PART 1 - PAN & SCAN
The screen flickers to life as the lights go down and an expectant hush falls over the audience.
A jaunty fanfare plays, as a topographic map of continental Equestria fades into view. Multicolored fireworks burst and flicker across the skies over the verdant kingdom, resolving into the smiling visage of a cobalt blue unicorn mare with a pale blue mane and a gleam in her amethyst colored eyes. Her horn sparkles as the words appear over her in pleasing cursive writing. "The Spectacular Trixie Presents A Lulamoon Studios Production!"
With a convivial wink she fades out, replaced by the image of a handsome stallion in a Harmony Flight Harness carrying a movie camera rig and peering through the viewfinder as he traverses the map from one side to the other. Trailing behind him, a glamorous pegasus mare with flowing blonde hair and a sash emblazoned with the word 'veritas' tows a fluttering banner that proclaims: "Eye on Equestria! All the news the nation needs now!"
The scene shifts to a broad expanse of whitish tan desert, extending to the horizon beneath a rippling blanket of heat waves under an intense yellow sky. A brash, feminine voice begins to speak. "The Salt Block Flats of San Palomino, a whole lot of nothing in the middle of nowhere, but there's something brewing here that will soon be the center of attention everywhere that's anywhere."
The view focuses on a large pile of sand and sandbags, circling around it until it settles on a set of railroad tracks laid in a straight line across the packed earth. It pans along the tracks, pulling back as a set of low blockhouses built of concrete and braced with more sandbags roll past.
The rails finally terminate at a solidly buttressed concrete block wall painted with a purple and gold emblem depicting a pony rising on butterfly wings over a six pointed pink star, a blue diamond, and a red apple. "Here in this endless open air oven, the unique horns at Harmony Aeronautics Incorporated are at it again, cooking up a new application of magical technology that will wow the world. Today, a new land speed record will be set, and in a single brave bound the barriers of the believable will be ppfffttt... Gah! pffft pffft It's in my pffft... my mouth... ppfffft... again! CUT!"
A gust of wind picked up a cloud of dust and salt granules, causing the scrawny pegasus camera pony to recoil from the billowing blast, clenching his eyelids and averting the delicate lenses of his camera from the scouring onslaught. His fearless leader held onto her purple, star spangled beret with a hoof as she spat out the stinging mouthful of grit. "Yuck. pffft... The Spectacular Trixie can't stand the... pfft... taste of this location. Why did they have to pick this disgusting, dusty... pffft... dump to do Sparkle's stupid stunt?"
Featherweight adjusted the bandanna shielding his muzzle and gave a shrug. "Dunno, boss. I guess it's 'cos they didn't want to set off a ground level rainboom anyplace where it could knock anything down, y'know?"
The azure unicorn rolled her eyes behind her goggles and levitated a bakalite cone off of her horn, coiling up the wires leading from it to the boxy contraption on her back and hanging the cone on its waiting bracket, then flipping all the switches running along the side in a shimmer of blue-white magic. "Well, the Spectacular Trixie's gotten enough grit in her teeth for one afternoon. Lets wrap on the establishing shots for now. We'll shoot some more after all the dust settles, if it ever does."
The pegasus hastened to clap protective caps over his camera's lenses. He nodded toward the recording device his employer carried. "I hope ya didn't get any sand on the cylinder, or yer voiceover's gonna sound like y'were chewin' it by the spoonful."
Trixie huffed. "We'll cut a new track back in the studio. Now just flutter along and get set up in the bunker while the Spectacular Trixie goes and gets the new lens rig out of the wagon."
Featherweight nodded toward a small complex of low adobe buildings in the distance. "Don't ya wanna catch any footage of the interviews? I heard the Wonderbolts just got here."
The azure unicorn gave another roll of her eyes with enough emphasis to cause her horn to trace a little figure eight in the air. "Pfft. Please. We've got enough press footage from their promo reels to cut together a three part trilogy of feature length films composed of nothing but 'Uhh's', 'Duh's' and 'Hi Mom!'s."
She drew herself up imperiously. "We're filmmakers, not paparazzi. Let the news hounds bark after unscripted banalities to stain the pages of half-bit tabloids."
With a grand flourish she reared and jabbed a hoof dramatically in the air. "We are hoof crafting a historical record that will burn itself onto the retinas of ponykind for WHOA!"
