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An answer to the "Cupcakes" fan fiction gimdark novel. Posted also as an answer to Clockworthy's comment to the "cupcakes" description post.
Work in progress. May contain spelling, grammar and fact inaccuracies and errors, please consider reposting them to me, so I could fix them.)
Cupcakes: justice (Part 1)
Baker getting baked
Minutes passed and the drug took affect. Dash was numb from her chest to her flanks. Aware of this, Pinkie approached with her scalpel. With only a smiling glance to Dash, she made a long cut across her pelvis just above her crotch. Moving up her body, she drew a similar incision under her ribs. One final cut was made down her stomach, connecting the first two.
“Looks like I got my I on you, Dash.”
With a moist, gooey sound, the new door flapped opened. __
Which made a meaningful complement for another door - the one leading to the bakery, which suddenly went thrust open with an deafening BLAM and a flash of dazzling white light. Pinkie Pie flinched of surprise, driving the scalpel deep into Dashe's chest, and turned around, trying to figure out, what was going on there. The room started to fill up with an acrid pale-green and yellow smoke.
It hasn't been more than a second, before a sound of dozen of clopping hooves came from the stairway and someone's voice, amplified with a loudspeaker, roared:
-GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR AND PUT YOUR HOOVES ABOVE YOUR HEAD! DO IT, PONY, OR I'LL SHOOT ON SIGHT!
Pinkie hopped off the table, droped her scalpel and grabbed a fearsome machete, ready to protect herself. But in a blink of an eye another two BLAMs, accompanied with dazling flashes, threw her down on the floor, deafened, blinded and totally confused. As soon, as she fell down, six strangely looking ponies - all unicorns with their faces hidden, and cutiemarks covered with dense black fabric patches, which were being held with hip belts, stormed into the room, surrounding Pinkie and pointing some strange metal tools, levitating by their right shoulders, at her.
Rainbow Dash tried to make a sound, somwhow attract their attention, but the world started spinnig and she dropped her head on the frame, fighting hard not to loose conciousness, for she was afraid, that the unicrons will take Pinkie and go back where they came from, leaving her to slowly die of severe pain and bleeding.
Meanwhile the unicorns tied Pinkie up with some sort of rope and made her stand. From the look on Pinkie's face, Dash realised that the party pony behaves like she's just woke up and can't figure out, where is she, and what's going on.
One of the unicons, the one with a sun symbol on his cutiepatch, pulled down his strange iron gadget and stepped closer to tied up Pinkie.
-Pinkie Pie! By the authority of Princess Celestia, I put you under arrest for being suspected in kidnapping, torture and ruthless murder. You have the right to keep silence, yet this will not change anything. Tomorrow Princess Celestia shall decide upon your faith. Take her away!
Two other unicrons put their tools behind their backs, slipped theie hooves through Pinkie's and lead her to the stairway. The unicorn that spoke to Pinky, looked around, and, at last, noticed Dash tied up to the frame, hacked in multiple sides and almost unconsious of pain, shock and bleeding.
The former unicorns severity vanished without a trace - he hopped up to the frame, grabbing Dash's neck for a pulse, at the same time speaking frequently - must be to his companions still in the room.
-Hostage down, pulse 50, wounded badly and bleeding, ned trailors and medic NOW! Over...
None of the other unicrons move, but instead of it, Dash heard a weak sound of someone's talking from under unicorn's thick and, probably, heavy olive vest:
-Copy that, entry team, medic is on its way, trailors incoming. Get the hostage ready for evaq, over...
-Roger, talk -the unicorn said into air, wawing his hoove to his mates and looking around, searching for something. When the other three came by, he's been already cutting the belts, holding Dash, with Pinkies hacksaw.
Dash felt, that noone ties her to the frame anymore, but along with that, she felt that someone touched the stub her left wing used to be just a minute ago, and the pain has finally knocked her out, leaving the rest to the strange face-and-cutiemark-hiding unicorns. The last thing she saw was a couple of earth-ponies in just the same face masks and cutie-patches, carrying a stretcher, and the world has faded away right after that.
To protect and to serve
Captain Rainbow Dagger had a long and honorable story behind. Five years in Everfree Forest Rangerhoof, ten years on Griffon-Equestrian border. Dragons, hungry forest creatures, wild and reckless griffon teens, merciless human poachers - he's seen and fought them all, protecting his dear and peasful motherland from the danger of the outer lands, which Princess Celestia herself couldn't fully drive away wuth her goddess unicorn magic. "To protect and to serve" - that's what was tatooed around his cutiemark, proudly depicting a sword of shiny silvery steel, crossed with a rainbow, formed to resemble a dagger. 20 years of blameless service, including the last five years as an inner affair sheriff, made him think that nothing violent and ruthless may let any fear in his proud and invincibly brave heart.
But what he was observing during this mission, made him feel totally distorted. A terrible, unprecendented act of torture, and far from being the only one in this cellar, in HIS quiet and peace-shining town of Ponyville! And not on a griffon, or a dragon, or any other fearsome and ugly blood-seeking foreign beast - but on a beatiful rainbow-maned blue pegasus pony! Captain felt that muffled anger has started rising up his throat. Not only the suspect has obviously made some deep cuts in her victim's hide, she did the worst - on a table, standing close by the frame, his operators found a pair of sky-blue fluffy pegasus wings, freshly cut off and stained with, no doubt, victim pegasus's blood. Rainbow Dagger has seen enough wounds in his life to make it clear - no matter, how hardly will the surgeon try to sew the wings back to place, there's no way that pegasus girl could ever normally fly again. To harm the wings of a pegasus! You'd better kill yoursel as soon as you feel you're ready to do such a thing! You may be ready to punch a pegasus, kick a pegasus, shoot a pegasus, at last - but to touch a living pegasus's wings, you have to be absolutely insane disguisting madman.
Captain felt unbearable compassion for the wounded pony. If only they've been sent here twenty minutes earlier! Rinbow Dagger wasn't a bit sentimental, on the contrary, he saw and did enough horrible things to feel calm for blood, fighting and violence. But he always clearly saw a border between war and crime, and the longer he lived and the older he became, themore clearly he understood - what could be done to a foe, may never be applied to a civilian. Besides, his daughter was just around the age of the pegasus pony being held hostage and tortured by the pink monster. A horrible thought, that his girl could get in a situation like that, filled captain Dagger with horror and wrath.
For a moment Rainbow Dagger felt sorry, that he and his crew were too professional to let the suspect of that kind render any meaningful or dnagerous resistance. Creatures like that should be shot on sight, without judjement or investigation, no matter how pinkie and cute they may look from aside. Then the rage slowly passed, leaving place for reasonable comprehension. Years of military service have taught Rainbow Dagger, that ponies are the most loyal, brave and honorable creatures one can possibly meet in the world. So there's no way a pony could normally come to such unbearable condition. Which means - the true criminal, responsible for what was happening in the cellar for an unascertained time, has just lost the first battle, but far from loosing the entire war. That should be determined by tomorrow - Celestia will either execute the pinky butcher, or set her up for some weird magic mental healing. If the pink pony survives Celestia's court and trial, the Captain's work will continue - and go on as long, as neccecary to find the torturer of the blue pegasus pony and bring him to justice - by Celestia's means, or, better, with his own 9X19 human MP5 sub-mashine gun.
Do no harm
Doctor Rubber Pill rushed through the hospital corridor, murmuring haste exuses to those he joged along the way, carrying a pegasus topographical anatomy manual in his mouth and having his sthetoscope and blinker levitate above his head. A call from Canterlot found him napping after a long and pretty busy 24-hour shift, so at first he didn't recognize nor the voice of the person calling, neither the demand she claimed politely, but firmly. It was two minutes before he finally woke up enough to realize that the pony, patiently waiting for him to come back to himself, is no one else than the ruler and goddess of everypony in his land - princess Celestia. As soon, as he came to the deal she portrayed, all he's been left to do is grab his coat, his equips and a pegasus throughout anatomy guide, and hurry to the operating room, not thinking about the fact he was officially on a day-off and there was a surgeon on duty, ready to make urgent emergency operations. The young filly was too unexperienced and awkward to operate a pegasus with her wings cut clean off. Honestly, doctor Pill didn't have any idea how HE would glue those wings back where the used to be, without condemning the pegasus to an acute and untreatable pain syndrome - WITHOU letting her fly again the way she flown before the incident, which lead to the trauma. If it wasn't for the princess, he would treat the stumps and let them be as they are now, denying the wounded pegasus an ability to fly, but instead providing her with a painless and thus a longer and happy life, on the ground or walking the white clouds in Cloudsdale.
Doctor Rubber Pill once had a friend of him, a pegasus, who wanted to become a trauma surgeon and, despite of having no horn and thus no medical or telekinetic magic powers, came to a noticeable success in the field. Yet, he had to leave the practice soon after he graduated from the academy - to become a stormy weather "Night Shift" patrol operator somwhere on the Griffon-Equestrian border. Doctor Pill heard stories of him saving ponie's lifes, performing dangerous, sometimes prohbited, but yet sometimes very effective operations. If he was around, he surely would take this complex and unwanted pegasus case. Alas, the black-maned, charcoal hide pegasus was far, far away, in at least 4 hours of subsonic flight from Ponyville, somwhere far from civlization with its telephones and radio trancievers - generically out of reach in time short enough to make it here and save the little flyer pony. Doctor Pill stired up his mane and hastened his steps - the operation was to begin in no more than 5 minutes to be a little bit successful, and he still had to take a shower and get in his operational surgery suite. Thanks Celestia he's not a pegasus, like the long-lost friend of him, and doesn't have to sterilize his mouth cavity!
The corridor made one last right angle turn, and doctor Rubber run into a group of unicorn ponies, dressed in some weird green wests, with some sphisticated metal and plastic tools haging from their backs and firmly mounted saddle bags. Their heads were covered with woolen cloth eye- and mouth-holed masks, of every of them but two - elderly stern-faced pony with a sun symbol on his uniform and...
Doctor Rubber felt like a mountain has fallen down from his back.
-Thunderwing! I thought you're in your border cliffs! You can't imagine, how I'm glad to...
-I can, Rubber Pill. -old friend smiled at him. -We suspected, that such a situation may be a possibility in this mission, so captain took me along with his crew. Captain, this is my friend and finest surgeon ever, Rubber Pill. Rubber, this is captain Rainbow Dagger, the pony between Equestria and all the evil of the borderlands and any other lands behind our borders. He's the one responsible for rescuing your -or our? -patient from a maniac butcher pony.
A surgeon and a captain exchanged a short nod of mutual respect and went each to his work.
-Thunder, this is OUR patient - more than that, it's almost completely YOUR patient, for the main difficulty is that thepatient's wings has been cut clean off.
-Dramatic, as you always were - Thunderwing let himself an irreevant giggle. -Nothing even close to "clean off", there're two fine half-inch leftovers, with neurovascular pipe preserved at both sides, though nerves in her right wing root are damaged, and require something bigger than a razor and a scalpel. I think, wel be able to figure out, what exactly, in action. Are you ready?
