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FF7: The Pony's Tale

© 2004 Stratadrake/Draconus of TWZ


Prologue

Second Revision (4-11-2004)

Once upon a time, there was a Land; a vast, uncharted wilderness filled with blue seas, green plains, lush forests and magnificent views. Inhabiting this Land were three tribes of Ponies: the earth ponies, ruling over the plains; pegasi, ruling the mountains and hills; and the unicorns, mystics who lived among both tribes to serve as scholars and mages.

Yes, once upon that time it was a Land filled with peace. But like many times of peace it did not last: Long ago, legends say, a great disaster beset itself upon the Land, plunging it into darkness. Although the Pony tribes of yore fought valiantly against it, and although they say the darkness was sealed away, it was a disaster from which the Land and its inhabitants would never recover.

While the earth ponies and pegasi tribes recouped their numbers and went on to greatness, the mystic unicorns that long ago guided them fell near to extinction. Sands of time rendered this tale, that of a Land filled with peace and serenity, as but a distant dream. Times of exploration and peace were now separated by hatred and war. Enormous cities would be built, not with respect for the Land but, rather, contempt. And chief among these cities would be a massive technological wonder: the hovering citadel, the Midnight City.

The Midnight City; the capital of the new world order, constructed high above the Land on a gigantic plateau of concrete pillars and metal latticework. A shining beacon that can be seen even from beyond the horizon. Said to be the utopian ideal of the modern ponies' society. But scratch the surface of this City and the utopian ideal shatters.

Look beneath the surface, beneath Midnight City's upper plate, to reveal a foundation not of concrete and metal, but of corruption and lies. Here, hiding in shadows that no sunlight can dispel, lies the true nature of Midnight City's architects, manifest in piles of trash and undesirables not fit anywhere in its upper realm. These, as they are called, are the Slumps: The great garbage heap of Midnight City; an unnoticeable, unmentionable pile of scrap filled of stench, reeking in a hatred and a loathing of the upper class. Ultimately, even the most ardent efforts of Upper Class security fail to cover the stench and darkness emenating from the dark, true self of Midnight City, and a great cloud hangs over the Upper Class, filtering out the sun's rays until both day and night are one and the same.

Look past the shattered dream of Midnight City to reveal one Pony ekeing out a bare survival in the Slumps for every one citizen enjoying the life of glamour in the Upper Class. This great lower class of Midnight City's population, ignored by the upper class and forever separated from those who write the laws, and from those who make the history books.

Examine closely the Lower Class inhabitants of Midnight City, and you will find a mix not much unlike those of the Upper Class inhabitants themselves. Some are murderers, criminals, and troublemakers. Others are honest, respectful citizens, unaffording of either the money or the will to live in a City anchored to propaganda and deceit, choosing instead to remain loyal to the ground they have always called home.

The great Lower Class of Midnight City . . . those without hope, those without rights. And yet, there are some who, with no permission over their own fates, take to the black arts of crime and violence, in an attempt to wrench the reins of power from their legal owners, a band of corrupt ponies calling themselves the Rin Sha. Echoing between buildings are whispers of the ancient disaster come upon them again; spray-painted across billboards are warnings of future disasters to come.

Because once the Snow-slide begins, it will be too late for the pebbles to cast votes.


Chapter One: A Preemptive Strike

Second Revision (4-19-2004)

The smoke-laden air of the Eighth District rang out in pain as a locomotive and four cars entered the station, sliding to a stop as it filled the atmosphere with steam from its brakes. It was a cargo train, long bound to the servitude of distributing parcels between the upper Districts of Midnight City, proper, and the Slumps beneath, and in a moment it resigned the sanctity of its interiors to inspection by two security pony personnel.

One of the pair began speaking to the train's conductor as the other entered the train to check for troublemakers. Even cargo trains could not earn the trust of security to be free of live passengers. With a standard-issue laser rifle drawn over his shoulder, the guard slowly trotted through the length of each car, emerging out the opposite end of the train with a smile across his face, signalling that only inanimate cargo had been found inside.

