Firefly: Whole New Verse

Questions and Answers

“Neither one of you move,” Toolbelt said, keeping her pistol brace centered between Dash and Glimmer. Captain Dash thought about rushing her, but Toolbelt had been careful to stay well out of reach. The thought must have crossed Dash’s face, because Toolbelt jerked the gun towards her and scowled. “Fold those wings and don’t even think about it. And you,” Toolbelt said, her eyes sliding over to Glimmer but keeping Dash in her peripheral vision, “if I see any light from that horn I will put a bullet in you.”

“Fine,” Captain Dash said, sitting back on her haunches. “You’ve got the drop on us. Congratulations. But choose who you shoot real carefully. It’s a small room, and you’re barely out of reach.” Her eyes narrowed, and flight muscles tensed although she didn’t spread her wings. “If you can hit us. Pistol braces aren’t that accurate, especially not when your hooves are shaking.”

The slight trembling in Toolbelt’s hoof slowed, but didn’t stop, as she glared at Dash. “Real cute, but if either of you gets clever, and I promise I’ll get at least one of you before the rest of your crew can help.”

There was a moment of silence as the Captain stared in surprise. “What?”

Toolbelt glared, baring her teeth in a snarl. “Don’t give me that! I don’t know what this creepy game is, but it ends now. You’re going to sit in the pilot’s chair and take us back to Boaros. The door stays locked and your ‘missing’ crew doesn’t interfere.”

There was another moment of silence.

“What?” Captain Dash repeated.

Glimmer nervously cleared her throat. “Are you saying that you aren’t responsible for all the disappearances?”

Toolbelt rolled her eyes. “Oh please. We’re in space, no ships approached us, and this ship isn’t that big. There’s no way everyone could just ‘disappear’ into thin air without the whole sunscorched crew being in on it. They might be playing you too, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to trust you. For all I know you’re a plant, just like the zebra.”

Dash took a step forward, immediately drawing to barrel in her direction. “Horseapples!” she swore. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard today. You think some fancy talking will convince me that you didn’t do this? You think I’m just gonna act like a good captive and turn this ship around for you? Scorch that. I want my crew back.” Her head lowered, and eyes narrowed into thin slits. She seemed only seconds from charging despite being held at gunpoint.

“Stop this stupid game and step back,” Toolbelt demanded. “You think I won’t shoot? Just try me.”

“Both of you stop!” Glimmer shouted. “Have either of you even considered that something else might be happening? Maybe Zecora really is still out there, and she’s responsible.”

Captain Dash snorted. “Yeah right. I might not be crazy about guns, but even I can tell that Toolbelt’s piece is professional. A ‘poor mechanic’ ain’t likely to be packing one of those.”

“Of course I’m a professional! Do you think Patient Aim would put an amatuer on your ship?” Toolbelt scowled. “He had you pegged before you even touched down, and he wanted somebody onboard in case you did something stupid again. I don’t know how you figured me out or why you didn’t just shoot me, but I’ve had enough of this.” Toolbelt took a step further away from Glimmer and centered her pistol brace on Dash. “I was supposed to disable your ship once you were far enough in the black that there weren’t any ships in hailing distance, but that plan is blown to Tartarus, so you’re flying us back to Boaros. Or I shoot both of you and fly back myself.”

Before the Captain could respond there was a sudden burst of static from one of the comms. Everyone in the room jumped, but thankfully Toolbelt’s gun didn’t go off. After a second the static died down. Dash opened her mouth to say something, but never got the chance.

“Testing, testing. One, two, five,” a strange voice said. It was one Dash had never heard before. Worse, there was something about it, something she couldn’t identify, that sent chills up her spine.

“And who is this?” Toolbelt said, unamused. “An extra crew member you didn’t show me? Is this supposed to make me think the ship’s haunted?” She gestured with the gun, but Dash didn’t know what to tell her. Nothing made sense at the moment.

“Oooooooh, the ship is haunted?” the voice on the comm said, then giggled eerily, echoing in the stillness. “Lucky for all of you I know a song to help with that.”

Music started up slowly, with a hissing, scratchy quality as though it was being played on an ancient gramophone record. It sounded like carnival music slowed down, which was creepy by itself, then the voice started singing.

“When I was a little filly and the sun was going down.

