So yeah. My Beta, he's a Brony. That's rubbed off on me some, and this is the result; a Sins of a Solar Empire/Ponies crossover. There's someone else on SpaceBattles who's taken a different approach to the same crossover, but I think it died a while back. Shame; it was a good story. Most of this has been sitting on my hard drive for more than a year, and it's slated to eventually be moved into its own story, but it's here now as a placeholder, while I work on the 4th short story for my original setting. Again, if you're enraged by me deciding to actually write something with Ponies, blame my Beta, this is almost entirely the result of his influence on me.

((()))

Skies of Equestria, roughly between Ponyville and Cloudesdale

If there was one thing Rainbow Dash strove for above all others, it was speed. Pegasus magic could manipulate almost anything to do with air, or as scientists had been testing more recently, most any substance in the gas phase, as well as powering their wings, and between the two effects, allowed the flying ponies considerable speed and agility while airborne. Dash was more maneuverable than your average Pegasus, but only through long, hard training, as she'd originally been a bit clumsy.

Where her real strength lay, was with speed. Dash still appeared clumsy in the air to some onlookers, but that was solely to the speeds she customarily flew at. She had only been able to manage the Sonic Rainboom once in her life, a few years ago, and most of her free time since had been dedicated to trying to break the sound-barrier again. The Royal Aeronautic society at Cloudesdale had practically begged her to do it again, but with a sensor rig strapped to her flanks so they could study how she did it, what the atmospheric and optical distortions were like when they formed, and a whole lot of other mumbo-jumbo she didn't really understand. She wore the sensor rig during all of her flights now, though sometimes she was out so long that the batteries died.

So, between weather-managing shifts, Rainbow Dash flew. She flew fast, she flew hard, always pushing for the absolute highest speed she could manage. And she was faster now, faster than anypony she had ever met or raced with, and her endurance and overall durability were phenomenal, but she still hadn't managed to breach the sound barrier. Not really gotten all that close, even; four hundred miles per hour was a hay of a lot faster than most ponies could get, but not even close to the speed of sound.

Or the speed of sound at average atmospheric pressure, the eggheads had told her, so she had started flying at different pressures, at different altitudes, to see if she could breach under different conditions. That had started a year ago, and Rainbow was frankly getting sick of it, especially since most of the researchers had taken to either haranguing her for not performing on demand, or begun to question whether she had ever really made a Rainboom at all.

Rainbow Dash scowled at the memory, and climbed higher into the night sky, burning for more altitude. She was the fastest Pegasus in Equestria, with, or without the Sonic Rainboom, and if the eggheads at the research station thought they could do better, they were welcome to try. The only reason she was still working with the research team at all, was a few of them actually listened to her when she talked to them, and one of them had even arranged to get her into the Wonderbolt space program if she could achieve the Rainboom regularly.

Dash was sure there was some sort of psychological or philosophical lesson there, but that wasn't really her thing, so she just pushed herself to climb faster, and focused on the stars above her.

Specifically, she focused on one that was moving.

I've never raced a shooting star before, Rainbow thought, a grin growing on her face, sounds like fun...

Leveling out of her climb, Rainbow Dash banked South, towards Ponyville, to track the shooting star as it fell from the sky.

((()))

Geosynchronous orbit of Equestria, ESA (Equestrian Space Agency) Orbital Station Sisterhood.

"I think that's the end of it," Commander Sky Ring said, eyeing the sensor plot laid on the Sisterhood's cramped bridge, "The survivors are pulling back towards Bellerophon."

The current shift of bridge-ponies all breathed sighs of relief. Thirty-six hours ago, they had detected alien vessels in dangerously close proximity to Celestia's Sun, orders of magnitude closer than any of the Pony-built spacecraft could possibly have survived at without the Princess' direct intervention. The closest sensor arrays, sitting in orbit of the system's third planet, hadn't been able to transmit much in the way of detail, but it was clear that there were two distinct forces, and one was pursuing the other. For an hour they'd moved around Celestia's dominion, accelerating and maneuvering at unbelievably high speeds.

It shouldn't really have surprised anypony aboard the Sisterhood when the Princess herself called to let them know just what was going on; she did, after all, have a much closer perspective to watch from. There were two fleets, she informed them, consisting of three four primary different classes of vessel, the smallest of which were dependent on the larger two. Also, the larger fleet was chasing the smaller, and they were having a solid go at destroying each other.

The Princess also informed them that due to the apparent technological disparity between the newcomers and the Equestrian Space Navy, any one of the larger ships would be capable of completely wiping out any opposition the ESN attempted to present. The Commander was ordered to handle things in as utterly non-hostile a way as he possibly could, should the newcomers approach Equestria, and if they turned hostile, the Princess would deal with them herself.

Tension amongst the crew of the Sisterhood, as well as every other orbital installation, rose as three hours after they were first detected, the newcomers fleets, first one, then the other, appeared at Bellerophon, the system's largest gas giant, long before they disappeared from close orbit of Celestia's Sun. Which meant that both fleets were equipped with faster-than-light drives, and judging from their departure and arrival vectors, they were both limited by, and targeted to, gravity wells. The ESN had a survey team on one of Bellerophon's moons, surveying for useful heavy elements, and the vessel that brought them out, the Dainty Dish, had gotten a much clearer view of the battle in progress, and relayed it to the Sisterhood.

Nopony had ever seen such destruction before, ever. The pursued fleet was based around a core of six enormous vessels, which Commander Sky Ring immediately began attempting to classify in comparison to the wet-navy vessels he was familiar with. He worked his way outward from the center of the fleet formation, categorizing them by the roll they played. At the core was a vessel that seemed like an overly large battleship with an unusual, vaguely triangular shape, but it didn't carry enough weapons to justify its mass, so he assumed it had some non-combat role that made it vital. Flanking the 'mothership' off of its port and starboard sides were a pair of gracefully curved carriers, heavily armed for carriers, but the sheer number of strike craft that came and went from the bays along its dorsal spine left no other option. Escorting the mothership from above, was a ship that looked a bit like a manta ray with its wings flared and tail swept down, and seemed a fairly straightforward battleship.

Paired and following from behind, a pair of ships shaped like flattened torpedoes covered the mothership's retreat, mounting heavy broadside weapons which were deployed by the ships weaving side to side regularly. Those two possessed greater speed than any of the others in their size class, and Sky Ring was uncertain as to whether he should categorize them as battleships, or battlecruisers. Almost a dozen smaller classes of vessel filled out the fleet, from a handful of small gunships that were destroyed swiftly, to five pocket carriers and half a dozen heavy combat vessels that would have seemed large, save for the battleships, carriers, and mothership that they moved with.

The second, larger fleet, was all brute force and right angles in comparison to the first fleet's graceful curves and sharp edges, and every ship in the fleet seemed to be built on a slightly larger scale. Of the eleven vessels that formed the second fleet's core, only four had readily identifiable roles. Two were clearly carriers, if poorly designed ones, by the large in and out-flow of strike craft from their bays. Two more were clearly battleships with heavy forward armaments, and reliable broadside weaponry. The other seven were horriffic mish-mashes of hull, armor, and weapons poorly designed for combat, ungainly in maneuvering, but simply large enough and thick enough to be effective in spite of their poor basic design.

The support vessels of the second fleet were of overall better construction, clearly built for the purpose they served, but still showing an overall philosophy of much heavier hulls, with thicker armor, but less acceleration and maneuverability than those of the first fleet. It was also easier to distinguish the smaller vessel's roles, a large brick-like ship being the fleet's primary heavy combatant, supported by a smaller craft with a 'tail' that projected at a downward angle from its ventral structure. Octagonal ships with vaguely arm-like projections sent swarms of small machines to repair hull breaches and damaged weapons, and a dozen pocket carriers helped round out the fleet.

The battle raged around the gas giant for almost an hour, but nopony was watching by the time the battle over Bellerophon ended, because the departing, and considerably reduced, fleets arrived near Equestria via their FTL drives before the non-FTL transmission from the Dainty Dish relayed the end of the battle.

When the first fleet entered Equestria's space, arriving within the orbit of her moon, it was immediately apparent that it had lost more than the handful of lesser vessels Sky Ring had seen it lose at Bellerophon. The two trailing battleships were gone, as well as almost all of the smaller vessels save for the pocket carriers, and a single ovoid craft that seemed to be some form of support vessel. The second fleet was also substantially reduced, all of its pocket carriers destroyed, as well as a fair portion of its support gunships. Several of its core ships were also heavily damaged, and leaking atmosphere, but none were outright destroyed.

The instant that the first fleet arrived, it drove straight for Equestria, all surviving vessels falling into a rearguard position to cover the mothership. And as soon as the second fleet arrived, it burned hard in pursuit, breaking formation to send the smaller, faster vessels out ahead of its core vessels. Neither fleet had responded to hails, and once combat began anew, Sky Ring wasn't really surprised. The sheer amounts of radiation being thrown out by the engines, weapons, and shields of the two fleets was probably drowning out the Sisterhood's comparatively pitiful communications equipment. And since they no doubt had drastically different types of equipment and communication protocols, the attempted contact would no doubt be easily missed.

