When Scootaloo had first seen The Crusader, she thought it was ugly, very ugly. It was short, fat and had the oddest configuration and balloon placement she had ever seen on an airship. Unlike a normal airship, where the balloon was above the cabin, this ship's balloons were wrapped around not one, but two cabins—one above and one below.
The top cabin held the sparsely-decorated pilot's station that doubled as a crow's nest, as well as the main engine. The bottom carriage held the main cargo hold, sleeping quarters, two small engines and the only weight capacitor on-board the ship; something indispensable to any modern airship. Separating the two cabins was a bundled mass of rusty scaffolding, ladders and wires left to the mercy of the winds.
In all, it looked like two great misshapen lumps held together by two metallic shuttles. The entire thing was painted red and blue by the inexperienced hooves of its owners. A prancing, cape-wielding yellow filly adorned its side, the symbol of the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
The Crusader was ugly, it stank and its motors leaked and sputtered more than they should, but it was airworthy. And after spending such a long time on board the little ship, it had worked its charm on her. They wouldn't want it any other way: it was home.
A small smile adorned her face as she leaned on the railing right below the main propeller and its rudder. She could still remember the look she and Sweetie Belle had shared when Apple Bloom had bought the ship.
Apple Bloom had taken all the money the Cutie Mark Crusaders had scrambled together and had bought it on her own. It didn't cost much, at first, but they soon found out why the thing was so inexpensive. Three months of hard work later and it was ready.
Scootaloo's thoughts were interrupted when she heard a creaking from the main rudder. "Huh? We're not supposed to turn yet." Stretching her wings leisurely, she let them catch the first rays of the dawn sun, taking the time to enjoy the way they rubbed against her leather jacket as they fanned out in the soft breeze.
Scootaloo turned and trotted around the balcony and up the metal ladder, her hooves ringing loudly in the still dawn. She climbed into the pilot's cabin. A spartan room with next to no furnishings, the room made up for its lack of decoration by providing a magnificent view.
A white and brown colt stood at the helm, eyes closed and head low, almost touching the wooden wheel. He was breathing evenly through his nose, making small whistling sounds after each breath. Scootaloo slowly snuck up to him, leaning forward until her mouth was mere inches from his ear. "Pip! Wake up!"
The white and brown colt jumped awake and looked around in a panic. "What's going on?" Pipsqueak stared at the dozens of dials that were part of the controls, quickly making sure that everything in the ship was still working. He looked around and spotted her wearing a sly grin. "What's go-?" he started, but was interrupted by her laughter.
"Wake up, silly; it's almost daybreak." Scootaloo giggled once more and trotted over to the pile of maps thrown about on a table at the rear of the metallic cabin. On top of the pile was a map of their whereabouts. A red line had been carefully penned in Sweetie Belle's delicate hoofwritting. It went from Ponyville to New Appleloosa, wiggling and twisting at places, sometimes to avoid obstacles, sometimes to avoid patrols.
Pipsqueak grunted and shook himself in an attempt to clear off the last remnants of sleep; he was a relatively new addition to the crew and was starting to get used to being treated as such. Pipsqueak was always given the hardest, most boring jobs. In this case, night-flight duty. "Is anything wrong?" he asked, a note of concern and fear of failure in his voice. He glanced over at her nervously.
Scootaloo grabbed the map and brought it to the ship's Gyro-compass. She compared the two with an experienced eye while Pipsqueak fretted behind her. "Aww, Pip, you took us off-course," she sighed. "Turn the wheel eight degrees to port."
"What's going on?" Applebloom said as she opened the well-oiled floor hatch. Below her, the wind howled as it passed between the struts that connected the two gasbags together. "I heard Pip squeal."
The only male on board blushed when Applebloom made her appearance. He went back to steering the ship while paying undue amounts of attention to the clouds ahead.
Scootaloo joined her friend before shutting the hatch and locking it firmly. "How is Sweetie doing?" Scootaloo lowered her voice in concern, as if her unicorn friend far below could hear through both cabins.
"Not bad," Applebloom sighed. "She was reading that letter again..." The two friends shared a moment of awkward silence. Apple Bloom scratched her foreleg and looked around the inside of the cozy cabin. It wasn't meant to have this many ponies in it. "Could we go out? Ah need some air."
"Yeah, let's go." Scootaloo nodded in understanding and led the way out through the wooden door and onto the metallic balcony beyond, their hooves ringing and echoing into the cloudy sky as they made their way around one of the large balloons.
