The room was silent but for the occasional clop of a hoof on ceramic tile. Dark, too. The only light in the room came from the myriad screens flickering to life among the banks of consoles scattered across what would soon be a command center. Ground control, to be exact. A soft purple glow joined the many flickering lights, and in moments the room was completely illuminated. Twilight Sparkle breathed deeply of the heavy atmosphere and smiled, confident and content. Today would be an amazing day for science.
It had taken years to get to this point. Years of patient fundraising and painstaking research. To say nothing of all the pleading she’d had to do with Celestia not to get shut down in the first place! It sounded crazy at first. Even blasphemous, if you chose to look at things that way. Even now it was difficult to wrap one’s head around it: flight for everypony, and not just the pegasi. Magic without unicorn horns. And now, the grand culmination of all that work: to rise above the skies and see the world the way only the Princesses could. Today, a pony would go to Space.
Soon the room was abuzz with activity as ponies from all over filed into the room, each wearing a white lab coat. This was her team, hoof picked from among the top Cloudsdale engineers and the best and brightest students from prestigious universities like Pranceton and Canterlot. They chattered amongst themselves as they sat down at their stations, beginning the pre-flight diagnostics and systems checks. So far, all green. A wave of laughter washed over the room as somepony pointed to the banner that had been hung up during the night. ‘Friendship is Sufficiently Advanced Technology’.
The press was beginning to filter in now, and with them came a sudden bout of nervousness. Twilight’s stomach twisted into knots as she fielded her first round of questions, most of which were about the pilot of this historic mission. She rambled on behind a nervous smile about how yes, it was very fortunate that such a high level athlete had volunteered, that it did seem only fitting that a pegasus pony would be the first to fly among the stars, and no the fact that they were friends did not interfere with the selection process.
The main screens flickered to life, showing images of the rocket that was fueling on the platform outside. And more importantly, of the silver-suited pegasus carrying a domed helmet walking toward the entrance to the cockpit. Rainbow Dash noticed the camera and gave a cocky grin and an officious salute for the folks watching on the other side of the screen. Twilight tried to keep the smile on her face as she watched, but it was becoming more and more difficult to shake the feeling that something was wrong, that the launch should be aborted.
She broke away from the reporters to order another round of diagnostics. All systems green. Computer predicting 96.7 percent chance of success, with a 3 percent margin of error. Twilight steeled herself. Was she not a mare of science? And as a mare of science, was it not her duty to put her faith in the unbiased data, and not some silly premonition? Besides which, Rainbow Dash would never forgive her if they aborted now. No, everything would be fine.
“Ground Control to Rainbow Dash. Ground Control to Rainbow Dash. Take your protein pills, and put your helmet on.”
A raspy chuckle sounded over the intercom, and everypony watched breathlessly as their courageous test pilot finished suiting up and slipped out of the camera’s view. Excited murmuring rippled through the room as the signs of a launch came together. Cockpit sealed. Fueling complete, withdrawing hoses. All systems go. Ten. Nine. Twilight cleared her throat.
“Ground Control to Rainbow Dash. (Eight. Seven. Six.) Commencing countdown (Five.), engines on. (Four. Three. Two.) Check ignition, (One.) and may Celestia’s love be with you.”
Blastoff. Nothing could be heard over the roar of the engines. Red flames filled everypony’s vision, followed by billowing clouds of white smoke. As the noise died out, tension filled the air. Had it worked? Was everything all right? The intercom switched on, filled with the sounds of turbulence and a barely audible ‘yahooooo!’ The room exploded into a frenzy of cheering and hoofbumps from deliriously happy scientists. And then it exploded again as the press ponies finally caught sight of the rocket on camera. Twilight herself was jumping up and down with excitement.
“Ground Control to Rainbow Dash! You’ve really made the grade!” Twilight called out ecstatically, before being instantly mugged by reporters. All had the same inane question on their lips. She rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. Was she really about to broadcast this into space? “And... the papers want to know whose shirt you wear.”