The first security pony nodded to his comrade as the locomotive's conductor disembarked from his seat aboard the train. On many previous occasions they had given arrest to illegal immigrants from the Slumps, those whose lack of ID cards signalled their lack of permission to be up here. Fortunately, this night was not a re-iteration of the same.

A flickering shadow earned but a momentary attention from one of the guards, who glanced upwards, intending to locate the source of the object, yet he saw nothing through the smoke and steam being vented from the train's cooling systems. The guard was about to resume his normal duties when a blue projectile launched itself from the roof of the train, on a deadly collision course for the first officer.

The guard has no time to react as a flying blue equine plowed straight into him. Immediately the second guard drew his rifle, but the intruder had sensed this coming, and almost immediately after landing, launched himself upwards once again.

Bruised but still conscious, the second guard scrambled to his feet and hastily scanned his eyes about the area, drawing and activating his laser rifle for use. As the two guards looked around in cursory anticipation of the intruder, they failed to notice an accomplice appearing from the roof of one car.

The flying intruder descended once again, piercing through the thick steam like a shaft of light dispelling darkness, and front hooves first landed right on the same guard's back with such a force to have snapped it, had it not been for the sentinel's padded armor absorbing part of the blow. Nonetheless, the injury was too much for the officer's conciousness to sustain, and he blacked out.

The conductor became horrified by the events now transpiring. Long ago, in the times of legend, the mere thought of such pony against pony violence would be called sacrilege. And yet, for the modern world, sacrilege was their way of life. The conductor tried to escape and summon reinforcements, but immediately as he tried, a third invader descended from the roof of the train. This gray equine delivered a stunning blow to the conductor's head, forcing him into the wall and preventing him from fulfilling that mission.

The remaining security officer squeezed the trigger on his laser rifle and fired a warning shot in the direction of the two intruders. Instantly the intruders took notice to the bright yellow beam searing a visible line through steam and dust, and fled for cover. But the officer never acknowledged that there was a third assailant, still waiting for an opportunity to act. And that opportunity came now.

The third intruder jumped off of the roof they had been lying on, landing on the concrete floor of the station. The sudden introduction of hooves clattering to the ground diverted the security pony's attention away from the intruding pair scattered before him, and he was greeted by the sight of the enemy hoof that shortly sent him into the realm of the unconscious.

The three assailants silently rejoiced at the lack of an alarm. Theirs was, after all, a stealth mission, so the less of a trail they left, the better. Two more accomplices appeared on the roof of the train and climbed down, the weight of their bulky frames impeding a more acrobatic descent. One of these, identifiable as a brown-skinned earth pony draped in a ragged vest and some metal armor, particularly on his right front leg which emitted a dull sheen from its metallic surface, was the first to speak up. But rather than congratulating his fellow comrades for their job well done, he instead called the other four to attention with a loud and forceful voice, then proceeded to bark out orders like a leader.

"Lissen up!" The brown leader ordered. "Someone may've heard that, so split up and rendezvous at the checkpoint north of here!"

Three of the comrades, earth ponies of varying yet flat colors responded with a quick "Yessir!" and began galloping through the nearest exits of the station towards their objective. The only comrade remaining on the scene was the flying pony that had initiated their assault, now folding his wings and rummaging through the fallen guards for anything that could prove of value.

"Hey, we got no time for that! Get a move on, flyer!" The brown pony ordered. The pegasus, though, did not offer a response to the order as he found and pocketed a small purse from the fallen soldier.

The brown pony, not known for a calm temperament, became momentarily enraged by the pegasus's act of insubordination. "Have it your way! If you get caught, we ain't goin' down with ya!"

The brown pony immediately began galloping northwards as the pegasus pocketed something else from the inactive, yet still alive, guard on the concrete beneath him. The pegasus then looked up, spotting the train's conductor stirring. A strange glint of twinkling light reflected from his eyes, and then he disappeared into the distance, catapulting himself ten feet into the air under the power of pegasus wings not quite strong enough to maintain more than a second or two of genuine flight.


