current job. She glanced to her right at a large garage door. Every time it was opened something new and interesting would be brought in for her to work on. Whether it be small ships or just parts, Pinkie always managed to enjoy herself when she worked. She felt sad for a moment knowing that while it would be opened again someday it wouldn’t be by her.
Over the past few months, Pinkie grew quite fond of her current job. Fixing and upgrading ships and parts paid her well. Well enough to easily support herself and still have enough left over to throw her fellow employees frequent unbirthday parties, whether they liked it or not.
Pinkie looked back down at her tools and continued cleaning them. She stopped on one tool in particular. She separated it from the rest and looked it over carefully. The Turbospanner; it was the very first tool she ever used way back when she was just a filly. This particular one was the QuickTurn-3, the latest model of Turbospanner. It was Pinkie’s favorite. Her time with it and the rest was short and she was going to enjoy their last few moments together. Pinkie's tools were her best friends. They didn’t yell at her or call her names. She kept them clean and properly configured and they would thank her by doing what she needed them to do. They were never very good at partying though.
Pinkie happily performed a mix of humming and singing as she continued to make the tools shine. “—I know what can wash that sad away—”
Suddenly the workshop door exploded inward, nearly ripping off the hinges. Appearing in the doorway was a large, bulky Earth Pony who looked as if he was on the verge of having a heart attack. He wore a large work belt and some heavy duty work-clothes. His brow was damp with sweat and his breathing was heavy. Rage flared in his eyes as they settled on the pink Pony before him.
"PIE!" he screamed.
Pinkie Pie looked up at her boss and smiled. "Yes, Bossy?"
"Didn't you hear me yelling for you?"
"I think everyone on the clock heard you, Bossy."
"Then why didn't you come to me or say anything, Pinkie?" Bossy said through clenched teeth.
"Silly, I knew you would find me," Pinkie said cheerfully.
"You...knew...I...," he stammered.
Bossy slammed his eyes shut. He exhaled and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He quietly counted to three as Pinkie Pie continued to cast a friendly smile at him.
Bossy slowly opened his eyes. "Let me start from the beginning."
Pinkie’s eyes went wide with excitement. “Oh, are you going to tell me about when you were just a foal? I bet you were much nicer. Did you like cupcakes?”
“What!? No! Pinkie...I meant from the beginning of this conversation, not the beginning of my life.”
“Oh...” Pinkie’s smile faded and she looked disappointed.
“Pinkie, you're at least remotely aware of my three strike rule, correct?"
Pinkie’s smile made a quick return as she lightly nodded her head. "Uh huh."
"Well this is your fifth strike, Pie. I've given you two extra strikes, and I don't do that too often. I had hoped you would at least try to control yourself but it appears you just couldn’t be bothered."
"Is this about yesterday's explosion?" Pinkie inquired.
"Partly, but mostly it's about Prince Blue Blood's personal cruiser and the job you did on its drive two days ago."
"Is there a problem?" Pinkie asked, tilting her head to one side.
"When the Prince activates his hyper jump and ends up three systems farther than he intended, yeah, that's a problem."
"Oh, I could have sworn he said that he liked them fast." Pinkie said as she put a hoof to her chin and looked to the side.
"Actually I think when he said that he was referring to how he prefers his mares." Bossy shook his head. "Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that the Prince was one of our most high profile and most high-paying clients."
"Yes, Pinkie, was," Bossy said. "He actually made a point to inform me that he would be giving his business to 'Pimp My Ship' from now on." Bossy released a long sigh. "Pinkie, you're one of the fastest workers I have and I can't deny your genius at times, but the problem with that is I have four other hardworking geniuses here who don't blow things up on a weekly basis, or cause a client's legs to become numb for a week, or send a prince into one of the most dangerous systems in the galaxy. I'm sorry, Miss Pie, but it's time for you to leave."
"I know," Pinkie said, her expression fading into a frown. "Thank you for the few months you've given me. It’s a new personal record."
"Thank you for cleaning your workshop and tools," Bossy said. "It will be that much easier for me when I give them to someone else.” Bossy’s eyes went wide. “Wait...new personal record?”
"Can I keep my work clothes?" Pinkie asked, ignoring her boss’ question.
"Uh, sure, you can keep those," Bossy replied. "Goodbye, Pinkie Pie."
Pinkie Pie stood up. "Let's go, Gummy!"
Suddenly a rustling noise was heard coming from a workbench behind Pinkie. The top middle drawer shot out and crashed to the floor right beside her. An orb-bot rose from the drawer. The orb-bot's base color was green and it had two large purple circles painted on it making it look as if it had eyes. A part of the orb-bot opened to reveal two rows of shiny pink metal making the orb-bot appear as if it had a mouth filled with toothless gums.
The orb-bot gummed down on one of Pinkie's ears and held on as Pinkie happily trotted past Bossy and out of the workshop. With brow raised, Bossy watched Pinkie as she headed down the hall past the other workshops and disappeared around a corner. Bossy looked back at the clean, Pinkie-less workshop. He smiled for a moment. Then his smile faded into a frown.
Bossy had to admit that a small part of him would miss the bubbly pink earth pony and her random parties. However, a very large part of him, including his heart, would be happy to be without her random accidents.
Bossy looked over at the workbench that Gummy had once taken up residence in. His gaze shifted to the top where a coffee maker rested peacefully next to a stack of festive looking paper cups. Bossy licked his lips. He could really go for a nice hot cup.
Just then, as if reading Bossy's mind, a green light on the coffee maker clicked on. Pinkie must have had it on a timer. Smiling, Bossy trotted over and was about to take a paper cup off the stack when the coffee maker suddenly began making a high-pitched whining noise. Bossy's eyes went wide and he slowly began to back away, but it was too little, too late. Coffee suddenly began erupting from the coffee maker with such force that it launched the machine into the air where it hit the ceiling and broke into pieces. Bossy closed his eyes and ducked his head down as chunks of metal, plastic, and copious amounts of badly brewed coffee rained down everywhere. Thankfully the coffee was only lukewarm.