No response. Just long enough for the nerves to return, and then... a chuckle. And an admonishment: why would ‘The Dash’ wear a brand other than her own? Twilight should have just said that from the beginning. She also should have anticipated that there would be a delay in the message speed at this distance. Although maybe if they boosted the signal... somepony get on that, would you? Minutes tick by. Twilight refers to her charts repeatedly.
“Now, it’s time to leave the capsule...”
The next thing that could be heard was a brief hissing noise and a series of awkward swears and grunts. Many things not meant for the ears of young fillies beamed themselves through the stratosphere courtesy of one brash technicolor pegasus.
“This is Rainbow Dash to Ground Control. I’m stepping through the door, and I’m... floating.” She sounded upset. Another tirade filtered through the airwaves unfit for young ears, describing in poetic detail the frustrations of how useless wings are in a vacuum. Twilight could only facehoof and try to urge her pilot in a more media-friendly direction. “The stars look very... different today.”
It would have to do. Twilight called her friend back into the ship. This had been enough for the initial launch, and it was time to prove they could bring her home. Instructions were passed along, as well as the luck and well wishes of all of Equestria. And that was all that she could do. Such a horrible thought, for a unicorn so well-versed in magic to realize how small and powerless she was.
“Past one hundred thousand miles... feeling very still.” Rainbow Dash’s communications were starting to sound broken up, “Think... spaceship knows which way to go.”
And then nothing but the crackle of static. There was panic, and a scramble to gather data. Find out what was going wrong. Another message came through, startlingly clear: “Tell my wife I love her very much.”
Twilight risked a glance at the visitor’s room to the right. It was mostly empty, most anypony who really wanted to see this live either worked here or had a press pass. But there was one: a pink earth pony who had her eyes glued to a screen showing the predicted landing zone. So far, nothing but flawless blue skies...
“...She knows.” Twilight said, choking back a tear.
The knot was back, and bigger than ever. Why so fearful? This was just... just... interference, from the re-entry or -- a panicked technician cut her off from that particular daydream. Twilight’s eyes widened in horror.
“Ground Control to Rainbow Dash! Your circuits dead, there’s... something wrong! Can you hear me!? Rainbow Dash!”
No response. “Can you hear me, Rainbow Dash?”
More silence. “Can you hear me, Rainbow Dash?”
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Can you hear...” She didn’t have the energy to finish the sentence. All sensors were showing dead now, and that wouldn’t happen unless... unless she was gone. Twilight’s heart sank.
There was nothing more she wanted to do than run into the next room and cry her eyes out, but she knew she couldn’t afford to. Now wasn’t the time for that. The press were still here in full force, horrified and looking for answers. No, now wasn’t the time for tears. Now was the time for damage control. Reputations needed saving. The future integrity of the Space Pony program demanded a scapegoat. And there was only one scapegoat up to that task: her name was Twilight Sparkle.
She was stone faced in front of the cameras. Without emotion as she blamed administrative error when the microphones were shoved in her face. Only betrayed by a slight misting in her eyes when she voluntarily stepped down from her command and asked leniency for the program, for her dream in the eyes of the public. Truthfully, she was already looking past her interview to something much less pleasant than publicly berating herself and ruining her career. She still had a grieving widow to comfort...
Once upon a time in a magical land called Equestria, one very ambitious unicorn’s ideals were working against her. Communication lines sped information faster than dragon’s fire from Ponyville to Canterlot and all the way to Hoofington. They spread the face of a haggard yet stoic purple pony named Twilight Sparkle, formerly famous for being Princess Celestia’s number one pupil. Celebrated for coordinating the efforts of Equestria’s scientists to bring this amazing information network and help to better understand Equestria’s place in the world, and even the universe. Now, all at once reviled for reaching too far too fast, for trying to do what everypony knew was impossible from the start. And for sacrificing a beloved athlete like Rainbow Dash before finally learning her lesson.