Overbalanced by the recording device on her back, Trixie began to topple backwards, but was stopped with a deftly placed hoof and shoved back forward by her companion, who had worked with the flamboyant unicorn long enough to keep his eye roll out of her sight. "Careful there, boss."
She lashed her tail and raised her snout in the air to reclaim a bit of dignity. "Anyway, I'm still not talking to Perry for agreeing to go thru with this while we're right in the middle of shooting another serial. I need that gorgeous mug of his up on the screen, not potentially smeared across a half mile of salt crusted desert."
Featherweight shrugged. "A.B. seems fine with all the safety precautions Doc Sparkle set up, and if she ain't worried then I don't think anypony needs t' be. And just think of how they'll flock to the theaters when we've got the first earth pony to ever pull off a sonic rainboom as our headliner."
She tapped a hoof on the packed salt sand and cast him a glare. "How is the Spectacular Trixie supposed to get any grousing done if you're just gonna hover there and be sensible at her? Didn't I tell you to go get set up in the bunker?"
The skinny young pegasus gave a nod and fluttered away. "You got it, S.T."
He paused a few yards off and gave his employer a wave as he cradled his camera in the other hoof. "Try not to monologue too much when yer bringin' out that lens rig, okay boss? Ya don't wanna throw the calibration outta whack."
Trixie stomped a hoof in irritation and flicked her horn at the low buildings flanking the track. "I'll whack you if you don't get a move on!"
She let out a long, irritated breath as he turned and hurried off, leaving only a little cloud of dust rising from the desert in his wake.
The Spectacular Trixie glared out over the wide, drab vista all around her, and spat out a few more loose grains of salt. "Pfft."
The wind rustled a rack full of Harmony Harnesses, each one's canvas wings emblazoned with the masthead of a different Equestrian news service or metropolitan paper. The silver cylinder of a light duty excursion class airship cast a long hazy shadow on the ground as it rocked gently between its mooring towers, which flew the flapping, rattling flags of the Royal Blue Airship Line.
Inside the adjoining quonset hut, a gaggle of pony reporters leaned eagerly forward with cameras and notepads at the ready, clamoring for the attention of a row of well known ponies who sat at a long table decorated with Equestrian flags and the Harmony Aeronautics logo.
At the center, naturally, was Rarity, looking resplendent in a gleaming white jacket with a colorful scarf binding her hair against the desert wind and a set of jewel encrusted designer goggles raised up beneath her horn. To her left were the delegation from the Wonderbolts, Rainbow Dash and Spitfire, both clad in their medal festooned Royal Air Cavalry dress blues. To her right sat Pip and Apple Bloom, the former wearing a clinging black jumpsuit crisscrossed with a network of rune inscribed ribbons converging at several points on small vials of greenish powder, his marefriend and associate dressed in more traditional denim coveralls with a set of dark goggles pushed up over her customary pink bandanna and an extra bandanna hanging down around her neck, ready to be pulled up over her muzzle in the blowing sand outside.
With queenly aplomb, Rarity gave the nod to one of the clamoring reporters, an earnest looking mare in a fairly well put together ensemble. The earth pony stood as the others settled down to let her speak. "Jewelers Glass, Mariety Magazine, with a question for Mister Grand. Are you..."
She cut off as the handsome stallion held up a hoof to politely interject, a winning smile spreading across his chiseled features that gleamed as an onslaught of flashbulbs went off. "Please, my dear. 'Perry Grand' is just a stage name the publicist ponies at Lulamoon Studios came up with. Looks better on a movie poster, or so they tell me."
He nodded toward Rarity and Apple Bloom, who he gave a sidelong wink. "While I'm on the clock for Harmony Aeronautics just 'Pip' will more than suffice. Terribly sorry to have interrupted. Do please continue."
A couple of the other mares around her fanned themselves with their notepads as the journalist resumed her questioning. "Um... Okay, 'Pip'. What film fans want to know is, are you at all concerned with the risk you're undertaking, especially considering that you're currently in the middle of filming 'Commando Pony Versus The Brombys of the Stratosphere'?"
The spotted stallion gave a casual shrug. "Risk is a part of both my jobs. As you all know I insist on doing all my own stunts for the movies I appear in, and if I come a cropper on set it would be just the same as on the test range."