As the caffeinated rain came to an end, Bossy slowly opened his eyes and straightened up. He was soaked. He looked around himself: coffee was splattered everywhere; bits of plastic and metal were all over the workshop. Bossy took a deep breath. "PINKIE PIE!"
A short time later, Pinkie found herself lying on a bench alongside a street that led to a docking station. She was lying on her back, with her legs in the air and her head draping off of one side. Gummy hovered above her and appeared to be staring blankly at a building across the street. Ponies and other sentients of all types trotted and walked past the pink Pony but, most seemed too occupied to take notice.
Pinkie looked up at the sky and noticed something. Was it a bird? A plane? No. It was just a few pegasus ponies flying above.
"I wonder why there seems to be fewer and fewer of them lately?" Pinkie asked as she watched the pegasi idle in place for a bit and then fly off. "What do you think, Gummy?"
Gummy didn’t respond.
Pinkie let her head sag back down. "I wish I got to stick around and see if my new coffee delivery system worked."
Gummy continued his staring contest with the building across the street. It would be close but he was sure he could win.
"What do we do now, Gummy?" Pinkie sighed. "I guess we could always look for work outside the capital."
Detecting Pinkie's declining attitude, Gummy abandoned the staring contest, giving the win to the building. Then he hovered down and snuggled into the large pocket on the front of his owner’s overalls.
"Thanks, Gummy," Pinkie said with a smile, "At least we have each other."
Pinkie's smile didn’t last long and soon faded into a depressed frown. She sighed heavily and closed her eyes. As her mind faded to its dark place, he made himself known.
"What’s wrong my Dear Pinkamena?”
“I’m just feeling a bit upset, Doctor,” Pinkie said aloud.
“Now, now, Pinkie. Don’t you remember when I first brought you to my lab? Don’t you remember what I taught you to do when you feel down?”
"Yes, Doctor, I remember."
A much younger Pinkamena Diane Pie found herself seated in a poorly lit room. The tiled floor beneath her was warmed by her body heat. How long had she been there? Her face was damp and her eyes were red and sore. Her mane and tail were no longer curly and fell completely straight. They seemed a darker shade than just hours before. Even her coat seemed darker.
This was supposed to be a happy day. She just received her Cutie Mark. She threw her family a party and they loved it. How could it all have gone so wrong so fast?
Pinkamena looked back at her flank but could barely see her Cutie Mark through her blurred vision. She lifted a hoof to rub her eyes but found the action to be much harder than normal. The large, heavy chains clamped to her hooves made movement very difficult. She examined the clamp but could see no way of removing it so she just let her hoof fall back down.
Suddenly, an unusually friendly voice spoke, “Think of them as bracelets. Ones you can never take off. They may not be as fancy or shiny as some precious metals out there but believe me when I tell you that Vibranium-enhanced Tritanium is very expensive. There are some out there who would sooner just rip your little legs off than try to remove them any other way.”
Pinkamena looked all around herself but the voice was echoing and she couldn't pinpoint its location.
“Very heavy as well, but look at the bright side. Any movement you make will take that much more effort: you’re going to wind up with very strong legs. Probably be able to hop and bounce around for hours. I know I enjoy hopping from time to time. Takes me back to my time as a child when all I had was a jump rope; actually that’s what your people call it. For my people it was more commonly referred to as the dried lower intestines of a gh’rhhk beast.”
The pink filly responded by sniffing loudly.
“Kira, you can undo the echo effect on my voice now. It’s not having the desired effect anymore.”
A deceptively pleasant female voice answered, “As you wish, Doctor.”
Suddenly the human man responsible for Pinkamena’s current dilemma stepped out of the shadows and into her vision. He stood at an average height, wore dark circular glasses, and kept his hair short and well done. The skin on his face was smooth and lacked blemish. He let his facial hair grow into a goatee, which he kept just as tidy as his hair. He carried himself well and appeared to be quite young. A fit and healthy body hid beneath his stylish attire. “Hello, Pinkie Pie. Oh...” He leaned in close and smiled.
Pinkamena diverted her eyes and looked at the floor.
“Can I call you Pinkie?”
Fresh tears began flowing down the filly’s face.
“I’ll take your further attempts to dehydrate yourself as a ‘yes’.” The Doctor straightened back up and beamed down at the pink filly. “Come now, Pinkie, why so serious?”
“You’re a monster,” Pinkie said through sniffles.
The man put a hand on his chin. “Hmm, yes, yes, I suppose I am a monster. It was your people who labeled my kind as such after all.”
“Doctor?” Kira’s voice asked with an air of concern.
The Doctor looked up at the ceiling. “It’s alright. We’re dealing with a level fifteen intellect here. It took Miss Pie all of twenty seconds to figure out what I am. Her knowledge of my people, even though considered by most these days to be the stuff of fairy tales, is quite exemplary. I wouldn’t be surprised if she even knows what parasprites are.”
He looked back down at Pinkie. “Kira has informed me that for the past three hours you have been doing nothing but crying. You know what I used to do as a child when I was upset? I used to recite Pi. You probably aren’t too familiar with Pi yet. Thankfully there is another option that I am familiar with.” The man reached into his coat and produced a hand-length tool. “You could always stick a Turbospanner in your ear.”
The suggestion was so out of left field that Pinkie couldn’t help but inquire, “What?”
“Stick a Turbospanner in your ear.”
The Doctor snapped his fingers and suddenly the room became brightly lit. Pinkie closed her eyes and opened them slowly, allowing them to adjust. The room was small and, aside from the Doctor and herself, was completely empty. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all of a light cream color.
The man leaned down and presented the tool to Pinkie. Then he placed it on the floor in front of her and straitened back up. She looked down at it for a second and then looked back up at the doctor. He smiled back at her and began to tap his foot.
“Pinkie, you look quite down
With your big sad eyes and your big sad frown!”
Pinkie couldn't believe her ears. Was he singing to her?
“The world doesn’t have to be so gray!”
“You kidnapped me. Locked me in here. Shot my parents and sisters.”
“That’s all in the past, Pinkie! Look to the future!” The Doctor responded excitedly as he threw his arms in the air and continued to sing and dance.
“Pinkie, when your life’s a mess
When you’re feeling blue
Always in distress
I know what can wash that sad away”
Suddenly the floor tiles began to flash different colors.