A mile and a few minutes passed of scattering hooves, occasional shouts for security, and one pegasus leaping and gliding from the roof of one small structure to the next. But even his wings would not grant him access to their target, and soon he was forced to descend to street level, where he met three of his comrades who had arrived at the checkpoint before him. The first was an off-white redhead, a mare currently fumbling against the color-coded control pad of a door right by them. The pegasus looked at the unsuccessful efforts of the hacker now at work against the door's lock. "Is something wrong?"

"They changed the codes...," the second comrade, a dusty yellow, almost tan-colored pony in short black hair and wearing a necklace composed of many small explosives linked together, answered.

The hacker, having ceased her work, looked at her watch in despair. Time was against them, yet if she failed a second time, an alarm would alert the authorities to their presence and the mission would be over in seconds. Suddenly she noticed the time, her perfectly-synchronized watch displaying one minute after twelve plus some odd seconds. "Damn, how could I be that stupid? Of course they changed the codes, it's midnight! We need Sunday's code now." Triumphant at this revelation she spent her second and final attempt on punching a different sequence of colors into the lock, either now or never.

Success! The door chimed happily then conceded its resistance, responding with the sounds of several locks disengaging, then by a loud clack as its latch unhooked and a crack appeared between it and the jamb.

The pegasus looked back as their leader, the brown earth pony, appeared dashing around the corner. "Damn, they spotted us! Jess, we in yet?" He shouted.

The mare, answering to the sound of her name, quickly pushed the door open. "Everyone inside!"

Jess first, everyone dashed inside. In moments, all five of their members had been accounted for, and Jess shut the door and in response the door's lock resumed its default condition with the sounds of deadbolts latching into place, just moments before a patrol of enemy soldiers came into view of it. The door itself betrayed no sign of their presence to the authorities, but even so, with their leader having been spotted, the enemy would soon know they were there, and perchance where they were heading. Now more than anything they needed to be stealthy, and more importantly, fast, in accomplishing their objective.

"Berett, are you okay?" Jess asked to the leader.

"Yeah, I'm fine ... no thanks to soldier-boy here," the leader Berett answered, pinning his own failure to remain unseen of on the newest member of their group. "Maybe if you weren't lollygagging around back there, they wouldnt'a spotted us! Now that they know we're here, it won't take them long to guess where we're headin'..."

The pegasus scoffed as he brushed some of his uncombed blone hair out of his eyes; hair that, like a reflection of his own self, refused to stay down and in line, choosing instead to stand up and out in the open, rendering itself as a series of blonde spikes sprouting from the head of its owner. "Look, let's just finish this job and get the hell out of here, before anything else happens."

"Look at you!" Berett angrily piped back. "Bad enough they're on ta us. We gotta hurry up and get in there before they send their whole Military to guard the place!!"

"Then shouldn't we discuss this on the way?" The pegasus asked. And for once, the leader agreed with him.

"Damn that's right," Berett said. "We can't jump this train now, we gotta keep going! Jess...."

Jess perked up at the sound of her name. "Yeah?"

"Give our little flyer the package...," Berett ordered, gesturing to the pegasus.

Jess unshouldered a burden she had been carrying ever since their mission began, setting down a cloth bag for a moment before she lifted it up and began strapping it to the pegasus's back.

"Why me?" The pegasus asked.

"Cuz you're the new kid," Berett answered with a smirk. "I wanna make sure you don't pull nothin'. What did she call you 'gain?""

"Cloud," the pegasus answered.

"Okay, now remember," Jess informed. "You press the red button to prepare the timer, then turn the key one-quarter circle and remove it. Once that happens you'll have about ten minutes to get out of there."

"And we better have an escape route planned too," Berett said, turning to their other two comrades who nodded in agreement. "That'll be your job once we're in. Jess's a piece of work; there ain't no stopping that timer once it gets going, so we gotta have a clear run on the way out or it's all over."

"And after that?" Cloud asked.

Berett laughed heartily. "That'll be the fun part. Once we get away, this whole Refractor ain't gonna be anything more than a pile o' junk!"