I knew that it was only 'cause the world was turning 'round.

But now the shadows fill my brain no matter how I grin.

And if I lay my sleepy head I'll never wake again…”

The music cut off with a sudden record scratch. “Hmmmm… I don’t think that’s how it was supposed to go. I’ll get back to you on that.” With a another short burst of static the comm cut out and everything was silent once more.

Dash’s mouth was dry and her hooves shook.Having her crew disappear was one thing, being held at gunpoint was another, but this? “Sweet merciful Harmony,” Captain Dash whispered with the sort of reverence she usually reserved for the battlefield. “We’ve got a Jester on board.”

Toolbelt had evidently reached the same conclusion, because she was sweating and shaking like a mare possessed. Dash wasn’t even worried about the pistol brace going off anymore. Better a quick, clean death than whatever that thing might do to them.

Star Glimmer rolled her eyes. “That’s no Jester. They’re just a myth. Next you’ll tell me that a flying saucer full of Naked Apes abducted the rest of the crew.”

Dash gave her a stare that made her flinch. “Glimmer. I’ve been to villages left empty after a band of Jesters passed through. I’ve spoken to families that hid themselves and listened to the screams as their neighbors were dragged away. I’ve seen a single Jester hold its own against five soldiers. They aren’t a myth. They aren’t a legend. They’re ponies that went wrong. Something broke inside them, and they just went crazy.” Captain Dash wasn’t the best pony with words, but the simple, grim truth in her tone made Glimmer step back like she’d been popped across the nose with a newspaper.

“B-but what do they do?” Glimmer said, almost at a loss for words.

“They show up out of nowhere, laughing like hyenas, and they capture ponies. Once they have enough, they leave. Nobody knows what they do with the ponies they take, because nobody’s ever come back after they get captured.”

The click of a pistol brace jerked the Captain’s attention away. “I have had it up to here,” Toolbelt growled. “Scorch this ship and everything on it. You think you can jerk me around like this? You think you can play these sick games?! I’ve had it!” Froth was beginning to gather at the corners of her mouth, and her hooves shook like she was in an earthquake.

If she wasn’t building herself up to shooting both of them, Dash was an alicorn princess. Toolbelt might be a professional saboteur, but she obviously wasn’t used to getting dragged out from behind the curtain. Add the Jester into the mix, and she was close to breaking down. The Captain tensed herself to jump the mare, waiting for her chance. It might get her shot, but with a Jester on board, that possibility worried her a lot less. Ready… set… And then the faintest whisper of motion drew her eyes upward.

Captain Dash froze, transfixed like a bird in front of a snake.

There was an upside-down head poking out of the air vents. The pony it belonged to was bright pink with a wild darker-pink mane. Dash had expected a rictus smile and clown make-up, but instead, the mare just wore a small, mischievous grin. She didn’t look much different from any other mare just past fillyhood, if you ignored the glassy sheen to her eyes. The pink mare dropped out the vent, silent as a ghost, just as Toolbelt’s rant was reaching a fever pitch.

“So the only sane option left is to shoot you both! I hope you two have made your peace, because it’s time to die!” The barrel of Toolbelt’s gun centered on Captain Dash.

The pink mare darted forward and caught Toolbelt’s foreleg, forcing the pistol brace up and away. One hoof clamped down on Toolbelt’s mouth, stifling the instinctive scream that followed. The other hoof yanked a little tube out of the wild pink mane and pressed it to Toolbelt’s neck. The entire process took less than a second.

There was a hiss of gas from the device as Toolbelt struggled helplessly in the pink mare’s grip. She might not have looked like the Jester Dash had seen once before, but the mare moved just like it. The pink mare stroked Toolbelt’s mane as her struggles grew weaker and weaker. “Shhh… shhh…” she whispered. “It’s sleepytime now. You’ll feel less crabby after your nap.” Her face split in a grin that seemed to reach from ear to ear as Toolbelt fell limp. “There we go. If you’re a good girl after you wake up, your auntie Pinkie Pie will give you a cookie.” The pink mare gently laid Toolbelt to the floor and arranged her into a sleeping position.

Captain Dash raised her pistol and centered it on the pink mare’s left eye. The last Jester had taken six shots to the body before the squad finally brought it down. A headshot might make things go a little quicker. Just before she could twitch her hoof and shoot, a purple aura flashed to life around her foreleg and yanked it away.