Unlike the nearly hour-long running battle across the gas-giant's gravity well, which was an almost terrifyingly graceful progression of maneuver and counter-maneuver, the fighting over Equestria was as short as it was brutal. The brick-like vessels, combined with the octagons and smaller combat vessels, took a hellish beating when they pursued the surviving vessels without support from heavier vessels, but they kept the pressure on the first fleet as it approached Equestria, focusing all firepower on one of the carriers. Once the first fleet began to decelerate to make a close orbit of Equestria, things got really ugly.

Quite possibly the most terrifying thing of all, was that as the fleets closed, the unicorns amongst the Sisterhood's crew began reporting that they could sense large bursts of magic being deployed by the first fleet. Considering that both fleets were tens of thousands of kilometers away at that point, the amount of power it must have taken for the unicorns to notice at that distance was terrifying, but still, all they could do was watch.

The heavier ships of the second fleet did not decelerate, instead maneuvering for a swift pass against the first fleet at point-blank range, and a tight orbit of Equestria to come back around, rather than a direct approach and deceleration like the first fleet. As the first fleet decelerated on approach, the second fleet began to gain on them, and when the two met, all hell broke loose. By the end of the two minutes in which the two fleets were fully in weapons range of each other, both were at half, or less, the size they had been when arriving over Equestria.

The first fleet lost all of its pocket carriers, and one of the supercarriers, the massive ship erupting in a massive fireball that suggested an extremely volatile power source to Sky Ring. The mothership was pounded by merciless fire from all quarters of the enemy fleet, and displayed an astonishing durability, even as it disintegrated under the concentrated fire, breaking apart into large chunks rather than being destroyed altogether.

The second fleet lost far more for their troubles though, the intense beam weapons that formed a substantial part of the first fleet's armament having a considerably longer range, and therefore engagement envelope. The myriad of miscellaneous ships supporting the second fleets core vessels were almost completely exterminated, and the battle between strike craft was ended in the second fleet's favor. The second fleet also lost one of its own carriers, contributing to their ultimate loss of the strike craft engagement, and the first core vessel loss that Sky Ring had seen them suffer.

After the destruction of the first fleet's mothership, the change in the engagement's tone was sharp, the surviving carrier and battleship from the first fleet turning to engage the formation of bricks, tails, and repair spiders that had been harrying them since they entered the gravity well. With the second fleet's larger craft forced out of engagement range by their own built-up velocity, the detachment of smaller vessels had no support, and while they were faster than the first fleet's heavier ships, without the mothership slowing them down, the margin of difference was lethally small.

That engagement ended with the destruction of all of the second fleet's detached ships, but the first fleet lost its second supercarrier, and the battleship was heavily damaged. It could not even truly be called a fleet anymore, as all that remained was a single mutilated battleship, and the ovoid support vessel, both of which were now retreating out towards Bellerophon again.

The defeat and withdrawal of one side of the conflict would, however, do very little to protect Equestria from the debris their battle had left in her gravity well, much of it on a direct collision course for the planet's surface.

((()))

Skies of Equestria.

Rainbow Dash knew that, in space, things traveled at speeds far exceeding the speed of sound in Equestrian atmosphere, but by the time the shooting star descended to her altitude, she was quite capable of keeping up with them. And them it was, two shooting stars rather than one, and once they dropped to altitudes Dash was capable of functioning at herself, it became apparent that they weren't just rocks falling from the sky either.

They were Space Ships.

And they were Racing.

This was So Cool.

"There's nopony in Equestria faster than Rainbow Dash!" Rainbow shouted, and blitzed after the pair of descending craft.

They were both moving near Rainbow Dash's top speed, and a part of Rainbow recognized that she'd be disappointed if it had been too easy, and both were still maneuvering, the larger chasing after the smaller. Grinning, she bore down on the vessels, their maneuvers robbing them of speed, and allowing her to catch up all the quicker. Once she closed enough, it became necessary to follow the two vessel's movements herself, and Dash quickly realized that the leading vessel's pilot was the better flier, even if its maneuverability was restricted for some reason. The pilot maneuvered with subtlety and precision that Rainbow Dash dreamed about having, none of its turns very substantial, but a constant, ever-shifting chaotic sequence of flight that the second, larger craft struggled to imitate.

Then the pursuing craft fired a burst of supersonic projectiles at the leading craft, and Rainbow Dash's understanding of the entire situation changed drastically. This wasn't just a race, this was a chase, and from the look of things, a chase to the death. Guns, and really most weapons period, weren't very common in Equestria, but they did exist, and now that she was looking for it, she recognized what were probably weapon mounts on the forward ship as well.

Rapidly re-thinking the situation, Rainbow's eyes narrowed. Both ships were steadily decelerating as they descended, which allowed them both better maneuvering, and Rainbow guessed that the lead ship was most likely already damaged, and making a forced landing. Judging by their evasive maneuvers, rate of descent and deceleration, they could touch down anywhere from the Everfree Forest, to Ponyville, to the Ghastly Gorge. Most ponies would only have cared if the ships came in too close to Ponyville, but Rainbow Dash had a friend who lived right on the edge of the Everfree Forest, and she wasn't taking chances with them getting anywhere near Fluttershy's home.

Eyes steely with determination, the fastest flier in Equestria poured on the speed, and vectored towards the pair of ships.

((()))

ESA Sisterhood, Geosynchronous orbit of Equestria.

"Sir," Lieutenant Gray Thumb said, flicking her mane out of her face as she turned to face Commander Sky Ring, "We've received a hail from the alien fleet."

Commander Sky Ring was standing in the center of the small bridge, staring at the sensor feed that showed the surviving division of the second fleet coming back around Equestria.

Well, he thought, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before responding, This is where we find out just how messy this is really going to get.

"How's the linguistics package handling things?" He asked.

"It seems like they've got one of their own," Gray Thumb said, "The hail came in standard Equestrian."

"Patch them through then," Sky Ring said, bracing himself for whatever sort of unholy abomination would show up on his viewscreen.

When the viewscreen activated, Sky Ring's first impression was that he was looking at a furless Diamond Dog in a military uniform. The creature before him stood upright on its hind legs, its feet flat and protruding forward like a monkey's; its legs were long and clad in trousers that concealed their true shape. A belt held the trousers to its waist, and a long-sleeved uniform jacket with elaborate rank insignia and what Sky Ring suspected were a great number of medals covered it to the neck and fore-ankles.

Or 'wrists' I believe they're called, Sky Ring thought, as he realized that the creatures forelimbs, too short to be used for locomotion, and not joined correctly for the task either, They must be bipeds. The hands at the ends of the wrists were slender, and all but furless, with one thicker digit set off from the others. Sky Ring wondered vaguely what it was for. The creature's head was very nearly round, perched directly above its shoulders on a very short neck, with a thin dusting of fur along its jawline and around its mouth, the fur gray with what Sky Ring suspected was age. It had a small nose rather than a snout, and a steel-gray hat concealing the top of its head, though more fur peaked out from beneath the sides of it. Its face, on the whole, was weathered and lined, something that furthered Sky Ring's suspicion that it was mammalian, and of considerable age.

On the whole, it was an utterly alien creature, though not horrifying, or even particularly ugly. Then it opened its mouth and spoke, with a gravelly, strong voice.

"I am Admiral Wilkhaim Kol," It said, eying Sky Ring with some surprise, "Commander of the seventh fleet of the Trader Emergency Coalition. You have our apologies that our war has intruded on your system; we are ready to engage in operations to intercept the debris falling onto your world."

Sky Ring took in the creature's words for a moment, thinking rapidly through what the Princess might desire before responding.

"I am Commander Sky Ring, Commanding officer of the ESA Sisterhood. Your technology and numbers are both far superior to ours," Sky Ring said immediately, "Safeguarding the ponies of Equestria is paramount, please move with all speed to intercept everything you can. My communications officer will send you a list of all population centers in this hemisphere."

"Understood, Commander Sky Ring," Admiral Kol said gravely, "We will move with all speed."

Sky Ring nodded, and the communication was cut, putting the overview of near-Equestrian space back on the main viewer.

((()))

Skies of Equestria

Nopony flew like Rainbow Dash.

Nopony.

Most ponies wouldn't even think of buzzing directly between two aircraft doing more than two hundred miles per hour, especially when one was firing intermittently at the other.

Most ponies weren't Rainbow Dash.

Most ponies wouldn't take the pilots ignoring her as invitation to do it again.

Most ponies weren't Rainbow Dash.

Most ponies wouldn't take being ignored a second time as an invitation to fly up to the second ship, the one with the guns firing, move close enough to identify the cockpit, land on it, plaster her face against the cockpit canopy, and start making faces at the pilot inside.