Doctor Rubber Pill took a deep breath - as expected, it's going to be one wierd, mindless piece of field surgery, with nerves parted from muscles with a razor, dental floss as a tool to clearly disjoin bound vessels and something like rubber glue as intestinal stich material - but, surprisingly, he wasn't shaking from tensin anymore. The bue pegasus girl has just earned one jackpot chance to have her wings back on line.
War of the worlds
By evening Ponyville finally turned into a likeness of a ruffled anthill. It began at 15.00, after mealtime, when the royal guard fell from the sky right to the town square, quickly and silently dispersing the citizens to their - or anyone's homes, shops and restaraunts, cleaning the streets and setting up blockposts on every crossing, watching vigilantly that noone could get outdoors without permission. Approximately at that time, the sky began to fill up with grey rainy clouds, which soon turned a sunny day into a moist and dank mid-day twilight. In an hour, a wierd group of all-cloth-covered, face-and-cutiemark-is-a-huge-secret ponies rushed through the town to the square, disappearing one by one inside the Baker's bakery shop. They stayed there for a mere 20 minutes, then rushing with the same hurry back where they must have come from, carrying something wrapped up in a bedsheet and, possibly, bucking for freedom - to no effect, unsurprisingly, judging of the face-hidden ponie's quantity and sternness.
Just in two minutes, a chariot, harnessed with two large and mighty royal guards, landed by the Baker's shop, and another group of face-hidden ponies rushed to it from the inside, carrying a stretcher with some pony, bandaged thoroughly, so that was no chance to recognize, who was it, which was quickly loaded in the chariot, and immideately after that the chariot took off and rushed with a speed unbelievable for cumbersome royal guards, west, towards Manehattan. Thet was when it began to drizzle.
In a few hours the rumor spread throughouht darkening and wet-to-the-bone Ponyville - the one carried out in a stretcher was Rainbow Dash, and another, wrapped up in a bedsheet, was Baker's assistant baker, the absent-minded and cheerful Pinkie Pie.
The guards, of course, remained silent, despite unstopping questions, which began to pour down on them from ponyvillians, so soon the town had a number of versons of what actually happened in the Baker's shop.
Twilight Sparkle, howewer, didn't take her part in the discussion, neither did the rest of her closest friends still present in the town. Sitting at the library's hall, they've been reading a note from pricess Celestia for the thousand'th time, still refusing to understand completely, what really happened to Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash.
-Tell me this one more time, for I just don't get it. -Twilight Sparkle pushed the letter aside and stood with her hooves on the table, observing the sheet from their distance. Pinkie Pie for an unknown reason TORTURED Rainbow Dash and numerous other ponies to death or near-death in her cellar?
Twilight Sparkle was just embarrased. Whoever, whatever, but NOT Pinkie Pie TORTURING anyone on purpose, ESPECIALLY with sharp medical instrments. That didn't make any sence at all!
-Girls, I dunno whas goin on 'ere, but i'm sure when I find the bastard who crossed up Pinkie an I swear I'll make his teeth make all the way down his filthy ol' throat! -Applejack, too, couldn't believe Pinkie Pie was some sort of ruthless maniac killer, yet she was already here to kick someone for the thing done to her friends.
-This is so awful I can't totally believe such a thng happened. -Fluttershy, on th other hand, still had a hope, that the princess's letter and the guards on the street is something else, and later it all will have a reasonable explanation to this mess.
-But darling, if that's not it - then where are they now, and why are they not here, their phonies not answering and Rainbow's windows dark and shut close?
Twilight looked up at the sky through the window of the ceiling hatch. Rainbow's cloud castle could be clearly seen from this point - dark, most likely closed and almost certainly - silent and absolutely empty. Wherever Dash was, she surely wasn't sitting at home - particularly because Equestria's Best Flyer won't be delayed by any blockposts and sky patrols Royal Guards had to offer. If Dash was around, she's surely come to the library as soon, as the mess in the town started.
Yet she did not. Princess's letter, whatever it meant, was a trouble for only four ponies to handle.
-Ok, let's make it as clear, as it could be. -Twlight said, hopping her hooves back to the floor. -I'll write Princess Celestia, and she'll tell us what EXACTLY is going on. Spike?
-Ready when you are - Spike drew a quill and stood in his tracks, much more serious than always, even when writing letters to the Princess, his mouth shut, no tongue over his lips, his eyes fixed on the scroll.
-"Dear Princess Celestia! I've recieved a letter, claimed to be sent by you, which says that my friend, Pinkie Pie, has slayed my other friend, Rainbow Dash, in her bakery' cellar. Though I can't believe such a thing did really happen, we've got a full town of royal guards patrolling the streets and a martial law, so I thought you should be informed of the strange letter immideately. Your faithful student, Twilight sparkle." Send it.
Spike took a deep breath and blown flame on the scroll, which turned into a green-purple cloud of smoke and flown outside through an ajar window.
-Why didn't you ask her, what's going on? -Rarity asked with irritation.
-That's not smart to ask the person in charge any questions when something big's going on. -answered Twilight, approaching the window and looking up in the grey, almost stormy sky.
Spike hiccuped and spew out a letter.
-Read it! -the four ponies in one hop approached him, struggling not to pull out the scrol from his claws - any, at the same time, shaking of fear to know what princess Celestia is saying.
-Ahem. -Spike cleaned his throat. -"My faithful student and all of your friends! Unfortunately, the letter you received from me was a honest truth. Happily, your friend Rainbow Dash is alive, and Pinkie Pie has been captured by my finest guard's ponies with no harm done to her - at least, she's not worse then she was when doing what she has possible done.
I ask you and some of your friends come to Manehattan's central hospital, when Rainbow Dash is now, receiving treatment from wounds she obtained. Don't worry, I have two best surgeons in Equestria operate on her, yet there may be something you'd be neccecary for. I ask you not to think of the reasons of what happened anymore, for time for this is not now, but yet to come, when Rainbow Dash is out of any actual danger. I'm sending a chariot, that will arrive and make it to Manehattan with you in no time.
Please, hold on. I promise, whatever is the reason, I will find out and do what I can to save everypony under my responsibility.
And be on your guard. Whatever's happening, it may not be over by now."
-Wha' in all of Equestria that gotta mean? -Applejack stared at the scroll with misunderstanding and total confusion. -They've Pinkie siezed and Dash in a hospital? And Celestia's tellin' us nothin' of wha' the crap's goin on over 'ere?
-Whatever it is, she says we should forget the reason and think of how we may help Rainbow Dash, so I think we shall calm down and... Yes, there it is.
A noise of a landing carriage and a loud cnock at the door informed them, that the chariot has arrived and waiting outside. Twilight blew up the candle on a table and turned to Spike.
-Spike, we're going to the hospital to see how Dash is. You stay here in case...
-Twilight, I want to go with you. Dash is wounded, I don't want to sit here whle she's there, waiting for her friends to come and cheer her up.
On the words "cheer her up" Twilight's face twitched.
-Don't worry, Spike. She'll be fine, I'm sure of it.
-You didn't see her. -the serious look on a dragon's face was making Twilight even more uncomfortable, yet she thought there was no way there could be any more. -How can you tell, what will be. Besides, what if Celestia writes a letter? I won't be able to tell you, if you'll be in Manehattan and I'm here, in Ponyville.
-Ok. -Twiligh surrendered, for it was no time, and no actual reason, and no wish to continue wrangling with clearly very worried and scared Spike. -But promise you'll do anything I say, good?
-Ok. But you're afraid I see something scary, it's not the thing you should think about.
-I think of what I think I should. -Twilight snapped out. -If you're with us, turn off the light and get to the chariot.
The ponies, followed by a baby dragon, turning the swithces as they moved through the library, went outside, under the sparce nasty minute rain and quickly hopped into a covered chariot, which rushed from steady, gaining altitude, and quickly disappeared in darkening foggy grey evening sky.
While Thunderwing brushed his teeth, Doctor Pill made it to the operation table, when their patient was already treatened with iodine, her wounds cleaned and prepared for surgical fix-up by the young surgeon on-duty, who left the operation room right before Rubber Pill and Thunderwing went in, wishing them good uck and looking at them with a mix of pity and respect - from his point, the blue pony was a 100% goner, still not gone only thanks to resuscitation devices constantly blowing through her lungs and keeping her heart beating. The elder colleagues, he thought, were like ancient heroes, ready to fight death inavoidable - and sure to succeed, so calm and concentrated they were, entering the dressing room of the operation block.
The pony's chest was intact at the front, but at the sides it was a mess of torn hide, slashed muscles and wing bones sticking up from two red messy laserations.
The abdomen looked much worse. Doctor Pill could swear her peritoneum is swarming with patogenous outer atmosphere bacteria, making ground for the most threatening complication. If the intestines were also damaged, this complication - peritonitis - will become an almost 100% possibility, that the patient will suffer greatly and very likely die, despite of all the energies put by three doctors to save her.
But a quick revision displayed, that the intestines, the stomach and the gall-bladder vere intact, fortunately, as, mostlikely. vere the kidneys. The liver and the spleen, however, were a painful site - a piece of liver almost cut off, hanging on a narrow stripe of tendon, the spleen cut into two, both bleeding despite of the blood-stopping sponge. The bloodlost from the spleen was more intense, so doctor Pill started with its ablation, planning to move on to sewing the liver back together.
Tying up vessels, cutting ligaments and sewing together the slashed structures, he got so carried away by the work, he didn't notice his friend and colleague wathcing him closely. At last, the final stitch was finished and Rubber Pill drew himself up with a moan, his neck aching of more than 24-hours persistent annoying tension. Thunderwing smiled at him with understanding.
-If there's nothing acute in the abdomen, I'd like to take care of these wings, before it's too late to reattach them and make them work as good, as normal. It will take a few hours, you may go have some rest until I'm done with it. Or, you know what? If there's nothing else but the wings and peritoneal drainage, I could do everything myself, and you go to the lounge and take a nap? I'll wake you up when some authorities come to check the treatment progress. So, what do you say?
-Thanks, Thunder -Rubber Pill smiled back tiredly -but if you have no objections, I'd ike to stay and take a look at how you're going to fix it - her wings, especially innervation. I still can't figure out, how can an operation like this be possible.
-No problem, Rub. -Thunderwing smiled more wide and insolently. -Watch and learn - this is how we do it on the Griffon-Equestrian Restless Border.
Saying that, he took one of the wings from the bag filed with lump ice and started to spin it, examining and murmuring to himself:
-eminentia ulnaris anterior... eminentia ulnaris anter... Where the hell is this thing.
Doctor Pill poked him an atlas, not saying a word. Thunderwing took it, without tearing himself away from looking at the wing's flexion, opened it blindly and threw a few quick looks in it.
-Oh, what am I doing! It's the wing, not her leg! Now, let's see... Sulcus ligamentis flexoris alae brevis...
-You remeber all of the academy Latin? -Rubber Pill asked in bewilderment.