“All you have to do is...
Put a Turbospanner in your ear!”
“A Turbospanner in my ear?”
“Put a Turbospanner right into your favorite ear
Once it’s in your gloom will disappear
The bad in the world is hard to hear
When in your ear a Turbospanner cheers
So go and put a Turbospanner in your ear!”
“Help me out here, Kira!”
“Yes, Doctor, right on it.”
Suddenly the ceiling rose up and the walls folded out to reveal that the room was now surrounded by very frightening-looking, human skeleton-like robots. They were linked arm-in-arm and dancing ye-olde Rockettes style, kicking their legs out in front of them as they joined the Doctor in singing.
“Put a Turbospanner in your ear!”
“I’d rather keep my ear clear!” Pinkie yelled.
“You will never be happy if you live your life in fear
When it’s in the skies are bright and clear
Oh, every day of every year
The sun shines bright in this big blue sphere
So go and put a Turbospanner in your ear!”
As the Doctor finished his song the floor stopped flashing, the ceiling lowered back down, and the walls folded back into place. He looked down at Pinkie and smiled. “Turbospanner?”
“No, I’d still rather not.”
“Learning Pi it is then. Let us begin...” The Doctor took a long, deep breath.
Still lying on the bench, Pinkie took a long, deep breath and began. "Three point one four one five nine two six five three five eight nine seven nine three two three eight four six two six four three three eight three..."
"Can't we stay a little longer, Twilight?"
Spike was using a small claw extended from his underside to carry a large bag of old hardcover books and other items. He did his best to keep up with his trotting companion as he followed her down the busy street towards the docking station.
"No time, Spike, we have a ton to do. We have to visit the Hub and register for those jobs the Princess mentioned. Then while in transit I'm going to use the info-disks we picked up to catch up on current events. I also have to see if I can't find out anything about Selene and Princess Luna on the e-books I have in the O 42's electronic library."
"And what about the old books you’re having me carry?" Spike asked as he narrowly avoided a collision with somepony. "Any reason why we can't split the load?"
"Oh, those are for my collection. Real books in such good condition are hard to come by." Twilight said, ignoring Spike's later question.
"But, Twilight, we haven't been here in nearly a year," Spike protested. "Imagine all the interesting ponies we could meet even if we only stay for an extra hour or two."
Twilight cut her response short as she quickly became distracted by a pink earth pony dressed like a mechanic and lying on a bench alongside the street with her legs in the air and her head draped off of one side. Seeing a pony lying down in such a ridiculous manner wasn't something one would see every day. Actually, now that Twilight thought about it, she distinctly remembered seeing a turquoise-coated unicorn pony sitting in a rather ridiculous, as well as uncomfortable looking, position on that same bench over a year ago when she last visited Canter 107.
Twilight stopped dead in her tracks as she noticed that the pink pony appeared to be talking to herself. However, due to the distance and the crowds, the curious lavender unicorn couldn’t quite make out what she was saying.
"Whoa!" Spike shouted as he barely stopped in time, narrowly avoiding slamming into Twilight's flank. "Why'd you stop? Did you change your mind?"
"Is she OK?" Twilight asked.
Spike followed Twilight’s gaze. "I dunno. I thought you said we have 'a ton' to do, Twi."
"One second," Twilight said as she trotted over to the pink pony.
As Twilight drew closer she began to hear what the curly-haired earth pony was saying. She seemed to be just randomly rattling off numbers. No. Not randomly...
Twilight approached the pink pony's head and looked down at her as Spike hovered up above them.
"...zero five three..."
"Is that Pi?" Twilight asked.
The pink pony stopped reciting the mathematical constant and nodded, "Uh huh...oh!"
The earth pony's eyes shot open. She looked up at the purple unicorn standing over her. A huge smile formed on her face. She rolled off the bench, landed on her hooves in a crouch and then immediately began bouncing in place.
"Hi, I'm Pinkie Pie!" the pink pony chimed, giving Twilight her best 'Hi, I'm Pinkie Pie’ smile.
"Uh, hi, Pinkie Pie," Twilight said as she followed the bouncing pony with her eyes. "What place were you up to?"
"278th!" Pinkie said in a sing-songy voice while still bouncing.
"Wow, that's impressive, Pinkie Pie."
"So, what's your name?" Pinkie asked.
"Oh, my name is Twilight Sparkle."
Pinkie stopped bouncing and tilted her head to one side. "Twilight Sparkle? That's a funny name."
"Err, OK, well, I have to go now," Twilight said, eyeing Pinkie cautiously.
The purple unicorn began to turn away.
"Where are you going?" Pinkie asked cheerfully.
Twilight looked back at Pinkie. "I'm headed towards Mr. Slacks' docking station."
"Mr. Slacks? I used to work for him. He doesn't like explosions too much."
"I would imagine not."
"So, you have a ship?"
"Err, yes?" Twilight said as she wondered if she should just ignore the curly-haired, pink pony and make a run for it.
Pinkie Pie started bouncing again, "What is it!? What is it!?"
"It's an Avio 42..."
Suddenly Pinkie stopped bouncing, gasped loudly, and jetted off down the street, leaving Twilight with a look of shock on her face.
Twilight composed herself and looked up at Spike. "Well, that certainly was interesting."
“Your ever-constant homily says flaw is discipline
The patron saint of imperfection frees us from our sin
And if our transcendental lift should find a final floor
Then Man will know the death of God where wonder was before...
- Hard ‘n Phirm - “Pi”
“Put a Turbospanner in Your Ear” alteration of “Put a Banana in Your Ear” by Jason Steele
The Forest Among the Stars
Welcome to Sweet O2 Acres!
"Warp Gates, as they have come to be known, were developed during more peaceful times. They were one of the many joint projects between alicorns and humans. They are immense, beautiful-looking, usually cylindrical in shape, and can generate immense amounts of energy. Interlinked and sub-space capable, the gates are equipped with star maps that update every few nanoseconds.
