New Settings; Old Enemies
It hadn't taken more than the word to set them all running. They could hear heavy steps behind them, moving at a regular pace. They knew better than to question just what "Delete" meant, as they suspected by the tone it wasn't good. All three mares followed after the Doctor as they sprinted away from the metal abominations.
Vinyl Scratch looked back; noticing that, despite their pace, the Cyberponies kept their steady march.
"Ha!" she called out. "Those metal dipsticks move like snails. We'll lose them in no time."
The Cyberponies all stopped in place. A whirring sound emitted from them as metal wheels projected from their feet. The tires screeched as they were propelled forward by their wheels.
Octavia stared back a the change of situation and then stared dead-pan at Vinyl. "You just had to say it, didn't you."
Vinyl chuckled nervously. "Heh heh heh. My bad."
"Keep going!" The Doctor commanded. "They don't use those for too long. It drains their batteries."
"Nice to know I'm not the only pony with technical problems!" Octavia replied.
They ran on, managing to keep ahead of the metal marauders. As they did, Octavia made an observation of her own. Namely, that their path seemed completely clear of civilians.
"Where is everypony?" She asked. "You'd think we'd have hit a crowd by now."
"Those probably have something to do with it!" The Doctor commented, as they passed another dish sticking from the ground. "Looks like they landed across town. I'd imagine everyone reacted much like they did to the one we found."
"That's ponyville," Vinyl said. "These ponies panic at the drop of a horseshoe."
"It's true," Derpy confirmed.
"Well, you two certainly seem to be exceptions," The Doctor said.
"Honestly, I'm too confused by all this to panic," Derpy said.
"Alien robots aside, of course," she continued.
"And I'm a manehattan girl," Vinyl said. "I was raised to take care of myself. I don't panic easy like these small-town ponies."
"Again, robots aside," Vinyl finished. "With you there, Derp."
The four took a corner, which their robotic antagonists seemed to have trouble navigating, causing them to bump into one another and wheel out of control.
"I forgot to mention," the Doctor said, a huge smile crossing his face as he looked back. "They're also total pants at taking corners. Ha Ha!"
The group began to pass through the market area of town, which had another dish. Much of the merchandise was strewn about the ground, likely knocked down by panicking ponies. While The Doctor, Vinyl and Octavia were able to dodge the felled fruit and boxes, Derpy's eyes chose that exact moment to betray her. She failed to focus on a crate in her path, which caused her to violently trip and tumble.
"Derpy!" The Doctor exclaimed, coming to a halt.
The others stopped too, as they saw the recovered Cyberponies drawing towards her. Both Vinyl and Octavia dashed back towards her.
Derpy, dazed from the fall, pulled herself up from the ground. Her head quickly cleared when she heard the familiar chanting of "DELETE. DELETE." She turned and saw the Cyberponies baring down on her. She screamed and dropped to the ground, covering her head.
"DELETE. DELETE." The Cyberponies chanted as they began to surround Derpy. One lifted its right fore-leg, which sparked with blue energy.
The Cyberponies all raised their heads as the speaker, one fast-approaching Vinyl, leaped at the lead Cyberpony and delivered a flying back-kick. Still wheeled, this sent the machine flying backwards. She then began bucking and kicking the others, violently driving them off. Octavia joined in, knocking away the ones closest to Derpy, then helping her to her feet. All three ran back to the Doctor and the group returned to running.
"Nice moves there Vinyl," Octavia commented.
"Thanks," Vinyl replied. "Man! That felt good!"
The Cyberponies reoriented themselves and returned to the chase. However, they quickly realized that their targets were gone. They had apparently turned another corner and were out of their sight.
"Must reacquire targets."
"Divide. Engage search pattern gamma. Find Targets."
The machines divided and spread out through the various alleys and streets. What they failed to realize was that their targets hadn't run down the other roads. In fact, they weren't on the streets at all. They looked down from atop one of the nearby houses as their pursuers spread across town.
"Interesting fact number 2 about Cyberponies;" the Doctor said, "they're logical to a fault. Luckily, this place seems to be anything but. Nice work Miss. Scratch."
Vinyl, who had teleported them to the roof, was breathing heavily from the magical exertion. "No…huh…prob…hah…Doc…" She said between breaths.
"Please don't call me that," the Doctor replied indignantly.
Octavia patted the Unicorn pony on the shoulder supportively. "Nice work, Scratch. You seem to be full of surprises."