-I have to. -Thunderwing shroge his shoulders, looking at the wing and touching it lightly with his extremely sensitive hoofbase. -besides, you remeber things you have to use really often, and every conflict around the border ends up in tons of ponie's limbs torn away, so I just have to remeber the formations, that serve me as landmarks when I sew it all back to the patient. All right, that's the right wing! But I need the other one first.
The left wing should have been damaged less badly, and thus could be reattached in a lot easier way, then the opposite one. Rubber Pill wathced his friend take the wing and start cleaning the section, parting the vessels and two thick nerves - one responsible for sense of touch and joint position sense, and other, a bit thinner, for thin and narrow feather-bone muscles.
To clean the ruptures of each nerve, Thunderwing used a disposable shaving razor. As soon, as he prepared everything to reconnection, he called Rubber Pill to help, and together they appeared to need only half an hour to properly connect every thng, from bone, nailed with a sterile titanium spoke and a plate and a pair of surgical screws, to the last tiny arterial branchy, including all muscles, tendons, skin and membranes. The joint, fortunately, appeared to be 100% intact, not even swollen of contusion.
The right wing was much more into magic. Thunderwing found a sensitive branch of the nerve and swore through clenched teeth.
-That's exactly what I hate the most. Look, the nerve has been shoved under the muscle shred. Now, no matter how much I try, I'll have to take out this shred, and sew the rest with the other rupture, creating a tension in the muscle. And we can't wait till the muscle regenerates itself, for he muscle in the wing is not supplied with blood on distant levels and will simply die, lving her without a functional wings and us-with a necrosis we'l have to handle.
-And what's stopping us from tearing off this shred, moving the nerve aside and that sewing it back where it was? It will, of course, give us an additional stich, but that, with precaution from paunch growing into a ligament, is better, than a muscle more short than needed.
-I wish we coul do that, Rubber, but look - as soon, as I slash the shred, I'll unavodably damage a flexion the nerve forms down there, thus loosing almost a centimeter of it. A nerve more short than needed, unlike too short muscle, is critical. Muscle can, at least, be slowly and carefully stretched - means lots of exersise for the patient, but nothing impossible, and the unconnected nerve will lead us to a stationary wing as good, as absent.
-Sooo... And what are we going to do?
-You'll see. -Thunderwing smiled sinisterly. -But before I show you, I need some gall.
For half an hour, doctor Pill have been amazedly watching a dissolution of a shred of a muscle with patient's own gall, extracted from gall-bladder by a syringe, and then-the cleaning of a nerve from gall by solution of stomach acid, washing it with isotonical solution and reconnection of a damaged nervous branch with a tendon-based microcell organical net (they needed Rubber Pill's unicorn powers to make the net, and Thunderwing only needed 5 minutes to thoroughly describe, what exactly he wants this net to be).
In the end, both wings were in place - bone nailed and plated, nerves set up on a frame made from the organical net, vessels, muscles, memranes and edges of the hide sewn together. The last thing to do was to put both wings in a plaster casts to avoid further damage before the bones knit.
Doctor Rubber Pill straightened his tired achy neck, crunched with his spine, made sure that all installed drainages are working correctly and reached out Thunderwing's hoof.
-Man, you can't imagine how glad I am you came here to save this little filly. I'd never have neither courage, nor the skill to reattach her wings as smoothly and anatomically, as you did.
-We'll see, how anatomical it is, whe she wakes up and tells she can fear us pulling her feathers or squeezing the wing's tip -answered Thunderwing gloomly, clopping upon a friend's hoof. Are you done with drainages?
-Absolutely. Want some tea?
-Want some dinner. They pulled me out right before lunchtime, and my lunch remained on the post. And now I'm hungry like a dragon.
-Hey. -Rubber Pill smiled -welcome to Manehattan! Want a pizza? A sushi? An order from a restaraunt across the street? Here it's absolutely not the problem, and I've got enough money to feed my friend, who just save a pony's life and wings of a pegasus, with whatever he likes. So, what do you want?
-I'd like some beer, but I guess that's not the last adventure for today, so I'd better stay sober. A pizza, you say? And what's a sushi? May I have both to compare?
-Ab-so-lute-ly, anything you'd like. - Rubber Pill grabbed his friend and pulled him out of the operation room. In the doors, he turned back to make the last check on the patient. The blue pony was lying motionless, wired with tubes, conductors and covered up in bandages. The look on her once cunning face was mournful.
-Don't worry, pony -he whispered -doctors Pill and Thunderwing will do anything, just to see you stand up, and fly, and smile ever again. And now, have some rest, there's still a little bit of work ahead of you.
Silently, he went out, closing the door and leaving the blue pony alone with the mechanisms maintaining her breath and monitoring her vitals.
Surviving a dream
Thunderwing wanted to become a doctor since he was a little foal, though, of course, from time to time his desires might change for a weather patrolspony, or a newswriter, or anything. And, surprisingly, when he earned his cutiemark - not very late but yet no the first among his mates, it pointed towards a weatherpony rather than a doctor - a tornado and a thunder on a dark cloud, quite noticeable even on his dark carcoal grey hide. Yet, when he graduated from school, he entered the medical univercity in Canterloth and, despite of his absent-mindness and, most annoying, being a non-telecinetic wide-winged-hardly-fitting-the-white-coat pegasus, finaly made it to a doctor's certificate and trauma care licence.
Then something really strange happened - one night two celestial guards came to his place and gave him a note, sealed with princess Celestia's own print, demanding that he come to the palace immideately for some new assignment. By morning, he already knew that he's going to become a stormy weather pegasus in the "Night Shift" WP, and a doctor for everypony across the Griffon-Equestrian border area.
The next two years were the time of hard work, unimaginable cases, mad surgery and awesome storms sent from somwhere within griffon youth crazy playgrounds. Despite of all his love to surgery, he realised at some moment, that he liked stormy weather and stormpony's work all along, and from that point he was ready to stay at the border for the rest of his life, just to save the opportunity of dealing with thunders, tornadoes and all the creepy stuff crazy gryffon teens was sending upon them just to have some embarrasing gryffon fun. By the way, the same stroms, along with gryffons themselves, accompanied with fearsome dragons, forest creatures and lurking armed human trappers gave him enough surgery to feel needed and happy for his job.
In a few years, he became the most experienced field surgeon in all Equestria His fromer teachers sometimes wrote letters to him, asking whether he would do one or another way in a case decribed, and usually following his advice (of course, for them he preferred to chose effective, and yet traditional ways of operating wounds and ilnesses, especially because they could afford complex procedures, involving sophisticated technological and magical mediums).
That's where he met Rainbow Dagger and his ponies, since when they become primarily close teammates and then - also good friends. Captain Dagger had been seeing the world right the way Thunderwing himelf did - every pony was one thing to be protected and served, for both of them, yet Thunderwing wasn't too critical about other creatures, while Rainbow Dagger used to see a possible threat to ponies in every non-pony stranger he could run into, which, especially because Rainbow Dagger was an armed and always loaded marksman, might from time to time be a reason of meaningless and stupid acts of mutual violence between his crew and non-pony traellers, sometimes passing along the Equestran borderline. Yet, being the most talented and experienced warpony, Rainbow Dagger was oftenly indispensable, when it came to a fight with any foe approaching the borderpony watchposts.
So, of course, he answered the call, when Rainbow Dagger asked him to accompany the warponies to some tough and coplex inner equestrian mission. As thunderwing already knew, they were several cases of ponies vanishing in thin air in a Everfree forest-involved town of Ponyville, and, at last, captain laid his hoof on an intel of who exactly was responsible for the kidnapping (or whatever it coould appear to be in reality). From what they coud put together from terribly spilt and tangled data of the intel, the suspect was jst one pony, but there were reports of a strange smell coming from her bakery store, "the Sugarcube Corner", and as the reconaissance agent could determine, such smell usually comes from rotting meat - or unburied corpses. So captain wanted to take a good docor along with the celestial rescuers - just in case someone's going to need some serious medical help over there.
And, unfortunately, he appeared to be right - the oly hostage, who made it alive to the end of the butcher's actions, had been cut so seriously Thunderwing couldn't be sure of anything. And one thing making him unsettled were actually two - ponys's cut off and sawn back blue fluffy wings. Yet the blood circulation in them looked okay by now, he could tell nothing of their sensitivity, leave alone for their ability to move - the last one could be tested only after the pegasus pony heal the sections well enough for the doctors to remove metal nails from her wing bones.
Thunderwing could be proud of the work already done, but instead of it he frowned and pulled a servant wire, calling a maid to bring him some strong black coffee. The dinner could make him fell dizzy, and he had to stay up all night - for the patient, because something of utmost importance could strike him any time and improve her restoration work, and for Rainbow Dagger, who onestly warned him, that there may be much work coming any moment, so he needs his field medic ready to move out any time the captain would need him to.
The bell rang and the most handsome of maid ponies appeared to take an order. Tunderwings unapparently had a look over her, with pleasure, and asked to bring him two cups of strongest black coffee the hospital motel had. THe long night shift had merely started and he was going to meet it on his four hooves, no matter what it would take to survive for the morning.
Teacher for life
For a while, Cherilee felt sorry for choosing a teacher's career instead of a nurse's one, because someone had to do
something before the Mayor has a stroke or something. The pony in charge of Ponyville was not only unable to carry her
duties, which was at least unnesecarry at the moment, thanks to the royal guards observing every pony in town, but also close to a collapse, so unsettled she was. Cherilee had to make her drink a cupful of cold punch to calm the administrator pony down, but only to surprisingly find herself the most responsible of ponies around. She and almost fifty random ponies were locked in one of the stores, facing a whole night in tightness and uncertain feelings of what comes next that moist
afternoon. How much easier it would be to stay locked up in the school! She could offer the ponies some tea, maybe, some
cookies or even cupcakes, and make everypony comfortable for the rest of the time they have to stay inside!
Alas, all she had in her hooves was an unfamiliar store with no shop assiatant or owner, so tea and cupcakes were an
unrealizeable dream. As were the comfort and the safety for the coming evening.
Cherilee remembered a day of her younger age - when she and her, well, almost boyfriend, Grand Charlott, went on a trip to the Everfree Forest - to "become closer to the roots", as they used to tell everypony asking, but really - just because they
wanted to do something beoynd everyday routine. And it was joyful and funny - until the sun went down, and then - it was a
nightmare come true. A whole bunch of forest creatures, untamed and hungry for two tasty townsponies, seemed to gather right around the clearing Cherilee and her friend, Grang Chralott, stayed sleeplessly for the dawn, pressing themselves to each other and praying Celestia for their death to be, at least, not too painful. When the sun rose, the rushed out of the forest as fast, as if it wasn't for an endless sleepless chilling nigth in the open, and none of them ever spoke of going to the
forest ever again, though ater they went to the mountains, and there... But in the mountains it wasn't anything close to the
forest, or this creepy lock-up evening.
Cherilee was sitting on an eminence, probably used by the store owner to observe the trading hall at once without constanty going from one place to another. From this position she could react immideately if anypony shows any signs of feeling sick or, the worst, being ready to start a panic. Cherilee wasn't sure, what the guards outside are up to, but the rudeness, with which they just shove the ponies into any open door they've seen, made her think there's a good reason not to annoy any of them, not even remind them of the ponie's presence in town, until anyone of authority come to explain, what's going on and when thy could possibly leave the store and, at least, go home.