"A ship will be suspended in the center of a Warp Gate which is an area commonly referred to as a Warp Field. The gate will adjust to align with the chosen destination. Then, depending on the distance, the gate will generate a certain amount of energy and then use that energy to propel the ship into hyperspace. The amount of energy used determines how long the ship stays in hyperspace. Warp Gates are incredibly accurate and can safely send a ship right outside of a planet's orbit.
"With personal jump drives demanding outrageous prices to both purchase and maintain, Warp Gates function as a usually safe form of quick travel at a reasonable price. To further bring down prices, all Warp Gates are now manned by mostly self-aware computer systems, most of which have developed rather quirky personalities."
- "Warp Gates, How Do They Work?" Intro
The O 42 headed away from Canter107, the laser drives leaving behind a thin trail of ozone as they propelled the ship through the cold, weightlessness of space. The old freighter drew closer to its destination, Canter107's designated Warp Gate.
From the O 42's cockpit, Twilight Sparkle gazed out at the huge ring of technology before her. Spike was hooked into the main controls where he did his usual job of piloting the old freighter. Twilight squinted her eyes as she noticed that there was a smaller ship already in the center of the Warp Gate.
"Spike, enhance, please." Twilight said, without taking her eyes off the gate.
"Sure thing, Twi."
A screen appeared on the side of the O 42's cockpit window. On the screen, in real time, was enhanced video of the Warp Gate and the ship in the center of it.
Twilight devoted her full attention to the screen. Her wait wasn't long as the gate slowly adjusted the direction it was facing. The perimeter of the gate began to glow, starting at the top and working its way around. The bright blue light acted almost like a countdown. As the light met back up with the area it started at, the Warp Gate's glow greatly intensified. If not for the screen's dampening abilities Twilight would surely have had to shield her eyes. Suddenly the ship in the center of the gate transformed into a brilliant beam of bright blue light. The light faded. The ship was gone.
Twilight exhaled. She was holding her breath the whole time. "That never gets old." She blinked a few times and then looked at Spike. "Spike, where's the closest oxygen farm?"
"According to the Star Maps, the closest oxygen farm is Sweet O2 Acres located in an asteroid cluster just off of Pony V. I'm sending a transport request now."
"Thank you, Spike. Let me know when the gate responds."
"Sure thing, Twi."
Twilight turned away from the pint-sized pilot and turned around. The O 42's cockpit was of a decent size. It contained all the essentials: a star map display, a small entertainment area, seats for the crew, and the main control board. Twilight trotted over and stopped at a small, circular table. The top of the table was decorated with a black and white checkered pattern. On the side was a small control panel.
The bag Spike was carrying earlier was resting rather peacefully on the table. Twilight noticed that the bag seemed to be missing some of its contents, particularly the hard-cover books she picked up back on Canter107.
"Spike—?" Twilight began.
Taking the initiative, Spike answered Twilight's question before she could ask it. "Alphabetized and placed on the shelves in your quarters."
Twilight smiled. "Thank you, Spike, I'll take a look at them later."
It was just then that Twilight realized she had been too distracted and never got a good look at the titles of the books. She turned her head and looked back at Spike. "Err, Spike, what were the names of the books? Do you remember?"
"Not really. One was about the elements and the other was something about nightmares."
Twilight looked disappointed. "Oh, I already have a number of books about those very topics. Why do so many have to write about the same things?"
"Well those ones don't seem as old as some of the others you have and for some reason they are pretty well decorated. Maybe they have info that your other books, and maybe even your e-books don't."
Twilight turned back to the bag on the table. "I hope so."
Twilight closed her eyes and concentrated. Her horn began to glow. The bag became surrounded in a purple-hued aura. Twilight opened her eyes as the bag floated gracefully into the air and opened. Surrounded by the same purple aura, the info-disks inside flew out. One after the other in a maneuver that almost appeared choreographed all seven of them landed on the table, arranged in a line, side-by-side. The now empty bag compressed, neatly folded up into a small square, and then floated down and landed on the table next to the info-disks.
“So what else did you pick up?” Spike asked.
“Just some recent holo-newspapers and a collection of Joe Urnal’s most high-profile interviews.”
“I’m sure you would know him if you heard him. He always manages to get even the most important figures to sit down for an interview. This particular collection is supposed to have a few with some galactic leaders, and even Princess Celestia!”
Spike would have shrugged if he could. “Sounds interesting.” He didn’t sound like he meant it.
"Where to begin?" Twilight asked herself as she examined each disk. "Starting with most recent seems like the best approach."
Twilight used her magic to lift one of the info-disks. She carried it over and inserted it into a slot on the main control panel. She stepped back as a holographic newspaper suddenly materialized before her. "Canter Daily News, Issue 278, A.B. 1001", read the front page. Twilight slid a hoof across it and the newspaper opened up. "Prince Blue Blood Takes an Unexpected Trip", read the headline of an article. Twilight’s eyes scanned the page as she began reading.
"Uh, Twi, I know you don't like to skip around in what you're reading but maybe you should use the search options." Spike suggested.
"Right..." Twilight said without taking her eyes from the article. "Search."
A friendly female voice spoke from the control panel, "Please enter or speak search parameters."
"Planet Selene, Princess Luna, end." Twilight said.
"Accepted!" the voice cheered triumphantly. "Three articles found."
The holographic paper closed and then split into three pages. Twilight raised a hoof and tapped the first page. It enlarged and came forward while the other two pages shrank and fell behind.
Twilight quickly glanced through each article. The first mentioned Luna, how it had been over a thousand years since her banishment, and how no one interviewed claimed to even remember the exact cause for said banishment. The next briefly mentioned Celestia's trip to check on planet Selene. The third, a science article, seemed focused on the temporal rift right outside of Selene. In other words, there was nothing that could aid Twilight.
Twilight lightly shook her head and sighed. "Nothing."
"Really?" Spike asked.
"Well, nothing that I don't already know."
Twilight closed her eyes and lightly rapped a hoof on her forehead. "Hmmm..."
"Thought of something?"
"Maybe," Twilight answered. "Search."
"Please enter or speak search parameters."
"Major Occurrences, end."
"Accepted! Five articles found."
Like before the holographic paper closed and then split up, this time into five pages. However, before Twilight could examine the pages a friendly jingle came from the main control panel.