Rainbow Dash did.

"Hah! Gotcha!" Rainbow Dash shouted, zooming up and away from the cockpit as the pilot jerked in surprise, the craft at least temporarily spiraling out of control as his hands jerked away from his control yoke to instinctively interpose themselves between the pilot's face and Rainbow Dash's leering head.

"Take that!" Dash shouted after the craft, then zipped ahead and down towards the leading ship, closing in to try and find its cockpit, wondering how the hay a Diamond Dog got a ship like that.

It didn't seem to have one though, and Rainbow Dash twisted around the ship in confusion. It was a sleek vessel, with a shallow central fuselage stretching out into a pair of wings that each had borne large weapon modules. Now the front half of one module was gone, and the central fuselage had taken at least two hits at some point along the way, exposing the ship's internal workings. It was in one of the damaged sections of the hull, that Rainbow Dash finally found the pilot. He was wedged into the space cleared in the hull by its damage, and waved gingerly at Rainbow as she looked at him.

Rainbow waved back, then gestured for him to follow her, and he nodded. Hoping that nodding meant the same thing to Diamond Dogs that it did to Ponies (and that she'd paid more attention to that part of social studies in school), Dash began guiding the smaller vessel off towards Ghastly Gorge. She knew she wouldn't have long, as it wouldn't take the second pilot long to regain control of his craft, and resume pursuit.

((()))

All across the skies of Equestria, TEC Capital Ships sped in low, swift orbits, their weapons lashing out to break up debris into chunks small enough for the atmosphere to dispose of during entry. What remained of their strike craft wings flew lower, into the atmosphere itself, to cut into the debris that had made it past their parent vessels. A substantial portion of the debris got through, but that was alright; most of Equestria was empty of sentient life, when measured square kilometer by square kilometer, and such areas did not need protection.

Perhaps most importantly for the TEC's efforts, the hulk of the destroyed mothership, which had broken up into seven primary pieces along with countless smaller fragments, spread itself out along an uninhabited archipelago near the eastern coast of Equestria's largest ocean. The archipelago was uninhabited, and word to the coast's inhabitants was spread in time for them to evacuate before the ensuing tsunami struck. Millions of gallons of seawater were vaporized in the impact, and two of the archipelago's islands were heavily damaged by direct hits, but as with the rest of the rain of debris, no lives were lost, even if there was considerable property damage.

((()))

Rainbow Dash winced as the damaged vessel crashed violently into the floor of Ghastly Gorge, dorsal hull shredding against the stone even as its trailing destruction slowed the ship down. The pilot had dropped it well though, and it bled out all of its momentum crossing the canyon's floor, and did not end up a flaming wreck crashed into one of the canyon walls. Instead, it ended up as a smoldering wreck near the end of the canyon.

Dash had landed atop the canyon wall herself, staying well-clear of the impact area, and would have moved down after the ship stopped moving, except the pursuing vessel had returned. It had caught back up with them just as the damaged vessel was falling below the lip of the gorge, and now it was landing directly in front of the crashed ship, its running lights cutting through the night to illuminate the vessel.

And the figure, too tall to be a Diamond Dog Dash now realized, staggering away from the wreck. It was bipedal, and completely covered by some sort of metallic suit, which she supposed made sense since it had come, you know, from space. Reentry had clearly been harsh on it, but it turned to face the landed vessel, and Rainbow Dash could see the anger and defiance in its stance.

Then two more creatures with similar shapes, but different clothing, disembarked from the intact ship, and warily approached the unsteady figure, with small pistols in their hands.

"Scum!" The first creature shouted, shocking Rainbow Dash by speaking in words she understood (aliens were supposed to speak in strange weird sounds, everypony knew that), "Come so that I may slay you!"

The pair responded by opening fire, drilling over a dozen shots into the first creature between the two of them. Some of them missed, and most of the rest were deflected by a shimmering barrier that reminded Rainbow of a Unicorn's Telekinesis, but at least some punched through it, and the creature fell back awkwardly onto the stone.

Rainbow shivered as the smell of blood wafted up to her nostrils, and she felt like crying as she realized the pilot was probably dead. But the shooters didn't relax, warily approaching him, and as a moment later the first creature struggled into a seated position, Rainbow realized it was because he wasn't dead, and they still considered him dangerous. He gestured forcefully at them, and a visible wave of magic washed towards the shooters, staggering them, and provoking them to open fire again.

Another dozen shots rang out, and this time they were too close to miss, and only a handful were deflected by the shimmering barrier, the others visibly causing his body to recoil.

Dash felt sick to her stomach; she didn't know why they were fighting, who the good guys were, who the bad guys were, but she still hated seeing death coming like this. The two shooters continued to carefully approach, one pulling of its helmet to reveal a round head, with a short mane, no fur on its face save for a set of eyebrows, and a grim expression on its narrow mouth.

"Think he's down yet?" The creature asked.

"No," The other creature said harshly, still wearing its helmet, "You saw his eyes? This one's a tough bastard, heavily augmented too. Would have to be to survive reentry and the g's he was pulling in turns."

Then the creature with its helmet on stomped on the first pilot's arm, breaking it with a snap Dash could hear all the way from the canyon top. The pilot, who had been trying to struggle upright again, spasmed with pain for an instant, then reached over with his other arm to grab the creature's leg.

The helmeted creature responded by kicking the arm away, then stomping on the first pilot's other arm, to break that too.

Dash threw up.

When she looked down again, she saw the helmeted creature pulling the first pilot's helmet off, and it didn't come easy. When it did come off, even though Dash had only seen one of their species faces before, it was obvious that what was revealed from beneath the helmet, was not what was meant to be. Apparently the heat of reentry had been harder on the creature than she'd first thought, because the skin of its face was warped with heat burns, and in places the skin was gone altogether, peeled way with the helmet to reveal muscle and bone beneath.

"Do you surrender," The helmeted creature said, kicking the creature's now exposed head, "Advent freak?"

The pilot spat at the helmeted creature, his spittle streaked with red blood, though Dash saw the gesture more than the spit itself. The helmeted creature responded by kicking the pilot's head again; whereas the first kick had been more of an insult than anything else, this kick was clearly intended to damage, and Dash winced as the pilot's head bounced off his shoulder.

"I was hoping you'd say that," The helmeted creature said venomously, and the pilot spat again, though he missed this time.

The helmeted creature kicked the pilot again, and Dash threw up again.

When she looked back down again, the helmeted creature was kicking the pilot again.

Then again.

And again.

"Keel!" The creature from the second ship who had taken off his helmet shouted, "If you're going to kill him, just kill him, this is cruel and unusual punishment!"

The helmeted creature snarled, and leveled another, more forceful kick, against the creature laying before him, and something audibly cracked, drawing a horrific scream from the injured creature, as its whole body began having a spastic fit, even the broken arms.

When Rainbow Dash heard that scream, something inside of her snapped. She didn't know why these creatures were fighting each other. She didn't know whether or not the wounded one was a horrible pony, or whatever he was, though she did admire his spirit. What she did know, was that what was being done to him was wrong and she had to stop it.

Leaping from the edge of the Ghastly Gorge with a fierce cry, Rainbow Dash hurled herself downward with every bit of speed she could manage.

That was when she realized that part of why she'd been able to break the sound barrier and achieve the Sonic Rainboom years ago in Cloudesdale, was because she was being driven by something larger than herself. Years ago, Fluttershy had needed someone to stand up for her, and not get beaten down doing it.

Now, there was a creature down there, an intelligent, talking creature, that needed saving, and there was nopony around but her to do it.

As Rainbow Dash descended from the lip of the canyon, she accelerated faster than any known flight-capable creature or machine ever had before, her Pegasus magic shredding the laws of Physics like so much unwanted newspaper, as she breached the sound barrier six feet above the floor of the Ghastly Gorge

Sonic Rainboom attained, she scooped up the injured creature with her forelegs, the magic of the Rainboom allowing her the 85 degree turn to not smash into the canyon floor, and not tear the creature in half when she slipped her forelegs under his shoulders and rocketed away.

In a blaze of multicolored light, Rainbow Dash blitzed past the Quarry Eels, maneuvered through the thorn-thicket faster than should have been physically possible, especially considering she avoided getting either herself or her passenger so much as nicked, careened through the wind tunnel, then cut up just high enough to skim across the plains around Ponyville towards Fluttershy's house.

Fluttershy was a fully qualified vet, if anypony knew how to treat a strange space-pony's injuries, she would.

((()))

Orbit of Equestria.

Admiral Wilkhaim Kol was tired, but grimly satisfied. His fleet had fought a long, hard battle, but had ultimately achieved victory, and at relatively light losses. One of the advantages to the highly durable construction philosophy employed by the TEC, and a very intentional advantage, was that even as ships were sustaining irrecoverable damage, they took a long time to break apart. Long enough for a large portion, usually the majority, of a crew to reach escape pods.

