The Equestrian Sphere
Solar One slowed back to sub-light speeds as it dropped out of FTL. After three jumps through the Relay network, the remainder of the voyage to Equestria had to be made under the ship's own propulsion. The sphere itself was nowhere near a Relay and it was too much of a journey for most travelers to make it a common shipping route. That didn't matter to Equestria. They were still reeling from the sudden realization that they weren't alone in the universe. A little privacy was certainly the least that they could ask for.
"I never had a chance to see it before..." Gilda watched through the windows of the bridge at the looming object that simply dominated the field of view. The Equestrian Sphere. A Dyson Sphere, or more accurately a Shell, it was home to all nine billion Equestrians. Solar One accelerated smoothly towards a massive, gaping hole that made Gilda slump back in her seat in amazement. Twilight had convinced her to come back to the bridge after breakfast to watch the approach.
"You have all the time in the galaxy now, Gilda." Twilight watched Gilda, a silly smile on her face.
"Yeah," Gilda whispered, nodding her head. She leaned forward, trying to get a better look. As the ship passed through the hole, she got a true glimpse of the power of the Princess. "Celestia did that..."
Twilight leaned forward, taking a look. The hole had been made twenty-seven years ago, after the awakening. "Yeah, she did. She freed us all." Grinning, Twilight bounced a little in her seat. "After Ms. Hall broke the stasis, the Princess realized the terrible truth. She took the sun and burned a hole through the wall of the sphere. The sphere might be able to shrug off planet busting weaponry, nothing can withstand the fury of the sun."
Gilda just nodded, staring at the melted edges of the holes. It was large enough to fit the entirety of the citadel through, with enough room to fit every ship in the Citadel fleet with it end to end and still have room left over. "Fury of the sun..."
"Canterlot Traffic Control," the Captain spoke into the communications. "This is Solar One, making our approach."
The windows darkened instantly as Celestia's sun came into view. The sun seemed to brighten, flaring almost happily as Solar One sped past, continuing on to the center of the sphere.
"It knows that the Princess has returned," Twilight smiled at the sun.
"Roger that, Solar One," the air traffic controller's voice sounded through the speakers of the room. "You are cleared for approach. May I be the first to say welcome home."
"Thank you," the Captain said, directing Solar One onto an approach vector that would take it directly to Canterlot. He flipped on the ship wide comms. "Good morning to all of you, this is your Captain speaking. We are making our final approach to Canterlot now. It looks like the weather teams have a nice sunny day scheduled for us, and it is a nice, seventy eight degrees fahrenheit. We will be landing in the next thirty minutes."
Cloud Beater stood watching the ships as they bustled about the Canterlot Space Port. Dozens of large transport ships sat parked in the port, hundreds of other ships flitting too and fro through the air around the capitol. He enjoyed his job. A landing pony, he got to direct every ship that came in and out of the port.
"Solar One is coming in for landing." Cloud Beater's radio chirped. "Make the Royal docking slip ready."
Above the sky, the ships parted and made way. From the sky above, Solar One descended, slowing to a hover above the port.
"Hurry up!" Cloud Beater shouted, ordering his crew around. The Royal docking slip was private and it was kept in a constant state of readiness. The landing crew was quickly moving the gangway into position. "Don't keep the princess waiting!"
Lowering down, Solar One settled down gently onto its landing gear. The landing crews pushed the gangway into position perfectly, a pegasus guiding them forward, directing the movements as precisely as she could, and it sealed around the edges with a soft thump.
Cloud Beater turned to his friend standing next to him, a unicorn he had known since foalhood, Golden Mark. "I wonder why the Princess had to leave in such a hurry."
"I heard that the Citadel rescued some ponies from slavery, and the Princess had to see their safe return." Golden shrugged, glancing at Cloud Beater from the corner of his eye. "I don't really know. Whatever it was, I'm sure that it was important."
"Huh..." Cloud thought about it, nodding. "Sounds plausible."
They quieted down as the airlock slid open and everyone working stopped shat they were doing. As Royal Guards filed out of the airlock, the workers bowed low. The sound of the Royal Guards saluting echoed through the space-port and Cloud Beater couldn't help but sneak a glance up at Solar One.
Princess Celestia stepped out of the ship, closing her eyes with a smile as she turned her head to the sun. The sky brightened for just a moment, seeming to flare happily. Cloud could only guess that Celestia had retaken the flight of the sun from Princess Luna.
