The next week passed in a blur for Gilda. It was punctuated by daily visits from Twilight Sparkle and occasionally Princess Celestia, followed by struggling through the sweating and sickness that her lovely withdrawal from hallex provided to her. She didn't remember a whole lot of what they spoke about, but the conversations helped to keep her mind off of the exhaustion, the anxiety, and most importantly, the crawling across her skin, just under her feathers.
The doctors and nurses were a constant presence in her room, checking to make sure the restraints were still comfortable and not causing any problems, making sure that she was coming off the withdrawal as easily as one could from such a major addiction. There was a lot of vomiting and expelling of bodily fluids, and Gilda was constantly on the edge of sleep, always just unable to fall over that edge into the Luna's welcoming embrace.
It was during the fifth day in the hospital, or maybe the sixth, that Twilight had told her that they would be making the return trip in two days. Her doctors had been quick to discuss the details that such a trip would mean for her recovery, and Gilda admittedly didn't remember much of those conversations either. All the griffin knew is that everything had been set up and she didn't have to worry about any of it, which was just fine with her.
Stumbling along behind Twilight Sparkle, flanked in front and behind by Royal Guards, Gilda followed blindly along to the Equestrian docks. They had taken a series of aircars from the Presidium to the docks in the Kithoi Ward arm. It was all a blur to her, a sensory overload to her already fragile mind.
Princess Celestia crossed the gangway to the main airlock of Solar One somewhere ahead of her, but Gilda found herself pausing at the sight that greeted her. The Citadel arms spread out before her, jutting out through the shimmer purple of the Serpent Nebula. Dropping to her haunches, Gilda could feel Twilight beside her, watching her carefully.
"I've never actually seen space before," Gilda whispered, unsure of what to make of the sight.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Twilight asked, a small smile on her face as she watched Gilda.
"Yeah." Gilda nodded slowly, staring out at the sight with a look of complete awe, her beak hanging partly open. "I... I don't know what to say."
The spent a long moment together just staring at the view. Twilight stole the occasional glance at Gilda, blushing and looking away quickly each time. Despite everything, Twilight couldn't help but see Gilda in a new light. The griffin might have been broken, but she was strong enough to move past her own physical infirmities and try to make a new life for herself. With a blush, Twilight looked away.
"I'm ready," Gilda finally said, standing.
Twilight was quick to stand as well, leading her to the gangway. "Come on." As they crossed together, Gilda looked over the size and grace of the ship, impressed at its beauty.
Stepping into the entrance of Solar One, Gilda's eyes widened as she took in the sheer beauty of the ship. If the outside was nice, the inside went even a step beyond. Everything had been hoof-crafted, a show of Equestrian workmanship to the rest of the galazy. The walls were paneled in a rich golden wood, with black inlays of obsidian and silver.
"Whoa." Was all Gilda found she could say. She took a step backwards at the show of wealth, her wings shivering in intimidation.
"Don't let it throw you," Twilight said, putting a comforting hoof on Gilda's shoulder. "Princess Celestia doesn't really like it either."
"Really?" Gilda asked, confused. "She's the princess. Why doesn't she just change it?"
"She might not like it," Twilight said with a smile, laughing softly. "But she does know that it helps the other races take us more seriously as an emerging race." She turned to look at Gilda, her comforting smile turning to excitement. "Do you want to watch from the bridge?"
"We can do that?" Gilda asked, amazed.
"I'm the Princess' student. They don't mind." Twilight reassured Gilda. "I'm sure they'll be happy to let us watch. Come on." She led Gilda past the entrance to a large staircase, leading her up a level. Gilda couldn't help but look over the statues and paintings that lined the walls. Twilight led her down a long hallway to a large door, raising a hoof and knocking.
A moment passed before the slid open, revealing the bridge of Solar One, the two pilots sitting in their seats prepping the ship for takeoff.
"Twilight Sparkle!" The Captain exclaimed, glancing at the two of them over his shoulder. He gave them a warm smile before turning back to his work. "Please, come in."
"Captain," Twilight greeted, stepping inside and gesturing for Gilda to do the same. "We were wondering if we could stay and watch the take off?"