Vinyl buffed her hoof against her chest in a showoffy fashion. "Yep. Like I said, I learned my skills on the streets of Manehattan. Rule number one for dealing with trouble on the streets; always have an exit strategy."
"Words to live by," The Doctor replied. "Now, we need a plan. As long as they're focused on us, it means they aren't ready to move in yet. We might have time to prepare some sort of counter strike. Octavia, can you contact your superiors?"
Octavia nodded. "The signal detector also works as a communicator. It uses a new technology called 'radio' to send messages."
"Brilliant," The Doctor said. "Call in the army! If there are more out there with power like Miss. Scratch, we might stand a chance."
Octavia pulled out the device from her saddlebag. She fiddled with it for a second, but the screen was blank. "ERR! Blast! The dratted thing's out of power again. The battery must be faulty. Vinyl, I need a charge."
Vinyl strained herself as she tried to light her horn. It gave a few sparks, but fizzled out. "No good," Vinyl replied. "I drained everything I had to get us all up here at once. It's amazing I can get it to spark."
The Doctor pulled the Sonic Screwdriver from his pocket and buzzed it over Vinyl. "She's right," he said, looking at the tip. "Her psychic energy is almost totally drained. It will take at least a two hours to fully recharge." he returned the sonic to his jacket, a stern look upon his face. "So, that's no backup then?"
"Afraid so," Octavia admitted.
"What do we do?" Derpy asked. "I doubt any of the other ponies will help as long as those things are running about."
"Right," The Doctor replied as he started to pace the roof. He turned his head to Octavia. "Is there anything else you can use to power that thing?"
Octavia shook her head. "The batteries run on electricity. Short of a unicorn, I don't know of anything that can produce that."
"Could you power it?" Derpy asked the Doctor. "Maybe you could use the Sonic Screwdriver."
The Doctor shook his head. "Doesn't run on electricity. And I couldn't be sure if the power would be compatible with the device."
Then, Vinyl's eyes widened. "Wait!" She shouted. "I have a battery at home! I use it to power my equipment! It can store a ton of power, more than enough to get that thing working."
The Doctor smiled widely, "Miss. Scratch, you truly are a marvel today! Where is your house?"
"Not far," Vinyl replied, running towards the side of the building. She jumped to the parallel roof and landed with ease. "We can take the rooftops to get there."
"Right then," the Doctor said, turning to the other mares. "Up for another run ladies?"
Both nodded and the group leaped after Vinyl, following her to her house.
Dinky looked about nervously. The town seemed totally abandoned. She lead the other Cutie Mark Crusaders through town. Both Sweetie and Apple Bloom were having trouble carrying Scootaloo after the long distance they walked from the woods. Dinky had hoped that, upon reaching town, an adult would help get Scootaloo to the hospital. However all the adults were gone from the roads. In there place, she noticed, were intermittently placed metal disks on sticks.
"Where is eveypony?" Sweetie asked.
"I don't know," Dinky said. "I don't like this one little bit."
"Are you okay, Scootaloo?" Apple Bloom asked her friend.
"It still hurts," Scootaloo said. "I really need a doctor, bad."
Dinky looked about cautiously. "I don't see anypony," she said. "We'll have to carry her the rest of the way. Sweetie, switch with me. I'll help carry her from here."
Sweetie stepped away from the filly, and Dinky took her place. They continued to walk, unaware that a pair of black eyes were following them.
Secondary targets acquired, The Cyberpony drone silently signaled to its ship. Awaiting command.
Capture Targets, came the response in its head. Live samples needed for research.
The four ponies leaped across the roofs in harmony. They had made good time and had yet hit any gaps they couldn't cross. However, Vinyl suddenly came to a halt, causing the others to stop as well.
"What's wrong?" Derpy asked.
"Nothing," Vinyl replied. "Just trying to get my bearings. I've never had to find my way home from above before."
"Yeah," Derpy said. "That can be hard."
"Heh, yeah, especially for you," Vinyl chortled.
Derpy's eyes widened. Then she lowered her head and turned away. Octavia noticed Derpy's reaction a preceded to smack Vinyl's shoulder, hard.
"OW!" Vinyl exclaimed. "What?"
"A little tact would be nice," Octavia chided, motioning to the sullen Derpy, who was now sitting on the edge of the roof.