“Don’t hurt her!” Star Glimmer shouted, desperate fear in her voice. And for some reason, it was aimed at Dash and not the still-grinning psycho slowing advancing on them.

Captain Dash lashed out with her other foreleg, aiming for the pink mare’s head. The Jester smoothly dodged, then gripped the foreleg and twisted it against Dash, trapping the limb. Dash tried to struggle, but the pink mare had all the leverage, and Glimmer’s aura still wouldn’t let go of her other foreleg. Dash stared into the Jester’s smile, refusing to look away. Whatever came next, she would face with both eyes open. She cursed Glimmer briefly under her breath as the pink mare stretched out her hoof.

“Boop,” she said, tapping Captain Dash lightly on the nose.

The room fell silent.

“What?” Dash heard herself say.

“Boop,” the pink mare repeated solemnly, her face becoming serious for a moment before snapping back to the mad grin. “I booped you good, Dashie. And now you’re it!”

“Pinkie,” Glimmer said softly, her voice tight and eyes watery. “Are you okay?”

“Okay?!” Pinkie shouted. “I’m super-de-duper! This has been the most fun game of hide n’ seek I’ve ever played. I mean sure, technically I shouldn’t come out until I caught everypony, but since Toolbelt wasn’t playing by the rules, I didn’t have to either.”

Dash stared in confusion. Glimmer knew this nutcase? How? Why? Glimmer had come onboard alone, fleeing the ponies after her for stealing Confed research, the proof they had been… experimenting on... ponies.

Suddenly, everything fell into place. Glimmer’s sorrow and desperation, the empty fridge, the missing sleep gun, the disappearances. “She’s the ‘research’ the Confed has been doing?” Dash said, shocked. “They built a … fake Jester? What in the Nine Pits of Tartarus is she?!”

“She’s my sister,” Glimmer said softly, tears leaking out of the corner of her eyes. “Oh, Pinkie, what did they do to you?”

“Sister?” Pinkie said, her glassy eyed stare aimed at Glimmer now. “I know we’re super best friends, Twilight, and maybe you’re my ‘sister-from-another-mister’, but I dunno what you’re talking about.” Sweat began to break out on Pinkie’s brow and the hoof holding Dash’s foreleg still began to shake. “I mean, I’m Pinkamena Diane Pie. I have a family. We’re rock farmers, well, the rest of them are, but I left to become a party planner extraordinaire.” Her voice had risen in pitch, becoming high, hysterical. “Us? Sisters? T-that’s crazy talk. I-I…”

“We are sisters, and your name isn’t Pinkamena. It’s Pinkie Pie. I remember the day Mom and Dad brought you home from the orphanage. You were so little, but you smiled at me and called me ‘big sister’. I remember how excited you were on your first day of school, and how you cried without stopping all the way through our parents’ funeral. I remember promising you that even if they were gone, I would never leave.” Tears left silent trails down her face. “Don’t you remember?” she pleaded.

The shaking got worse and Pinkie let Dash go. Glimmer, or Twilight, or whatever her name was let go of the spell holding Dash’s arm in place and Dash absently massaged it with a sigh of relief. Glimmer – Twilight – made to approach Pinkie, but she took a step back, looking frightened. Pinkie stared at her hooves as though she didn’t recognize them. “That’s… impossible. Maud is my big sister. I remember introducing you to her. That was after you got back from medical schoo– no! No, that’s not right! W-what’s going on?” She stared at her hooves for a second, then tugged at her mane and tail as if surprised to see them. She froze as she caught sight of the mark on her flank – a balloon with a laughing face wearing thick-rimmed glasses. “That’s not my cutie mark! I have three balloons! Three! I got it at the fourth grade science fair when I realized I loved using my smarts to… make ponies happy?” she trailed off quizzically, blinked again, and the shaking stopped.

“Twilight?” Pinkie said, sounding near tears. She sunk down to the floor, her huge smile vanishing even as the glassy look faded from her eyes. Even her mane seemed less frizzy than it had been.

“I’m here, Pinkie. I’m here and I won’t leave you again,” Twilight said, drawing her into a hug. This time Pinkie didn’t move away, instead grabbing Twilight and drawing her closer.