"That shouldn't be a problem," the Captain said. "Go ahead, take a seat. We should be leaving in just a few minutes."
Twilight took a seat in one of the chairs behind the pilots. Gilda just stood still, not really sure what she was supposed to do, glancing around the room nervously. Taking pity on her, Twilight patted the seat next to her. "Sit here."
Eager to not look ridiculous, Gilda darted forward to sit in the chair. She glanced nervously at Twilight who gave her a warm smile in response.
"The pilots are a part of the Royal Guard." Twilight leaned over to speak quietly to Gilda. "The entire ship was built for use by ponies. It's one of the few ships in the galaxies completely built for use by hooves, not hands. It's also one of the first ships to ever have been built entirely in an Equestrian shipyard. We've been purchasing our ships from the humans so far, but we're finally getting our industries up to snuff."
The ship juddered ever so slightly, and Gilda looked at Twilight worriedly. "What was that?"
"Just the docking clamps, my dear," the Captain said over his shoulder. "We're just about to pull out."
Through the massive windows lining the front of the bridge, Gilda watched the walls of the dock ever so slowly begin to back away. At least thats the way it appeared to her. Pulling out from the dock, the ship nimbly spun around and began to smoothly accelerate towards the Mass Relay beyond.
Gilda gasped as the Destiny Ascension slid past above them. The Asari dreadnaught was over two-hundred years old, but it was still the pride of their fleet, upgraded constantly to keep its proud spot as most powerful ship in the Citadel Defense fleet. It was bigger than any ship that Gilda had ever seen, and she wondered if she would have had to have endure nine years of hell if that monstrosity had ever flexed its muscles over the Batarian homeworld of Khar'shan.
"Citadel Control," the Captain said, activating the communications. "This is Solar One. We are approaching the Relay and heading home."
"Copy that, Solar One," the smooth voice of a Turian answered through the speakers on the bridge. "Have a safe flight home."
The pilots readied the ship for the Relay jump, a delicate dance that they had long rehearsed.
"We're going to be making three Relay jumps," Twilight said to Gilda. "It should take us a little under twenty-three hours."
"That fast?" Gilda asked, more than a little amazed. The few space flights that she had experienced had taken more than several days, and they were usually just single Relay jumps.
"Solar One is the shining example of what Equestrian shipyards can do," Twilight said proudly. "It's all thanks to the sphere. The other races might have learned at the feet of the Prothean ruins, but we have singular access to the single greatest piece of technology in the galaxy."
"You can say that again." The Captain laughed. "If this was an Asari ship, we would be stuck in this can for several days. With our engines, we halve that time easily."
"We'll get a pretty good luck at the sphere as we make the approach to Eqeustria." Twilight said to Gilda. "It's certainly a sight you don't want to miss."
"Yeah," Gilda said, completely overwhelmed. She fidgeted in her seat, feeling her self-consciousness about how little she knew what Twilight and the Captain had just said.
"Calculations are in," the Captain said. The Mass Relay grew larger in the windows as Solar One accelerated even faster. The great spinning wheels spun around the core of the Relay, a mass of element zero which allowed the near instantaneous travel between Relays. The entire process worked by releasing dark energy, which allowed for the raising or lowering of mass. Creating a mass free corridor to the connecting relay, the transition was seamless. Without Mass Relay's the Citadel Council would never have been able to assert their dominance across the galaxy. Without the Relays, it was entirely possible that none of the races would ever have meet each other.
The Captain activated the ship-wide intercom. "This is your Captain speaking. We are about to preform the first of three Relay jumps. Please prepare yourselves for the transition. Thank you."
Gilda gripped at the edge of her seat with her talons. She eyed the Relay dubiously, leaning over towards Twilight. "Are you sure that this is safe?"
"We've been using the Relays for thirty years and we haven't had any problems," Twilight said with a shrug. "The Asari have been using them for a millennia. They are perfectly safe."
"Alright..." Gilda drawled, unconvinced.
Great tendrils of what looked like lightning arced out from the Relay, running the length of Solar One. Reality seemed to stretch for a moment before the ship accelerated forward. Gilda couldn't help but scream in terror.