The two mares walked sure-hoofed to the side of the ship. From there, all they could see was open sky on one side and the tarp that made up the giant gasbag to the other. The sun was just cresting the horizon as the two friends sat on the cold walkway in silence. Their breath made small clouds in the chilly morning air that were quickly lost as the ship moved forward. These were the moments they lived for.
"So, how are things below?" Scootaloo broke the silence.
"Not bad, I wanted to shift things around tonight, hide our cargo behind the apple shipment. Last cargo check was a close call; we really need to find more hiding spots."
"Thank goodness Pipsqueak got a nasty case of Poxyolopis." The two friends shared a smile at the nostalgic memory. "The look on that guard's face when Pipsqueak puked all over the hold."
Apple Bloom laughed. "Thank goodness you cooked that day; I almost joined him."
Scootaloo gave her a friendly punch on the shoulder. "Hey, I never asked for cooking duty!" Scootaloo countered, indignantly.
"Heh, 'awesome pilot' does not contribute to the crew's ability." Apple Bloom responded just as indignantly. The two friends huffed and looked in opposite directions before breaking out into laughter.
Their laughter died off as the wind and the whirling blades of their ship carried their words away. "So, New Appleloosa... again."
"Eeyup." Apple Bloom imitated her elder brother.
"Don't you ever get tired of that run? Same sky, same patrols, same stuff hidden all over the ship. Hay, it doesn't even pay that much. Boooring." Scootaloo leaned her head against the railing and looked Apple Bloom over.
Apple Bloom had changed a little. She was taller now, her old bow was tattered and frayed on the edges and didn't look as large as it once had. Her entire body, cutie mark included, was hidden under an oil-stained red mechanic's jumpsuit. She was covered entirely in grease and grime: The Crusader wasn't equipped with a decent shower. Thankfully, their usual run was only two days long; they could afford to stink a little.
Apple Bloom sighed, breaking Scootaloo's thoughts. "Yeah, it gets boring after a while. I just wish mah sis' would let me join the rebellion. I'm sure we could make a difference."
"Well, we are sort of helping... we smuggle stuff around." Scootaloo regretted pushing the conversation down that path.
"That hardly helps anypony." She stomped against the railing with an Apple family kick, the metal denting slightly as the impact shook the entire railing. Neither of them worried about it much though: the ship was covered in dings and dents.
"Maybe we can. From what I can tell things aren't going any better. We might have to join the rebellion soon." Scootaloo smiled hopefully, "I wish we could..."
Apple Bloom giggled. "You jus' want ta be with Rainbow Dash, don't ya?"
"I do not!" Scootaloo retorted too quickly.
"You sleep with that ugly coat on, and ah saw that poster in your room," said Apple Bloom with a sly smile, causing Scootaloo to blush fiercely. "Just 'cause she's the one ta give it to ya doesn't mean you should wear it all the time..." Apple Bloom started laughing at Scootaloo's discomfort. "It's all right. Your secret is safe with me... and Sweetie and Pipsqueak and the whole of Ponyville."
Scootaloo just groaned in embarrassment.
A silence stretched over the pair once more. Scootaloo looked up at the clouds as they passed. The sun painted the sky orange, making the usually dark clouds appear as if they were on fire. Something metallic and obviously pony-made poked through the clouds and grabbed her attention as the sunlight glinted off of its shiny structure. "What's that?" She pointed her hoof at the bar that stuck out from beneath one of the larger clouds.
Apple Bloom rose up and stared at the object. They both squinted as it grew larger and larger. The thing was slowly gaining on them. Suddenly the clouds parted and gave them a partial view of a huge grey blimp.
"Looks like trouble. Get Sweetie on the radar. Ah'll go warn Pipsqueak." Apple Bloom said before running off along the railings, she was soon out of sight as she went around the large gasbag. Scootaloo looked up at the bag and focused on her wings. Flying had never been her forte, but she was more than capable of flying over the balloon.
In a matter of seconds Scootaloo took off, cringing as she was buffeted by the stronger winds above the ship, she flapped harder, gaining some altitude as she forced her way up.. Finally, Scootaloo made it over the bag and into the crevice in between the two balloons of the airship. She avoided the tangles of wires, struts and antennas to land on the pilot's cabin with a heavy thud, right beside one of the camouflaged roof turrets. Trotting over to the roof hatch, she bucked the rusty lever to the side and opened the doorway.