Within minutes the images were carried all across Equestria. Images of a contrite Ms. Sparkle accepting full blame for the incident. And then minutes later of that same Ms. Sparkle leading a sobbing Pinkie Pie away from the building. Hearts broke at the sight. ‘They had only just had their honeymoon’ some would say. ‘I read about it in the papers.’ Heads were shaking sadly in Fillydelphia. ‘That one let the Princess’ praise go to her head. Ponies ain’t meant to play with the stars.’
And up above it all, floating in a tin can beyond the moon, one Rainbow Dash neither heard nor cared about a word of it.
“...This stinks” she told nopony in particular, floating out of her seat and bumping into the console for the thirteenth time.
Looking over the technical manual she had been given (and then at the simplified version she’d demanded they write after the first time they showed it to her), she wasn’t even sure what had gone wrong. One minute she had been floating about, watching the awesome blue sphere she realized she called home and telling jokes, the next there had been a loud popping noise and all of a sudden the stupid ship was leaking power like it was a race. On the plus side, the auxiliary supply seemed to be working ok. That’d give her enough juice to keep breathing, and to know pretty much exactly when she’d die.
“This really stinks.” She amended. “At least the view’s still awesome...”
And it really was. Rainbow Dash had to admit, she was learning a lot just floating around up there. For one thing, the sun and the moon were waaaaay bigger than anypony gave them credit for. For another, it would probably have helped the scientific community a lot more if they had sent an egghead like Twilight up here instead of somepony like her. Or better yet, a team. Would probably help with all the data gathering she was supposed to be doing. She could imagine the headline: “30 million bits spent to learn: Sun is ‘Stupid huge’”. She leaned back, crossing her forelegs behind her head. In another... hour and 28 minutes, none of that would matter. She closed her eyes...
“Hey, Rainbow Dash?”
“Tomorrow’s the day, right? When you go all bam! Zoom! Straight to the moon?”
Rainbow Dash blinked. “Uh... sort of? Why?”
“You’re... coming back, right? You promise?”
“Of course I’m coming back! You think I’d just sit up there forever and leave you down here?”
“Do you promise? Pinkie Promise?”
“I...” Dash groaned. “Ugh, please. Don’t make me do this. It’s so lame...”
Pinkie was on top of Dash in an instant, eyeing her intensely. “Dooooo iiiiiit!”
“Cross my heart and... this doesn’t make sense, I have wings! Hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye. Eugh. I’m coming back, ok?”
“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie Pie was grinning from ear to ear. “And have fun in space! Zoom!”
Her technical manual chose this moment to float by and smack Dash in the face. She jolted upright, shooting up into the ceiling and smacking her head. This had several effects. The first was that she stopped dreaming about the night before. The second was that it hurt like nopony’s business, and she had to grumble yet again about how this thing was laid out. The third was a sudden realization of just how little momentum it took to get something moving up here.
Rainbow Dash was a blur of activity. She made a note of her remaining auxiliary power, of the systems needed for a controlled flight, of how much it would take to get the thrusters going for just a little bit, and cross-checked it all with her manuals. And if her calculations checked out, she’d have just enough juice to get the job done... assuming she could get all the right stuff up and running in the next eleven seconds. A devilish grin split her face. One to spare...
Back in Equestria, Twilight Sparkle was talking. She was saying lots and lots of things, some of which sounded really important, but Pinkie Pie was having trouble paying attention. She knew she should. She also knew she should be feeling sad, and probably angry and upset and all the other negative nelly feelings out there. And she was. Sort of. But it kept coming back to one thing. Rainbow Dash made a promise. A Pinkie Promise, even! And nopony ever breaks a Pinkie Promise! It’s, like, a rule! Pinkie Pie nodded to herself at just the right moment to convince Twilght she was still listening. Her eyes wandered for the million billionth time toward the sky.
“...will pay for a beautiful memorial service. She deserves...”
It happened suddenly and unexpectedly. Just like always. Pinkie Pie’s ears began to flop of their own accord. “Um, Twilight?”
“... doesn’t feel right bringing this up, but the insurance will cover...”