Celestia stepped down the gangway, stepping between the Royal Guards towards a line of waiting chariots.
Cloud kept his gaze on the gangway, watching for who would emerge next.
He didn't have to wait long. Several doctors led a procession of ponies and griffins out through the airlock and down the gangway. He had to stifle a gasp when he saw just what an awful state that all of them were in. He leaned over to Golden. "Looks like you were right."
"Told you so," Golden said with a confident grin. "It's all over the news networks."
The Royal Guards turned to help the procession as quite a few of them had trouble descending the stairs. They helped them to the waiting chariots.
"They look awful," Cloud muttered. He couldn't help but notice how many blood stained bandages there were, and the scars were not something easily missed either.
"Hey!" Golden pointed with his hoof at the airlock. "Look up there."
Cloud turned his attention back to the airlock just in time to watch Twilight Sparkle step out onto the gangway. His eyes widened in surprise. Everyone in Equestria knew the mare's name, thanks to the news networks that had seemed to jump out of the ether in the last twenty years.
Twilight waited patiently on the gangway, staring back at the airlock. She took a deep breath of the fresh Equestrian air. She smiled encouragingly. "Come on. You don't have to be afraid."
Nervously, Gilda stood just out of the light in the airlock. She shuffled her legs, her wings flapping in agitation. She shook her head.
"You're safe, Gilda," Twilight said as she stepped back into the airlock. "Come on. No pony is going to hurt you here."
Gilda glared at Twilight, unconvinced. The worry and fear building deep inside of her was clearly written on her face. "I... I'm not scared." She didn't sound confident, her voice wavering.
"I'm right here with you," Twilight said as she nuzzled against Gilda's shoulder. Putting a hoof carefully and gently around Gilda's shoulder, careful not to touch the griffin's mutilated wings. Gilda screwed her eyes shut tightly, hyperventilating. "Come on. We can do it together."
Together, Twilight led Gilda out onto the gangway. They were still for a long moment. Eyes still tightly shut, Gilda shivered, her legs shaking. The sun fell warmly on her face, and ever so slowly, the expression of fear slowly began to disappear.
Cracking open a single eye, Gilda looked up at the perfectly blue sky. The sun shone warmly above and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. She looked around at the bustling space-port, and she frowned, her eyes tilting down in sadness.
"What's wrong?" Twilight asked, stepping forward, confused.
"It's changed," Gilda whispered sadly. "I... I don't recognize anything."
Twilight stared at Gilda for a long moment before nodding in acceptance. She held out a hoof to Gilda. "Come on."
Gilda looked at Twilight's hoof for a moment before taking it in her claw. Twilight led her down the gangway to the chariots. Whatever Gilda would face in the future, Twilight would be there by her side.
Octavia watched with sadness as Vinyl stepped cautiously down on a regular prosthetic leg. It was a far cry from the last leg, lacking all of the mechanical complexity. Low-tech all the way. Vinyl growled at herself as she struggled to walk, limping around the room.
"This... This'll work." She looked over at Octavia, giving an unconfident smile.
"Alright, Vinyl." Octavia looked unconvinced, but she didn't let her wife know. She turned to face Doctor Stable. "I'll be able to take her home tonight?"
"Yes," Doctor Stable said, watching Vinyl carefully. "I want you to contact me right away if anything goes wrong."
"Vinyl." Octavia stepped forward to Vinyl, matching her unsteady gait. The white mare startled at her voice, nearly falling over. Octavia reached a hoof out to steady her. "Careful, Vinyl."
"I'm fine," Vinyl said sulkily. She edged out of Octavia's grasp.
Octavia stared at Vinyl for a moment before nodding in acceptance. "Alright."
The elevator door opened and Octavia, Doctor Stable, and the nurse stepped out, the nurse pushing Vinyl, who was sitting quietly in a wheelchair. They walked down the main lobby, ignoring the stares of the patients and visitors around them.
"Remember," Doctor Stable said, turning to Octavia. "If anything at all happens, please call me."
"I will, Doctor," Octavia said with a nod. She stepped forward and took the wheelchair from the nurse, pushing it towards the entrance. "You ready, Vinyl?"
Vinyl didn't say a word, just giving a sullen nod.
With a small frown on her face, Octavia pushed Vinyl's wheelchair out of the hospital.