"Twi, the Warp Gate’s finally contacting us," Spike said. "I swear these gates keep getting more and more lazier."
Twilight flashed a questioning look at Spike. "More and more lazy," she corrected.
"It's 'more lazy'. 'More lazier' is redundant."
"Oh, OK, anyway, the Gate has accepted our transport request and is waiting for us to enter its warp field."
Twilight looked back to the holographic newspaper. "Great, while you do that I'll continue looking through these articles."
"No prob, Twi."
Out of the five presented to her one of the articles really stood out for some reason. Perhaps it was the animation loop that went along with it. Twilight swore she had seen that unicorn before. She tapped the article and it enlarged, giving her a better view. It was the same unicorn that she saw sitting on that bench over a year ago. Standing alongside the unicorn was an earth pony. The pair of ponies appeared in good spirits even as an important-looking earth pony who kept his mane short and wore a rather unique tie appeared to be scolding them.
Twilight quietly read the headline to herself, "Lyra and Bon Bon do it Again." Twilight quickly glanced over the article. Her eyes went wide. "Spike, listen to this."
"You found something?"
Twilight began, "Trouble Consultants Lyra and Bon Bon continue to live up to their reputation. While on a discreet mission to apprehend a vicious escapee, this trouble-causing pair ran into some resistance at the asteroid mining facility the criminal was taking refuge in. As usual the pair emerged victorious as they apprehended their mark, but not before causing a small explosion. An explosion that soon created a chain reaction that obliterated the entire mining facility that was located just off of Stalliongradius.
“Stalliongradius, a planet located near the edge of Eques space, just can't seem to catch a break as the loss of this mining facility will undoubtedly cause a further dip in the planet's economy. Just a standard Canter107 week prior to this incident, Stalliongradius' designated Warp Gate vanished without a trace and has still not been heard from since. It is not believed that the large, industry-based planet can ever fully recover from these losses.
“Chief Gooley, Lyra and Bon Bon's supervisor, ensured us that the pair would be disciplined accordingly but also went on to commend them both for apprehending a known psychopath who will now return to serving his twelve consecutive life sentences in The Gulag, a rather brutal prison that coincidentally also happens to be located on Stalliongradius..."
"Do you think it's connected?" Spike asked.
"Warp Gates can make hyperspace jumps but..." Twilight trailed off. She put a hoof to her chin. "Hold on."
Twilight used her magic to extract the info-disk from the control panel. The holographic newspaper vanished. Twilight then lifted one of the other disks from the table and swapped it in.
Like before a holographic newspaper materialized. "Canter Daily News, Issue 272, A.B. 1001", read the front page.
"Search," Twilight said.
"Please enter or speak search parameters."
"Stalliongradius' Warp Gate, end."
"Accepted! One article found."
A single page appeared and enlarged automatically. Its headline read, "Runaway Warp Gate?"
Twilight read aloud, "We all know the horror stories of the elusive ghost ship, the Dreadnought 3. Every old human scientist you come across will swear that the fabled Titan research station actually existed. Treasure hunters still search for the C.O.R. in hopes of banking off of its supposed gift of immortality. As foals we've been told to play nice and eat our oatmeal or Nightmare Moon will get us. The dreaded pirate, Elcid Barret can still be heard mentioned in bars across the system, despite him being listed as dead for over three hundred years. Now we can add the strange case of the vanishing Warp Gate to the list of mysteries and myths that circle around our galaxy.
“Just before noon, Stalliongradius—a large primarily industry based planet majoring in medical supplies and bionic enhancements—reported that its designated Warp Gate had suddenly vanished.
“When reached for comment, current CEO of Warp Gate Enterprises, a human named C. Johnson, has informed us that he had not issued any orders to have the gate moved and is just as stumped as the rest of us. He is supposedly looking into the matter. The Warp Gate itself reportedly sent no distress signals or warnings which goes against its rather strict programming.
“Without the Warp Gate, reps from Stalliongradius fear that business will sharply decline. However, the well-known and ingenious Dr. Kabello Zaks, head of Z Industries, the greatest and certainly largest medical research and development facility in the known galaxy, ensures us that not only are all his ships hyper jump capable but that he is planning on greatly increasing his workforce. The famous and well-loved Doctor has also petitioned Warp Gate Enterprises for a new, better Warp Gate that he will fund out of his own very deep pockets..."
"So we have someone or something stealing small planetoids and Warp Gates." Twilight said quietly as she extracted the info-disk from the control panel and floated it back over onto the table.
"You don't think it's Galacticus do you?" Spike asked nervously.
Twilight looked at Spike and raised her brow. "Who?"
"Galacticus!" Spike cried. "He ate Selene and then decided to have a Warp Gate snack! They do look a little like donuts."
"Spike, I think I need to cut back on how many comics I buy for you."
"So, you don't think it's Galacticus?"
"I'm sure no one ate Selene or the gate." Twilight assured.
Spike made an audible sigh of relief. "Good."
Twilight lightly shook her head but smiled nonetheless.
"Hmm, isn't there a temporal rift right outside of Selene?" Spike asked. "Could that have something to do with it?"
"That was one of the first theories I considered back in the cab, but the driver didn't mention the rift."
"Why would that matter?"
"Spike, if Selene was sucked into the rift ponies' reactions would have been much different. Right now Luna and Selene are considered missing. If they were taken into the rift they would be considered dead. Anything that has entered a rift and has actually come back out has never done so in one piece. Also, the rift is heavily monitored by satellites and the patrol ships that guard Selene. If the rift grew in size or intensity it would have been detected. During our conversation the Princess also happened to mention that it was incredibly unlikely that the disappearance was caused by the rift."
"When did she say that?"
"When we were trotting through the Royal Botanical Gardens. I think Philomena was chasing you around at the time."
"That darn Phoenix," Spike grumbled. "I'm not a toy."
Twilight gave a light chuckle. “I guess that would depend on your point of view.”
"Hmph. But, Twi, wouldn't the rift mess with anything that came close to Selene?"
Twilight pointed a hoof at Spike. "Exactly, which only adds to the mystery. The rift greatly slows down the passage of time for anything that comes too close."