As Scootaloo fell in she was greeted by a wide-eyed Pipsqueak who was standing behind the wheel.
"No time, Apple Bloom will explain," she said as she opened the bottom hatch and dropped down.
It wasn't a long way from one cabin to the next, but the turbulence of the air passing in-between the two balloons made it a perilous drop. The type of stunt that had killed more than one overconfident pegasus. Scootaloo glided down to the roof of the much larger cabin below. She closed her eyes against the cold wind as it threw her off course, forcing her to flap furiously to land anywhere near the doorway.
With a loud thud and a small yelp, Scootaloo crashed into the much larger lower cabin. She quickly inspected herself and let out a sigh of relief when she saw that she was unscathed by the ropes and supports that crisscrossed between the two gasbags. Scootaloo reoriented herself and found the doorway, using her wing as a shield against the strong winds, she crawled over to the hatch.
The lower cabin was much larger; it had its own secondary piloting station as well as the cargo hold, crew quarters, two small engines that powered the rear propellers and it held the Sparkle Weight Generator: a must for any airship. It allowed them to magically regulate the weight of the ship, letting them go up or down at will.
Scootaloo grunted as she opened the heavy door, impeded by the strong winds that pushed against the large, flat surface. The door creaked and forced against the turbulent wind, with one last heave the door popped open and Scootaloo slipped into the room as it slammed itself shut. The commotion of the door closing resonated through the metallic cabin.
Sweetie Belle, who was under the immense Sparkle Generator, twisted and turned beneath the generator then finally popped her grime-covered head out.
"Oh, hi," she said, slightly surprised as Scootaloo panted for air. When she saw the way Scootaloo's mane and tail were twisted and wind-blown, she giggled, climbed out from behind the generator and trotted over to her friend as Scootaloo began preening her feathers back into order... "What's wrong, did you actually try to fly here?" Sweetie Belle asked, raising her brow questioningly.
Scootaloo looked away, slightly embarrassed. "Of course not, you'd have to be a foal to try and fly on an airship. It's the first rule that pegasi shouldn't fly on board a ship unless anchored..." she quoted from the manuals.
Sweetie Belle just stared at her, oblivious to her friend's failed attempt to lie. "Just get to the radar: I think we spotted trouble," said Scootaloo before the conversation went on.
"Fine. You know, you could have used the PA..." Scootaloo facehoofed herself for forgetting about the intra-ship communication units. Sweetie Belle laughed at her discomfort as she walked past the orange and purple pegasus. "Come on, I could use your help on the radio, and you could use a meal."
Scootaloo started to deny it but her stomach betrayed her. "Who's cooking tonight?"
Sweetie Belle popped her head around the corner with a mischievous smile. "You are."
Scootaloo grunted in disappointment and followed the unicorn. The communications station on board The Crusader was obsolete at first glance; it was tucked into the very front of the ship and only had one set of headphones and a simple console to control it. In reality, it was once one of the best on the market; it had simply been camouflaged by years of use to look cheap and ugly. It was tuned specifically to hear the imperial frequencies, something the average set couldn't and wasn't supposed to do. Sweetie Belle was the only pony on the crew that could manage the complicated magical device, something she took a lot of pride in reminding everypony of.
Sweetie Belle sat on the old chair that was bolted to the ground and stared at the system before starting to tweak it with her magic. As quickly as she could she turned on the radar and started scanning the skies. As the arm on the radar screen circled around, it slowly revealed a large oblong shape heading right for The Crusader.
"Airship," said Sweetie Belle with a hint of concern.
She redoubled her efforts on the console to fine-tune the radar's reading. "And it's Imperial."
They both swore silently. Sweetie Belle levitated a book out of a nearby case. Flipping through the pages she compared the silhouettes within to the one on the screen.
"Crap, it's an Interdiction-class light destroyer. What is it doing here? They never come around these parts; too much wind for that large a ship."
"Pip fell asleep at the wheel... again." Scootaloo rolled her eyes. "He turned us off-course." She said with a sigh.
"When? We stay as far as we can from their patrols, no way we strayed that far in a few minutes!"
"Sometime last night?" Scootaloo cringed.
"You never noticed?" Sweetie Belle lifted her hooves in the air, exasperated. "Bah, never mind, too late for that now. Maybe they won't bug us?"