Like most of the TEC's officer core, Kol had a pronounced dislike of the Advent, and dearly wished they had remained in exile long enough to let the TEC finish defeating the Vasari. Unlike most TEC officers, he respected the Advent, even if he didn't like them, as the Advent never, ever attacked life pods. The same could not be said of the Vasari. The Vasari's only interest in humans was in slaves, and military personnel were generally less tractable than terrified civilians.

All said and done, his fleet had lost all its frigates and cruisers, save a handful of Hoshiko's and Cielo Command Cruisers, but only a single Sova Carrier amongst its Capital ships. None of the Akkans had been seriously damaged, something he was deeply grateful, considering the circumstances under which they had arrived in this system, and between the assorted Capital vessels, they had more than enough space for the survivors from the destroyed ships.

Clean-up of the mess that battle had made in this Terran world's gravity well was proceeding smoothly, his fatigued officers understanding full-well just how important good relations with the planet's natives would be if they were trapped in this system for the foreseeable future. Not to mention the basic moral imperative to not let their mess get anyone else killed.

What Wilkhaim had to deal with, and was ultimately solely his responsibility, was establishing relations with the natives.

Who, apparently, were sentient talking ponies.

How a species without opposable thumbs had managed an industrial revolution, much less to reach space, was far beyond him, but apparently they had, if only at an intra-solar level.

This was going to be just wonderful to explain to the TEC council when the fleet regained contact.

((()))

Edge of the Everfree Forest.

Fluttershy lurched awake as her sleep-addled brain tried to sort through the assault of sounds upon her sensitive ears. Rolling groggily out of bed, she stumbled onto all fours, and shrugged her wings to free her from the blankets that tried to drag her back into blissful sleep, and made her way to the front door of her homey little cottage. As she moved, the sleep cleared from her mind enough for her to recognize the voice shouting from outside her door.

"Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash shouted, "You gotta come quick, I don't know how much longer he'll live!"

That grabbed Fluttershy's attention and pumped adrenaline into her blood, her staggering became a swift canter, and she reached her front door in seconds. Pulling it open revealed Rainbow Dash, covered in sweat, and standing frantically beside a large four limbed creature with an injured and bleeding head that was in the middle of some kind of seizure.

"Oh no!" Fluttershy gasped, immediately moving forward to inspect the creature closely, "What happened? Where did you find it?"

"It fell out of the sky in a ship!" Dash gasped, "I think it was burned as it came through the atmosphere, then two more came down after it in another ship and started beating it up!"

Fluttershy nodded vaguely as she leaned down to place her head against its chest, where she could hear its heartbeat more clearly. It was steady and strong, despite the creature's seizure, so she decided it would be safe to move it again.

"Help me move it to my OR," Fluttershy said firmly, "I need to have a look at it under these clothes."

"Under the clothes?" Dash shouted, even as she helped Fluttershy lifted the wounded creature, "What about his face?"

"The facial burns are cauterized," Fluttershy said softly, as they carefully moved around Fluttershy's house towards her veterinary rooms in the back, "Painful, but they won't kill him if they haven't already. There's a lot of blunt trauma to the side of his head, but I need to make sure his heart and lungs are stable before I worry about his brain. How did you know he was male?"

"I dunno," Dash said, more subdued, "I guess he just sorta seemed like one?"

"Then we shouldn't call it a he," Fluttershy said firmly, "Until we learn more about its species, it could be a female for all we know."

"...Alright," Dash said, maneuvering a little to open the door into Fluttershy's OR, "I still think it's a he though."

"I think you're probably right, I don't see any female sexual characteristics common to mammals," Fluttershy agreed, "But it's best to be sure. Someponies get very offended if you mistake their gender."

"Yeah," Dash said as they eased the injured creature onto Fluttershy's operating table, "But this thing ain't a pony."

Fluttershy nodded, but said nothing, as she began collecting surgical implements and carrying them carefully over to the table.

"Dashie," Fluttershy said quietly, "This is going to be very messy. If you think you can help without being sick, I could use an assistant. Otherwise, could you please go in to Ponyville and get Rarity? I could use her telekinesis and may need her sewing skills before this is done."

Dash was torn for a moment; she wanted to help, but knew that she didn't have the timid pony's iron stomach for dealing with blood and guts. She'd thrown up twice just watching the creature get injured, and she knew that it would be a Very Bad Thing to throw up on a patient in the middle of surgery. Then she remembered that she was the fastest pony in Equestria; she could go get Rarity and carry her back in plenty of time to help as well herself.

"I'll go get Rarity," Dash said firmly, "Be back in a flash!"

Fluttershy nodded, and smiled at her friend, before turning to the creature on her operating table, and carefully lifting a scalpel with her mouth. Dash decided to leave before Fluttershy started cutting, and slipped out of the door, before rapidly accelerating towards Ponyville.

It wasn't something Fluttershy particularly liked to do, cutting another creature open, but she knew that sometimes you had to in order to fix what was wrong on the inside. For now, she was just cutting away the creature's clothing, judging the depth of her incisions by the amount of resistance she received from the reflective fabric. She cut open a simple square shape across the primary portion of the creature's flat chest for starters, then used a clamp to carefully peel it away.

As she had feared, most of the creature's skin came with its clothing, heat from atmospheric entry having cooked the metallic clothing onto its flesh. How it was still alive, Fluttershy had no idea, as most, if not all of its body had to be covered in burns, and that much damage would have killed any creature she had encountered before. Once she had finished peeling away the square of fabric, as well as most of the skin on the creature's chest, which made an ugly, wet, tearing sound as it came free, she had a nearly unobstructed view of the creature's muscles and rib cage.

What she found there shocked her. The creature's ribs were not simple bone, but had been augmented with a graceful interlacing of blue-gray metals. Its muscles (lean and in healthy condition Fluttershy noticed) were interwoven with white strands that Fluttershy instinctively knew were not natural. Using a probe to carefully displace the muscles over its left ribs allowed her just enough sight to see that the creature's heart clearly had some sort of mechanical enhancement upon it as well, which was probably part of the reason the creature wasn't dead from shock.

Fluttershy fretted for a few minutes as she eyed the creature's exposed chest, but ultimately decided she shouldn't interfere with something so far from her understanding. She was fairly certain that having its clothes fused to its skin couldn't be healthy, no matter what enhancements it had, so she carefully began to cut away the clothing, this time focusing on separating the garment from the skin with horizontal strokes, rather than opening access further into its body with vertical incisions.

Being of a naturally reserved temperament, and the mirror to Dash's speed and power over control, Fluttershy's deft handling of the scalpel began to efficiently cut loose the metal fabric, revealing more and more of the creature's skin. Fluttershy started with the rest of the creature's chest, then worked her way up and down its legs, then arms, working the areas with even surfaces and few potential surprises as practice before risking the creature's joints or groin.

Besides, no matter how many times Fluttershy ended up working around a creature's groin, she always felt terribly awkward moving around their reproductive organs. It just seemed like she was intruding on something terribly private, and since this was apparently an intelligent creature, she wasn't sure she'd be able to work up the nerve to do it at all.

By the time Dash returned with Rarity, Fluttershy was just beginning to carefully work on freeing the creature's hands from the scorched clothing. It was clear from both ponies aggravated expression that most of the time it had taken was spent dragging Rarity out of bed, a process which obviously neither had enjoyed.

"Rarity," Fluttershy said faintly, "This thing's clothing is burned into its skin. Can you help me cut it loose?"

Rarity, clad in a pink bathrobe and with her mane up in curlers, eyed the mutilated creature somewhat queasily, but nodded.

"Do you know what it is?" She asked as her telekinesis took hold of one of Fluttershy's scalpels, and began maneuvering with Rarity's characteristic precision towards the hand Fluttershy was not working on.

"No," Fluttershy said, "The closest thing I've seen is a Diamond Dog, but this creature bears no direct resemblance to a canine, aside from being a mammal."

Rarity nodded, and the two set to work, stripping the rest of the creature's garments off. Fluttershy was exceedingly grateful for the Pegasus' help, Fluttershy was quite skilled with fine manipulation, but nopony she had ever met could match Rarity's precision with her telekinesis. She was especially grateful that the Pegasus volunteered to handle the creature's pelvic region while Fluttershy dealt with its feet. After they finished stripping the front of the creature, Rarity flipped it with her telekinesis, and they swiftly cleared the flesh of its back.

Once they were done, Fluttershy visually inspected the creature's body. In some places, its skin had been burnt beyond recovery, and she enlisted Rarity's aid in gently clearing these patches of destroyed skin, which extended to muscle damage in some places. By and large though, they managed to save the rest of the creature's skin, except for that over its elbows and kneecaps. What they could see of its muscles and bones through the missing patches of skin showed similar alterations to what was visible on the front of its chest.