Jess dismissed Berett's laughter with a shake of her head. "You do know that taking out the power generator will black out this entire District, right?" She warned.

Berett paused, contemplating the statement he had just been given. Finally, he came to a decision and changed the subject. "There ain't no time to worry about that! We gotta get a move on! Now!"

In a moment they vacated the area, Jess leading the way using a mental map that she had studied and memorized before they left home. Travelling through the aisles of what looked like an old, vacated storage facility, they soon arrived at a metal catwalk covering a seemingly bottomless void between them and their target.

Towering over the abyss beneath them, with legs that drove straight down into it and the ground far beneath, there it was. Emblazoned proudly with the cracked red diamond that was the Rin Sha logo stood the Eighth District Refractor, a source of energy and power for this slice of the city, or in their opinion, the greatest scourge ever to threaten the Land. Multicolored smoke poured upwards from its towers into the air, mixing in with the City's upper atmosphere to create a barrier that even the strongest of light cannot dispel. Structures like this one before them gave Midnight City its power, its life, and also its infamy. And tonight, it occupied the top tier of their hit list.

All five ponies rushed out through the open, the leader first, followed by the pegasus, and with the three other earth ponies taking up the rear, in particular the chubby one, carrying a laser rifle of his own and watching the scenery for whatever threat could choose to present itself. Without instance they made their way to the door of the Refractor. It was locked, but yielded to their hacker's skills and its official color code, and soon they were in.

Only a dull hum of machinery buried deeply within the Refractor complex echoed off of the walls as they walked in through the entrance, past hat and coat racks devoid of all but company-issued raincoats. Greenish flourescent lights shone down from recessed fixtures, the lack of their complement indicating that most of the Refractor's operations staff had gone home for the night. At most, there would be no more than a few night-shift security officers lurking around the most vital intersections in the building's numerous office-filled corridors.

Immediately Jess spotted a large office to their left. They walked onto carpeted floor as they entered a room lined with tables and computer monitors. Jess immediately took to one of the terminals, which some employee had forgotten to shut off for the night. Worse still, they had forgotten to lock the computer down with a password. As Jess shook the terminal free of its screen saver, she immediately began browsing through it. But there was no time to explore this gold mine of hackerdom, no time to download files or passwords for later use. Quickly and easily Jess snaked through the terminal's menus and databases, and located a security map of the facility which soon appeared on the monitor. She scanned through the color-coded map carefully. "Okay... if we take elevator A, we can get as far down as sublevel 5. There's a security checkpoint nearby, but if we can get past that we can get right down to the Refractor's core. All we need to do after that is find a place to set the bomb, then get out."

"What about the escape route?" Berett asked.

"Right. Biggs, Wedge...," Jess began, motioning to their other two comrades. They trotted over and Jess gave them a quick rundown of how to read the security map, as well as how to switch between views of the various levels. "If all goes well, you'll have about five minutes to secure a way out," Jess informed.

"Okay! Biggs, Wedge, you work on that exit and get it open. And don't go setting off any alarms...."

Biggs nodded. "Leave it to us. We'll hold the door for ya."

Berett smiled and nodded. "Okay Jess, you know where to go, so lead on."

Jess nodded as well and then exited this room through a rearward exit, into a hallway. They travelled silently, aware that around the corner they could discover a security camera watching for them, or worse, a team of security ponies who could sound off the site's main alarm. If that happened, their mission would be over in an instant.

They halted at the stem of a T-shaped intersection between hallways. The desired elevator was just around the corner, but if luck was against them it would not be the only thing around the bend. Jess produced a small device of her own making; it was a thermal imager, and with it she could look through the walls to determine if any warm bodies like pony personnel were nearby. With the device strapped over her head, she scanned the area, the only warm bodies in sight being that of Berett, Cloud, and their other comrades in the office behind them. Cautiously, Jess nodded to Berett; the coast, it seemed, was clear. But Berett, not trusting such a device to be accurate, stood paralell to the intersection and then carefully peered around the corner, slowly so as not to catch the attention of any security if there was any. As Berett spied one way and then the other, he concurred with Jess: they were in the clear.