As if pre-determined, the radio crackled to life at that very moment. "Light commerce ship 'Crusader', bearing North-west, this is the Conformity. Shut off all engines and prepare for a mid-air search party. Any and all deviance from orders will result in immediate termination of the crew by orders of the great Emperor Blueblood. Please confirm."
The two mares gulped. "I guess they won't just leave us alone." Scootaloo turned to Sweetie Belle. "Now what? If they check our cargo..."
Sweetie Belle grabbed the intra-ship communications unit. "Apple Bloom, it's the Imperials; they want to search The Crusader."
A few crackles later and a familiar voice responded, "Yeah, ah can see it now; it's huge. What should we do?"
The three waited in silence. "We outrun them," said Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes.
"That's yer solution for everything: fly away." responded Apple Bloom from above with a crackle.
"No, hear me out." Scootaloo ripped the thick book from Sweetie Belle's hooves and turned back to the page she was on. "Look, it says here that the Interdiction Class has a top speed of forty-five knots." She slapped the page. "Pipsqueak, what's our top speed?"
Pipsqueak's voice was yelled into the communications unit from afar. "Um, about thirty with only the main prop, fifty with the two secondaries..."
"Ah can get it to go faster if we need it, but I'll need to be down there," Interrupted Apple Bloom. "Might end up using some of our 'special cargo'..."
"Um... If you don't mind me adding," said Pipsqueak. "Their um... cannons kinda fire faster then we can run... and I don't think I could avoid them forever..."
"We have guns too Pipsqueak. You can take care of those." said Scootaloo.
Scootaloo tried to put as much confidence as she could into her voice, despite the huge lump in her throat. She had no qualms about smuggling under the Empire's nose, but fighting against them head-on with such bad odds...
"Good. Then that's what we will do." said Sweetie Belle. "I'll head up top and pilot for a while." She turned to Scootaloo and raised a brow. "And what about you?" she asked.
"I'll distract them." Scootaloo smiled and puffed out her chest.
"We're all going to die, aren't we?" asked a distraught Pipsqueak, his anxiety visible even through the static of the communications unit.
Scootaloo ignored him as she abandoned Sweetie Belle who began to head up top and galloped through the ship heading for the cargo hold. To anypony else, it was a simple metal hold, filled with dozens of crates containing fresh Sweet Apple Acres apples. To them, it was a room filled with jars of highly illegal Zap Apple Fuel.
Scootaloo flew over the crates and towards the wall at the back of the small room, she quickly landed and started tapping the wall until it sounded hollow. Bucking lightly against the wall an entire section fell off, revealing a ladder leading down. She hopped down the ladder and slid out the bottom of the ship, cringing against the cold air that battered her against the metal ladder.. There, amongst a tangle of ropes and wires, was the Expedite.
The Expedite's small frame was clear against the sharp relief cast by the bright white clouds below. The single-seat Mosquito-class fighter was shaped like a bullet and was only covered by thin plates of armour.
It had a single small cabin sitting at the top and front of its engine. Two deployable canvas wings adorned each side of the small fighter craft.
Because of its shape and lack of a gasbag it depended on its massive thrust, speed and stubby wings to stay afloat. At the fore were two long, protruding Pinkie-Party cannons that fired in successive bursts; weapons not usually found on such a small vehicle. It looked just like the insect it was named after, down to the six small deployable legs.
She loved every inch of it.
Scootaloo admired the cobbled-together craft with a small smile. It had been given to her by her idol. Ever since she had received it she spent days and weeks lovingly caring for the small vehicle with the aid of Apple Bloom's mechanical expertise. Not a single original piece remained on it; they had all been replaced with aftermarket —and sometimes illegal— parts.
Carefully opening the cockpit, she dropped onto the seat and strapped herself into the harness. She lovingly tapped the console before flicking on the radio.
The radio crackled to life as she prepared herself for launch. "-ere, I don't think they saw it. You know the Imps, they are not exactly experts at spotting that sort of thing." Scootaloo recognized the voice as Sweetie Belle's.
"All right guys, I`m ready down here," she said, brimming with confidence as she finished her pre-flight checks.
"All right then," said Apple Bloom, her voice distorted by the bad signal. "Ah'm in the engine room. Sweetie is at the controls." Scootaloo scanned further along the ship, and through the tangled ropes, chains and wires she spotted the domed gunning station camouflaged as one of the view ports used on landing. It slid open and a gun floated out wrapped in a purple shell of magic, fixing itself to a bracket on the swivel-mounted glass dome.