The reasons of the royal guards cleaning ponies from the streets so steadfastly couldn't get from her head, but, as a
teacher, Cherilee made it her overall principle - one should mind the problems at the rate they become actual, not all at
once. Thinking of the event wasn't a thing to really help anypony feel comfortable, 'cause there was no way they could
possibly obtain any trustworthy information and determine the actual truth of what's going on around Ponyville and with all
of them here, at the store.
Suddenly something caught her attention. At tne next moment she was coming to a corner of the shelves, where Bon-bon was shaking her hoof to catch someone's attention.
The reason was jsut epectable - Lyra, the mint pony, was sitting on her knees, shaking from horn to tail. At some moment her self-control must have betrayed her, and now it had to be somepony to bear her, before she passes out or, the worst, start a panic. Cherilee kneeled by her and put her hoof around mint pony's shoulders with every bit of care she could find.
-It's okay, it's okay... Don't be afraid, dear, there's nothing scary going on. See? Everything's going to be all right.
Lyra sobbed and hide her face in Cherilees's mane.
-I... I'm sorry... I'm just frightened out of all of this.
-There's nothing to be scared about. -Cherilee said softly. -Look, the guard's coming. He'll probably let us go home.
Lyra hiccuped and pressed herself tightly to Cherilee's neck. She was clearly too afraid of guards to believe they were here
to protect ponyvillians, and not to do any harm to any of them.
The guard, the regular muscular pegasus with short mane, wearing a helmet and a shiny golden armor, stood at the entrance, looking over ponies, crowded around Lyra and Cherilee, obviously trying to find someone in particular.
-Where's the Mayor? -He asked at last, speaking to all of them.
-She's not feeling good. -Cherilee made Bon-bon hold Lyra and stood up, showing herself to the royal guard.
-Are you in charge? -the guard seemed to be of little patience, but he was still speaing politely, which has given Cherilee
-I am. Anything I could help you with?
The guard seemed to relax a bit. It was like he has something else in mind, but the citizens waiting for they couldn't guess
what, crowded in a tiny store.
I was sent just to tel you al can go home now. It's late and getting dark, so stay clear of the streets untill morning. We
will patrol the town for a while, maybe, until sunrise, noone knows exactly. And, mrs... what's your name?
-Cherilee. Ms. Cherilee, if you want. -Cherilee smiled at the guard - the young pegasus was clearly nervous of his duties,
most likely new to him. -I'll be of any assitance while the mayor is off to restore herself to the work.
-Ms. Cherilee -the guard looked at her ecusedly -I'm afraid I'll have to detain you for a while. I was told you're a school
teacher, is this correct?
-Yes, I am - said Cherilee in confusion. -You said you were going to... detain me?
-Oh, I'm sorry, ms. Cherilee. Just to hold you back for a few minutes. Our lead wants to ask you a few questions about your
pupils. Is this okay?
-Of course it is. -Cherilee turned to the ponies, looking at her with a whole lot of different emotions, from fear to
happiness. -Did everypony heard, what the guard said? Calm down and go home, quiet and calmly. This couple goes first, then, by two, the others. Don't hurry and don't make a jam at the door! -Cherilee spoke as she was in her classroom, sending young foals and fillies out for the summer vacation. She turned around and stepped towards the guard, when someone grabbed her hoof, not letting her go.
-Ms cherilee! -whe heard a constrained whisper, with a halftone of hidden tears in it, and turned around, suprised, to see
Lyra holding her with her two hooves.
-Ms. Cherilee, please, don't go with him! Think of something! Please, they will take you and never ever let you out!
-Lyra, what are you talking about? -Cherilee exclaimed in confusion. -There's a royal guard to protect me, and everypony
around, what or who there is I should be afraid of?
-Them. -whispered Lyra, and added almost inaudible -The guards.
-But dear, they're the princess's finest! -Cherilee bended forward to the upset mint unicorn. -Be reasonable, they're the
ones to guard us, aren't they?
-That is. The princess is... -Lyra couldn't finish, the sobbing has strangled her. Her hooves slipped from Cherilee's hoof,
letting her go. Cherilee ruffled Lyra's mane and hurried towards the guard, standing aside of the line of ponies eager to get
out of the stuffy trading hall.
-Do, you wanted to ask me a few questions? I'm all attention.
-Not me, ms. Cherilee, and not here. -The guard bowed in an excuse. -The royal sheriff of Ponyville, Rainbow Dagger, wanted to talk to you, but he's now in Manehattan, with the v... With the pony caught in a recent upsetting incident. In the morning he shall retuen here, but if you wish, we could sent you to Manehattan in a chariot. The only term captain has insisted on is that we don't let you talk to anypony but ourselves as soon as we make contact with you. Are you okay with that?
-But of course, if that's what the sheriff demands, but what is the incident you're talking about? That's why you got us
stuck here, isnt'it? -Cerilee asked, approaching the guard and standing by his side, observing the ponies leaving the store.
Almost everypony vere looking at her with gratitude, some openly came by to thank her, and only those few too exhausted to understanded anything passed by, looking nowhere and letting their friends drive them by hoof to fresh air and velvety night relief of the outside.
-That's what the sheriff wanted to explain to you himself. I'm really sorry. So, will it be home arrest or the chariot?
-The chariot. -Cherilee stired up her mane and s,iled lightly. -I'm not tired at all, I'm too curious to wait, and, by the
way, there's been ages since I last vere to Manehattan!
At the moment she said that, she noticed Bon-bon, protectively leadinf Lyra to the exit. Lyra raised her sights at Cherilee,
and a whole bunch of fear and sadness looked at the teacher pony from within her golden-black huge tearful eyes. Cherilee
-Bon-bon, will you guide Lyra home and stay with her? She doesn't look well.
-Of course I will, ms. Cherilee. -answered Bon-bon, not taking her eyes off Lyra. -And, by the way, we live at one house,
and anyways, that's exactly what I was going to act like.
-I'm counting on you. -Cherilee supressed the moist fear-like worm inside her and turned to the guard. So, where's your
chariot, sir? I'm ready to go strait to buisness, whatever it is.
In a minute, she was already sitting on a deck, shiverng of the bites of a chill wind, in a chariot carrying her to the
second biggest city in all of Equestria. "Manehattan, she thought. And the Sheriff of Ponyville. Something big is sure to be
going on in our little old town. Oh, Celestia, let my foals live safely through it all, whatever it is. Will you? I believe, that you certainly will."
The guard, harnessed in the chariot, turned to the ponies in his carriage.
-We're approaching Manehattan, I'll be descending in a minute, and there's almost a sorm above the landing zone, so sit tight, or you're going to be blown outboard. Check?
Twilight Sparkle nod at him and got a hold of Applejack and Rarity, pressing Spike to the deck with herself. Fluttershy gripped the chariot board with her teeth and spread her wings to protec the other ponies and the dragon from the frontcoming stream of freezing air and water. The chariot dove and rushed to the ground, running through rain and mist to its destination point - a little square in front of Manehattan city hospital.
It was quite fearsome - the wind, depite of all Fluttershy's attempts to shield the ponies from it, has ben penetrating them to the bone, and trying to tore them from the cariot deck and throw to the ground, which was yet too far for a pony to survive the landing, icy raindrops, turned into a dense stream of water by the speed they maintained, has long ago soaked the ponie's manes and tails, and now seemed to be trying to flush them out of existece.
But none of the five really noticed the discomfort, having their minds overflowing with the thoughts of worry about Rainbow
Dash and Pinkie Pie - one seriously broken, other, likely, with a serious mental disorder. Or a curse. Or whatever made her do what she did.
The chariot's speed rose to its maximum and suddenly its angle changed to almost horizontal, and then the speed degraded smoothly, followed by vibration and sound of its wheels rumbling and their pilot's hooves clopping against pavement stone. Through the wall of rain and mist they could barely see dim silouettes of a building to their right, and hear the water running down its drainpipes.
The charriot made a squeaking sound with its landbrakes, and stopped.
-Manehattan, city hospital. -THeir piot turned to them again. -Sorry for such a trip, grls, I hope it won't be such a weather next time.
-Thank you -Twilight answered, hopping out of the chariot, with Spike sitting on her back, followed by Applejack and Rarity. -I hope, next time none of us will be in such a hurry to travel airborne through a weather like this.
-See ya! -The harnessed pegasus released the brakes, made a few speedup dashes and took off, vanishing in the rampaging clouds.
-Well, let's go... -mumbled Twilight, looking in his trail.
The four ponies, one saddled with a dragon, entered the hospital lobby. After all of the mist, freezing and darkness of the outside world, it was a huge contrast - the lobby was vast, warm, bright and pleasurably dry. On the other side across the hall, they could see the reception stand and a few double glass doors, leading to the main building, and to their sides there vere sofas for visitors and patients, who came down from their wards to see ponies, who came to pay them a get-well-soon visit. Clopping on a shiny reflective floor, with the hospital sign of wings, horn and red cross, made of polished marble of different tone, they came to a long reseption stand, where nurse ponies, wearing white coats and red-crossed white caps, were sitting to provide visitors with information about patient's status, arrange meetings with their doctors, or let them inside the hospital to see patients, who were unable or prohibited to leave their beds.
There were some ponies, obviously awaiting for a nurse to become free, but Twilight Sparkle went strait to one of the nurses, a nice-looking middle-age pony, nodding in exuse to a respectable jentlehorse, standing in front of her deck. The nurse looked up, and smiled to Twilight Sparkle, with a bit of tiredness.
-I'm sorry, miss, but this jentlehorse has waited for me for almost twenty minutes, so I just can't help you before him, so would you please be so kind to wait for just a second? I'll take you right after I finish with him.
-I'm really sorry, but we're here on Princess Celestia's buisness, and we're in hurry. Please, exuse us -she said, turning to the jentlehorse, whose look imediately changed from irritated to politely understanding one. Twilight turned back to see the nurse holding a phone reciever by her ear and dialing a number on a disk with her hoof.
-Visitors to doctor Pill's patient, please, inform him. -she said to her interlocutor, hung up and looked up at Twilight again. -The intensive care block is through that door, and to the right till the end of the corridor. Visitors arenot allowed inside, so you'l have to wait for the docor there. Your friend's being supervised by doctor Pill, he'll tell you anything you want to know. And now exuse me, please. Sir, I'm listening!
The ponies exchanged glanses wit each other. Intensive care wasn't unexpected, of course, but stil it wasn't a pleasurable one to hear. Especially because it was Dash taken there. Secretly, each of them feared, that one day the "best flyer in all Equestria" wil get into an accident, leading to a serious injury, and the more challenge it became to stay calm and not panic, when it happened - not because of Dash being an irresponsibe reckless flyer, but it didn't make things any better, on the contrary, because the whole situation just didn't get in their minds. It was absolutely absurd, deriding and terrifying.