Huerta Memorial Hospital, Physical Therapy Room, Citadel
The Physical Therapy room of Huerta Memorial Hospital was top of the line, a large and expansive room filled with all manner of state of the art exercise machines. A human was doing his best to relearn how to walk, and several Turians were learning to use their prosthetics.
On the other end of the room, away from the others and behind an opaque wall, Octavia stood next to a medical bed, a hoof on Vinyl Scratch who was laid out on it. The smaller mare was doing her best to not look at her missing leg. Doctor Stable and several nurses stood arrayed around the bed, waiting. Octavia looked over at Doctor Stable.
"What is taking so long? Why didn't we just come when it was ready?" She asked, a hoof on Vinyl's shoulder to give her a comforting source of touch to focus on. Vinyl was doing her best to not fall into a panic attack.
"I'm sorry," Doctor Stable apologized. I don't know why they are being held up."
Vinyl closed her eyes, focussing on keeping her breath even. Pushing her problems away, she tried her best to put on a strong face for Octavia, even as she was crumbling and crying out for help inside. "I-Is there any music here? It's too quiet."
Doctor Stable nodded to one of the nurses who was quick to open her omni-tool and queue up the rooms speakers. With a push of a button, the soft notes of Beethoven came drifting through the room.
Both Octavia and Vinyl winced, though for different reasons.
"Do you have anything different?" Octavia asked, her patience growing thin. "I am afraid that Vinyl has never been one for classical. Electronic would be best, if you have it."
The nurse was quick to change the music and moments later the manufactured sounds of some Asari electronic band began to play.
Octavia looked at Vinyl, an eyebrow raised in a silent question.
"I-It's not dubstep," Vinyl muttered, leaning into Octavia's hoof. "But it'll do."
"Thank you." Octavia gave the nurse a kind smile.
The door opened and an Asari wearing a white lab-coat entered the room pushing a small cart, a sheepish smile on her face. "I'm sorry I'm late. My name is Doctor Lydara."
"Well, you're here now," Doctor Stable said with an annoyed huff. "Let's get a move on."
Lydara pushed the cart over to the bedside, and Octavia and Vinyl got their first good look at the prosthetic. On top of the cart an extremely advanced looking mechanical prosthesis. It was the exact size as Vinyl's right leg, but done in chrome and advanced plastics. Vinyl simply stared at the leg, her nervousness and agitation growing.
With quick efficiency and gentle movements, Stable and Lydara attached the mechanical leg into the socket joint that had been added during a surgery the week before. It slid in and it attached with a solid, mechanical thunk. The leg activated with a quiet electronic whine before falling completely silent.
"It feels... weird," Vinyl said, staring uneasily down at the leg.
"We just need to get it calibrated," Lydara said, holding a datapad. "Could you try moving your right leg for me please?"
Vinyl did so, moving her real leg back and forth. On Lydara's datapad, an image of Vinyl's brain lit up, reading everything as her neurons sent the commands to her leg.
"That is perfect, darling," Lydara said with a smile. "Now why don't you try the left?"
Scrunching her eyes up tight, Vinyl slowly lowered the prosthetic, the movement shaky and unsure. It wasn't familiar, and everything about the leg was making her nervous.
"It's alright, Mrs. Scratch," Lydara comforted, holding her datapad against her chest. "Your leg isn't going to bite."
"It's not my leg," Vinyl murmured, keeping her eyes shut.
"Of course it is, Vinyl," Octavia said, giving Vinyl a comforting smile.
Vinyl just grunted in response. She continued moving the prosthetic, and slowly opened her eyes. She stared at it, her brow furrowed. The smooth, polished metal contrasted sharply against her stained white coat.
"How does it feel?" Octavia asked.
"Strange..." Vinyl said, nervousness tinging her voice.
"That's to be expected." Doctor Lydara reassured, a confident smile on her face. "You are doing wonderfully. Everything looks good. Do you want to try walking on it?"
Vinyl stared at her leg incredulously for a long moment before looking at Octavia, who gave her an encouraging smile and nod. Gulping, she tried to swallow her fears and gave a tentative smile back.