"Ready!" shouted Apple Bloom.
"All right then. Sweetie, when we are under their ship, give her full gas. I'll pop around and fly in the opposite direction. Let's just hope they follow me and not The Crusader." Scootaloo placed her hooves on the controls and waited for the signal.
"You sure you can outrun 'em?"
A minute, then two went by as their ship slowly shifted and moved under the much larger Imperial ship above. Scootaloo anxiously followed the progress of the two ships using their shadows on the clouds. Their ship's shadow was dwarfed by the Interdiction class'. She gulped.
"Got a ping from the Imp ship, I'll patch you guys in." said Apple Bloom. "How in the hay does this thing work?!"
Sweetie Belle sighed over the radio, "hit conference..."
The radio crackled again, then became clear. A strong male voice boomed out of the Expedite`s tin can speakers. "Transport ship Crusader, This is the Conformity. We are above you and ready to prepare docking maneuvers. Shut down all engines and put all Sparkle Generators on neutral."
"Gun it, Sweetie!" The Crusader lurched suddenly and pulled itself out of the shadow cast by the Conformity above. The lower engines roared to life and sputtered two dark billowing clouds into the sky as their propellers started spinning. Scootaloo jammed her hoof on the engine start up button.
The Expedite's engine sputtered, its tri-blade propeller turned once, twice, then sputtered into a stall.
Scootaloo cursed as she looked around in a panic, trying to find the source of the problem. She spotted something shiny on the floor and picked it up: a wrench with a tiny apple engraved on its side. Scootaloo stared at it until her mind put two and two together. "Apple Bloom, you remember that tune-up you were supposed to do on the Expedite?"
"Not cool. I need to get out there!" Scootaloo slammed her hoof against her ship's small communications unit.
"It's nothing too incredible, you'll just need to cold start the motor... Could you get to The Crusader? I'll hoof over some Zap Apple fuel. That'll kick it into high gear for a while."
Scootaloo swore and untied herself from the harness. She popped open the cabin door, flung the wrench she still held in her hooves into the sky, and angrily made her way to the under-hatch of The Crusader, fighting the rough winds as she did so.
She twisted the rusty hatch and saw Apple Bloom`s smiling face. "Here!" The earth pony disappeared for a few second then reappeared with two jars of the precious liquid. Scootaloo bit into both jars, slobbering on them in the process. Apple Bloom smiled at her and started to back away when suddenly The Crusader lurched violently. Her friend tipped over suddenly, moving as if in slow motion toward the gaping opening that lead only to the ground far below.
Scootaloo, acting on reflex, spun around in mid air and bucked her friend back into the cargo hold. Apple Bloom landed with a loud umph inside the hold. "Serrry," she said through a mouth full of jars.
The pegasus quickly made her way back to her fighter, knowing that Apple Bloom would give her hay later.
She fumbled with the gas tank's cap with her hooves, popping it open with a small release of pressure. She peered into the dark fuel container and, wasting no time, emptied an entire jar of Zap Apple Fuel into it, Scootaloo smirked through her filled mouth and hopped back into the ship.
"All right, I'm back." she screamed into the radio after having dumped the remaining jar behind her seat. She sighed, relieved to be able to help once more.
Apple Bloom grunted over the radio. "I just hope you didn't empty it all in there. It'll take a week to clean out the boiler."
"I'd never do that," lied Scootaloo as she tried once more to fire up her ship's engine. The prop spun again and again then sputtered into a stall, white fumes puffed out of the engine compartment and were carried away by the breeze. "What the hay? Why won't it start!" She hit the dashboard in frustration.
Sounds of gunfire and mechanical movement swarmed over the radio. "-ootaloo? You'll have to spin the prop while pulling on the igniti-" The line screeched and went dead, leaving her alone in the cold, silent cabin.
She simply stared at the communications unit, wide-eyed for a few seconds as The Crusader shook again, this time much more violently. The stress of not being able to help was beginning to wear her out. Her friends were right above her, fighting for their lives, while she was useless, stuck in the cabin of a ship that wouldn't start. "Crap, crap, crap. Stupid Imperials! Stupid Expedite!"