Followed by a few curious looks of some bored visitors, awaitng someone in the lobby, they went through the glass doors, to the blinding white corridors of the hospital, to the right, through a long passage to a massive double door, marked with a tablet, saying:
"Intesive Care Block 1". And "no irrelevant visits allowed. Please arrange meetings with doctors at the reception" with smaller letters below hte main script. There also was a bell knob on the wall, marked with a "Nurse post" inscription.
Noone was around, that including Doctor Pill, whatever he looked like. Twilight stood still for a few seconds, thinking, then came to the door and pressed the bell knob.
A distant melodic ring came from behind the door, soon followed by someone clopping from inside, approaching the door. Then the door half-opened, revealing another nurse pony, not too old, stern and beautiful, looking at them.
-Ladies, have you read the sign? No visitors allowed. it's intensive care department. Please go to the reception stand, and...
-I'm sorry -Twilight Sprkle interrupted he nurse pony, who looked at her with irritation. -We've been sent here by Princess Celestia to talk to doctor Pill. Is he inside?
-I don't know, whoever might have sent you wherever she did, but visitors ARE NOT allowed in the intensive care blocks, no matter who encourages them. And if you need doctor Pill, please go to the reception and make them call him, he's got a phone in his office. And now excuse me.
The door shut i, almost pinching Twilight's face. She turned around to her friends, shrugging her shoulders in impotence.
-Let's get back t the lobby, and talk to that nurse once again. Maybe, she forgot to call anyone, but the doctor's secretary, or something...
-And he comes 'ere right the moment after we leave! -Applejack looked at Twilight with er eybrows knit.
-You're right. Then, you all stay here. in case docor Pill comes, and I'll go to the lobby.
-Got it, partner. -Applejack seemed a bit relaxed, comparing to how she loked like an hour ago. -And hey, don't worry. I know Dash, she'll be fine, sooner or later. Sh's not gonna die on us all of a sudden, if it didn't kill her in the first place.
-Thanks, AJ. -Twilight said quietly, turned around and strided towards the exit. Applejack looked in her trace, and turned to Rarity and Fluttershy.
-And you two, calm down! Noone died, which means-noone will. I know Dash, she's aplestrong, there isn't a thing a pony could do just to kill her!
-Thank you, Applejack. -Fluttershy answered quietly. -I also want to believe, that Dash will be all right, but until I see her with y own eyes, I just can't, as I go on imaging terrible things, that could have happened to her. ANd, though Princess said not to think about it, I can't stop worrying about Pinkie Pie.
-You're right, sis. -Applejack said slowly. -The Princess told us not to think about Pinkie Pie for now. So just dont think about her.
Rarity said nothing, staring at the door, shut so steadfastly in front of their noses. As minutes passed, the look on her face was becoming more and more stubborn and gloomly confident.
A look from the inside
Thunderwing was thinking of another coffee and a sandwich, when Rubber's phone rang, making him start and mumble an oath. For a while, he wasn't going to answer, but it rang and rang insistently, making him think something important was driving the pony on the other end to bother him that long. On the twentieth ring, he picked up the phone and cleaned his throat.
-Pill's room, Thunderwing here. Who's that?
-Reception speaking -the filly on the other end sounded a bit confused. -Is doctor Pill around?
-I'm afraid, he's not. Should I impart something to him?
-Did he tell, when he's going to return to you? It's urgent thath he comes to the intence care as soon, as possible.
-He didn't. If it's about a patient, tell them to get the medical card ready, I'll be there in a minute.
-No, mr... Doctor Thunderwing, I suppose? It's an official matter of sort. Someone from Ponyville has come to see his patient, operated earlier tonight. She's got...
-It was me operating her alongside Pill. -Damn, that WAS indeed important -I'm coming, tell them to wait.
-I'm sorry, doctor Thunderwing -the filly's voice changed to strictly professional. -Without doctor Pill, we can't grant you access to the Intence care department. -her voice changed once again, now it was a bit apologetic. -That's not about our will to interrupt your actions, there're automatic locks everywhere in the recuscitaion halls, once you get in, you won't be able to come out, until someone comes and open the door. So, when doctor Pill returns...
-Okay, I got it. Have a peaceful night.
-You too, doctor. -The filly said thankfully and hung up. The next moment Thunderwing realised the mistake they both made, making Celestia's apprentice ponies wait for an uncertain time, till Pill returns from some official buiseness he desided to settle, while he was already in the hospital, and not asleep in his motel room. -Wait! Listen to me!
The hone gave him short tone.
-Damnit! -Thunderwing hung up and took the reciever again. -Long tone! Their phone station is semi-automatic! Damnit!
For a few moments, he was thinking of whether Pill has the directory inquires or reception hlall number written somwhere around the phone. Realising, that looking for it may take any amount of time, from seconds to hours, he made another decision - he reached the servant wire and pulled it. In a minute, the same cute maid has come to ask, whether the doctor needed ay more services from the hospital motel personnel.
Thunderwing supressed the zrazy idea of asking her to pass her duties to someone and stay with him untill the sun rises, and said in a neutral, professional-sounding tone:
-Would you please tell me the recetion table phone number? Or, better, call someone, who's in charge of the personal -adress loudspeakers and tell him to ask doctor Pill...
-I'm sorry, doctor -the maid interrupted him, nodding in excuse -you' ll have to call the yourself, they won't take my request, only a doctor or administrator's one. The phone number is...
While Thunderwing was dialing the number, she bowed and went away, leaving the door unshut. Thunderwing made up his mind, when her clopping went almost inaudible.
-And bring me more coffee, please!!! -he roared, not actually hoping she would hear it from the distance she was.
-Okay, doctor! -he heard nevertheless. -Anything else?
-And a sandwich! -He shout it, hearing, that someone finally took the phone on the other end.
-Dispatcher here. Doctor Pill, is that you? They've been looking for you for already five minutes.
-No, that's not him. Doctor Thunderwing speaking. Would you, please, send a message via PA, that doctor Pill is expected in the intensive care as soon, as he finds possible, for an urgent official matter?
-Which IC block, doctor? -The pony in the PA, thanks Celestia, didn't start asking annoying questions like "Who's doctor Thunderwing, there isn't such in MY hospital". -We have four functional at the moment - IC-3, Cardioreanimational and two postoperational blocks - IC-1 and 2. Which one wants him?
-Damn, I don't know. Which one takes patients after urgent operations on severe trauma?
-You mean the one, where the royal guard-overly-protected patient is? IC-1, first floor. Want me to send doctor Pill there?
-Immideately. Thank you.
-No problem, doctor... Thunderwing, right?
-Exactly. Have a nice day.
-It's night. -the voice was grinning for a second. -Thanks, you too.
The dispatcher hang up. The door opened, letting in the maid with a cup of coffee and a delicious ox-eye daisy sandwich on a small salver. She put the coffee and the plate on a table and turned around, going out of the room.
-Miss, would you please...
-Yes, doctor? -She turned around, with no suspiction in her eyes. Thunderwing felt shame.
-Nothing, sorry for bothering. Have a nice evening.
-Thanks, doctor. -she smiled warmly at him. You too. Have some sleep, if it's possible, you look tired.
-Thank you. -He smiled back. She turned around in the door, looked at him quickly and left the room, closing the door carefuly behind herself. Thunderwing sighed, taking his coffee and pulling the plate with the sandwich closer. That's when the loudspeakers went alive, almost deafening him after calm silence of the night in the motel.
-DOCTOR RUBBER PILL TO THE IC BLOCK-1! DOCTOR RUBBER PILL TO THE IC BLOCK-1! FACILITY NOTICE-PLEASE INFORM DOCTOR RUBBER PILL THAT HE'S EXPECTED IN THE IC BLOCK-1 AS SOON, AS POSSIBLE! DOCTOR RUBBER PILL TO THE IC BLOCK-1!
Thunderwing shivered and made a slip of scalding black coffee.
"It's your turn, Rubber. These kids won't be happy to see their friend ripped apart, like she is, so don't fail reassuring them. You, at least, have enough knowledge to judge, whether or not she's going to be fine, not them. So now it's up to you, friend. At last, you were always better in doing diplomacy among the two of us..."
A teacher's answer
Rainbow Dagger made a large gulp from his flask and had a hundreth fast look over the report from the cleanup crew. No matter, how much he read it, the report didn't make any sense - remaines of 23 ponies were stored in the cellar for about two months - and noone, NOONE had been a little suspitious of what smell is coming from behind the cellar door and windows, what's Pinkie Pie doing there for hours once a few days, where're the ponies of all ages, who went for a walk and never returned and WHERE the hell had her friends been, noticing not a bit of what's happening to that pink butchery monster.
His investigators already had half a townsfolk interrogated - for nothing! How could it be, Ponyville is not that large, and so pretty quiet, 23 ponies gone missing should have been an occasion - and NOONE gave a tine damn thought!
Honestly, the brave warpony captain was already a bit scared. He spent a few hours, trying to find a reasonable explanation - but the further it got, the less sense all the stuff made, and for the moment Rainbow Dagger has come to a preliminary conclusion, that this case may involve an encounter of something the pony science and/or magic has yet to explore.
-Captain! The whitness you requested has arrived. Should I lead her right here?
Rainbow Dagger put away the report and slipped out of the wall, turning to Sparklinghoof, his number two and the best assaultpony, who had to master only marksman skill to equal Rainbow Dagger himself. Before he let the report out of his sight, a phrase caught his eye - "...as if you passed along it, deep in your thoughts about something, but later you try and can't remember, what were you thinking about..."
Wait a minute... Did it just?
Rainbow Dagger rushed back to the report, looking for the phrase he just read. No, no, no, uh-huh! He read the sentence from the beginning:
"You couldn't always remember well, what were you doing in the bakery, how you got in or how you went away - as if you passed along it, deep in your thoughts about something, but later you try and can't remember, what were you thinking about."
Captain looked through the report once again for the name of the pony, who's the sentence was - Blueberry, earthpony gardener. He made a note in his memory to read the report again, to find if some of the ponies noticed the same phenomena as this one did.
-Yes, sorry, Spark, bring her here.
While Sparklinghoof was going for the whitness, Rainbow Dagger was trying to remember, where and when he'd already heard of such unawareness of a local danger, possibly with artificial attention dispersion - some serpents had the ability, though none of them could influence a pony to violence to another pony. And, of course, no serpent could make it through all the magical barriers, established by Celestia in ancient times, to the center of Ponyville. If those barriers were still operational - but if not, the city will already be full of all types of forest predatory beasts. Or, maybe, centuries of life behind the barrier has made them to avoiding instincts? Rainbow Dagger was no biologist, but the theory surely was worth excavating some more. And a bit later.
-Ms. Cheerilee, I suppose?
The whitness was a nice-looking middle-age pony with a kind, though worried look of her pale-green eyes, her light-pink streaked mane a bit dissaranged by the chilling wind from her travel to Manehattan from Ponyville by flying cart, with three smiling flowers on her cutiemark on her mulberry hide.