At his side, Apple Bloom's smile became a bit strained, but she brightened up as Pip turned and gave her another nod. " As always I just have to trust in the keen expertise, consummate professionalism, and breathtaking inventive brilliance of my friends and co-workers to keep me out of trouble."
He stood and turned to show off the tight garment he was wearing, flexing his flanks with a flick of his tightly wrapped tail. The room strobed with flashbulbs, and two mares and a stallion in the audience of reporters keeled over. "A fine case in point are these unusual togs I'm done up in today. This is the Peril Actuated Extraction and Retrieval Suit, or the P.A.E.R.S. for short. It uses an ingenious re-purposing of dragon fire based translocation to whisk me out of a jam should things go all 'pear shaped' as it were."
The audience chuckled at his joke as he turned and shared another smile with Apple Bloom, who winked back and blew him a kiss. Rarity smiled vivaciously and gave the nod to another raised hoof. A grizzled blue-grey pegasus stood to address the platform. "Weathervane, Cloudsdale Sentinel, with a question for Rainbow Dash. What do you think about an earth pony performing your signature stunt?"
The rainbow maned pegasus gave the crowd an affable smile and a nod to Pip. "Well, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so in general I think it's pretty awesome. Plus now when I tell the all the kids who come to our shows that if they practice hard enough they can grow up to be just like good ol' Rainbow Dash, it's twenty percent truer."
The crowd murmured their approval. After a couple of beats a look of alarm washed across her cyan blue face, and she hastily leaned forward to add on to her statement. "Uh... That... that being said, make sure to include this message from me to all the kids out there: Don't... uh... don't try what Pip here is gonna do at home, okay? Hospitals are no fun to hang out in at all, and I'd rather sign an autograph book than a cast any day of the mrmph..."
She cut off as Rarity's manicured hoof covered her muzzle. The pale unicorn gave a strained smile to the reporters. "Next question, please?"
A lanky unicorn stallion with thick glasses and a slightly frizzy red mane stood up. "MacGuffin, Los Pegasus Times, a question for Major Spitfire. Do you foresee any military applications for this artificial rainboom technology?"
The blaze yellow pegasus was distracted by glaring in annoyance at her star flyer, and blinked to attention at the sound of her name and a nudge in the ribs from Dash. "Uh... What?"
Before the reporter could repeat his question Pip cleared his throat and stood, casting a glance over at Rarity as Apple Bloom hastily got to her hooves as well. "I hate to interrupt again, and I quite apologize, Madame Chairpony, but we're approaching H Hour and Miss Apple and I must be toddling off to the test site to get ready. If you'll excuse us, please?"
The alabaster unicorn gave her two young employees a magnanimous bob of her horn. "Of course darlings. Best of luck to you, Pip dear. Clear skies, eh?"
Dash called out as well. "Yeah, Clear skies, kid! Try not to break anything besides the sound barrier, okay?"
He threw them a jaunty salute, then gave a bow to the assembly of reporters as they got to their hooves and applauded. His smile gleamed with a final twinkle as he headed out the door with Apple Bloom in tow. The young mare looked back at the rainbow maned pegasus with a crease in her pale yellow brow before she trotted out of view.
When the stomping of hooves died down Rarity tapped her hoof on the table for order and nodded to the reporter who'd spoken last. "Would the gentlecolt from the Times please repeat his question?"
Several cooling fans were blowing at full capacity in the ready room as Apple Bloom helped Pip don a heavily padded, quilted body suit, followed by a fully enclosed suit of enchanted steel plate armor with articulated, hydraulically locking leg joints and piston actuated clamp mechanisms on the hoof plates, as well as several heavy duty attachment points on the withers and croup of the back plates.
The red headed mare gave him a smile over her shoulder that didn't quite reach her eyes as she laid her hooves on a conical faced helmet. "I'm gonna be mighty glad ta git ya outta this tin can when all this is over n' done with."
Her grin turned saucy as her eyes gleamed. "'Til then, do y'all got any last minute requests 'fore I hang th' control array offa yer kisser?" Her emphasis on the final word made it clear what she was hoping for.
He gave her a glittering smile, edged a bit with nervousness as sweat began to run down his forehead from beneath his padded hood. "Er... yes, as a matter of fact I've a couple of things to run past you."
With that he lumbered off over to a locker marked with his flag and mountain cutie mark, pulling it open and rummaging around in the satchel that sat inside beneath his hanging canvas Harmony Aeronautics flight jacket and his trilby hat with two sky blue feathers poking out of the brim.