Jess led them down the left fork of the intersection and soon pointed out the elevator they needed. Jess pressed a button on the elevator to summon it to their level. A chime responded twice, indicating that the elevator car was already at their floor, and the doors opened to reveal a large, empty, yet well-illuminated elevator car capable of holding about four to six ponies at a time. The three of them trotted inside, and Jess hit a button marked 'B5'. The doors closed, then they left gravity behind on the top floor as the elevator began its descent.

Berett watched the elevator's display as it closely counted down through the floors they were passing by. He sighed. "It's cuz of these weird Refractors that the Land's been hurtin'...."

"So?" Cloud huffed, uninterested in a lesson.

"Look around, haven't ya seen it?" Berett asked, rhetorically. "They say Midnight City was built on green fields among all the local wildlife. But nature abhors a Refractor -- there ain't no grass, no plants, no animals anymore within 10 miles of the place no more. All there is anymore is dull gray lifeless rock. And the smoke from these Refractors don't help none either; can't grow food without sunlight shining in ya know. And 'cuz there ain't no sun down here, they jus' pump the Land even more for their lights. It's a... Jess what do they call that circular sorta thing?"

"Ah yes. 'Self-fulfilling prophecy'...," Jess answered.

"Spare me the lecture," Cloud said. "Small-talk can wait; we've got to focus on the mission. Once we're done and I get my pay...."

"Shu'up about the money, Mr. ex-Stallion!" Beret yelled back. "You know you ain't gettin' paid squat until we're safe and home again! Don't you forget, that's the deal we agreed to!"

Cloud shook his head as the elevator's display ticked past the 'B2' level. Why didn't he ask for his money up front? No, wait. He did ask for the money up front. But Berett, not willing to trust Cloud, insisted that the mission come first and the money later. Cloud looked back. "Let's just get this over with, before they call in the military."

Bertt agreed rather than curse the luck that had created this predicament for them.

Gravity reasserted itself with a vengeance as the elevator stopped on sublevel five. The doors chimed and opened, revealing a bleak sight. A room approximately thirty feet wide, square, awaited them, devoid of decorations save for orange sodium lights shining dimly from above and a large crane turret that, long ago, would have been used for moving heavy equipment. The three of them disembarked and looked around at the cold steel surrounding them. To the left was a door large enough to taxi a small airplane through, locked and secured. To their right was a railing separating them from a chasm approximately fifty feet downwards. Various pipes interlinked their way down the far wall, and there was a stairway nearby to lead safely down. Jess identified it as their path. Walking quietly over, they looked down, spotting the security checkpoint Jess had previously warned them of.

"There are three guards down there," Jess observed quietly to Cloud and Berett as they peered over the edge. "What should we do?"

Berett examined the stairs leading downwards. The staircase descended in a zigzag fashion not entirely unlike external fire-escape stairs. Twenty steps down one way, then twenty down the other, only to return to its previous direction and repeat for about six iterations until, finally, it became one with the floor beneath.

Jess looked over it. The metal grating on the steps would obscure the guards' view of them as they descended, but it would still alert the guards to a pony's presence if they tried descending. With luck they could probably make it down about two or three landings without being spotted outright. Or, if luck chose to fight against them this time, they would be discovered the moment they began descending. "I don't like it. They'll spot us long before we arrive at the bottom....

"Cloud, what do you --" Jess asked, turning just in time to see the blue pegasus launching himself over the railing with his wings. "-- CLOUD!!"

"Damn, what's that showoff up to!?" Berett muttered angrily. Cloud glided over to the pipes on the far wall and then rebounded back, looking down in preparations for a dive attack on the guards below.

"Berett, come on!" Jess insisted, realizing Cloud's choice of tactics. If the security personnel spotted the pegasus about to descend upon them it would all be over. They needed a diversion, fast, and Jess provided one by running down the stairs and making just about as much noise against its metal grated steps as she possibly could.