Now her knees were twitching. “Twiiiiiliiiiiight~”
“...Really all my fault. I should have added more fail-safes. Pinkie, I know it’s not what you want to hear, but...”
Eye flutter. Well that tore it. “TWILIGHT!!”
“...if there’s ever anything I-- wha?”
“We need to go back to Mission Control.” Pinkie smiled. “Now.”
“I-if that’s really what you want then ok, but I don’t understand why--”
“No time, no time!” She bounced on ahead. “Pinkie Sense!”
“Pinkie, this is really not the time to be worrying about things... falling... from... the sky.”
Twilight’s eyes widened in recognition. She was moving before the sensation even registered, full gallop. It was a fortunate thing they hadn’t gone too far. It was an unfortunate thing that three hours wasn’t enough time for the press to lose interest with the building. No sooner had the pair moved within eyesight than were they surrounded, cameras flashing and microphones at the ready.
“Ms. Sparkle! Ms. Sparkle! Is it true that Princess Celestia is now investigating you after accusations of sabotage?”
“Ms. Pie! How does it feel to lose your mate so soon after one of Equestria’s first same-sex marriages? Would you care to comment on how this has affected your relationship with Twilight Sparkle?”
“What? Don’t be silly, Rainbow isn’t de--- oof!”
“Ahahaha, excuse us gentlecolts. There will be a press conference shortly, but we’re not taking questions at this time.” Twilight smiled insincerely. What a monster she had unleashed... no, no time for that now. Her horn glowed purple, and in an instant, she and Pinkie Pie had vanished from under the noses of the reporter ponies. Many gasps were had.
The control room was empty of the usual technicians, but the equipment was mercifully still on. A particular raspy voice could be heard over the still-active intercom, and then some.
“...TWILIGHT SPARKLE, GET OFF YOUR LAZY PURPLE BUTT AND HELP ME OR SO HELP ME I’LL--”
“Er... wha? Twilight? Twilight! You’re reading me!?”
“Loud and... er... clear.” Twilight winced. “Are you all right? Can you tell us where you are?”
“I’m fine. I just crash landed in... uh... I don’t actually know. There’s a lot of water, and uh... oh! There’s some tannish looking rocks pretty close by.”
“I think you might have landed in the Palomino Sea. Hang tight, Rainbow Dash. I’ll get some search parties combing the area. Stay with the ship, ok? Otherwise we’ve got no chance of finding you.”
“Oh great. More sitting around with my wings tied up. Way to roll out the red carpet.”
Despite the sheer impossibility of the act, Twilight could swear she heard Dash roll her eyes. All she could do was laugh. “It’s... good to hear your voice again. We’ll talk more when you’re here and safe. Ground Control, over and out.”
The rumor mill was grinding full speed. Already chatter flew across Equestria claiming Twilight Sparkle had resumed control of the mission mere hours after letting it go, sending teams of pegasi all across Equestria in search of... something. Nopony dared to hope, at first. But more and more sources came forward, often mentioning the bright smile on the face of one Pinkie Pie, and soon the impossible had become dead certain, if as of yet unconfirmed. Rainbow Dash was alive. ‘Shoulda known Equestria’s Best Flier wouldn’t die in a crash,’ they were saying up in Stalliongrad. And in Canterlot, everypony could swear the sun was shining just a touch more radiantly than usual...
It was nearly a full day before it happened. Nopony was there to record it. One exhausted flight crew after another returned to base empty hooved, before at last one came with a haggard, prism-maned pegasus in tow. With many a salute but not a word, they scattered for the decontamination rooms. Twilight had just enough time to open her mouth before a pink blur had knocked the hero of the hour to the ground in what poets would later describe as ‘the biggest and bestest hug ever’.
“Pinkie, what have you done!? We don’t know what’s up-- oh, great. Now we’ll need to quarantine both of you!”
It was magic that didn’t use magic. The next morning, Equestria was alight with images of two mares sealed behind a massive steel door, a sly grin plastered on each of their faces. ‘Drifting, falling, floating weightless. Calling, calling Home...’