They found seven bullets in the man's flesh, two of which had smashed themselves flat, literally, against the creature's bones, and the rest of which had needed to be dug out of its reinforced muscles. Fluttershy was rather frightened by the possible implications of such invasive implants, and them being needed to protect against bullets, but chose to focus on the patient's other issues once they'd dug the mashed slugs out of its body.

With their inspection of the rest of its body completed, Fluttershy began to cautiously perform a closer inspection of its head, Rarity helpfully shaving away the creature's short, messy mane as she did so. Fluttershy found that that one side of the creature's head had been scraped partially bare of skin, revealing an armored skull underneath. Unlike the other bones in the creature's body, the skull was not simply reinforced with the blue-gray alloy, it was entirely encompassed by it, save a few places where small electronic devices protruded from it.

"You said two other creatures like this one attacked it," Fluttershy said softly, looking to Rainbow Dash, who was watching queasily from next to Fluttershy's utility sink, "Did they strike it in the side of the head?"

"That was the only place they were hittin' it," Dash said, "Somethin' in the last kick made him, er, it, start screaming, and that's when I took him away."

"Judging by the seizure it was having when you brought it in," Fluttershy said, "I think they broke one of these implants," She pointed at the damaged hardware with a probe, "Which is probably connected to its brain. I don't know what to do with this, or if anypony knows what to do with something like this. It'd probably be best to take it to the Royal College of Medicine, they're the only place I know of that might be experimenting with cybernetics like this."

"Ah," Rarity said, "Pardon me, Fluttershy, I know I am not as experienced with medical matters as you, but aren't burns this extensive, much less the blood loss from the bullet wounds, usually fatal?"

"Yes," Fluttershy said, nodding sadly, "But here, let me show you. Dash, you should see this too."

Taking a probe in hand, Fluttershy carefully displaced the muscles over the left side of the creature's chest just enough for the other two ponies to catch sight of the creature's clearly-modified heart.

"Its other organs are probably modified too," Fluttershy said softly, "And that's why its still alive."

Silence reigned in the room for a long moment, eventually broken by Rainbow Dash.

"So what do we do now?" She asked

"Unless you want to take it to Canterlot tonight," Rarity said firmly, "You will be taking me home now, and then we will all get some sleep."

((()))

The Unity was gone.

Gone.

Gone.

How was I still alive?

Man was not meant to be this alone. It wasn't right.

No wonder the Traders are such evil bastards, if they have to live like this all the time.

My mind was a roiling ruin, the damage to my augmetics having shattered the hyperlink between myself and the rest of the Unity, and the damage the Trader's kick had dealt messing up my natural telepathy, and screwing with my control of everything, and anything, else, as well.

My body was an incarnation of agony, my pharmacope long since drained of painkillers, the burns across my entire body trying to convince my brain to shut down and kill me, but my combat-augs denying death. Up until the last kick, the support from the augs would have been unnecessary, my will alone more than enough to push back death's offense upon my being, but being cut off from the Unity...

Man was not meant to live in such ways.

I wept, the damage to my face turning my tears to streaks of blood.

((()))

Fluttershy started slightly as her sensitive ears heard a faint dripping sound. She lay huddled in her blankets, thoughts of what had happened to the creature down in her OR preventing her from sleep. Worse were the thoughts of what would drive a creature to do that to its body in the first place, and the horrible recognition that it had been right to do so, as the heavy modifications to its body were all that kept it alive.

She heard the dripping sound again, and took it as a welcome excuse to leaver her bed behind, rolling out of bed, and leaving her bedroom to track the sound. Angel Bunny, ever sensitive to her moods, came bouncing up to her, and leapt onto her back, fully intent on keeping her company as she moved through her darkened house.

It took only the third drip for her to home in on the sound, and entered her OR to find a dark liquid falling from the table where the creature lay to the floor. Fluttershy turned on the lights, and discovered that the creature was trembling again, and crying tears of blood. Her heart lurched violently within her chest, just as it did whenever she saw a wounded creature in pain, and she desperately wished she understood its biology well enough to give it a pain-killer.

Instead, she gave the creature the comfort she gave all the wounded animals that came into her care, climbing carefully up onto the table beside it, then gently laying herself down beside it, so that her flanks just brushed against its damaged flesh, and gently began nuzzling the few undamaged portions of its face with her snout, whispering reassuring nothings to it as it cried.

((()))

Something touched me, and I could feel the presence of another. It wasn't through my body that I sensed it, it would have taken the removal of a limb for me to notice something through the pain, it was through an empathic connection that I felt the other's presence, something that with my implants destroyed, I was only capable of through touch.

But with touch, I could feel the other, definitely a female, and its deep concern and worry for me. A personal warmth and compassion I had not felt for twelve years. I clung to that presence desperately, clinging tightly lest the chaos being rent from the Unity should tear my mind apart, and let it soothe me to sleep.

((()))

Fluttershy smiled sadly as the flow of tears gradually trickled off, the creature's eyes closed, and it drifted off to sleep. Though she knew it was far from healed, she could tell that, even if just a little, she had helped relieve some of the creature's pain.

And that was enough to let her find sleep, Angel Bunny snuggling down in her mane to rest with her.

((()))

Canterlot Royal Library.

"Twilight?" A gentle but strong voice called, rousing the young Unicorn from her slumber.

For that voice, Twilight Sparkle would have found a way to wake from the dead, if she could.

"Yes Princess?" She blurted out, snapping upright from where she'd fallen asleep (again) on one of the Royal Library's many volumes on magic.

Her movement was an overcompensation, causing her to tip over and fall flat on her back, ending up looking at Princess Celestia, the ruler of all Equestria, upside down and backwards. The white and pastel Alicorn smiled tiredly down at the young pony, and with a quick flip of her Telekinesis, flipped Twilight upright and placed her gently on her feet.

"Come, Twilight Sparkle," Celestia said, "Much has happened this night, and it is time for you to begin a new type of learning, which may be more important than any other field you have ever studied."

"Yes Princess," Twilight said, excitement beginning to show through the fatigue in her eyes as she trotted contendedly after the Alicorn.

Following on in the Princess footsteps as the Alicorn brought her to new learning, new understanding, really, there was no place Twilight would rather be. She was worried for Celestia though, the Princess was always tired, even though she hid it from most of the others, and now here she was, up, working in the middle of the night. Twilight was happy the Princess was bringing her to learn something, but dearly wished Celestia would rest more.

She was still trying to work up the courage to plead that the Alicorn rest more, but, well, she was the Princess.

Tonight though, they crossed from the castle library, to the castle's modern communication center, a place that Twilight rarely visited, and was thus curious as to why she was being led to it.

"Now Twilight," Celestia said as they entered, "As I recall, you've read a few papers that speculate on the possibility and nature of alien civilizations?"

"Yes Princess," Twilight said as they entered the largest video conferencing chamber in the castle, "I've read White Gazer's On Possibilities of life beyond the Void, Long Mane's If Aliens Really Are Out There, as well as several less popular works."

"Good," Celestia said, nodding approvingly down at her pupil, "So you have some mental framework of understanding relating to the subject?"

"Yes Princess," Twilight said, smiling up at the tall Alicorn.

"Good," Celestia said, and then smiled that smile, "Gazer and Mane were both wrong, the aliens are bipedal mammals."

And with that, she flipped on the communications rig, revealing a nearly furless bipedal mammal on screen.

"Good evening Admiral Kol," Celestia said, smiling gracefully at the biped, "I am Celestia, Absolute Monarch of all Equestria. I must thank you for cleaning up that little mess you and your playmates made in orbit before it injured any of my subjects."

"As you apparently are already aware," The biped said, "I am Admiral Wilkhaim Kol, the ranking officer of the TEC forces currently in this sector. No thanks are necessary, as it is only responsible to clean up after a battle that should not have intruded into your system in the first place."

"Not everyone is so responsible," Celestia said graciously, "And it makes for a much better first impression than simply showing up in my system, shooting things up, then trying to leave. Now, what is it you wished to speak to me about?"

"A number of things, in time," Kol said, "But most urgently, I wish to offer the aid of my support and medical personnel in dealing with whatever damage and casualties debris did cause, and request your permission to send rescue and recovery parties to the surface for any of my people who were forced down during the fighting."

"Granted," Celestia said, "On one condition. You and I will meet, personally, aboard the Sisterhood in one hour."

"Agreed," Kol said, some surprise showing on his features, "I will look forward to meeting you in person."

"As will I," Celestia said, before cutting the channel.

Twilight stared at the now-dark video screen for a long time, still shocked at what she had just witnessed, though eventually, her curiosity overcame her shock, and the questions began.

"What was that?" Twilight asked breathlessly.

"They're called 'humans,'" Celestia said, "They're bipedal mammals, reproduce sexually with a male and female gender following very similar physiological means to Equestrian mammals, are omnivores, and quite probably the most adaptive species you will ever encounter."

"You've encountered them before?" Twilight asked.