Luck was with them, for now. The noise of two earth ponies rushing loudly down the flight of stairs filled the room and diverted the guards' attention towards the staircase, as they saw two as-yet unidentifiable equine shadows rushing down past each landing of the stairs. They drew their rifles and prepared to attack, in doing so leaving themselves exposed for an improbabe divebombing from above.

Jess and Berett continued running down the stairs, fearing that at any moment the guards could open fire on them with their military-grade laser rifles, but aware that Cloud had chosen their game plan this time -- a bit impetuously perhaps, but still nonetheless Cloud's controlled descent towards the security below would succeed only if Cloud could retain an element of surprise.

Even when Jess and Berett no longer had any of their own.

"Freeze right there!" One of the sentinels ordered, a low-power sight on his rifle projecting a red dot right across Jess's head. Jess skidded to a stop, her eyes tracing the blue comrade, now in freefall, about to land on the first of the enemy personnel.

In another moment, Jess and Berett had succeeded in drawing a bead from all three enemy rifles, their only hope for success being their winged comrade descending at a rapid pace towards their unsuspecting foes. To succeed in this plan of action, Jess and Berett had given away their positions to the guards now slowly trotting over, lasers still drawn upon them. With an undivided hold over their foes' attention, they watched as a blue streak descended from the heavens on a lethal collision course with their foes.

Curving his path at the last moment, Cloud transformed his freefalling body into a living missile and exploded right into into the first of their foes, hooves first. The foe was knocked ten feet to the side as Cloud, retaining a majority of his momentum, rebounded into the second sentinel and inflicted a similar fate. The third opponent had barely enough time to register the sudden noises behind him and turn around, when Cloud the projectile had impacted into him too. Like an unstoppable force Cloud had plowed himself through all three of the guards at this checkpoint, and now with surplus velocity he ascended twelve feet up into the air, hovered for a moment, and with his wings dispelled the remainder of his momentum as he floated down easily as a leaf in autumn.

Cloud's tactic had worked. Jess was relieved; Berett, insubordinated once again. "What do ya think you were doing!!" Berett shouted out angrily.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't time against us?" Cloud asked. "I knew I could take them out from there and buy us some more time...."

"Damn flyer, showing off like that...," Berett cursed to himself. "Next time fill us in when you get an idea, right!?"

"Whatever," Jess said. "The maintenance door is straight ahead. That'll get us to the core. Then we just find a good place for the bomb, and get out of here."

Jess ran ahead, stopping by the first of the security guards to search him over. Rummaging quickly through the fallen pony's uniform she pilfered a set of keys and an ID card. She then ran ahead to a door inhabiting a space immediately next to a security monitor. With a swipe of the stolen ID card, Jess earned access to the door faster than even her conditioned hacking could otherwise provide. In a split second the door unlocked and Jess pushed it open, revealing a stench of foul machinery and a mass of piping.

"We should be closing in on the core," Jess said as Berett and Cloud followed through the doorway after her, and Jess shut it after them. Paralell as the the stripes on a road, a highway of metal piping led the way forwards, surrounded by vertical conduits connecting machinery above to mechanisms below. Jess clambered onto one of them, realizing that their shiny surface betrayed how slippery they were. Carefully angling her hooves to fit along the cracks between adjacent pipes Jess found relatively safe footing, then began carefully stepping her way across. Carefully mimicking her footsteps Cloud and Berett followed.

Jess looked around at the hidden world they had entered. Soon the pipes gave way to a metal-grated maintenance catwalk, suspended far above a source of turquoise light and heat beneath them. Jess scanned the area, from the conduit-laden walls and ceiling to the glowing abyss far beneath them.

"What is that stuff, smooze or somethin'?" Berett asked, sending his voice out to echo off of the walls. Many a young pony had been told the fairy tale of that legendary, pseudo-living substance that nearly enveloped the Land in its entirety, only to fail against the power of an ancient Pony clan; yet none had ever seen what it looked like. In truth, this was not it; and yet, in some ways it bore some similarities: through the bright glow beneath them one could almost make out the tumultuous surface of a liquid-like substance, with large bubbles giving the impression of eyes staring back up at them.