Pinkie began crying, speaking through the sobs. “I-it hurts, Twilight. It hurts. Stuffed too full, like a balloon about to pop. All those doors, tearing off lock after lock and now they won’t close. Celestia appeared to me bathed in radiant light, then I stole her cake. Other Pinkies, other Pies, screaming ‘fun, fun, fun!’ into my brain!” She began to hyperventilate as her volume grew louder and louder. “Memories of things that never happened! Reality isn’t real! And nothing makes sense any more!” She collapsed to crying in Twilight’s forelegs, and her sister held her close.

“It’s okay, Pinkie. You’re free. You’ll never have go back there again. We’ll get through this,” Twilight promised, although Dash could see the fear and worry in her eyes.

Captain Dash scowled, despite the tugs on her heartstrings. “That’s great and all, but let’s not forget about my crew. If they don’t turn up safe and sound, that Confed lab will be the last of your worries.”

Twilight’s ears went flat, and she rose to her hooves glaring. “If you think–”

The click of Dash’s pistol brace stopped her. “I meant what I said. Try another spell on me, I’ll shoot to kill. So long as my crew is safe, no harm, no foul. But if they aren’t…” She left it hanging, her expression more than enough to spell out the threat.

“They’re fine,” Pinkie said. “I left them in the walls and the floors and the secret places that Tranquility whispered to me.” Some the glassy unreality returned to her eyes. “If you admit that I won the game, then it’s ‘olly olly oxen free’ and they get to come out.”

Captain Dash stared into the eyes of the deranged mare in front of her. There was something incredibly unsettling about them, but there was no malice there. No desire to harm anybody. Whatever the Confed did to her, it hadn’t made her a Jester. All they did was ruin her life.

Dash knew how that felt.

“Fine. You win. Now show me where my crew is.”

………

Pinkie seemed to take great delight in revealing where she had hidden everyone. Tranquility was a smuggler’s ship rebuilt out of a smuggler’s ship, full of hidden caches and false walls to hide goods from nosy lawkeepers. Some of the places her crew were stored, Dash would have sworn were too small to fit a full grown pony. Most of them she hadn’t even known existed.

“Your turn to hide,” Dash said opening the door to the pantry. It wasn’t exactly a brig, but the door was strong, and it didn’t have an opening into the air vents. The last thing they needed was her crawling through the ship, and playing another ‘game’.

“But you’ll know where to find me,” Pinkie pouted.

Captain Dash snorted. “I’m not the one that’ll be looking for you. The crew isn’t gonna be happy about what you did.”

Pinkie turned to her, but that glassy-eyed stare didn’t even seem to register she was there. Pinkie’s mane drooped and her voice lowered. “They are looking for me, searching all the nooks and crannies. Sniffing at doors and baying at the gates. Can’t let them go. No, we can’t, can we? The program is too important; the program needs her.” She seemed to snap out of her depression and smiled brightly at Dash, her eyes once more focused. “Okie-dokie-lokie. I’ll stay in here and be on my bestest behavior.” She strolled inside, staring at the wall and humming quietly to herself. Dash hid a shiver, shut the door, tapped the crystal screen to activate its built-in lock, and added a padlock of her own to the double handle.

“Is that really necessary?” Twilight asked acidly.

“You tell me, ‘Star Glimmer’,” Captain Dash replied. Twilight flinched at the false name, but didn’t back off. Dash rolled her eyes. “I’d rather keep her out of the way for everyone’s sakes until the crew has a chance to cool off.”

Twilight considered that for a moment, then slowly nodded her head. “I’ve concocted something to wake them up. I don’t know how Pinkie got the dosing for each individual right, but none of them should have any lasting effects.”

“Good,” the Captain replied. “Leave Toolbelt sleeping, but give it to everybody else.”

It took a while to get everybody awake, and even longer to keep Gilda from stabbing somebody. But eventually everyone was reasonably calm and seated around the kitchen table. Applejack hadn’t let go of Soarin since they woke up. Fluttershy was as far from Twilight as she could get and still shaking slightly in fear. Gilda was mad enough to chew up horseshoes and spit nails, but at least she’d stopped trying to claw Twilight’s tail off. Rarity was trying to look composed, but Dash could spot the tension in her shoulders. Zecora was the only one who actually seemed calm.