"Yes," Celestia said, nodding, "Though it has been millennia since. Now, you should go and get something to eat, and some writing material, as our meeting may take quite some time, and I'm sure you'd like to take notes."

Twilight nodded, and was out the door, well on her way to the kitchens before she realized that Celestia meant she would be going with the Princess, into space. Twilight didn't think she'd be able to sleep any more tonight after that revelation, even with Gorstaff's Somnambulation Spell.

((()))

Orbit of Equestria.

"Ponies, sir?" asked Captain Joanne Gregorovich, CO of the Thermadine, the Akkan-class Battlecruiser serving as Kol's flagship since the loss of the Indefatigable.

"You heard me," Kol said, smiling wryly at the woman on his comm screen, "Almost dead ringers for miniature horses, save the unusual head with a clearly-enlarged cranium, and vivid coloring. I spoke with a 'Celestia,' apparently their reigning monarch. As no one else has seen fit to contact us, I gather the title is at least partially valid."

"If you say so sir," Joanne said, her expression perfectly respectful even as her voice conveyed her 'the boss is the boss even if he's crazy' tone, which he was becoming all-too accustomed to considering he had only been aboard the Thermadine for three days.

"I do," Kol said, amping his smile up a tad, just for effect, "And I've got a meeting with this 'Celestia' aboard that hula-hoop they've got in orbit. Could I trouble you to have a launch run out for me?"

"Our senior flag officer, meeting with an unknown new species on potentially hostile ground?" Gregorovich asked.

"Yes," Kol said, entirely serious now, "It was the condition for granting our S&R teams freedom to land on the surface."

The Captain stared intently at Kol for a few moments, and Kol met her gaze evenly.

"Your launch will be ready in Bay three," She said abruptly, "It should be prepared before you arrive."

"Thank you Captain," Kol said, nodding, "Flag Bridge out."

((()))

ESA Sisterhood, Geosynchronous orbit of Equestria.

Sky Ring was, rather understandably, a little bit nervous. Apparently, his station was to be the sight of a major diplomatic meet, between the ranking 'Hewman' and the Princess herself. Considering the technology the Hewmans possessed, this would be the most important event in Sky Ring's life, much less his career. Things going badly could result in the death of everypony on Equestria, save the Princess herself.

He was also, rather understandably, excited. He had met with the Princess before several times, as he was one of the ranking members of the ESA, but to be present at First Contact?

This was why he had joined the ESA in the first place.

It had taken eighteen years with the ESA to rise to the position he now held, having captained an atmosphere lifter, then an ore-hauler working the asteroid fields, and finally a genuine explorator vessel on a mission out to the iceballs past Bellerophon and Magnus, the system's primary gas giants, before being assigned to command of the Sisterhood. The Sisterhood itself was the largest single space-born construct ever built by Ponykind, built in the form of an enormous ring, consisting of three primary structural elements.

The innermost ring was the simplest, mounting a large array of inward-facing solar panels for power, and small modules containing an organic glop Sky Ring did not entirely understand, but served the plant-kingdom function of cycling carbon dioxide back to oxygen for ponies to breath. Joining it to the central ring were an array of floating joints which only maintained direct contact via ball-bearings, rotating power/atmosphere exchangers that attached and detached as it rotated, and the motivator assembly that controlled the ring's rotation. The inner ring served as inertial counter-weight to the central ring, the motivators spinning it in counter to the central ring, maintaining the central ring's Equestrian-standard gravity.

The central ring was three decks deep, the outermost/lowermost deck being double-deep, and contained almost the entirety of the station's usable volume. Crew quarters, machine shops, science labs, a small enclosed park for when a pony just had to feel grass under his hooves and hear the birds singing, medical facilities, anything and everything it was more efficient to have handled in orbit, rather than burn fuel and telekinetic power on trans-atmospheric travel.

The outer ring was configured to hold near-zero rotation, and was joined to the central ring via a series of mobile airlocks. Bureaucrats had screamed about the expenses involved in building something as complex as the Sisterhood, but fortunately Princes Celestia had possessed a much better grasp of how foolish it would be to try and dock something as fragile as an ore hauler to anything rotating fast enough to generate appreciable gravity. The outer ring contained a large series of docking hardpoints, as well as ore smelting and refining machinery.

Ever since it had been completed seventeen years ago, the Sisterhood had been the largest single space-born construct in the Equestrian system, as well as the largest single command. Sky Ring was more than proud to have it, even if he would have preferred to continue Explorator work in the hope of making first contact. As the extra-equestrials had ended up coming to them instead of the other way around, Sky Ring was quite happy with the way things had worked out.

In the end, he had decided to use the largest free space in the central ring for the meeting, as apparently the Hewmans were considerably taller than your average pony. Not to mention how tall Princess Celestia herself was. He just hoped that whatever docking equipment the Hewmans used, it was compatible with the ESA's standardized equipment, or else adaptive, because he didn't really have much ability to change things on his end.

Now, waiting in the outer ring to meet 'Admiral Kol' in person, he was forcing himself to patience. First pony to make official first contact with an advanced alien race? He could die happy after today.

Then he heard the faint metallic clang of docking clamps locking into place through the hull, and he smiled. It was a few moments yet before he heard the outer hatch open, then he waited another few seconds before opening the inner hatch himself. Showtime.

"Greetings," Sky Ring said, "And on behalf of the Princess, welcome to the ESS Sisterhood."

Inside of the airlock were two obvious guards, and behind them he could just see a gray-bearded male hewman, and that there were others behind him. It was also painfully obvious that the Sisterhood was built on far too small a scale to be comfortable for the hewmans, Sky Ring was certain they wouldn't be able to stand upright, or even come close.

"Salutations," The older man said, as the guards maneuvered themselves out into the corridor, revealing that it was, indeed, Admiral Kol following behind them, "Glad to be here, even if we're a mite big for your construction."

"That would be a polite way of putting it," Sky Ring said as he stared up at the man, "I believe we spoke once before, Admiral Kol?"

"Indeed, Commander Sky Ring," Kol said, his right arm twitching for a moment as he suppressed the instinct to go for a handshake, "Amongst humans, shaking hands during greetings is customary, do ponies have any customs of a similar nature?"

"Hooves," Sky Ring said, stretching his hoof out towards the hewman.

The hewman took his hoof, and they shook, then cleared out of the way so the other hewmans could pass through the airlock.

"This is Joanne Gregorovitch," Kol said, as another hewman with a somewhat different overall shape and a much longer mane came through, "My Flag Captain."

Sky Ring offered her his hoof as well, and they shook. He studied her for a moment, before speaking.

"Excuse me," He said, "But are you a female?"

"Yes," She said, raising an eyebrow at him.

"While in ponies the anatomical differences are more subtle," Sky Ring said, "We are familiar with sexual dimorphism. Is anyone else coming aboard?"

"No," Kol said, "Just Joanne, the marines, and myself."

"Well then," Sky Ring said, "If you'll follow me, I'll lead you to the appointed meeting hall. It's only a cargo hold, but it's probably the only space on the station with enough depth for you to stand comfortably."

"Probably better this way," Kol said, smiling, "Once you've got the budget for luxuries like formal meeting halls, the politicians start feeling it's worth their while to come out and 'supervise' things."

"And then nothing gets done," Sky Ring said with a smile, "I am so glad the Princess lends personal oversight to the ESA."

"She's not much for bureaucracy?" Kol asked.

"No," Sky Ring said, "And she has an eidetic memory, so you could say she is the antithesis of bureaucracy. She can literally balance a multi-billion bit budget in her head."

"That's... very impressive," Kol said.

"The Princess is very impressive," Sky Ring said emphatically, "You'll see when you meet her."

Kol nodded, and they passed the rest of their transit time in silence, eventually reaching the cargo bay that had been roughly set up to serve as a meeting hall. When they arrived, the assorted humans were quite grateful for the expanded legroom, even though they had fewer legs than their hosts. Kol himself was feeling nostalgic; the bay's purely utilitarian nature reminding him of simpler days, back before he had needed to play politics and deal with all the trappings thereof. In addition he, like his subordinates, appreciated the opportunity to stand upright.

With a sudden burst of light, the bay held two new sentients. The first, and most obvious, was a large, regal creature that was either a slightly small horse, or a very large pony. She, and her femininity was somehow clear despite the different species, was so white she almost glowed, with a pastel rainbow of color for a mane and tail, as well as white wings and a large horn. She was adorned with some minimalistic ceremonial golden armor and a crown, but despite having the characteristic shimmer of real gold, she moved as though it was weightless. The second Pony was much smaller, smaller even than the Ponies that Kol had already met, though not by much; Wilkhaim guessed that she was an adolescent. She was purple, with a darker purple mane and tail with a single pink streak through each.

Like all the other Ponies he had encountered so far, these each had a marking on their hind flanks, a stylized sun for Celestia, and a star pattern for the purple one.