Twisting her teary-eyed head around in the cabin she looked at the tri-blade prop at the very back of the plane. The ignition was near the center of the dashboard amongst dozens of dials and meters, how was she going to press the button and turn the prop?
Before she found an answer to her own question, The Crusader shook. From the corner of her eye, she saw mangled parts of the ship's outer balcony fall through the sky.
She was standing on that balcony minutes ago... Something clicked inside her. "This, is going to suck." She did something that was forbidden in every flight manual in Equestria: released a ship without powering up the engine. The heavy clamps on the underbelly of The Crusader disengaged and the Expedite dropped nose-first through the clouds.
Rolling water-filled clouds obscured her vision. Scootaloo felt herself lift and be pressed into the back of her seat by the force of the falling aircraft. She reached out a hoof to press the start button. It was too short.
"Come on!" she yelled through clenched teeth. Using her wing as a prop she pushed herself away from the seat and towards the control panel, the very tip of her hoof pressed onto the ignition and slowly the button sunk in. The vehicle forced itself to life. Behind her, a large plume of multi-hued smoke sputtered out of the engine and the blades started to twirl.
With a thump, she crashed back into the seat and let out a relieved sigh.
Scootaloo grabbed the throttle in one hoof and the controls in the other, she pulled back with all her strength. Not too far below, the yellow expanse of the Appleloosan desert stretched out in every direction. Small details of the desert became clearer and clearer as her ship hurtled towards the ground at lightning speeds. Am I going to die? she asked herself.
Slowly, with sheer force of will, Scootaloo pulled back on the yoke, forcing the ship to bend under the pressure of the fall. The desert grew larger and larger until finally the ship righted itself, mere meters from the hard, sandy ground. Thick plumes of sand were tossed into the air as the Expedite flew by.
"I love you," she said as she affectionately stroked the controls of her craft.
She grinned as she pulled back on the yoke and pointed the nose of her craft back into the clouds feeling the elation she always got piloting a ship in a dangerous atmosphere. The engine responded to her commands with a rumbled, muttering as it spewed rainbow-colored smoke.
When she finally pierced through the clouds once more, it only took her seconds to spot The Crusader.
The bright red ship was turning sharply below the Imperial patrol craft. The confident grin that adorned her face slowly slipped away as she caught sight of the Imperial ship above.
It was easily four times longer than The Crusader; it had only one oblong balloon covered in a web of intricately placed metal beams that served as both a skeleton and shield to the ship. On its black tarp was the gold and grey compass rose, the insignia of the Imperial Navy. The undercarriage of the Conformity stretched from the fore to the bow, forming a sharp wedge at the front of the ship. On each side of the carriages were six engines that billowed dark smoke into the cloudy air, hiding the grey ship in its own thick cloud of soot.
The ship had well over a dozen gun-stations on it, all twisting and shifting in an attempt to track the much more agile Crusader as it weaved and spun, avoiding most of the slow moving Imperial shells.
The Crusader was already damaged though, one of the small bottom engines was burning and an entire section of its railings was missing, having taken the blow that would have otherwise pierced a gasbag.
On the top of the ship were two long metallic bars, on which sat two planes Scootaloo recognized as Requisitor class fighter-interceptors. They were not strong fighters, but they made up the bulk of the Imperial fighter force.
Scootaloo started to sweat in her seat. This was not what she expected to fight. Was this what Rainbow meant about the beauty of battle?
"Scoot, where are you?" screamed Apple Bloom from the communications unit.
"I'm here, where do you need me?" she asked, sounding more confident than she felt. The Expedite flew towards the two twisting ships above. The Crusader was twisting and turning in a desperate attempt to avoid the continuous barrage of fire from the Conformity.
"Just get 'em off of us!"
"Give me ten seconds!" Scootaloo pushed the throttle until it could go no further and felt herself being pushed back into her seat. The huge Imperial ship became larger and larger as she approached, she could see the tiny shapes of ponies running inside the ship through the windows that dotted the carriage.
The unmistakable sounds of the main guns firing rang through the air. Seconds later, Scootaloo spotted the shells speeding towards The Crusader, leaving vapour trails in their wake. The heavy rounds missed the ship by mere hoof-lengths. She sighed in relief, then furrowed her brows in realization. They wanted to kill her friends.
Those shots were not warnings. This was real. Why? she asked herself, smuggling was a crime, so was their evasion, but to go as far as to try and kill them? Scootaloo's mind drew a blank: this was insane.