-Pleased to meet you, ms. Cheerilee. I'm captain Dagger of the Celestial Everfree Rangerhoof, Sheriff'o'Ponyville. I'm in charge of the cleanup of what's going on over there, and I hope to get your help, for which I will ask you some questions. It is important, that you answer honestly and in detail. Are you ready?
-Sheriff -Cheerilee looked down for a second, and immideately looked back, straight at him. -I will, of course, tell you everything I know, but first, I need to know - some of my students, of middle class, has gone missing recently. It has something to do with whatever is happening right now, isn't it?
-That's exactly what I'm trying to figure out, madam. -Rainbow Dagger felt uncomfortable - he WILL have to tell her, what happened to those missing foals and fillies, but damn him, if he was eager to. -So, will you answer my questions, or should I give you some time to prepare yourself?
-No, no, I'm ready. -She sat tight in front of him, stretching her mane and now avoiding to look up at him. In a while, though, she managed to take herself in hooves, and started to stare at him, almost without blinking. It would have been funny, if the situation wasn't that frightening.
- ms. Cheerilee, as far, as I know, you're the school teacher in Ponyville. Is that correct?
-Yes. I teach classes from the youngest to middle-school.
-And you've graduated from the same school you're teaching at, right?
-Absolutely. My teacher lisence also comes from there, as the history teacher qualification for higher classes.
-Thank you. Ms. Cheerilee, do you know an assitant from the Sugar Cube Corner bakery, ms. Pinkie Pie?
Cheerilee's eyes widened.
-Of course, I think, everypony does. But I can't imagine her involved in something... you know, evil. She's always the most cheerful and energetic pony around. Is that right?
-I-I'm not quite sure, ms. Cherilee. We'll come back to it later, ok? How often do you go to the Sugar Cube corner?
-I'm not sure, pretty often. Maybe, three or four times a week.
-Good bakery, I suppose?
-The tastiest. And, actually, the only one in the town, a natural monopoly.
-Mr. and mrs. Cake are the best bakers around, so there's no point in competition with them, and, anyway, everypony wants to do what they're best at, nopony wants to be a "number two", if you know, what I mean.
-But you're no tthe only teacher in the school, are you?
-That's different. I'm the best with little foals and fillies, someone is better with teens, and some - with mature college-class students.
-By the way, how old are you?
Cheerilee seemed a bit confused.
-Well.. Let's say, I'm just above college-class age.
-And you're already a full-time teacher, a professional. That's respectable.
-Oh, please, I'm just good with kids, nothing more. And aren't we getting off the subject?
-Let me remain the pony asking questions, please. So, do you know ms. Pinkie Pie well?
-Not really. I think she's closer to the ponies of her age - I often see her with Rainbow Dash, the pegasus. You might remember her from the last year's Best Young Flyer competition in Cloudsdale. She's been declared the winner by Princess Celestia herself, it was in th newspapers the next morning.
Captain Dagger clenched his teeth - of course he did remember Rainbow Dash! The same Rainbow Dash he resqued from the Sugar Cube Corner, with wounds unimaginable even for him, after years of border service, fighting forest monsters, gryffons and human trappers! He hardly managed to hide his habit from the whitness -he'll have to tell her, of course, but that's not the time. Not the time to do it at all. He simply must interrogate her BEFORE she knows everything, that would irretrievably change her opinion of that Pinkie Pie butcher, her missing foals and her Ponyville, that she undoubtfully admire.
-I do remember her. I'll read a list of names, and you tell me, who else Pinkie Pie used to be close to.
At first he read the list of all ponies around Pinkie Pie's age, living permanently in and around Ponyville. It seemed, that Pinkie Pie used to know all of them. Then he read it again, this time skipping the names of those he knew to have moved to Ponyville not too long ago. As he expected, Cherilee managed to make some difference between them this time. He read the list again, this time not adding the ponies Cheerilee mentioned to be of less importance in Pinkie Pie's friend list.
-Captain, I can see, where is it going. The closest ones to her are Applejack of the Apple family, from Sweet Apple Acres, Fluttershy, the head of the animal care department, Rarity, the fashion pony, Rainbow Dash, already mentioned, and Twilight Sparkle, that moved in right before the Nightmare Moon incident and not mentioned by you after the first time you read the whole list.
Something stroke Rainbow Dagger so hard, that he turned away to see, what it was. How could he forget - the Harmony program! That bothered him all the way, but he didn't have time to think it over, so he realised it only when the witness has told it right in face. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash both were parts of the celestial Harmony social project! And the Princess warned them all about it six years ago, but all the border service stuff has kept him from remebering the fact, that that program is being deployed in his town of responsibility, and also hometown, in Ponyville!
And that means - there are four more ponies in grave danger! Where could they be now?
-Ms. Cheerilee, we'll have a little break from questions, but I'll ask you not to leave, for I'll be back in a minute. You'd like some tea?
-That would be the kindest of you. The trip in an open chariot wasn't something I'm used to, really.
Rainbow Dagger felt himself to be a complete idiot.
-I'm damn sorry, ms. Cheeriee. Sparklinghoof!
-Captain, if that would interrupt someone's duties, I don't...
-THAT's their duty for the moment, madam. Sparklinghoof!
-Sir? -his best assulter poked his head from around the door post.
-I need you to confirm the status of Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle from Ponyville ASAP. Once confirmed, contact me via CODEC and put the four under oversight, preferably here, in the hospital, but if not possible - wherever your ponies find them. And send someone to bring us tea, the lady's shaking out of cold. And make them bring me some whiskey and coffee.
-Will comply. Sir, you sure 'bout that whiskey? You look pretty tired.
-You know me, soldier. Aye?
-Aye. -Sparklinghoof disappeared. Rainbow Dagger turned to Cheerilee to find her standing and looking at him in almost panic.
-What's up with those girls? Captain, what's happening?
-Calm down, ms. Cheerilee, they're fine. I persume... Back to my questions.
-Captain, there's something you're not telling me! -the teacher's self-mastery seemed to be coming to an end. -What's up with those ponies you've just sent the soldier for, what's up with my students, what, in the name of Celestia, is just going on here? You have to answer me!
-Either you tell me, what is it, or I won't say a word. Captain? What's goin on here?
Rainbow Dagger stifled a sigh. He tried his best to restrain this moment, but no matter how hard he was trying, it happened. What had to happen, at last, did.
-Ms. Cheerilee, I don't know any reason behind this, but it looks like your famous baker Pinkie Pie have gone mad, having 23 ponies kidnapped and murdered in the Sugar Cube corner cellar room. The only survivor, Rainbow Dash the pegasus, is now in this hospital, fighting to survive the severe wounds she took while being tortured by this pink monster. I'm really sorry to say, but four of your students have been found dead among the bodies of the other victims. The whole case is being investigated by Princess Celestia personally, I'm only her assitant, though I was personally responsible for the operation to put an end to Pinkie Pie's ponicide action, rescue whoever we still could, and put her ander arrest, before sending her to Canterlot for interrogation and medical tests. Take my condolence.
Cheerilee listened to him, with her eyes widening more and more as he spoke, her hooves adhered to the hospital's floor cover. After he finished, she stood like this, looking unable to move or say a word. Captain Dagger desided not to touch her for a few seconds. At last, her knees bend, she went down to the floor, hide her face behind her mane and sobbed.
-How... I... I can't... I don't... I cant believe it! How could this be?
But suddenly the captain shrinked back from her, as she lept up on her hooves, looking at him with large eyes, full of fear, or even terror.
-That's why! That's why I fet so strange around her and the Sugar Cube Corner last month! And another filly! Captain, there's another student in danger!
-Who?! -Rainbow Dagger grabbed his radio and wove his horn to reach the SMG.
-Applebloom, from the swame class the missing ones were! I've seen the look on her face, just like on Pinkie Pie's recently, and that strange stunning aura was not only around Pinkie, but also around tat little filly! Captain, we must not loose any ti...
-I GOT IT! -Rainbow Dagger had to shut her mouth with his hoof, turning on the radio with another one, thus standing on his back legs only. -All squads, this is Rainbow Dagger. Code Red, I repeat, Code Red in Ponyville, Charlie Black 1, you're the hospital guard, everypony else - on me at the square in 1, all Charlie prepare for guard mission, Alpha and Bravo call for transport. Lock and load, ponies!
He let Cheerilee go and grabbed his vest and weapon with his horn's magic grip, pulling the vest and weapon belts on while rushing to the hospital exit. In a few moments, he realised Cheerilee was galloping on his flank, clearly eager to accompany them to Ponyville.
-Wait, ms. Cheerilee, you can't go with us.
-I must. She's my student. I can't just sit there and watch.
-IT'S A MILITARY OPERATION! COME BACK AT ONCE! SPARKLINGHOOF!
-Besides, you won't be able to find her fast without my help. Do you know where she lives? Where she's used to play? Her friends, their treehouse?
-I can find Sweet Apple Acres myself, thank you, now GET BACK!
-NO! LET GO, YOU...
-Damn, what treehouse?! Let her go, Spark. Ok, you're going with us, but NO MATTER, WHAT HAPPENS, you stay PUT BY THE CHARIOTS, as if I've chained you to them. Aye?
-I'll do my best, sheriff. -The look on Cheerilee's face was frightening. If any predator from the Everfree forest happened to stand in their way, Captain doubted they'll need to waste any ammo to get rid of its presence - the school teacher would just trample it down in ground, without even noticing any obstacle.
"Maybe, that's what hapened to my face, when I joined the rangerhoof... And that's why whe didn't recognize me? What the hell, I have another matter in hoof".
-Come on, ponies, we haven't got all day! A little filly needs us there, and fast. Wheee-whoo!
Someone was holding the doors open, so they carriered through the hall to the square, and without any delay - to the chariot, that landed just for a second to pick them up and to immideately take off again, rushing into the rainy infinite to take course to Ponyville.
Rainbow Dagger began to check his ammunition and equipment. Most of his squad didn't take off anything, but the gas masks and weapons, so the whole rangerhoof squadron was ready to dash in action right after they land... where?
-Pilots, send a pegasus to find an LZ somewhere close to Sweet Apple Acres, east of town. ms. Cheerilee, where's that treehouse you mentioned?
-Two hundred hops east of the farm, somwhere in the brushwood, by the brook. -the teacher pony stood with her front hooves on the board, looking ahead - she somehow resembled an ancient warship nosefigure, especially with her eybrows knit, her mlips shut tightly and her eyes peered in the fog, from which her town was to appear soon, with her student in danger somwhere in the middle or in the outskirts.
-Pegasus, recon a brushwood east of the farm, there must be a brook, use it as a landmark. Take care not to reveal yourself untill we arrive. There must be some little fillies, probably hiding from the rain, inside a treehouse. Report clear.
-Dagger, this is Alpha - black 4. -The voice sounded young and unfamiliar. -cpl. Windblow Tune speaking. Reporting on recon mission, target - Sweet Aplle Acres, Charlie - India 4, 3, east of it, treehouse in a brushwood, near a brook. Visual contact, approaching target. Stealth approved.
-Keep me in touch. Over.