"What, haven't you ever seen the core of a Refractor before?" Cloud asked, looking down at the shimmering, rainbow-colored reflections of the abyss now beneath them, an odd familiarity sparking in his memory. "That's the blood of this Land, as you keep calling it. The refractors collect it and filter useful energy out of --"

"I know all that!" Berett shouted back. "I jus-- I just never seen it for real before...."

"This way," Jess said, leading them to a stairway that led farther downwards. They descended for about thirty feet to a reinforced catwalk perhaps fifty feet still above the glowing depths beneath them. This path branched in two directions. At one end was something resemblant of a service elevator, also locked down and secured. Jess led the way in the opposite direction of that dead end, and after passing through a partition separating these glowing depths into multiple chambers, encountered a monitor station of some sort next to various conduits stemming up from the white abyss into and through the ceiling above, with two large conduits particularly noticeable from the rest. Jess looked at the various readouts on the monitor station and began contemplating what it could be used for. "Okay, what is this...."

"We don't have all night," Berett stated impatiently. "Can't we set the bomb here?"

"Just a minute," Jess answered. "It all depends on what kind of energy runs through these conduits...." Jess hit a button on the console and a diagram of its systems appeared on its small monitor. Various symbols and numbers crowded around its diagrams of piping and levels. "Aha! We're in luck. This a pumping station for the rainbow energy below us."

"The what?" Cloud asked, for the particular term had tried to ring a dusty bell in his memory. But Jess ignored the question and continued on with her revelation. "This is what we're looking for. One of these conduits is a fuel line for the pump mechanisms around us, and the other routes the energy back up to the refracting and filtering systems."

"Get to the point!" Berett insisted, impatiently.

"Okay, okay. We can set the bomb here. When it explodes, it'll knock out the Refractor's entire fuel supply, and it won't be able to run anymore. ...I wager it'll take several months for them to reconstruct this level."

"That's it?" Berett objected, a little disappointed by Jess's prediction. "I thought you said we could take out this entire Refractor with it!"

Jess sighed. "Don't worry. We set the bomb here, we cut out its heart, and then this whole complex will be just another empty corpse hanging off of the Rin Sha's purse-strings."

Berett sighed. "...Alright, we'll do it. Cloud, you set the bomb."

"Shouldn't Jess do it?" Cloud asked.

"No, you're new so we gotta make sure you got the stuff to finish the job."

Cloud sighed as Jess helped him unfasten the 'package' from his back. Jess directed Cloud on the best location to put the explosive as he set it underneath the control panel and secured it to the fixture using its vinyl straps. Remembering Jess's directions, Cloud located a red button next to a blank timer readout. He pressed the red button once, and the bomb's electronic systems turned on and began blinking '10:00'.

Cloud reached for the small, silver key that would activate the package's explosive. But he stopped short of turning it, paused, then looked back at Berett expectantly. "What did you say?"

"Why're ya lookin' at me?" Berett shouted back. "I didn't say nothing...."

"I could've sworn you said something about this refractor...," Cloud muttered.

"Jus' set the bomb aleady!"

Cloud looked to Jess, but she shook her head in response, as she hadn't said anything on that subject just now, either.

Cloud shrugged, then wrenched the key free from the bomb. The key turned a quarter circle and clicked before it popped out, while the timer's readout changed to '10:10' and began counting down, sounding out a small electronic beep with each passing second. Soon it gave out a long beep as the timer iterated past '10:00', and then it proceeded to count down silently.

"Okay, it's set. Let's get out of here," Cloud said, turning back to the others.


Footnotes:

Chapter Two is also new (the original Chapter Two is now Chapter Three), and continues with the remainder of Snowslide's first mission. Getting in was the easy part; next they have to find a way out. Don't miss it!

MLP references for this chapter include Smooze, and the "sacrilege" of pony-on-pony violence.

The last line of the Prologue is a tribute to Babylon 5.