"Greetings, Admiral Kol," Celestia said, utilizing the 'voice of command' with more skill than Kol had thought possible, and managing somehow to sound genuinely welcoming at the same time, "It has been some thousands of years since humans have come to our world. I suppose it is fortunate that the language does not appear to have changed much."

"Greetings, Princess Celestia," Kol said, raising an eyebrow, "I was unaware that our races had mutual history."

"Oh, you wouldn't be," Celestia said with a smile that somehow seemed to suggest it was a smirk, even though it wasn't, "This would be, oh, nine and a half thousand years ago. It's nice to see a human again though, your kind can often make excellent friends and allies, as your own earnest efforts to clean up the mess your battle made in our gravity well prove. Humans can be very honorable."

"You flatter us," Kol said gravely, "The fact that we are in a war with our own species, unfortunately, proves that we can be just as dishonorable as we can be honorable."

"Yes," Celestia said sadly, "Unfortunately, I am also aware of that aspect of human nature. However, there is a saying that applies equally well to both of our races, I believe you call it the carrot and the stick?"

"I am familiar," Kol said with a nod, "Why?"

"A demonstration," Celestia said, with a smile that this time was definitely a smirk, "Please select, if you would, a phrase of particular meaning, and tell me what it is?"

"Ah," Kol said, a little surprised at the request, but hardly unwilling, "Sic Semper Tyranis."

"Ohhh, Latin," Celestia said with a smile, "I'm surprised any humans still bother with it. It was nearly a lost language back in the day. One moment."

The regal Pony's eyes focused on something distant for a moment, then flashed with an internal light that Kol had never heard of in any sort of unmodified life form before. Then her eyes focused on him again, and there was something terribly mischevious about the way she looked at him.

"You may wish to contact the vessels you have running rescue operations closer to our star," Celestia said, "And ask for a visual feed."

Kol carefully measured her gaze and body language as best he could, then did as the Monarch suggested. It was not difficult for him to convince his staff to forward him a feed from one of the Hoshiko's using its drones for rescue work in the star's near orbit, and within thirty seconds, the visual feed was being displayed by the hologram emitter built into his PDA.

A solar flare was emerging from the star, like no natural formation he had ever seen, and as the seconds passed, it became clear that it held a very deliberate shape, spelling out Sic Semper Tyranis.

"As you can see, Admiral," Celestia said, her voice suddenly full of iron, hard gaze locked on to Kol as her presence filled the hold with oppressive force, "My name is not simply for show. I hold absolute control of this system's star, and by no mere technological device or means. One could say that I am a Pyrokinetic on a scale beyond any humans have known before. So while my Pony's civilization may possess technology inferior to your own, and the other sentient species of this world even less, I would have you, and more importantly the merchant and political factors of your own society, remember that Equestria never negotiates from a position of weakness."

For a long, long moment, Kol forced himself to hold Celestia's gaze, and he was man enough to admit to himself he was relieved when she turned it upon first Captain Gregorovich, then the members of his bodyguard detail. Eventually, however, she had achieved her purpose with the almost-glare, and the suffocating presence receded.

"Now, that said," Celestia said her expression softening into a small smile, "Will you accept our Friendship?"

((()))

Edge of the Everfree Forest.

Fluttershy woke late that morning, at nearly 8 AM. Even worse, from her perspective, she would have slept in even more if it were not for the sound of somepony knocking on her door. She was cold, and a little bit cramped, from sleeping on the operating table, but when she roused enough to realize that the strange creature had begun to cling to her at some point during the night, she felt much warmer.

It was good to be needed.

Somepony knocked on the door again, harder this time, and Fluttershy felt the creature beside her begin to stir.

"Just a minute!" She shouted faintly, something she would never have had the courage to do if the pony at the door wasn't disturbing one of her patients.

After gently nuzzling the burnt creature for a moment, Fluttershy carefully slipped herself out of its loose grasp, glided down from the surgical table, then trotted off towards the front door. She yawned along the way, groggily shaking her head, and tossing her mane to the side, before she arrived at her front door. Once she reached the door, she paused, and took a deep breath to brace herself for interaction with others, and newcomers at that, something that always terrified her.

Then she opened the door, and opened her mouth to speak.

Fluttershy froze.

Then she tilted her head ninety degrees to the side and stared at the two bipedal creatures standing outside of her house, towering over her.

Recognition dawned.

"Oh!" Fluttershy said brightly, "I didn't recognize your species with the skin still intact. Are you male?"

The two men nodded slightly, startled by her sudden change in demeanor. One opened his mouth to speak, but Fluttershy beat him to the punch.

"Please do come inside," She said, "He's very, very injured, and while I pulled the bullets out, I don't know how to heal him properly."

"He's injured?" One of the men said as the two stooped down to waddle into Fluttershy's house after her, "We don't have a medic with us, we just thought one of our crashed pilots had bunked with a local for the night."

"Quite injured," Fluttershy said, fascination and purpose driving away her natural reticence, "Rainbow Dash said that he had nothing but his clothing and helmet on during atmospheric entry, and the heat burned his suit into his flesh."

Fluttershy drooped, both in posture and in tone, before continuing as she pushed open the door to her OR.

"As you can see-" She began softly, then was struck silent as she saw that the creature was sitting up, and staring at them.

His face was the only part of his body with skin even marginally intact, and it was somehow much, much worse seeing the two strips along the bottom of his cheekbones where his skin had been torn free. The implants and augmentations added to his body were also clearly visible through his ravaged skin, and drew a response from the two newcomers that Fluttershy had not even remotely expected.

"Advent!" one of them screamed, and both reached for the weapons on their belts.

The creature on her operating table slashed the air with both arms, and twin waves of force swept across the OR towards the newcomers. The older of the two dove out of the way, his pistol firing off wildly as he dove, the younger tried to fire through the wave of force, but his shots were swept aside by it, and then he was struck, blasting him back into Fluttershy's house.

Most of the wall surrounding the doorway went with him. Fluttershy stared in shock at the creature, then yelped as a gesture from his hand swept her across the floor towards him. The instant that she came into contact with his seared flesh, she was overwhelmed with a terrifyingly intense deluge of emotions, a bewildering mixture of protective/defensive urge, and incandescent rage combined with the desire to kill.

Fluttershy shivered as the creature wrapped its arm around her; she had never felt the urge to kill before, and never wanted to again.

Shots rang out as the older newcomer began firing on the 'Advent,' but he raised a shield of force and deflected the shots, before sending another thrust of energy, this one more narrow, more focused, at the gunman, forcing him to dodge again. The lance of force tore another hole through the wall of the OR, then Fluttershy's kitchen, then the living room, and out of the house altogether.

"Reinforcements in three!" Shouted the younger newcomer from the kitchen, as he stormed back into the OR, opening fire on the Advent again.

The Advent snarled, and Fluttershy could feel urgency rise in his emotions as he held her tighter to his chest. A terrible purpose seized him, and energy began to gather visibly around him.

"Shit!" The older newcomer shouted, "Get out of here, he's going to Nova!"

Both of the newcomers fled, the older through the hole in the wall beside him, the younger through the smashed kitchen door.

"I'm sorry," The Advent growled out, his voice as rough and torn as body.

Fluttershy looked up at him, quivering in terror, to see that his eyes were literally glowing with power.

Then he blinked, and the world shattered.

((()))

Master Sergeant Davrek Stamros was a soldier with experience. Few men had fought the Advent on the ground, and lived to tell the tale; he was one of them. He strongly suspected that it was this experience that had resulted in him being assigned to Kol's fleet. That Kol had immediately assigned Stamros, along with all of the other combat veteran Marines to the Akkans of the fleet, was all Stamros needed to know that the man deserved his reputation.

Stamros' personal experience and seniority had also fetched him the assignment to go on Search and Rescue in this area, since a bomber crew had reported that at least one Advent had survived landing in this region, though he had been shot repeatedly before escaping. The junior Louey that had given out the retrieval orders had implied that they should keep their eyes out for a corpse, but Stamros had expected more than that.

He hadn't expected one of the Advent to go to ground with the natives. He supposed he shouldn't have been so surprised; the Advent had always kept themselves largely isolated from local populations when they captured a world, but those had all been human worlds. These ponies were messing with everything. Stamros also hadn't expected to run into a damn Telekinetic, the rarest psychic gift that the Advent had, something Stamros was damn glad of. With training you could learn to keep a telepath from screwing with your thoughts too badly, but there was nothing that could stop a Telekinetic except for AP rounds into the brainpan.

And as Davrek sprinted away from the picturesque little cottage, he dearly wished that his hyper-penetrators had managed to pierce the damn Advent's TK shields.

Something, Davrek was not sure what, screamed at his instincts, and Davrek hurled himself to the ground, a moment before the Cottage exploded.

'Exploded' was both not the technically correct term for what happened to Fluttershy's home, and simply too puny of a word to adequately convey what Stamros narrowly evaded.