In a few minutes, when Rainbow Dagger could already see the town's window lights, the radio came to life again:
-Dagger, this is Alpha - black 4, LZ at vector 0 - 10 - 11, I have a visual with the target. Reporting Code Red at the treehouse, ready to take immidiate action.
-Contact details! -Rainbow Dagger clacked in a magazine and swingled the lock of his weapon.
-Contact - one pony, apparoximately school age - filly, armed with a knife. Earthpony, holds the knife in her mouth. There are two other, likely trying to reason with her, no casualties visualised, but higly possible if we don't do something with it. Orders?
-Stay put, we're on our way. Pilots, you've got the LZ?
All chariots reported "check". Good...
All Alpha, all Bravo, we're going in. Letal force prohibited, flashbangs and riot weapons free, all Charlie airborne - you're with the chariots. Code Red, I repeat, Code Red. Ms. Cherilee, you stay with the chariots, just in case something goes terribly wrong. If we need to you to reason the little filly, I'll call for you, the chariots are going to land really near to the treehouse. What was her name, again?
-Applebloom. -Cheerilee said in a solid, gloom voice. -Her name's Applebloom.
-All Alpha, all Bravo, the suspect's name seem to be Applebloom, mind it in case we'll have to negotiate her to surrender. ETA 1 minute, get ready, rangers, and, I repeat - don't harm the girl! Aye?
The chariots dove and began to fall on the ground. At the moment their weels touched it, Rainbow Dagger hopped out, made a roll on the grass, hopped up and rushed through the bushes to a clearing ahead of them, where he saw a beacon set up by the reconing pegasus. He reminded himself to put away his gun and ready a flashbang - so, he knew, did the other operatives of the eight squads, surrounding the treehouse, getting themselves ready to rescue - or arrest? -another victim of this he-didn't-know-what-mess going on around his old nice-and-quet town of Ponyville.
Suddenly something unfamiliar struck his ear - some pony galloping too loud, as if he wasn't an operative of the Everfree rangerhoof, but a simple... Rainbow Dagger stifled a groan - like a simple crazy middle-class school teacher. And now it was too late to send this pony, this goddamn absent-minded hippie, Cheerilee, the idiotic dream of his youth, back to the chariots.
What makes him think she knew it?. Ah, who cares, she just did. Now he has four silly fillies to worry about - three ahead, one of them insane and armed with a knife, and one, unpredictable and eager to do something, right behind his back. Perfect, damnit...
-Cheerilee, if you happen to fall under a flashbang, I won't feel any sorry for that.
-I know it, RD. Worry for the little one, I control myself and won't be of any problem, I promise.
-So, At least you remembered me?
-I did. And sorry for being so stubborn a moment ago. Now I'm sure my fillies are in good hooves. Those of them, who still need it...
-Stop that sobbing, teacher, we've still got a job to do! Shh, there we are! All squads, report when ready and go on me.
The operation has come to its action phase. And who knew, it never went the same way, not even in familiar conditions - and this time, it was damn UNfamiliar. Thanks Celestia, they were - ALL, including Cheerilee -trained professionals. In the end, when you deal with foals, it's not bad to have their beloved teacher at your side.
"Harmony: application to advanced magic and psychology fields".
Celestia sighed and pushed the tome away from her face. Prettty complex for her magic scientists and spell system development crew, for her it was basic - and still it was the most advanced source she had on h armony as a state of entities in magic. And it contained no description of what the hell was going on with her Harmony subjects.
The Harmony program went wrong long before anyone else noticed, including the Harmony Six - she knew it the day her surevlliance spells started displaying sunlit empty rooms 24/7, and indicators telling nonsence values of key parameters of magical state of the Harmony subjects. For a while, she even concidered postponing the program and calling the subjects back to the lab for diagositcs, but Spell Nexus, the Spell Development Depratment head, found a glitch in the main relay control system core, and had it fixed, which returned the system's readings back to normal. He never discovered, where this glitch really came from, but then nopony was worried about it, 'cause glitches are what happens to equipment from time to time, and you ner can actually know, what causes them, even when you're a professional, responsible for building the system in question. So, she never asked again. Now, reading the system logs thorougly, she discovered something about that glitch, that almost made her send Spell Nexus an immideate heart stroke code - luckily, she made it in time to read the next two lines, thzt prooved his complete inawareness of what was really going on, and thus his innocence.
The Harmony control system was responding some signal, apart from the main terminal, for a few months already, and had undertaken a few security behavior modifications. They weren't something the security spell itself would ever notice, for the were too minor, and fell under maitenance routine limitations, but when Celestia analyzed the security profile herself, she could clearly see the Harmony program was in grave danger. The new security profile allowed the Harmony Six to take instructions from third party relays, and the logs clearly displayed, that the possibily was used at least once - before the unknown hacker realised, that his actions are being logged, and shut down the supervisor daemon on Ponyville Proxime relay, changing it with some wicked harwire, wending "echo..null..echo..null" every few tacts to fool the security system into thinking the daemon is sending the actual log.
The preserved hacker's action log itself made Celestia worry - from that point, he could access any of the Harmony Six psyware pnly with a personal login, unique for each of the six ponies, but he could also acess the Ponyville Proxime hard drive, and with the service files stored there, he could try and gain access to any Harmony Subject with just the system login! And, though it was unbelieavable, having him logged in to Ponyville Proxime and changing supervisor daemon meant, that he already had that login at the moment he went undershade. An inside job was impossible, she knew everypony in the castle well, leave alone sceduled mental scans she did on a weekly basis to ensure nopony is trying anything funny on her, but still - someone accesed a Harmony program supervision relay! Which could only happen if he had a system login - or was a better magician, than Celstia herself.
In theory, such magician could exists - some dragons, humans and even gryffons posessed the ability at least equal to the Royal Pony Sisters's in history of the world. In practice, it could never happen without Celestia knowing about it - all those dragons, gryffons and humans lived centuries ago, and she's been maintaining scans for newborn wizards every few days for almost a thousand years - non of them could possibly become even close to something as powerful, as Celestia and Luna. There WAS a possibilty, that someone, or, better to say, something could bypass her scans - like the Nightmare Moon Curse did a few times, but for now the Curse was safely sealed within the Royal Sisters Castle ruins, and there was no other spell or spirit powerful enough to fool her, that Celestia could think about. And, anyway, whatever could hide from her, it would be immideately caught by Luna, and contarywise, so there was no chance anythig could slip past their defence.
But it did. Somepony hacked her system, and accessed the Harmony Six controls. There is no other way a Harmony subject could go rogue, and harm anypony, not even Harmony One or Four, and especially she couldn't harm another Harmony subject! ESPECIALLY as powerful, as Harmony One, which at the moment was struggling to survive in a ward in Manehattan hospital.
Harmony Two, though, was a reasonable target - which made Celestia even more assured, that it was a hack, not a malfunction. Though the most stable of all Harmony Six thanks to compensation modules, she looked the most unstable, so deviations in her behaviour could be unnoticed for the longest period of time, compared to other five. And with logging compromised, the hacker could inspire her with any madness his sick imagination could produce, without anypony suspecting anything's not right! He couldn't, of course, control her directly, for Harmony subject isn't a pony proxy, but a sane pony with just a few psyware modifications, but with an access to their psyware via relay, a harmony magic or psychology expert could program these ponie to almost everything within thier physical capabilities. Which, by the way, did not include Harmony Three defeating Harmony One. But here are more means to defeat a pony, aside from direct physical assault - and it looks like this is exactly what heppened this time - and, as reports say, 23 times before. Or, maybe, Harmony One was programmed to give in peacefully? None of it made sence, and all of it could be determined only while one of them is present in the lab, where Celestia could directly diagnose the psyware.
Apart from the psyware and hack version of the incident - maybe, Pinkie Pie just went crazy? The compensation modules had no direct acess to her personality, and could only affect it by manipulating the psyware, and psyware is more of an addon, than a personality trait. What if the real Pinkie Pie just eneded up like she should, if it wasn't for the Harmony program, and it overrode the psyware influence? But then the spyware had to sedate her and send a distress code to the mainframe! These protocols were intact on Ponyville Proxime, which Celestia checked after the first glitch came to light, and again, when Ponyville's sheriff reported an accident, requesting permission to investigate. Maybe, her psyware was alternated? That had to wait untill Harmony Two arrives ti the diagnostics chamber in Canterlot.
Celestia's thoughts were interrupted by a phone ring.
-Yes? Celestia speaking.
-Your Highness -the voice of the colt on the line was unfamiliar -this is Everfree Rangerhoof Charlie 4, Supersonic Starligth. Commander Rainbow Dagger reports for an emergency, ,ost likely another maniac case, in Ponyville. Two units are dispatched to the site, taking action to capture te suspect.
-Who is the suspect?! -Celestia rushed to the control panel, levitating the phone by the head, but the remaining four indicators were glowing green, showing everything was fine. The were hacked too?!
-Some school filly from the town, name's Applebloom. Whitnesses state, that before the incident she was acting strange, just like the suspect neutralized earluer tonight
It made no sense, The hacker in Ponyville relay was a coincidence?! And some mental disease overrode Harmony subject's mind compensation modules?!!
-Pass it on to all Rangerhoof - wear gas masks, exersise extreme caution! This Applebloom could not've been harmed the way Pinkie Pie was, so it's something else, not what I suspected to happen, may be an infectious disease! Neutralise her and isolate immideately, I'm sending doctors. Do you copy?
-Yes, your Highness -the soldier's voice was calm and professionally bored -Gasmasks applied, epidemy distress signal sent to Ponyville belltower, extreme caution instruction taken, all units informed. Proceeding on mission target.
-Good luck, solider. Tell Rainbow Dagger to contact me immideately after. Princess out.
Celestia put away the phone and checked the indicators. Four green, one yellow, one offline. Everything seems to be just as bad, as two minutes ago.
But it was worse. Ponyville relay can not infulence normal ponies, and Harmony subjects were modified postnatal, and chosen not randomly, but with no family preference, so there's no way that hacker could drive that Applebloom crazy, as he persumably did to Pinkie Pie. Of course, mental disorders happen, so it could be just a coincidence...
But. Every Harmony subject monitors its surroundings for any danger. Any second. Day and night. Everything unusual and possibly dangerous is immideatley reported to the system via relay. Everything but Pinkie Pie's actions, but that must be the hacker's doing - amd Rainbow Dash reported emergency right when something bad started to happen, the problem was to determine her precise location, 'cause due to constant supersonic time reading affect the navigation spell in her psyware went scrap, reading her coordinates 20 minutes older than current - the Spell Development was working on a patch at the moment, but for now Harmony One's precise location was unknown by the system, which led to a serious injury, while they were trying to find out, where she is, and evaquate her.
Celestia ran a quick-scan on Applejack's psyware - the danger localization and report system was intact. So, if anything dangerous to other ponies has been happening to Applebloom, Harmony Four would immideatley report it to the mainframe, even if Applebloom herself hasn't noticed a scratch in her little sisters behavior.