He came out with a roll of white fabric in his hooves, which he presented to her. "Since I'm sallying forth all kitted up like one of the knights destrier of old, I thought it would be appropriate to be carrying an appropriate token from my lady most fair out on the field of honor."
Apple Bloom raised her eyebrow and unfurled the span of silk, revealing a red apple in the center with her name embroidered on either side in cursive script. She blushed and let out a chuckle as he inclined his head to allow her to reach up and tie the headband across his brow. She leaned in and planted a tender kiss on his lips. "Y'all make me proud now, sweetheart."
A look somewhere between thoughtful and panicked passed across the young stallion's handsome face, and he skittishly cleared his throat and took a step toward her. "I... I'd like to make you much more than that, my darling..."
He carefully lowered himself onto his haunches, and produced a small jewelry box, which he popped open and proffered to her. Inside a gold chain earring with two diamond crusted cutie mark charms, his flag and mountain and her apple and hammer, glinted on the dark velvet cushion.
He cleared his throat a second time, then embarked with a halting voice that only grew in warmth and sincerity. "I... I know it's not... ahem... not traditional for the stallion to propose to the mare, and I was going to do this after... well... after this whole test sequence was over but I thought about it and decided I ought to do it right now. Just in case, you know..."
He met her dumbfounded gaze. "Apple Bloom, you are by far the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. Would you make me the luckiest stallion in Equestria and consent to becoming my wife?"
A silence fell between them as she stared, her amber irises shrinking around tiny pupils as she looked down at the engagement earring, then up at him, then down, then up, then down, then up. "Wh... whut? Yer... yer proposing t' me? Now? Right now? Right before we strap a high explosive n' rainbow powered rocket t' yer back and shoot ya down a railroad track? This is when ya decide to do this?"
A bloom of fiery red washed outward from her cheeks as she bared her teeth in a snarl and clamped her hooves around his throat. Her voice was a throaty growl as she started to vigorously shake him. "YOU SLACK JAWED KUMQUAT PICKIN' ADDLE BRAINED IDJIT! HOW COULD YA DO THIS T' ME!?"
The south bunker hummed with a low murmur of activity, as rows of unicorns sat at switchboards with their horns linked into a cleverly conceived and constructed communications grid that kept them in touch with a network of observation posts spread out along the test track and at each point of the compass around the Harmony Aeronautics test site.
A cadre of unicorns in flight harnesses circled high above in the clear blue sky with state of the art portable crystal radio sets on their backs and highly trained pegasi at their wing, observing wind and weather conditions and sending up to the minute data back to the nerve center below.
At one end of the viewport, Featherweight made minute adjustments to his camera tripod with a portable spirit level and took light readings with an enchanted gemstone mounted in a brass watch casing. The camera's lens assembly had been removed and set aside in a carrying case as the the boxy device awaited its replacement with a protective cap over the aperture.
Doctor Twilight Sparkle adjusted her reading glasses and looked over a blackboard full of equations in the muted sunlight streaming in between the steel slats of the bunker's long, horizontal observation port as Professor Flam Flim Flam stood at her side chewing anxiously on his mustache and awaiting her final judgment. His bespectacled younger brother, Flim Flim Flam, pored over a scrolling ticker tape and annotated it with a highlighter pen held in the green sparkles of his magic. All three unicorns wore lab coats emblazoned with Harmony Aeronautics patches, with face masks and goggles at the ready should they need to go outside.
The lavender mare gave a nod of satisfaction. "Well, gentlecolts, everything seems to be in order here. I look forward to witnessing conclusive proof of your theories today."
The two brothers swelled with pride as they grinned at one another and shook hooves.
Her horn glimmered with purple sparkles as she levitated her glasses off, folded them, and tucked them into a pocket on her lab coat. She stepped up to look out on the harshly lit expanse of desert outside. "Now all we need is for our test pony to take the stage and..."
Everypony in the bunker's heads whipped around as a sputtering pop and twinkle of magic and a flare of green flame spiraled in the air over a thick mattress laid out in a specially designated back corner marked off with black and yellow emergency tape. It spun in on itself and exploded in a puff of white smoke and sparkles, and a spotted earth pony stallion in a smoldering black jumpsuit tumbled out of thin air and landed with a thud before the startled bunker staff's eyes.