“You owe us some explanations,” Dash said to Twilight. “So let’s hear ‘em.”

“Why bother?” Gilda demanded. “She lied, and Little Miss Nutso in there slipped us all a mickey. I say we turn ‘em in if there’s a reward and dump them someplace barren if there ain’t.”

“That seems harsh,” Soarin said. “I’m not exactly happy to get knocked out, but that’s all she did. You’re practically saying we should throw them out the airlock.”

“I haven’t ruled it out,” Gilda growled. “Yeah, she only put us to sleep, but what if she decided to kill us when–”

“Enough!” Captain Dash shouted. “I’ve got some of the facts, but I want to hear the whole thing before I make any decisions.” Gilda grumbled at that, but the kitchen soon fell silent. All eyes were on Twilight, and she gulped nervously.

“I-I’m sorry, I lied to everyone here, but my name is actually Twilight Sparkle. I’m a trauma surgeon, specializing in medical magic. Pinkie Pie, the filly who put you all to sleep, is my adopted younger sister. Our parents were part of the Confederation’s intelligence office, and they died early in the war.”

“Boo hoo,” Gilda interrupted. “You and half the moonbanished kids in the 'Verse. The war made plenty of orphans.” Gilda looked like she was going to say more, but a glare from Dash made her back off. The Captain didn’t much care for Twilight’s parents, especially not if they had fought on the side of the Confed, but Gilda’s heckling was just gonna delay the story.

Twilight colored and her eyes narrowed, but she took a deep breath and started again. “My older brother, Shining Armor, went to Officer Training School shortly after, and it was just Pinkie and me in the house after that.” She smiled sadly. “Pinkie was so … so brilliant. Smarter than everyone in her school, regardless of the grade, but it never went to her head. She was always so cheerful and loving, and she could make friends with almost anyone.

“Then we got a letter from a special boarding school. It promised Pinkie the best education in the system, a curriculum that would actually challenge her and bring out her full potential. I let her take the test, and the approval arrived within days. She left to study there, and… then it was just me. She sent me letters occasionally for the first year, but then the letters stopped. I didn’t hear from her for two months. I got worried and tried contacting the school, but I got nothing. I couldn’t find any proof that the school had ever existed. I even bought a ticket and traveled off-planet to the school’s address, but the the building was empty, abandoned, and there was no record of anyone using it in the past ten years. I reported Pinkie missing, but the police investigation turned up nothing. Shining Armor tried looking into it from his position in the military, but even he couldn’t find anything.

“Whoever had stolen my sister had escaped without a trace. The police concluded it was part of a clandestine pony trafficking ring and promised to keep looking, but they didn’t have much hope. More than a year after her last letter, Shining Armor gave up hope. He stopped pursuing it and suggested that I do the same. I promised him I would, but instead, I made some … less than legal contacts to continue searching. After a lot of time and money, I found a group that knew what had really happened to Pinkie. An underground branch of the government had taken her in for illegal experimentation. The radical group promised to deliver her to me if I funded their plan to raid the ‘school’. It sounded crazy, but I was out of options and desperate. I took their deal, funneled them the money, cleaned out the rest of my accounts, and left my old life behind. I don’t know what those monsters did to my sister yet, but hopefully I can reverse with enough study.”

The kitchen was silent for a few moments. Applejack cleared her throat. “I get the disguise and everything, since the ponies who took your sister probably aren’t too keen having her runinn’ around, but what’s with all the equipment?”

“I was planning to open a clinic on Whitetail. I have all of the proper identification for ‘Dr. Star Glimmer’ and I thought a quiet, rural planet like that would be easy to hide on.”

Captain Dash and AJ shared a look. “Whitetail is pretty rural,” Dash said, shaking her head, “but that makes it a bad choice if you’re looking to hide. There’s maybe fifty doctors on the whole moon right now. Everybody knows everybody. A female unicorn doctor showing up out of nowhere right after you busted your sister out and disappeared? That’s going to stick out like a sore hoof no matter how good your papers and disguise are.”

“And that’s rather assuming you can keep your younger sister under control and out of sight,” Rarity added with some hidden venom.

“Oh,” Twilight said, deflating. “I hadn’t considered that.”