Parallel vertical lines of force scythed out through the house at the C-fractional speeds Advent Psintegrats were trained to operate at. They were spaced less than a millimeter apart, and formed a contiguous expanding dome centered upon the Advent's position. Between the sheer forces exerted by the blades, the kinetic energy they imparted as they sliced through the structure, and the heat generated by the ensuing friction, every single item within and structural component of Fluttershy's house was reduced to the consistency of sawdust. The friction caused by the pressure wave cased the aerosolized house to ignite.

This caused an explosion, as Fluttershy's disintegrated house functioned like an extremely crude fuel-air bomb.

The only thing that saved Stamros' life, was the fact that the destruction of Fluttershy's house had been so complete, that there was no shrapnel for the pressure wave to cut him to shreds with.

((()))

Fluttershy had never been so terrified in her life; not even when she had fallen all the way from Cloudesdale to the outskirts of the Everfree Forest.

The creature carrying her screamed out his rage, glaring out over the crater and melting bits of metal that remained of Fluttershy's house, then abruptly soared up into the air. Their initial ascent was smooth, but when he turned to fly over the Everfree forest, his course became very uneven, the creature wildly swerving about.

And he was somehow still pumping his emotions into her through his touch; anger, protectiveness, confusion, pain, and disorientation. Fluttershy rather abruptly realized that his ears had probably been damaged, and he was flying as best he could while heavily disoriented. They did not fly for long, though he set a terrific (and terrifying) pace, their path becoming more and more erratic until he half-landed, half crashed them down beside a river, tucking her in to his chest at the last moment in so that she was cushioned by his body.

Rolling off his body and skidding across the riverbank still hurt, but she had experienced worse, and immediately rolled back onto her hooves to go and check on him. His scorched skin had cracked in at least a dozen places she could see, and he was bleeding from all of them; his breathing shallow and irregular, something it hadn't been last night, and that worried her.

"Oh no," Fluttershy said softly, nuzzling around the creature's head as she tried to look into his eyes and see if he was in shock, "I can't treat this out here, and you've probably gotten grass into your wounds, and…"

"Shhh…." The creature said, his voice raw and cracking, and he reached up with one hand to touch the side of her snout.

This time, when he touched her, his emotions were far less jumbled, and clear thought came with them.

Thank you, his voice said in her mind, much gentler and smoother than his physical one, For your compassion, little one. I am sorry to have brought the Traders upon your house, but I will endeavor to make it right.

He hesitated for a moment, and Fluttershy simply basked in the gratitude and concern she could feel from him, even though it was backed by the substantial physical pain he was in.

This is my nephew, his voice came into her mind again, this time accompanied by an image of a smaller creature of his species, standing beside another, even smaller one with a much longer mane, And my niece. If you find them on this world, please protect them. Avoid the Traders, they will fear you for your gifts, and attempt to destroy or control you.

Then he smiled at her; she thought it was meant to be reassuring, but as it made blood pour out from the wounds in his cheeks, it wasn't very successful.

She still smiled back at him, and brushed her muzzle against his hand.

He closed his eyes, grimaced, and Fluttershy felt power flow through her, making her gasp at the alien, mildly intrusive sensation as it thoroughly disoriented her.

By the time she recovered her senses, he was gone, a receding dot in the sky, and a shimmering dome of energy prevented Fluttershy from attempting to follow.

((()))

Few souls within the Advent are so warm, or caring. I was honored to be cared for by such a one, even as I unintentionally brought ruin down upon her.

Now, as best I could with my equilibrium thoroughly shattered, I made course for the Trader ships I could feel in orbit. Nothing would draw their attention more quickly than a threat to one of their Akkan-class vessels, and I intended to draw their attention as far from the forest as I possibly could.

((()))

Orbit of Equestria.

"Sir," Said Geoff Magnusson, the Thermadine's sensor officer, "I've just picked up something accelerating towards orbital velocity coming up from the planet's surface. It's bearing is roughly appropriate to meet up with us."

"What is it?" Captain Gregorovitch asked, crossing the bridge to stand behind the officer.

"Small," The Lieutenant said, "I'd say it was a surface-to-orbit missile, but the acceleration profile is too low-" He broke off, and Joanne leaned over his shoulder to see what had changed.

"Looks like it's leveled out at about sixteen klicks," He continued, "Decelerated damn fast, too."

Joanne's eyes narrowed.

"TacInt!" The Captain bellowed, "Were there any reports of Advent forces making it to the surface?"

"None confirmed alive, ma'am," Lieutenant Commander Andrea Boston, ranking Tactical Intelligence officer of the Thermadine said, "The Archipelago where the Progenitor's primary fragments went down is still a mess, but we've got lots of eyes on it. One report of an Advent fighter drone carrying one of them down, but he's listed presumed dead."

"Where did that Anima go down?" Gregorovitch demanded, glaring sharply at Boston.

"Er," Boston said, a note of distaste entering her face and voice, "Near 'Ponyville.'"

"That's the region my contact originated from," Magnusson said.

"Get a capture team down there, on the double," Gregorovitch barked, crossing the bridge to get back to her chair, "And find out who the hell decided that a Telekine was presumed dead. I'm going to give the Admiral a call."

((()))

16,000 meters above the Everfree Forest.

Unfortunately for me, they didn't send fighters down after me. They sent three capture craft, which were essentially utility shuttles equipped with light armor and incredibly expensive gravitic manipulators. Short range gravitic manipulation is relatively cheap and easy, even for the technologically backwards TEC; unfortunate, as it would be far easier to fight them if they lacked effective inertial compensators. Gravitic manipulation at a distance though, especially distances long enough to provide some measure of protection from Psintegrats not tied into ship-wide psi-projection relays, are expensive even for us, much less the TEC.

Still, it's not like they have much of a chance at taking one of us alive by any other means, as we have proved more than once. I'm one of the more powerful Telekines of my generation, and if I was in better shape, I might be able to surprise them with my range and power to tear one of them apart, then go to ground when the others tried to pull back out of range, but as things stood, my chances of being able to target effectively were just about nil.

Not that that would keep me from trying.

((()))

Some part of Rainbow Dash knew, on an instinctive level, that what she heard was not just the sound of another of the 'humans' S&R craft breaking the sound barrier, but that it was a person doing so. And that was something that she had to see. Need drove her, drove her hard, and she leapt from the cloud she had been resting on, and moved.

Nopony was as fast as Rainbow Dash.

Nopony.

With a resounding crash, Dash smashed through the sound barrier, for the third time in her life and the second time in as many days, kaleidoscopic light trailing behind her as she streaked across the sky towards where she had heard the sonic boom. At first, all that was visible was a speck in the sky, but as she rapidly closed the distance, it resolved into the shape of one of the aliens. And when she closed enough to clearly see the human, she was so shocked that her speed dropped out of the trans-sonic zone.

It was the alien she had saved the night before. And it was bleeding, and seemed like it was throwing... something that she could sort-of-see but sort-of-not-see up into the sky. Briefly, Rainbow Dash wondered if it was crazy, but then turned to look up herself, and saw distant specks high in the sky, what the alien seemed to be aiming at.

Then something twisted, and down became up and up became down, and she spiraled out of control into down/up and nearly puked from the sudden and instantaneous reorientation of gravity playing hay with her extremely sensitive and fine-tuned Pegasus sense of equilibrium. By the time she managed to sort herself out, she had 'lost' several hundred feet of altitude, and was now much higher above the surface of Equestria.

As she took in her surroundings once more, it also became clear that whatever was affecting her, was affecting the alien much more strongly, as he was being yanked upwards, despite clearly trying to resist (though she wasn't sure how he was flying without wings), and now occasionally kicking out the somethings that he'd been throwing upward earlier. His struggles were wild and fitful though, the thingies he was kicking off flying off in almost random directions, and considering what she had just experienced herself, and the fact that he was injured, it wasn't hard for Dash to figure out what was wrong.

Growling to herself, she turned and dove 'down' towards the encroaching specks, not entirely sure what she intended to do, but determined to do something. She was forced to continually correct her course, as 'up' kept shifting relative to her, but Rainbow Dash wasn't called the best flier in Equestria for nothing. Once she cleared a certain distance from the alien, the disorienting up/down changing effect stopped, and she was able to really push some speed.

Unfortunately, she couldn't push enough speed. Just as she was getting high enough to identify the aircraft as actually being spacecraft, they began to move away, and they were faster than her. Worse, they were dragging the injured alien up with them, whose struggles were fading quickly as he was pulled past her.

So Dash poured on some more speed, and angled for the alien; if she couldn't catch the spaceships, maybe she could catch the alien.

Then the spaceships accelerated again, and Dash found herself being rapidly left behind.

"Blast," Rainbow Dash said, shaking her hoof up at the retreating spaceships, before turning into a dive, intent on finding what had happened to Fluttershy.

((()))

End Chapter one, if not earlier.

((()))

AN: I would have liked to make the battle a bit more intense, but that's not a relevant part of the narrative just yet. Ah well; things to look forward to later.