With a cough and a shiver Pip shook his head to clear it. He met Twilight's gaze with a tremulous grin. "Um... I'm pleased to report that the P.A.E.R.S. works exactly as expected, Doctor Sparkle."
She blinked at him incredulously. "Pip!? What... what happened?"
Before the young stallion could formulate an answer the door to the bunker crashed open, bucked aside by a pair of pale yellow hooves wearing size five horseshoes. All heads whipped in that direction as Apple Bloom came stomping in snorting steam out of her nostrils, her amber eyes flaring like hot coals.
They all watched in silence as she crossed the control room, the soles of her work boots echoing like a snare drum cadence off the reinforced concrete. She reached out a hoof and hooked it on Pip's lapel, dragging him up to a half seated position with their snout's almost touching as her gaze bored into his. "I got just one thing t' say to you, Peregrine Squeak."
Her eyes became large and liquid as a soft blush bloomed on her face. "Yes! I'll marry ya."
With that she pulled him into a long, deep, passionate kiss, as everyone in the bunker looked on, dumbfounded.
Apple Bloom's brow furrowed as they parted, the little floating hearts around their heads drifting over to orbit Pip as a tiny black storm cloud appeared over her apple red forelock. She sighed in a weary voice. "That is if'n I don't come down with th' colic from havin' t' worry 'bout my consarned fiancé gittin' blown t' smithereens instead of just my dumb ol' coltfriend now."
She grabbed him by the collar and dragged his limp, sprawling form behind her as she made her way back to the door. The young mare paused and cast a brusque glance at Twillight and the Flim Flam brothers as she passed. "Sorry for th' delay. Gotta take shmoopy bear here n' git him suited up again. I promise t' fix th' door later."
The lavender unicorn could only nod slowly in response. "All right, Apple Bloom. Congratulations."
The younger mare stopped, her expression softening to a warm smile. "Thanks, Twilight."
The lavender unicorn turned a gimlet eyed glare on the young stallion lolling on the floor in new fiancée's iron grasp. "And Pip?"
He replied in a besotted, loopy tone of voice. "Yes, Docter Sparkle?"
She let out a small sigh. "You really need to work on your timing."
He gave a wobbly nod of agreement. "Yes, Doctor Sparkle."
Apple Bloom pursed her lips and stared hard at the lanky unicorns standing behind her employer. "And as fer you two, if'n anythin' bad happens t' my colt here 'cos y'all screwed somethin' up, just know that no amount o' powdered dragon fire is gonna keep me from trackin' ya down and stompin' y'all into hospital welcome mats. Y'unnerstan?"
Flam swallowed hard and nodded frantically. "In... indubitably, my dear Miss Apple."
Flim lashed his tail nervously and pushed up his glasses. "D-do let us know where you'll be setting up your gift registry."
She gave them a terse nod of satisfaction, then dragged her twitterpated husband-to-be out the door.
Twilight rubbed her temple with a hoof as Flim turned to Flam and spoke in a tentative voice. "Methinks, brother, it would further behoove us to re-check your equations one more time."
As they bent their red and white maned heads to pore over the blackboard the bunker door opened with another sharp crack, causing Flam to drag a crazy, jagged line across his figures with a tooth clenching screech of chalk on slate.
All heads turned to behold the Spectacular Trixie standing confindently in the doorway with an oblong carrying case bearing her cutie mark hovering after her. "Behold! Cinema's greatest genius, arriving with an awe inspiring advance in camera lens technology! The Spectacular Trixie has come to both make history and bear witness to it as well in her own inimitable fashion!"
Flam snapped his chalk in half and wheeled on her with his green eyes flaring. "Confound it, you megaphone mouthed mush minded mountebank of a mare, will you kindly keep your cacophonous clamoring down so that actual intellects can work in peace?"
The azure mare snorted and tossed her head, meeting his gaze with an imperious glare of her own. "The Spectacular Trixie will be glad to temper her tone if any should happen to show up. 'Til then feel free to shove that chalk in your ears, you simpering second-string snake-oil salespony."
Flim eyed them both over his glasses with an arch expression as he twirled his highlighter and spoke up in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "You two are just so ineffably cute when you flirt."