“Okay, so am I the only one who doesn’t believe her?” Soarin asked, eyeing everyone at the table in disbelief. “I mean, come on. An entire school disappearing without a trace, a secret government lab experimenting on fillies for no reason, an underground political group conducting a raid on this mysterious lab? It’s unbelievable! Even my comics don’t get that silly!” he complained, slouching forward.

AJ smirked. “Not even the one about the penguins?”

Soarin sat bolt upright and glared at his wife. “Don’t you talk smack about the Crested Rockhopper. He’s the last bastion of justice in Falkland City.” He sighed and shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but don’t you agree, Gilda?”

Gilda stopped flipping her new knife and shrugged. “I dunno. Sounds like something the Confed would do.” She smirked. “Rules are for the people at the bottom, not whoever’s on top. But that don’t change anything. If she’s telling the truth, that’s just a bigger reason to turn them over.”

Zecora set her cup, with a soft ‘clink’ and eyed Gilda. “I would have caution if I were you, before giving the State what it claims as its due. If this is a secret dark and fell, the informer would probably vanish as well.”

Gilda glared at her in confusion, then snorted. “Does anybody here speak ‘jerkese’?” she asked the table.

“She’s sayin’ that if the Confed don’t want any of this known, then they’ll probably lock up anypony that finds out. Includin’ anypony that turned them in for the bounty. And that’s if they’re in a generous mood. If they ain’t, they’d probably just shoot us in the back of the head and make our bodies disappear.” AJ sighed, took a sip from the mug in front of her. “Hard to tell tales when you’re dead.”

Twilight looked relieved. From the way she’d used her mouth and hooves to handle her equipment while treating the unconscious crew, Dash figured she’d used the last of her magic back on the bridge. If the crew decided on something she didn’t like, there wasn’t much she could do about it. “Well, then if Whitetail is a bad place, where do you think would be a good one? I still have some money, and I would be willing to pay passage to another destination.” A slight frown crossed her face. “Reasonably priced passage, that is.”

“Actually,” Dash said. “I’ve got something different in mind. I agree with Zecora, they’re going to try hauling in anyone who knows about this. And anyone they get their hooves on, they’re going to question.” Her face turned grim. “And the Confederation knows how to get answers. If they find out that we know, they’ll come after us. I’d rather keep you and your sister out of sight for a while, at least until the heat on you dies down. Then we’ll settle you two somewhere you can blend in. Until then, you can work for your passage as our doctor. You won’t draw any pay, but I won’t charge anything either. That sound fair?”

“Seriously, Captain?” Gilda broke in. “You want to keep that little monster on board?”

“I want to keep this crew safe, and if that means putting up with a little craziness, then that’s it.” Dash eyed Gilda carefully. “Got a problem with that?”

Gilda clearly did have a problem with that, but she backed down from Dash’s challenge. “Fine, but if she sticks me again, I’ll return the favor with one of my knives.” Her feather ruffled, she glowered at Twilight. “So you’d better keep your pet psycho on a short leash.” That said, she stood up and stalked off to her bunk.

“Anyone else have something to add to the discussion?” Dash looked around the table. She realized with a start that Fluttershy had slipped away at some point. Then, to more surprise, Zecora raised her hoof.

“Although I have no fare to pay, I beg that you would let me stay. When from my abbey I proceeded, I thought to find someplace I'm needed, and though you may doubt happenstance, I do not think I'm here by chance.”

Dash raised an eyebrow. That certainly hadn’t been what she was expected. But if the Solar Sister was here, there was no chance she could get scooped up by the Confed and forced to talk. “If I do let you stay, it’s on my terms. You don’t draw pay, you don’t preach to anyone that don’t want to listen, and you don’t butt into this ship’s business.”

“To your terms I will agree, if I may stay on Tranquility,” Zecora said, nodding to herself. Rarity looked pleased by that, though the rest of the crew were uncertain.

“Okay, I can see the use of having a doctor, but what do we need a Sister for? Do you have any skills we could actually use?” Soarin said.

“I’m not a chef of great acclaim, but my cooking will not bring me shame,” Zecora answered giving him a smile.

Applejack chuckled. “I’m all for gettin’ out of kitchen duty, so that sounds about right to me.”