"Alright, let's get you on the ground," Lydara said, nodding to Doctor Stable. He stepped forward and used a pedal on the floor to lower the bed closer to the ground. Octavia and Lydara helped Vinyl scoot closer to the edge. "Gently now. Touch down with your right hoof first."
Vinyl did as Lydara said, supporting the majority of her weight on her right hoof. She touched the ground lightly with the prosthetic leg, wincing as if she expected it to shatter the moment it touched the ground. She looked up in surprise when she felt the floor, surprised. "How can I feel?"
"The leg is attached to your nervous system and it has the same makeup as your right leg," Lydara said, happy to explain. "It acts in the exact same manner. Go ahead and put some weight on it. Test it out."
Nodding, Vinyl looked back at her new appendage like it was an untrustworthy animal. She did as Lydara asked, wincing.
If Lydara had been paying closer attention to her datapad, she might have seen the neuron as it misfired, but she wasn't, and subsequently didn't.
With a surprised cry of fear, Vinyl's prosthetic leg jerked out from under her, sending the mare tumbling to the ground. Sobbing in terror, she pried at the prosthetic, trying to tear it off.
"Vinyl, are you alright?" Octavia rushed to her wife's side, cradling her head in her hooves. "Please, say something!"
"Get it off!" Vinyl sobbed out, her voice thick with terror and emotion. "Get it off me!"
The doctors stepped forward, rushing to comply. The nurses gently held down Vinyl's limbs to keep them from flailing as the doctor's removed the limb, setting it back on the cart. The moment that it left the seal, Vinyl slumped back against Octavia, her entire body going limp. Crying, the mare was scared out of her mind, hurt and afraid and feeling terribly alone.
"It's alright, it's off," Octavia whispered into Vinyl's ear, rubbing soothing circles into her shoulders. "Don't worry. Calm down, Vinyl. You're safe."
"Don't make," Vinyl said, her breath heavy, her eyes squeezed shut. She buried her head into Octavia's neck. "Please don't make me."
"Nopony is going to make you do anything Vinyl, love," Octavia whispered soothingly. "You're safe. You don't have to do anything that you don't want to."
Octavia turned her attention to the doctors, fixing them with a steely gaze. "I think we are done here."
Doctor Lydara packaged the leg up on the cart, quickly exiting the room.
"I-I... I want to go." Vinyl shakily nuzzled Octavia.
"Alright, Vinyl." Octavia nuzzled back. She turned her gaze to Doctor Stable. "Doctor."
A nurse quickly stepped forward with a wheelchair and gently, Doctor Stable and Octavia helped Vinyl into it. One of the nurses stepped forward to push it back to Vinyl's room, but Octavia quickly stepped in.
Getting up on her back legs, she rested her forelegs on the handles, giving the nurse a defiant look. She would push her own wife, thank you very much.
"Is there any actual reason that you are keeping Vinyl here?" Octavia paced in front of Doctor Stable's desk, a grim frown set on her muzzle. It had taken several hours to coax Vinyl back asleep, and Octavia was at the end of her patience.
"Well, nothing physical," Doctor Stable admitted with a nod, "But the way that she is acting is worrying. Vinyl is burying everything and nothing good can come from that."
"But she is fine? Is there any reason she could not be an out-patient?" Octavia stopped pacing and stared directly at Stable.
"She could, but I am worried that Vinyl isn't ready to move outside of a controlled environment." Doctor Stable bit his lip, recognizing a losing battle when he saw it.
"It is not like I am suggesting Vinyl go out and head into the nearest night club," Octavia exclaimed, her annoyance rising. "I just believe that she would do better in a... homier environment."
"It worries me," Doctor Stable said with a sigh, running a hoof on his desk. "Are you ready for everything this will entail?"
"I am." Octavia nodded, no hesitation. "I have gone through my house and made sure that it is more than suitable for her needs."
The Doctor stared at her for a long moment, seeming to size her up, but finally, he gave.
"Alright..." Doctor Stable relented with a sigh. "Let's try this on a trial basis.