"So, whoever or whatever is responsible must have done it at a distance." Spike theorized.
"Yes!" Twilight shouted excitedly. Then, as realization dawned, her mood suddenly reversed. Her ears sagged as she looked down at the floor. "But how?”
"Sorry, Twi, I got nothing."
Twilight mumbled, "Haven't got anything..." Then she looked up at Spike. "It's OK, Spike; the Princess will figure it out."
"You're giving up?"
Twilight looked hurt. "I'm not giving up!" Her usually determined mood quickly made a comeback. "I'm simply hoping that in the off-chance that I don't come up with something, then the Princess will, that's all."
"Oh...Hey, we’re here!”
Twilight looked out the cockpit window as the O 42 slowed and then stopped directly in the center of the Warp Gate.
A friendly jingle chimed and an overly excited female voice followed. "Welcome Avio 42 captain, Twilight Sparkle, I am ever so pleased to have you inside me!"
"It always creeps me out when she says that." Spike whispered.
"Spike, shhh." Twilight scolded.
"Did you know that Warp Gates in the Canadia System are square?" The Warp Gate said happily. "Weird, huh?" Without waiting for a response the Warp Gate continued. "Anyway, Pony V, eh? I can think of much better places that I could send you but they’re bits. Now, I need to read off some warnings for you to carefully consider before you go." The Warp Gate whispered the next sentence. "This is my favorite part." Then it went back to using its normal voice. "If, under the extremely rare chance that you arrive at your destination and find that not all of you is there, DON'T PANIC, the rest of you should arrive shortly...we hope. Please do not scream at the top of your lungs as you enter hyperspace. Exploding heads have been reported. If, under the nearly impossible chance that I send you way off track and you end up in an uncharted system, DON'T FLIP OUT! Simply put your head between your legs and pray (if you believe in that sort of thing). After all, there is always at least a .0000000002% chance that something friendly and non-cannibalistic will find you. One final note: C. Johnson, the current CEO of Warp Gate Enterprises, has issued an alert to all space travelers. If you happen upon a larger-than-average orb-bot lost in space who seems very happy about his current predicament please be aware that an award is being offered for his return. Simply inform your nearest friendly Warp Gate and present the untampered with and undamaged orb-bot and the reward will be added to your account. Any questions or concerns before I charge your account and send you off, Avio 42 captain, Twilight Sparkle?"
Twilight lightly shook her head. "No, we're ready."
"Excellent!" The Warp Gate chimed. "Any comments can be posted to our message boards, where we promise to do our very best to pretend to care. Goodbye, Avio 42 captain, Twilight Sparkle, enjoy Pony V! I hope to see you again and preferably in one piece."
The Warp Gate finally went silent. The massive ring redirected and began to charge. Like the ship before, the Owlowiscious soon became transformed into an intense beam of light as the Warp Gate sent it into hyperspace. The light faded and the freighter was gone.
The O 42 came out of hyperspace right in front of a large, space-faring billboard that read, "Welcome To Pony V! The Place To Be If You Have Two Knees!"
From the pilot’s seat, Twilight looked out at the billboard and raised her brow. "That's...really corny."
"Not to mention a bit speciesist," Spike pointed out. "I mean, what if you're a Cephalopod?"
Twilight chuckled. "Spike, while I understand where you're coming from I really doubt any creature from the Plectronocerida System would ever venture this far."
A friendly jingle sounded from the main control panel.
"We're getting an audio/video message," Spike informed. "I'll patch it through."
"OK, Spike, go ahead."
A screen appeared on the side of the cockpit window showing a video of Pony V.
A friendly voice soon followed. "Welcome, traveler, to Pony V. We hope you will enjoy your stay."
The on-screen video faded and was replaced with a rotating video of a very large, brightly colored structure that looked as if it was made out of various candies and baked goods.
"Looking to see the sights?" The voice asked. "Why not visit Mr. and Mrs. Cake's Sugar Cube Emporium? This multi-level mega-structure was built with two goals in mind: to raise your mood and pleasure your taste buds.
Take a ride on the brand new indoor licorice roller coaster. This super-sized roller coaster is over 4,000 feet long and is made entirely out of various types of licorice! Please don't eat any part of the roller coaster—"
"Um, excuse me," Twilight interrupted. "We actually aren't planning on landing here. We're on our way towards Sweet O2 Acres."
"Ah, I see," the voice said, sounding disappointed. "Safe travels then. Goodbye, traveler, and if you change your mind you know where to find us."
"Thank you. Goodbye."
The screen quickly shrunk away as the transmission came to an end.
"Spike, let's get going." Twilight said.
"Aye, aye, Captain Twi."
The O 42's engines glowed to life as Spike guided the freighter away from Pony V. Twilight looked through the cockpit window and peered out at the beautiful planet as they made their way past.
Suddenly the ship's engines shut down, followed closely by the lights flickering then going out altogether.
"What was that?" Twilight asked as she illuminated her horn, casting a bright light around the cockpit. She jumped up from her seat. "Spike!?"
"Don't worry, Twi. It's just a power flux. It's happened before. Everything will come back on in a second."
"When has this happened before?" Twilight asked as she glanced around frantically.
"Once when you were off-ship and I think it once happened when you were sleeping."
Twilight gave Spike an upset look. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't think it was worth getting you worked up over. Like I said, it's happened before. I figured it comes with the territory. What with the ship being so old. Soon everything will come back on, you'll see."
As if on cue the ship's lights flickered and came back on. The engines whirred back to life and once again began propelling the O 42 past Pony V.
"See, told you."
Twilight's horn stopped glowing. "Even so maybe we should land on..."
Before Twilight could finish she was interrupted by a rather disturbing message from the main controls. "Life support deactivated."
"What!?" Twilight yelled. "Spike!?"
"Now...that's a new one." Spike said nervously.
"You stay here, Spike, I have an e-book in my library that can help!" Twilight shouted as she turned and was about to gallop off towards her quarters.
Twilight stopped short and looked back at Spike. "What? Why?"
"Life support online."
"That's why," Spike said. "Let me run a check. Hmmm...this is very weird but very cool at the same time."
Twilight trotted up to Spike. "What is?”