Flam and Trixie both grimaced in disgust and gave each other the cold shoulder, the mustachioed stallion wheeling to resume his calculations while the brash mare turned to greet Twilight with a terse nod. "Hello, Sparkle. How long 'til you put my studio's biggest star in mortal jeopardy?"
The lavender scholar flicked an ear and met her former rival with a deadpan expression. "Not long now, Lulamoon. Is that the new lens assembly you've been going on about?"
A smug smile spread across the azure unicorn's face as she brought the case around and unlocked it. Nestled in the red velvet padding was a brass cylinder roughly the length and thickness of a pony's cannon and hoof with sapphire, emerald, and ruby lenses at one end and a flawlessly clear diamond lens at the other.
Her grin widened as she preened over her newest invention. "Indeed it is. Behold! Reel To Real, the next bold advance in Trixiecolor cinematography. Any footage shot through this baby is so lush and sharp you'd almost think you're in the picture yourself. It looks more real than real, it's Reel To Real!"
Twilight's horn sparked to life as she cast the Gem Finding spell she'd learned from Rarity so long ago. An array of gemstone mirrors and prisms was revealed hazily through the cylinder's casing. "Hmm. Yes, very clever indeed. I can see that HEY!"
She recoiled as Trixie snapped the case shut and snatched it away behind her in her blue white magic. "Ut! This is proprietary and patent pending, Sparkle! Keep your spells off!"
The lavender mare rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Lulamoon. I signed every N.D.A. and trade secret compact you shoved under my quill. Not to mention the fact that I happen to be close friends with the Elements of Loyalty and Honesty and hope to always remain so. I think you can trust me not to swipe your ideas."
Her former rival snorted and replied with a surfeit of simmering sass. "Well, unless you're prepared to fork over enough bits to impress your close friend and business partner the Element of Generosity you ain't gettin' to poke your overcharged howitzer of a horn into the Spectacular Trixie's business, Miss Elephant of Magic."
Twilight let out a huff of exasperation and flicked the aforementioned horn toward the corner where Featherweight waited with the camera. "Just go hook it up and try to keep your voice down so that everypony else can concentrate, okay?"
The azure showmare hiked her tail as she sashayed across the control room. "Fine. The Spectacular Trixie had better be impressed when she sees this show you're gonna put on.."
The lavender scholar called after her. "The Exceedingly Patient Doctor Sparkle had better be impressed when she sees your footage."
Turning away as Trixie set to work installing her lens assembly with Featherweight's help, Twilight closed her eyes and brought her hoof to her chest, inhaling deeply, then stretched it out in front of her as she exhaled, centering herself with the trick that her sister-in-law Princess Cadance taught her so long ago on a hectic visit to the Crystal Empire.
A rustle of paper beside her caused her to crack an eyelid in a sidelong glance at Flim, who stood with a clipboard hovering in his magic and an eager grin on his face. "Only a few more items on the checklist, Doctor Sparkle. All the data has been collated and re-checked, and we're ready to go when you say so."
Twilight glanced out the view port and saw Apple Bloom making her way across the salt flats with a tool kit balanced on her back and her head swaddled in pink bandannas and dark goggles. Trundling along behind her a pair of earth pony drafters pulled the heavily armored form of Pip, who stood atop a rail cart with the hooves of his boots locked solidly in place.
Behind him, another Harmony Aeronautics staffer pushed another cart carrying a brass and stainless steel contraption composed of two fuel tanks with tubes running into a sort of carburetor and then out again into an array of cone shaped jet thrusters.
She turned and gave a nod to Flim as she sparked her horn to life and set her own facemask and goggles in place. "Excellent. Lets go and get Pip hooked up to the Destiny Drive."
He bobbed his horn in return. "You got it, Chief."
With that Twilight trotted out the door with the lanky stallion at her heels.
The dust laden wind whipped fitfully around the small knot of ponies as bolts were tightened and valves and actuators tested. Twilight stood with her checklist and a quill hovering in her magic, scrutinizing the track, cart, armor encased test pony, and rocket drive with a hypercritical eye.
She began to run down the final row of unchecked boxes. "All right. Phlogiston feed?"
Pip extended his tongue and flicked a lever in the cone shaped muzzle of his helmet, causing a small gout of lurid green flame to puff out of the central jet cone. Twilight nodded. "Check!"
She moved on to the next box. "Rainbow injection?"