"Oh," Vinyl said, feeling like she'd shoved her hoof in her mouth for the umpteenth time that day.
"I'll talk with her," The Doctor said. "You just focus on getting us to that battery, Miss. Scratch."
"Right," Vinyl replied sullenly.
The Doctor trotted up to Derpy and sat down beside her. They were silent for the first moment.
Eventually, it was Derpy who broke the silence. "I'm sorry," she said.
"What for?" asked the Doctor. "I'm pretty sure it was Miss. Scratch who was the rude one in this situation."
"I'm sorry for acting down like this," Derpy replied. "It's just… I've been having such an exciting day. Sure, I'm terrified, but I'm also thrilled. For the first time, I feel like I'm a part of something bigger than myself. I feel important. But, at the end, I'm still…" She pointed to her eyes, though they were closed.
The Doctor knew what she meant. He had noticed her condition from the start. He wasn't lying when he said he loved the way her eyes were, but he could understand how others might judge something like that. Traveling as he did, the Doctor had seen many strange sights. He'd long ago learned to look past the strange to find the beauty in things. With Derpy, there was hardly even an effort needed. To him, she was just as lovely as any creature he had ever met. Thinking about it, the Doctor found what he needed to say.
"I understand," he admitted. "I'm very much the same."
Derpy looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"
The Doctor sighed. "My people were old when the universe was young. We uncovered the secrets of reality and used them to make gods of ourselves. All that power, can you imagine? The power to change everything. The power to make things better for everyone. But, we've always kept it to ourselves. We never interfere, never help, even when we can. I felt that was… wrong; horribly wrong. And I said so." He turned to face Derpy, who watched him with fascination. "I've been ridiculed my whole life for that. Scorned for believing we had a responsibility to the universe to try and help people."
"It sounds horrible," Derpy said, sullenly.
"I agree," said the Doctor. "It's really quite rubbish. I don't care if it is rude to say or not, it's true. That's why I left. I became a renegade. My true name was stricken from time and space, forbidden from ever being uttered. Who I was is gone. Now there's only, the Doctor."
Derpy stared at him. She'd not noticed before, but his eyes looked old. They looked older than the oldest eyes she'd ever seen. She also saw a sadness there; a deep rooted sadness. She leaned her head against him, a deep instinct wanting to comfort him. The Doctor hadn't quite expected this, but smiled at the sentiment. He didn't do anything, but let her stay there.
"Hey, Doctor!" Vinyl called, pulling them out of their moment. "I think it's this way!"
The Doctor and Derpy both stood and returned to their companions. Vinyl stood before Derpy and said, "Hey, Derp. I'm -uh- sorry for what I said. I…"
"It's okay," Derpy replied with a smile. "Just the apology is good enough. Most ponies never even do that."
"Oh," Vinyl said in surprise. "Well… I guess we move on."
As they readied to leave, a sound caught them. They all turned at the sound of somepony screaming.
"What was that?" Vinyl asked.
"The Cyberponies must have found civilians!" the Doctor exclaimed.
"It sounds like foals!" Octavia said with panic.
As she listened to the cries, Derpy thought she heard something familiar. She strained her ears, barely detecting a single word. A word uttered in a voice that chilled her blood.
Derpy's eyes shot wide. "My baby!" she said.
Instantly, she leaped into the air and soared towards the sound. The sound of her child in danger.
"Derpy!" The Doctor cried out.
"What's going on?!" Vinyl said in a panic.
The Doctor turned to her. "Miss. Scratch, take the lieutenant's device! Charge it your house. We'll meet you there!"
"Right," she said, deciding to trust the colt. "I live at 1961 Edward St."
Octavia gave Vinyl the device and the mare took off.
"Octavia, you're with me," The Doctor said. "Miss. Hooves is in way over her head."
"Aye sir," she replied.
The two dove off the roof, which wasn't too high, and took off running when they hit the ground.
Dinky was sweating hard. Her horn burned brightly as her force field held back the prodding hoof of the metal monster. It had lumbered toward them shortly after they had entered town. Dinky immediately put up a shield to protect her and her friends, but the blue energy spouting from the monster's hoof was making it harder and harder for her to hold it back. The remaining Crusaders cowered behind Dinky, awaiting the end with tears in their eyes.
"Resistance is illogical." the monster stated in its cold, reverberating voice. "You will die under the strain of my power. Surrender and join your friends in upgrading."