"Not only did life support come back but it's running better than before. Someone rewrote the algo...algor...algorityms?"
"Algorithms." Twilight corrected.
"Yeah, those. The ship rebooted itself and then started them."
"But who could do that?"
"Probably one of Greasy's guys. It is his job to make sure the ship is space worthy. He probably thought he'd do us a favor but then just forgot to tell us."
"He did seem very distracted when we got back." Twilight pointed out. "Like he was desperately trying to find something."
"Or somepony." Spike added. "I heard him say: 'Look everywhere! She's a master of disguise!'."
"We should still land on Pony V and get the Owlowiscious checked out.”
"Yeah, Pony V is really more of a leisure spot and farming planet," Spike informed. "According to my info, Sweet O2 Acres has a very capable mechanic on staff."
"Yeah, his name is Big Macintosh."
On their way to the asteroid cluster a friendly-sounding earth pony named Applejack made contact with Twilight and Spike. After some introductions she granted them permission to land and opened the huge, clear docking bay doors.
The O 42 eased into the enormous docking bay that led to Sweet O2 Acres. As the freighter touched down two bay doors slid shut behind it.
The docking bay pressurized, fresh air rushing in to replace the vacuum. A set of large double doors across from the ship opened and in trotted a lone figure sporting a Stetson and a protective-looking suit covering everywhere except her head. A patch of a trio of apples emblazoned the flank of the suit. The figure stopped before the Owlowiscious and jerked her head back in an attempt to throw her blonde mane out of her vision.
The blonde, orange-coated earth pony waited patiently as the O 42's boarding ramp descended. Out trotted Twilight Sparkle with Spike hovering close behind.
"Oh, hello." Twilight said as she took notice of the earth pony standing before her.
The pony quickly came forward and gave Twilight the hoof shaking of a lifetime. "Howdy, there! Twilight Spackle, was it? Welcome to Sweet O2 Acres! Ah've only ever seen an Avio 42 once before. By the way, name's Applejack but most just call me AJ!" She let go of Twilight's hoof and stood back with a big old smile on her face.
Twilight found herself still shaking from the overly anxious greeting. "Thaaank yooou. And it's Twiiiliiight Sparkllle." Twilight shook her head and composed herself. Now if only she could get her insides to stop shaking as well.
"Sorry, Twiiiliiight Sparkllle," Applejack joked. "Welcome ta the Apple family's oxygen farm." She motioned over to the large windows that made up the walls of the docking bay. A calming blue glow flowed in through the windows.
Overcome with curiosity, Twilight trotted over to the windows; Applejack watched as she went. Twilight's eyes went wide and her jaw dropped as she gazed out at the beautiful site before her.
Spike hovered up to Applejack. "Hi, AJ!"
Applejack gave Spike a friendly smile. "Howdy there, y'all must be Spike. Ah'd shake your hoof but I see you ain't gots none."
“Thank the creator.” Spike mumbled.
"Nothing! Uh, we've never been to an oxygen farm before." Spike quickly changed the subject as he looked over at Twilight. "And this docking station is huge." Spike looked around himself in an exaggerated fashion.
"Really now?" Applejack said. "That's a right shame. Genium trees are shure a sight." She trotted over to Twilight with Spike following close behind. "We normally handle government contracts here. They tend to use these big ol' freighters. S'why the docking bay has to be so gold durn huge."
Spike and AJ joined Twilight in gazing out the windows. Laid out before them were enormous glass domes which were all connected by corridors made of the same material the domes were. Each dome had what seemed like miles and miles of trees growing inside them. However, unlike normal trees these ones glowed a brilliant blue, had no leaves and had what appeared to be crystal-blue orbs hanging from their branches.
Spike was the first to break the silence. "Wow..."
Twilight closed her mouth as she got over her initial amazement. "They're all so amazing. The pictures in the books I have don't do them any justice."
"Thank you, kindly. Since this is your first time ever seein’ a Genium orchard and all how's about I give y'all a little tour and a little bit o' history?"
Applejack led the duo of space truckers out of the docking bay and through the corridors that led out onto the Genium Tree orchards. She explained how they would use the larger asteroids for the trees and they would mine the smaller ones for ores and any oxygen that might be inside. The domes and docking station windows weren't made of glass but a very thick and sturdy polycarbonate material just in case some of the smaller asteroids made it past the farm's defense systems, while supplying an excellent view of the asteroid cluster.
Twilight listened in fascination while Applejack explained how Genium trees function. The rare trees were genetically altered millennia ago in a joint project between alicorns and humans to survive and grow in sub-zero temperatures. They used less carbon dioxide and supplied more oxygen than normal trees. Due to the extremely low temperatures any oxygen the trees gave off would be excreted in liquid form. The liquid O2 would then gather in orbs due to the zero gravity. With the aid of special suits, Applejack and her family would go out onto the fields and buck the trees. This would shake the orbs of oxygen loose so they rise up and gathering machines could swoop in and collect the errant liquid O2.
AJ told Twilight and Spike about how her big brother, Big Macintosh, was a Hoovard Engineering grad and was the one who set up the delivery system beneath the surface of the asteroid. The system supplied the roots of the trees with a steady supply of nutrients and carbon dioxide while keeping the mix warm enough so that it didn't freeze.
The Apple family used to all be Apple farmers until AJ's grandmother, Granny Smith, decided to expand the business to farming oxygen as well. AJ's cousin, Braeburn, accepted the job of taking care of the apple orchards on Pony V while Applejack, her brother, grandmother, and little sister took care of the O2 farm, along with the aid of a number of different machines.
"It's all so amazing," Twilight said with sparkles of fascination in her eyes.
"Yeah, amazingly boring," Spike snarked.
Spike yawned loudly.
"Sorry about him, AJ," Twilight apologized on Spike's behalf. "He has a short attention span."
Applejack chuckled. "It's fine, Twilight. Dontcha worry none about it."
Twilight looked out at one of the Genium fields and noticed another earth pony wearing a suit similar to AJ's but with a helmet covering her head and a patch of an apple pie on her flank. "Who's that?"
Applejack looked at the suited pony. "Oh, tha's just Granny Smith."
"Your grandmother helps with bucking the trees?"