Another tongue switch flipped, and a burst of multicolored mist sprayed out of a nozzle on the carburetor. Twilight scratched her quill on the page as Flim closed the test valve with a wrench. "Check!"
She turned her attention to the wheels of the cart, now resting on the tracks with wooden chocks holding it in place. Scrutinizing the pistons and heavy duty rubber pads poised above the wheels, she called out to her companions. "Brakes?"
Pip clenched down on the bar between his back teeth. A staggered hiss sounded as the brake pads pushed against the wheels. Twilight pursed her lips beneath her dust mask. "Hmm. A little hesitation there. Apple Bloom, tweak the pressure on those pneumatics."
The young mare nodded and leaned down with a socket wrench puckering the bandanna on her face. Twilight moved on. "Thruster Alignment?"
Flim checked each cone with a protractor and plum bob, and gave his employer the nod. She nodded back and checked the box. "Check!"
She called out the next step. "Throttle control?"
Pip stuck out his tongue and tapped the central button in his helmet's control array. A brief burst of phlogiston flame from all the rocket cones caused the cart to rock forward against the chocks before it settled back again after the thrust cut off.
Twilight put down another mark. "Check! How are those brakes looking?"
This time all the pistons pushed on the break pads in unison. "Check!"
The quill moved to the next box. "Emergency chutes?"
Flim checked pneumatic pressure on a small gauge, tugged on a couple of straps, and nodded to her. "Check!"
Twilight gave a final bob of her horn to Apple Bloom and Flim, and then reared up with her front hoof on the cart platform and tapped the side of Pip's helmet. "How's our test pony doing?"
A muffled but jaunty response came from inside the armored face cone. Twilight pursed her lips and nodded. "Okay, I'll call that a check." She levitated her quill and clipboard over to Flim, the purple sparkles shifting to green as he took them from her.
Twilight levitated a stopwatch out of the pocket of her lab coat and held it up beside a similar timepiece built into the side of Pip's helmet. She turned the dials on both with her sparkling purple magic. "Okay, synchronizing timers. Just like we rehearsed, there will be a three minute countdown, then the first bell will ring, signaling you to fire the thrusters, after thirty seconds the second bell will ring, then kick in the rainbow juice and brace for the rainboom. If the rainboom doesn't happen before the third bell, hit the brakes. If the rainboom does happen, hit the brakes immediately and await retrieval. Okay?"
The helmeted head ponderously nodded in understanding. As Twilight nodded in return and stepped down, Apple Bloom bounded forward, pulled down the bandana over her face, and craned her neck up to plant a kiss on the side of Pip's nose cone. "That's... pfft... fer luck. Y'all better come back in one piece or you'll be in trouble, mister!"
A muted chuckle and another slow nod came in response. The young mare leaned down and gripped the ropes leading from the chocks in her teeth, pulling them free from in front of the rail cart's wheels and tossing them aside.
Twilight drew herself up and raised her solemn voice over the whistling of the wind. "Celestia and Luna speed you on your way, Pip. Activating timers... NOW!"
With a flick of her horn the watches were activated. Inside his armored shell, the heroic young earth pony braced himself as the others galloped back to the bunker.
The unicorn watching the main clock called out the time into a nearby microphone, the announcement echoing across the salt flats from the pole mounted loudspeakers scattered at intervals around the test site. "T Minus twenty seconds."
Twilight jostled against Trixie at the crowded viewport of the control bunker, squinting her eyes against the hazy glare of the desert outside. Pip's bulky outline stood like a lonely monument on the platform of the rail cart, isolated in the vastness of the flat, sun bleached landscape.
The lavender mare turned at a growl of annoyance from the azure unicorn at her side. "Sorry,Trixie. Are you filming right now?"
The flashy showmare pursed her lips as she continued peering through the augmented camera's viewfinder. "No, Sparkle. I've got it hooked up to a switch that activates when somepony asks a stupid question. It just started rolling."
Before a mildly miffed Twilight could reply, the loudspeaker overhead activated again. "T Minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. First bell."
The clear tone of a chime rang across the complex, and was answered by a flaring of green flame from the rocket thrusters attached to Pip's withers, pushing the cart along the track with a sudden burst of speed.
Twilight levitated her stopwatch, half of her attention on the seconds ticking by as she watched the rapidly receding spark of lurid green burn its way across the salt crusted earth. At her side Trixie rotated the camera, keeping the hurtling cart and its passenger in the shot with a look of concentration etched on her face.