"NEVER!" Dinky shouted.
"Acknowledged. DELETE. DELETE. DELETE."
Hot tears ran down Dinky's eyes. Her shield was cracking. She knew this was the end and silently begged that her friends be spared. Then, her eyes shot wide as a familiar voice caught her ear;
"GET AWAY FROM MY BABY!"
The Cyberpony barely had time to react as a grey and yellow blur dove right into it. Dinky dropped her shield in shock as she watched her mother repeatedly punch the metal monster with her bare hooves.
"YOU…WON'T… HURT…MY…BABY… YOU…BRUTE!" Derpy exclaimed between punches.
"Error! Error! Error!" The monster called out.
It tried to zap Derpy, but her off-center eyes caught sight of it, allowing her to jump away. The machine stood up and made to attack, but Derpy delivered a two-legged back-kick to the Cyberpony's head. The metal head was knocked clean off its body, the neck sparking before the rest of it fell down.
Derpy panted with exhaustion. Her fore-hooves were bleeding. She didn't notice the four fillies looking on in sheer awe. Dinky's eyes dripped with tears as she rushed to Derpy and hugged her.
"Mommy!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, my baby!" Derpy exclaimed, pulling Dinky close, not noticing the blood she had gotten on her daughter. All she noticed was that her child was safe. "Oh my sweet little muffin! I'm so glad you're safe!"
"You were amazing, Mommy!" Dinky said. "You saved us from that monster. You're the best mommy ever!"
The two continued to hug. However, they failed to notice that the body of the Cyberpony was starting to get up again. The other fillies, however, did notice and all called out;
The two turned to see the headless metal drone raise an energized hoof. But this didn't last long, as a certain dark-colored mare delivered a drop kick against the drone. The drone tumbled hard against the ground and sparked more before going limp again.
"Octavia!" Derpy cried gratefully.
Octavia flipped her hair from her face and smiled down at her new friend. "Always happy to serve, ma'am," she said with a dramatic bow.
The Doctor also ran up, kneeling beside the Cyber-body and running the Sonic Screwdriver over it. He flipped it up to his eyes and then placed it back in his coat. "It's safe," he said. "Reflex action. The body took a minute too long to realize it was dead and tried to carry out its final command." He then turned to Derpy and Dinky. "Are you alright, Miss. Hooves?"
Derpy nodded. "We are now."
"Who are you?" Dinky asked.
Derpy smiled and answered her child; "He's the Doctor. He's Mommy's new friend." She turned to the Doctor. "Doctor, this is my daughter, Dinky."
The Doctor smiled and bowed. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Dinky nodded in reply, not sure what to make of the strange Earth-pony. However, she could see the trust in her mother's expressions towards him and that made her feel more comfortable. It had been a long time since she had seen that look in her mother's face.
The other CMC ran up to the adults in their friends and begin rambling about what all they had seen in the last few minutes. The girls' excitement was certainly uplifting for the weary group. Dinky felt a great swelling of pride for how much her friends complemented her mother. However she was pulled out of it when she realized that her mother was hurt.
"Mommy! You're bleeding!" she cried out.
Derpy looked at her hooves, only now realizing they were indeed bleeding.
"Heal her!" Scootaloo said. "Like you did me!"
"No!" Derpy commanded. "You've already spent your magic protecting your friends. I'll be fine."
"But, mommy," Dinky protested.
Derpy put a hoof under her daughter's chin. "You've been so brave today, Muffin. But I can take care of myself."
Dinky nodded, submitting to her mother's wishes. The two hugged again, bringing about yet another chorus of "Awe" from Dinky's friends. Meanwhile, the Doctor was running his Sonic Screwdriver over the head of the Cyberpony, which he held in his hooves. Octavia was at his side, watching him examine the macabre object.
"Anything?" she asked.
"Thing's still transmitting," he said. "The system must have backup power cells in the head."
"Can they track us?" she said in a worried tone.
"Yes," The Doctor stated. "That is, if they were still searching for us."
"What do you mean?"
The Doctor looked up at her in deep concern. "The head just received new orders. 'Move to designated coordinates and wait for ground forces.'"
"Which means?" she prodded, already guessing the answer.
"They're not concerned with us anymore. They're ready to invade."
A fleet of cyber-ships descended towards Equestria. Inside each, an army of Cyberponies waited for the moment of invasion. The Great Upgrade had begun.