Dash nodded. That would work out. “Okay, anyone else have something?” The rest of the table was silent. “Good. Dismissed. Get all your equipment and luggage settled, then we’ll talk about your sister, Twilight.” She nodded in reply and everyone headed off to their own places.

Captain Dash followed the long hallway down to the engine room, and knocked on the side of the open door before entering. “Hey, little ‘Shy. You feeling okay?”

Fluttershy looked up and stopped fiddling with whatever gizmo she was working on. “I’m sunny. Thank you, Captain.” She went quiet after that but didn’t return to her work.

Dash winced internally. “I didn’t see when you left. Did you hear the plan?”

“Twilight, her sister, and Zecora are going to stay on the ship.”

“Are you okay with that?” Dash asked. Tranquility was house and home to everyone onboard, but it was more than that to Fluttershy. If they had enough money to order parts direct, she might never leave the ship.

“I’ll have to be,” Fluttershy said, refusing to meet Dash’s eyes. She stared down and away as if to study the mechanical butterflies on her cutie mark. “Keeping them aboard is safest for the whole crew. I can’t be selfish about it.” She smiled tightly, putting a brave face on it, but Dash could see her hooves shaking.

Dash frowned, leaned in and lowered her voice. “Do you want me to keep Pinkie away from you? If I have to keep her locked up, I’ll do it. I know what she put you through wasn’t easy.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “No, it’s fine. She got me so quickly, I didn’t have time to be scared.” She smiled, but Dash could tell she was lying. “I love talking to you, Captain, but I’ve got plenty of work to do, too.” Captain Dash took and the hint and left the mechanic to her own devices.

She walked back to the kitchen, surprised to find Rarity still there. Everyone else had gone, but she was busy looking through the small window on the pantry door. “A bit for your thoughts,” Dash offered as she came close. “Maybe that’s below your going rate, but I figure most ponies aren’t interested in buying those.”

“Very droll,” Rarity said, without looking away from the window. Her voice was flat and quiet.

Captain Dash had been expected some friendly (or not-so-friendly) sniping after that comment, but Rarity plainly wasn’t in the mood. “Seriously, though, what’s up?” She stepped up to the window and looked through it herself. Pinkie Pie had her back to the door, and was rocking slowly back and forth. Several boxes of oatmeal were arranged in a complex geometrical structure that looked like it should fall over in the slightest breeze, but otherwise the pantry was undisturbed.

“I can’t decide whether or not to be mad,” Rarity said quietly.

Dash blinked in surprise and stared at her. The Captain had known Rarity for a fair length of time, and she couldn’t remember Rarity being unsure about anything.

“Last night, I was the first one she took. Her breaking out of that crate awakened me, and I came out of my shuttle to see what was the matter. At that point she didn’t have the sedatives. I was caught, pinned and tied up before she put me to sleep. I had quite some time to feel terrified, angry and helpless. I had no idea what was in that injector when she placed it on my neck.”

Dash felt sick, like a rock had dropped into her stomach.

“I thought I was going to die.” Rarity let that hang in the air for a long second, then shook her head. “But now I see what she is: a filly with a broken mind. I’m not sure I can be angry with her. Not the way I want to be.”

There was another pause, and Dash could see Pinkie’s mouth moving as she talked quietly to herself on the other side of the door. Captain Dash had to wonder if she even knew she was being watched. “I know how you feel,” Dash said quietly. In the moment after understanding what Pinkie was, but before she knew that her crew was safe, she’d felt the same thing. Captain Dash didn’t want to think about what she might’ve done if they hadn’t been. “You didn’t say much about my plan.”

Rarity gave an elegant shrug and tore herself away from the pantry window. “I think it is a capable plan, Captain Rainbow Dash. However, I also think that fate delights in ruining such plans. Are you certain you know what you’re doing?” She walked off without waiting for a response. Dash watched her go and turned back to the window. Pinkie was still mumbling quietly, dead to the world around her.

“I’m doing what needs doing,” Dash said to nobody, and left.

Inside the pantry sat a mare lost in her own mind. She took no more notice of Dash leaving than she had of her coming. Her eyes were locked on something impossibly distant, and she sang a tiny lilting ditty to herself, over and over as she watched it.

"They’re watching you, with eyes of blue.

They’re watching me, and all I see.

They’re watching her, and won’t defer.

They’re watching him, their faces grim.

But in the end? Nopony wins."


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