"Yeah, she's a pistol. She's up there in years but she can still buck with the rest of us. Course the bionic implants help a lot."
The trio watched as Granny Smith took aim at a tree and bucked. However, due to her being several feet away she missed it completely.
Applejack looked at Twilight out of the corner of her eye and smiled nervously. "Heh, now all's we need is ta get'er the implants that'll fix'er depth perception." She reached a hoof up and pressed a button on the collar of her suit. "Granny, back up a couple o' feet there, will ya?"
Granny Smith took the suggestion to heart and backed up. Her next buck sent a group of oxygen orbs scattering off the tree and upwards.
"Here comes Winona." AJ said as a large, yet surprisingly friendly looking machine came swooping down to gather the oxygen.
The way Winona flew around the orbs made it appear as if she was corralling them together. The orbs of liquid O2 eventually all joined together into one large ball. Winona then proceeded to ingest the ball and flew back up where she kept a lookout for more free floating liquid O2.
Spike chuckled. "She acts like a sheep dog."
"An' who says she ain't?"
Suddenly Applejack's collar emitted a short alarm. She looked up and around until she spotted a small asteroid in the distance splitting in half rather violently. Twilight and Spike followed AJ's gaze and watched as the two halves of the asteroid drifted apart.
"Apple Bloom!" Applejack yelled angrily. She pressed her collar. "Apple Bloom, Ah told you ta wait until I got back!"
The voice of a young filly with an accent similar to Applejack's came through the collar. "But what if my Cutie Mark is an asteroid splittin' in half!?"
"And what if your Cutie Mark is my hoof boppin’ you on the head!?" AJ shot back.
"That would be awesome!" Spike declared.
Both Twilight and Applejack raised an eyebrow and shot Spike a questioning look.
"Uh, I mean the splitting asteroid part...not the abuse." Spike said nervously.
"Right..." Applejack pressed her collar again. "Big Macintosh will you get up there an' make sure Apple Bloom doesn't destroy anythin' else, please?"
A calm voice came through the collar. "Eeyup."
Applejack closed her eyes, exhaled and inhaled. Then she redirected her attention back to Twilight and gave a smile. "What say we get back ta business, shall we?"
"Sure." Twilight responded.
"So, are y’all just lookin' for a refill?"
"No, I'm making a delivery to a developing asteroid," Twilight said. "So, I'm looking to fill my cargo area."
Applejack gave Twilight a surprised look. "Really now? Ah didn't think there were any more'a you types out there."
"Yeah, you bleedin' heart types. Wit all them pirates out there most'a you space truckin' types only go for the high profit stuff, like them core diamonds, an' weaponry, an' stuff along them lines."
"Oh, well, I..." Twilight stammered.
"Shucks, I didn't mean nuthin' by it. Ta tell ya the honest truth, it's good ta know there are still some o' you types out there. So, how much we talkin'?"
"About 250 long tons."
"Alrighty then! Ya got your own M.U.L.E.s?"
"Two of them."
"Good. Cuz ya know ah'd have ta charge ya extra to use ours."
"Twilight..." Spike whispered.
Twilight looked up at Spike. Her eyes went wide for a second as she remembered something.
Twilight looked back at AJ. "Oh, and do you think your brother could take a look at my ship. We were having some trouble on our way here."
"Shure thing. Ah'll get Big Macintosh ta take a look while we load you up. A'course ya do know that ah'll have ta charge ya extra especially if he needs ta fix anythin'."
"Err, of course." Twilight said with a worried look on her face.
A rather large earth pony with an orange mane and a crimson coat slowly made his way out of the Owlowiscious, heading down the ship’s boarding ramp. He looked rather bored and wore a suit similar to AJ's except for a patch of a green apple sliced in half on his flank.
Twilight noticed the large pony out of the corner of her eye, turned away from her conversation with Spike and Applejack and galloped over to Big Macintosh. Spike did his best to keep up while AJ followed at a less enthusiastic pace.
"Is everything alright?" Twilight asked.
"The life support system is fine?"
"Is there anything to worry about?"
"Well, what is it!?" Spike interjected.
Applejack caught up as Twilight was about to scold her little hovering friend yet again but she didn’t get the chance.
"Dunno if you two know this but your ship is kinda haunted." Big Mac said.
"Big Macintosh!" AJ scolded. "Dontcha be fillin' their heads with none of that foolishness. Ah dunno what crazy clubs ya were part'a in that fancy schmancy school'a yours but this ain't the place, ya hear?
Big Macintosh calmly turned to his little sister. "Now, AJ, there is plenty’a substantial evidence that rightly supports the existence of the paranormal, especially with the number a' Empaths being born on the rise."
Applejack flattened her ears and narrowed her eyes at her brother. Big Mac remained in place but drew his head back. AJ glared at him like that for a bit as Twilight and Spike watched uncomfortably. Suddenly Applejack turned to Twilight and gave her a forced smile. "Your ship is fine an' your liquid oxygen is all loaded. Y'all come back now ya hear?"
Twilight smiled and nodded. Then she and Spike headed up the boarding ramp and into the O 42. Applejack and Big Macintosh trotted out of the docking bay as the large double doors closed behind them. The freighter's boarding ramp rose up and locked. The air was sucked out of the docking bay as the large glass doors above slid open. The O 42's engines whirred to life. Then the old freighter lifted off and made its way into space.
Right outside the docking bay doors, Applejack was still very much upset with her brother. "What in tarnation are y'all tryin' ta do ta me? Sure, she weren't the biggest spender but every customer is a customer! Ah can't have Apple Bloom disobeying instructions and you spouting off nonsense about ghosts!"
"AJ, it ain't nonsense. Ah swear ta ya, Ah heard singing coming from the air ducts. Also felt at times like Ah was being watched but every time ah turned around there was nuthin' there."
“Redneck girl likes to stay out all night long
She makes sweet rock n’ roll while she listens to the country songs
She’s waitin’ for that moment of surrender
Her hands are calloused but her heart is tender
And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
Oh, give me a give me a give me a redneck girl
Give me a give me a give me a redneck girl”
- Bellamy Brothers - “Redneck Girl”