No magic powerful enough to drive a pony crazy in a sec can possibly be used in Equestria without the Royal Sisters notice. No mental disorder affects a pony's mind quickly enough to bypass a Harmony subject danger check. And nopony, exept for the Harmony subjects, can be affected via relay.
Celestia picked the phone and dialed a number.
-This is Princess Celestia. The town is quarantined until further notice. Look for unmotivated aggression, strange behaviour and any sighns of mental instability. Diagnose all town residents, whatever you find - report to me immideately. The hospital is to be ready 24/7, I'm afraid of an epidemy of unknown disease, affecting mental state. Is that clear?
-Understood. -The pony's voice on the phone became muffled - undoubtedly, she frightened the hospital worker to shock, but at the time she had no regrets, overtaken by the worries she herself had in mind. -Ponyville is on quaratine, I'll inform the doctors and start town-wide diagnostic right now. Should we expect any interfiernce from the guards patrolling the town?
-I'll order them to provide any support you need. By the way, have you got any supply of antibacterial protection?
-We've got flu masks, enough to dress Canerlot in these. Will that be enough?
-I don't know -admitted the princess -If you have anything safer - make doctors and escorting soldiers wear it, and give flu mask to anypony else you run into. And I'm sending you a biologist, but while he's on his way, try to determine the cause of the disease by yourselves, and select a treatment. If you need antibiotics or anything else, request it from me, I'll sent it immideately. Any more questions?
-No, Your Highness. -the pony seemed to be slowly coming to himself. -may I proceed?
-With caution. Report to me anything strange you find.
-Will do. Goodbye, Your Highness.
-Good luck. -Celestia hung up, and dialed another number.
-This is Celestia. Tell your colts in ponyville to assist the doctors, they're going to check the residents for disease. Tell them to wear gas masks, if they have them.
-Sure, why not? Hey, you sound tired. Want a coffee break?
-We're in a middle of a crisis, Lupus. Would you please get to work? And address me as a princess, please, we're on an open line.
-Who cares, damnit? Oh, okay, okay, just turn off the damn killswitch!
Celestia sighed, levitating the phone back to the control board and disengaging her guard commander's heart stroke initiating module - of course, Wolfcanter's one was fake, and of course he knew it. Just an indicator of her irritation, when old friend breaks the limit of friendliness. He never gets mad about it, admitting easily, that sometimes there's too much Wolfcanter around, when he's needed elsewhere. But it seems he was doing it on purpose - somehow, Celestia felt calmed, as if Wolfcanter was here to comfort her. Though irritating, he had some influence on her mood. The valuable thing about him was that he would never used this influence for personal means, being absolutely, one-hundred-pecent loyal to Equestria, his duties, and Celestia herself. And he was the pony you want, when you need to get some info - known by everypony, accepted in any company, from nobility to criminals, Wolfcanter could collect any rumors about anything, and noone will suspect, that this easy-friendmaking, open-minded guy is a head for all Celestia's law enforcement, the Guard and the army. Of cource, he had lots of ponies doing administrative work for him, 'cause he was too lazy to do it himself - but all of those were checked thorougly, their entire history everted and its every square millimeter examined by Wolfscanter personally, without tem noticing a smallest bit of it.
Speaking of heart stroke initiation modules - only Spell Nexus and key ministers had working ones, and it was almost no possibility Celestia would ever use them, for there were almost no cases, when a dungeon, or even just a resignation, wouldn't be sufficient to neutralise the danger any of them, or even all of them at once, may pose to Equestria. Celestia had a tight grip of her kingdom, neither Luna's rebellion, nor even the living Nightmare Moon curse could make it unstable enough for her to take extreme arrangements to preserve order. But things like that can't last forever, Equestria neede some self-maintaining system of control to go on, whatever happens to Celestia herself, and that's why the Harmony program was strated. The Harmony subjects successfully initiated each other, resolved the Nightmare Moon incident, frove a dragon out of Ponyville, made contact with invited foreign species, sucessfully regulated random incidents, like Ursa Minor or parasprite invasion, and performed a brilliant operation on Discord, who had to admit, that Celestia's order preservation system is far greater, than the one he helped create, when Equestria was made.
And now someone managed to bring the order among Harmony Six to chaos. Definitely not an equestrian pony, not likely a dragon or a gryffon. Human kingdoms lay far across the desert, they are merely aware of pony presence on the continent, and the other continent is almost uninhabited. Orcs? Don't make ponies laugh. Orc magic is rudimentary, as well as their science, technology, culture and general civilization. Their only advantage between other nations is that they are unpretetious enough to populate the least dangerous regions of the desert.
Apart of that, orcs and humans have no good reason to interfiere with Equestria's national security, their nations maintain almost no relationships, but weapon trading with one of the human nations. Which means - that's gryffons or dragons ruining her day and her Harmony subject's lives. Or ponies.
Ponies stupid enough to cross paths with their princess, and still smart enough to hack into Harmony control relay. Not from the palace, not from any official science organization. Some highly trained and damn slippery outcasts. If they really exist.
If they do, they're trouble. She'll have to send Rainbow dagger and Wolfcanter after them, and pray to herself they find the hackers in time to prevent any more damage to the Harmony Six, or any other ponies in the state. Damn, the princess hasn't even got a god to pray, what's good in the job?!
"Tell me, darling -saif the princess to herself -is there anypony you will trust it and retire, as you wish for so many centuries?"
"No -she had to admit -even Luna will never be ready. I'm the only goddess of this land and these ponies, and there is no possible reason I can think of, that could let me dispose of this load and live as I wished some time very long ago. Still, the Harmony program may let me just rest from time to time."
"Or it will drive Equestria to disaster. Discord warned you, didn't he? You never listened to him, you always thought, that his network security expertise won't help you, when it comes to protecting magical systems. And now someone's doing exactly what Discord will, if he ever tries to make her really mad at him. But Discord is loyal, just a bit messy. He'd never play too hard or too long to cause some real damage to the kingdom he loves as much, as I do.
Maybe, it's time to admit my mistake and wake him up? Let him play, imply chaos on distant villages, make Everfree beasts dance polka on Ponyville square, but keep the sysem safe from hackers?
No, it's not as big. I can handle it. No need to make Discord work, let him rest as a statue for some more time. If Rainbow dagger and Wolfcanter fail, I will call him. But now, he's just perfect as he is, as a astatue in Ponyville park."
Discrod's statue. Ponyville park. Ponyville Proxime. Discord's statue...
Celestia grabbed the phone and forced the number right into plaintively creacked chips.
-Discord! What the hay?!
-I warned you, Celestia. -chimera's voice was bored -but who would ever listen to a mere security programmer?
-I'll send soldiers, and they'll break your statue to pieces, if you wn't stop this instant!
-What? But I'm so close! Give me five more minutes, and I 'll tell you, drom where your hacker sent his signals to Ponyville Proximity, or whatever it's called.
-Ponyville Proxime. It wasn't you?
-Darling, you make my heart cry of undeserved insult. If it was me, your six ponies would be dead, and I wil be dancing around their bodies. But you knwo I'm not that type. I only wish I senced the signal earlier, before it started modifying the psyware with hypnosis program I wrote.
-You wrote a hypnosis program?
-Well, of course I did. And somepony was smart enough to make a copy, before his own brain turned into a chocolate sirup.
-Any chance you coul define, who is it exactly?
-I don't think so. If he's so smart, he's long gone from the place I'm looking for right now, and don't quite remember EVERYPONY I hypnosed in our, ahem, little playout a few months ago.
-Good, find whatever you can. Mind if I call back in a few hours.
-I'll call you myself, don't bother me. -now Discord sounded dedicated and not to be annoyed. Good news, the hacker finally got an opponent of his own size.
-One last question. How strong was the signal?
-Average unicorn level, but expertly modulated. You bred too much unicrons in Ponyville, did you now that? Slaughter or relocate some, before they become a problem. This hacker hid the signal in the regular distortion of all these horned horses so easily, I could fell nothing, if I didn't regognize my own hypnose spell. And now please shut up and have some coffee, I'm trying to work here.
-Go to hell -said Celestia to the short beeps. -Slaughter the unicorns, very funny.
It wasn't funny at all. It WAS an inside job, how else could a regular unicorn hack into protected - by herself - relay firmware, and alternate the program? But who could betray her without her noticing?
Discord could, of course, do it himself or be the mastermind behind it, but.. It didn't make sence. He had interests far away from Equestria, and a relay good enough to literally inhabit the networks in human, dragon and gryffon sectors, showing almost no interest in any real life ("You're saying like my life is somehow less real! Look, I can really have some fun here!"). Besides, he was really more loyal, than even Luna or Harmony Six and other Harmony subjects. That's weird, when you pronounce it, ther's no difference between one certain pony and the whole company. Harmony Six and Harmony Six...
Harmony Six was loyal, but had a vulnerable spot on personal feelings - and Celestia felt one day it would lead to a conflict (somehow she also felt it has something to do with Nightmare Moon curse, but that was most likely just a play of associations - Twilight Sparkle, Nightmare Moon and betrayal). Yet, right now nothing distracted her from her loyalty t the princess, besides, she wouldn't be able to detect psyware, leave alone hack the relay without the psyware noticing it. Which means - Harmony Six wasn't the unicorn behind that hack.
Celestia suddenly flet something pushing her in the back. She grabbed the phone.
-Ponyville Hospital, cancel the quarantne, perform psychiatrist check, some of the twonsponies are hypnosed by Discord, that's all! Give them seductives or something!
-Er.. Your Highness, are you sure of it? Because we already found some bacteria, that may have unknown effect, and right now we're testing it to selst an atibiotic.
-Go on, but that don't seem to be the reason. Send me the results and a sample, we'll have to determine the specie's origin, but I'm sure that's not what I was afraid of.
-That's a big relief, Your Highness, but I'll prefer to preserve quarantine until morning. May I?
-Od course. Do as you think you should, doctor. Any problems with the guards?
-No problems, your highness. The guards are a grat support, citizens calm down, when they see a regal unicorn in armor at their door.
Celestia made a wry face - that wasn't what she intended.
-Good, call them off, but tell them to stay alert, the real victims of the disease might get violent when you take them in.
-Thanks for the warning, Your Highness. Now, if you please, I have to get back to my duties.
-Good luck, doctor. -Celestia hung up and, after a brief confusion, turned on the CODEC unit in her crown.
-Big Bird to Rainbow Dagger. What's your status?
-Big Bird, this is Sentinel One, negotiating with the suspect. How're you?
-Got some intel on the case, it's not for CODEC. You need Lupus?
-Tell Lupus to kiss his croup, I don't need an amusement parade here. What, can't he just sit tight on his bank for a second?
-Calm down, it was just a proposition. From me, by the way. Can you capture that filly alive?
-Sure thing, but I hope it won't be neccesary. She look unsure, I think Cherilee will talk her into dropping the knife.
-Proceed with caution, she's sriously ill, that psychosis may have tricks.
-Understood. Sentinel out. What? Proceeding to action phase!
Somwhere in Ponyville the Rangerhoof special squad started to storm the house to neutralize a little filly. Someone had to pay for all this.