She gulped and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to regain her determination, and clasped her hooves over the trigger on the yoke. The Expedite shook violently as its twin cannons fired a burst point-blank into the fore of the much larger ship.
She popped an eye open and quickly pulled back on the yoke. The Imperial ship's hole-ridden flank was incredibly close. Scootaloo smiled grimly as she entered the cloud of soot that billowed around the Imperial craft.
From the corner of her eye, she saw both of the fighter bi-planes launch from their ramps. One, then another. The pair of planes re-aligned themselves and turned towards her. Her smile faded.
The two planes were twin-seaters, equipped with a powerful rear-mounted turret but with a weak front firing gun. She couldn't afford to get behind any of them lest she face those machine guns.
Scootaloo pulled her plane into a tight loop, cringing as her body pushed into the harness, and faced the gigantic ship once more. The turrets were changing their trajectory to aim at her.
She laughed as a single tear rolled down her face. At least her friends would be safe. Scootaloo fired another burst into the ship and was satisfied to see a small tear appear on its tarp.
Her attention was stolen as tracers flew past the nose of her fighter. The two bi-planes were rushing towards her, guns blazing as they attempted to get a fix on her little plane.
"Dammit, leave me alone!" she applied some rudder and shifted the nose of her plane until it faced one of the bi-planes head on. Both aircrafts fired at each other. Scootaloo flinched but kept pulling the trigger as bullets dinged off of the weak armour that adorned her craft. It couldn't take much of this.
With a satisfying boom, the Requisitor's fuel tank caught fire. The resulting explosion sent the flaming body of the ship flying in one direction, while what was left of its wing spun crazily towards the ground below.
She stared at the plane she had gunned down, realizing that she had just killed a pony. This was far from glorious. She glanced to the side and took in the image of the other plane shifting towards her as The Crusader in the background was still narrowly avoiding the shells fired by the Conformity. A few random ponies were worth the lives of her friends. "One down, one to go," she whispered as she flew through the cloud of debris and flames left by the downed craft.
Bullets flew by as the Imperial airship below fired at her. "Crap!" Scootaloo spun her ship into another loop and began twisting in an attempt to avoid the Imperial shells.
Suddenly, the Conformity stopped firing at her.
With a loud series of pops, a dozen holes appeared on Expedite's right wing, sending the plane into a corkscrew spin. Scootaloo fought to regain control of the twisting ship, her body banging against the hard sides of the cockpit.
With lots of swearing, pulling and sweating she finally righted herself and started looking around in a panic. "Come on, where are you?" she screamed, frustrated. If she messed up, her friends were going to pay for it with their lives. She twisted from side to side in the harness as she quickly became desperate.
From the corner of her eye she noticed a small grey patch flying above a cloud, the other Requisitor was flying above her. "Found ya!" Scootaloo pulled up and joined the plane within the cloud narrowly avoiding a deadly stream of bullets as she poked through.
She immediately tried to twist and turn to aim at the bi-plane as its pilot countered her every move. The two planes spun and twisted in the air, The Requisitor's lack of speed was compensated by its agility and the pilot's skill.
Scootaloo swore as she felt and heard the wing of her plane forcing against the pressure of the sudden turns. Below her she spotted The Crusader, it was still attempting to flee from the imperial ship. "Crap," she swore again, imagining Sweetie Belle drilling her for using such foul language.
"Oh, shut it, I've got no time for this!"
The Conformity was still hot on The Crusader's tail, just as the Requisitor was on hers.
She hit the communications unit. "Guys, I need your help!" She started to hatch a desperate plan.
"Don't know if you noticed, but we are in a pickle here too!" answered Sweetie Belle.
"Just listen to me: I can't shake this guy off my tail. I'll do a flyby of The Crusader, use the belly gun to distract him."
She heard Apple Bloom sigh across the unit. "Fine, Ah'll try."
Scootaloo gave up on the dogfight and flew over top The Crusader. She retracted the Expedite's wings with a crunch and her ship dropped like a rock. The enemy plane flipped over and followed her down, firing all the way down. She jammed her hooves on the rudder controls to avoid the streams of bullets from above.
With a loud whoosh, she flew right by The Crusader, glancing at her home as it whizzed by in a fraction of a second. Scootaloo jerked back the wing controls and expanded them, sending a silent prayer to Luna that the damaged wing would hold. It crackled and protested, but held firm as her ship lurched and suddenly caught the wind rocketing her forward and under the protection of The Crusader.