Everypony's ears perked up at the sound of the announcer's voice. "Second bell in five, four, three, two, oh WOW!"
A coruscating blast of rainbow colors exploded outward in a hemispherical ring as the cart leapt forward, suddenly tripling its speed. Seconds later a booming roar echoed across the salt flats.
Twilight began to hop in place on her hooves. "Yes yes yes yes yes! We have rainboom! WE HAVE RAINBOOM, EVERYPONY!"
A cheer went up from the staff in the bunker, accompanied by the scattered clopping of hooves on the concrete. Over the murmur of the wind outside a similar, if not even more enthusiastic commotion could be heard from the observation bunker across the way.
Trixie grunted in rapt annoyance. "Impressive, I'm having trouble keeping him in view... I hope this... uh oh."
Twilight's head snapped around, as Apple Bloom seemed to pop out of thin air right next to them. "Uh oh? What's uh oh? I don't like uh oh!"
Trixie bit her lip as her ears laid back. "Is he supposed to be popping a wheelie?"
As soon as she said it there were three mares furiously jostling to look thru the camera viewfinder.
Naturally, Apple Bloom won out over the two unicorns with her earth pony strength, clutching the camera box with her fore hooves as she stared at the tiny dot in the distance trailing a flashing corona of rainbow behind it. "I don't see him! I... No! Sweet Celestia's flamin' feedbag, he just went airborne! He's gotta be twenty hooves up and climbin'!"
Trixie bawled in her ear, her eyes wide and frantic. "For the love of Luna, whatever you do keep that camera rolling!"
A burst of green flames lit up the bunker interior, causing many heads to whip around as Pip dropped out of a spiral of sparkles onto the designated crash pad, his black body suit tattered and smoking.
Apple Bloom wheeled, letting go of the camera with a cry on her lips. "Honey Boo!"
She was across the room smothering her fiancé's soot blackened face with heartfelt kisses a split second before Twilight desperately caught the discarded camera in the purple glow of her magic, all while Trixie looked on, frozen in horror with her face a much paler shade of blue.
Twilight brought the viewfinder to her right eye, tilting the bulky camera with its custom lens toward the sky as she zeroed in on the rising speck of the test armor, the blast of sparkling rainbows trailing from its jets fading to a bright, almost incandescent white as it gained speed.
Suddenly it exploded with a blinding flash as bright as the sun, sending rings of burning color and a scattering of debris in all directions. Twilight let out a strangled cry and jerked violently backwards, clutching at her eye with her hooves as the coruscating light blasted through the array of gemstone lenses and seared her retina.
Trixie hurled herself at the floor with hooves outstretched, catching her precious camera just before it hit. She wrapped herself around the boxy device in a possessive hug and glared at her fellow unicorn. "HEY! Watch the equipment, butterhorn!"
Twilight ignored her, just laying on her back and squinting at the ceiling with her unscathed eye with tears of pain dampening the cup of her fore hoof.
Presently she heard Flim's voice beside her. "Are you okay?"
Pip answered shakily from across the room. "I'm quite all right!"
Apple Bloom's archly relieved voice chimed in. "Nopony asked you, punkin'." The young stallion's reply was muffled under another deep kiss.
Flim craned his neck into Twilight's uncovered field of view. "Doctor Sparkle?"
The prostrate unicorn let out a sigh, and spoke in a measured voice. "Mister Flim Flam, if you would be so kind as to go to my desk and look in the top drawer, you'll find an eye patch that I keep there for just such an emergency. And then I think it would further behoove us if Mister Squeak and I were taken to the infirmary at this juncture."
He cocked an eyebrow and looked over toward her desk with a note of incredulity in his voice. "You keep an eye patch for... eye patch emergencies?"
The lavender unicorn replied with a slight edge creeping into her voice as her tail twitched beneath her. "Yes. It pays to be prepared for every possible contingency."
Flim cocked his head, then shrugged as he turned to trot away. "I guess that's why you're the mare in charge, Doctor Sparkle. I'll be back in a jiffy."
Twilight let her good eye roll closed as she listened to his hooves recede against the general backdrop of urgent chatter around the bunker.
Even with her hooves clamped over her stinging, throbbing eye, she could see something resembling her cutie mark in multicolored sparkles floating in the darkness above her.
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.