As the Expedite passed underneath The Crusader, she saw the bottom-mounted turret move and position itself to aim right behind her. She smiled and saluted at it knowing that Apple Bloom, inside the small gun turret, was unlikely to spot her.
Apple Bloom's turret fired just as the remaining Requisitor appeared. The powerful machine guns boomed as they ripped the small aircraft apart, sending its flaming remains hurtling to the desert ground below. Scootaloo cheered loudly into the microphone.
"Scoot, it's catching up." Screamed Sweetie Belle, the desperation in her voice evident even through the fizz and crackle of the radio.
"What? But that's impossible!" Scootaloo skimmed around The Crusader, her mouth gaping open at what she saw there.
The Conformity had its nose pointed downward, directly at The Crusader. Its sharp blade cutting through the wind as its downward momentum gave it speed. Most impressive was the fumes coming from the engines, it was no longer dark soot but now puffy rainbow-colored smoke. "Zap Apple Fuel." she whispered, horrified.
The gigantic ship chugged towards The Crusader with no sign of turning or changing course. What is it doing, at that speed it's-, "It's going to ram you!" she screamed.
With a loud, sickening crunch, the Conformity's sharp nose sliced through The Crusader. Scootaloo watched, speechless and amazed as the ship she called home was bisected by the powerful Imperial airship.
The pilot's cabin and the cargo hold each held on to one of the balloons as what was one ship turned into two under the force of the Imperial destroyer. Parts of the scaffolding and what was left of the railings flew in every direction spreading out below.
Scootaloo, horrified, simply stared at her home being wrecked, she saw a white pony she recognized as Pipsqueak fall from the pilot's cabin. His small white body was contrasting sharply against the bright red balloon that he crashed into. The quickly-deflating balloon still barely hung onto the cargo hold it twisted and turned, Pipsqueak flung his hooves around desperate for a hold, his hoof wrapped around a loose cord, swinging him around as he hung on for dear life.
She lost sight of The Crusader and of Pipsqueak as the ship sank below the clouds in a trail of dark smoke.
Scootaloo looked up through teary shock-filled eyes to see what was left of The Crusader being harpooned by the Conformity.
The Conformity's cargo bay was open and dozens of ponies were firing harpoon guns into the remaining balloon which still held onto the pilot's cabin. As they reeled it in, the cabin shook and bounced, finally ramming the Imperial ship's cargo bay door. Within seconds, it was tied down near the belly of the Conformity and was swarmed by pegasi wearing the grey uniform of the Imperial Navy.
Through her tears and sobs, Scootaloo heard a crackle from the radio. "Run Scoot, run!" She looked back at the ship in time to see the Imperial pegasi tackle her friend through the windows of The Crusader's cabin.
Scootaloo stared at her controls. What should I do? The thought slowly and sluggishly made its way to her mind that her friends were either dead or captured. Tears streamed down her face, blinding her, but she was unable to muster the strength to wipe them away. Acting purely on instinct, she did what she did best: she ran.
Behind her, what was left of The Crusader was unceremoniously dumped out of the Imperial ship. As if to give one last act of revenge, parts of the quickly deflating balloon whipped around and rammed into the side of the ship, dinging its killer and shaking the entire Imperial craft. The Crusader slowly waved and trembled as it flew one last time through the beautiful Equestrian skies, now devoid of its precious occupants.
Special thank you to Č̩̣̌́h̤͙̦ͤͦ̑ͧ̑ͦ͘͠ͅr̨̭̝̫̻̽ỏ̴͔̯͔́m̧͖̪̩̃͝ŏ͉͙͛́̍̓ͫ͆͘͡s̡͈͇̝̮͕̙̫͆o̵̭̝̜͆͞m̴̘͗͂ͨͧ͛̾̓͟ê͎̠͉̬͎̙̩̠̜͘͟ for the invaluable tips. TheWattsMan and Cheezepony for the incredible editing and Closetbrony for letting me flood him with stupid ideas. Also Jelfes for helping me iron out the last little wrinkles. And I must not forget The SALT-Block:
And of course the wonderful ponies who let me use their art as well as the folks from EqD and Fimfic!
If you need to contact me () or images (Deviant Art) please do so at: 501 or in the Fimfictions comment section!
Have a nice day! The next chapter will be released once editing is complete.