Her body trembled with exhilaration; she was FLYING!!
The sensors in her helmet were minimal, but easily tracked her flight speed and pitch as she banked around the oval flight track. The armour glinted in the midday sun, bare steel easily spotted in the shining light, not to mention the quartet of glowing white-blue "wings" that vibrated over her back. The metal form was only hidden for a split second as another cloud-ring was cleared on her way about the track. After four laps, she was growing more comfortable and confidant of her armour's abilities in the air.
She reached out a hoof, firing the plasma ejector to correct her course, and the armour jerked in response. Clockwork frowned, noting to herself to recalibrate the jets for the changed flight system, and relied instead on the new wings to correct her course properly.
"Is that ALL your tin can has?" came the sneering voice to her left. Clockwork didn't spare Ultrapony a glance, even as he pulled up alongside her. He was reclined on his back, his wings barely seeming to pump as he kept up with her easily, "Seriously, I expected something more with all your chatter the past week or so."
Clockwork grinned, "Then maybe I should remind you this is only the first revision. But if you really insist on seeing what the Dragonfly Mk I can do ." She had anticipated not only this challenge, but had a burning desire to at least give the big-mouthed stallion a run for his money.
"I don't think you can make that junk-heap go faster."
Clockwork didn't answer, shifting her hooves to align to her sides, pointing all four of the plasma jets behind her now. The wings followed a pre-programmed pattern, folding back to resemble a fixed wing as they ceased their vibrations, as a wide plasma jet exhaust opened on her back. For a moment, she lost speed as the unit glided through the air on its own momentum. The transformation of the armour from an agile insect design to something closely resembling a high-speed jet was now complete, and a flick of her hoof powered up the new jet, which roared to life as blue-white plasma poured from it. The angled design of the armour played a double purpose now, minimizing her wind resistance, and the pony leapt forward on this new burst of power.
Sensors inside the helmet shifted to reflect the new alterations, forming a sort of tunnel vision to improve her long ranged sight, allowing her to see obstacles from much father away. It made planning her flight easier, but more precarious, as even a small adjustment could send her careening off course. Somehow that didn't bother Clockwork as much as it should, the rush and adrenaline of just flying flowed through her as sure as any drug. In that moment Clockwork knew there was no turning back, she wouldn't be able to give this up!
Ultrapony caught up again, but his sneer had vanished. He was having to make a real effort to keep up with her now, reaching his hooves forward to pour the speed on further.
"I will NOT let you beat me!" he shouted at her, but Clockwork nudged the power slightly higher. She was nearing maximum output, but she wasn't tapped yet, and she was certain her power supply could outlast the other pony.
"Who said you had a choice?" she goaded him, the armour starting to edge forward on the course, and she carefully shifted her weight to lean into the turn. Ultrapony glanced at her, frowned, and poured on more speed from somewhere. The dual ponies sped once more around the course, both having to sharpen their turns to keep on the path, looking like nothing more then a pair of streaks to those on the ground. Clockwork's eyes quickly glanced over the readouts and smiled, stress testing had been the official reason for flexing her robotic wings, and so far the armour had passed with flying colors. Being able to keep pace with Ultrapony was just icing on the cake.
"Princess Luna suggests you both make a final climb and dive," Galaxi's voice echoed in her mind, "She is curious if your armour can manage a Sonic Rainboom."
"IMPOSSIBLE!!" Ultrapony roared, "That THING can NOT do it!"
"Let's find out." Clockwork stated, and keyed the jets, breaking from the looping race to arc skyward, Ultrapony nipping at her heels. The two streaked upwards into the air, almost completely even with each other, before one began to break off. Ultrapony was the first to let himself stall out, starting his dive even as Clockwork pushed the armour a little higher, wanting more room for error if needed. Finally she was satisfied and cut the power to the engines to allow her flight path to stall out.
The momentary freefall grabbed at Clockwork's heart with an icy sense of panic, but she forcibly swallowed it down, watching her sensors as she rotated around to start her fall. She triggered all of the jets at once, filling the sky with the white-blue fire. A sensor check showed her that Ultrapony had chosen a slightly different flight path, and would come down well out of shockwave range, and silently Clockwork wished she'd thought of that herself. She hated to admit it, but he'd been flying long enough to know all the "rules" and tricks. Inwardly she cringed at the thought of needed to ask him for advice on such things.
She refocused on her descent, and saw the bending of the air about her, as solid as a wall. She frowned as she realized there was a reason for Ultrapony having kept his fore-hooves straight forward, it wasn't just showing off, it was to force open a hole in this barrier. Clockwork swallowed nervously as she eyed the growing counter-force around her, and silently hoped the angled helm would be enough to pierce it, as she couldn't spare a hoof to break the barrier.
The pressure continued to build, causing an alarm to go off in her ear. Clockwork promptly ignored it, re-routing power to her shields would cost her necessary speed, plus the armour didn't yet have the shield emitters installed yet. Clockwork swallowed thickly, flicking her hooves in the armour to put the last few ounces of power into the engines.
For a brief moment, the wall of air before Clockwork was so thick she couldn't see through it, and it felt as solid as steel. Panic clutched at her again, and she half expected to find the barrier impassable, bouncing her off like an errant foal. Then, with a crashing sound, it parted. For a sudden instant, it was as if the world stopped trying to hold her, and a sense of freedom flowed through her. Clockwork couldn't help but smile, the sense of euphoria suffusing her as she streaked forward, followed by a wall of blue-white streaking the sky behind her.
Then the alarms went off. First one, then another, cascading across the sensors in her helmet. System failures across the board, servos locking up, computer crashing, jets loosing power. That last flummoxed her, the jets are loosing power? That shouldn't happen EVER! But it was, the flames of her plasma jets were burning out one by one.
"Clockwork, is something wrong?" Galaxi asked in her head.
"System crash!" she cried in response, "Clear the ground, I'm coming in hot!!"
There was no answer, but Clockwork didn't expect one. Warning lights screamed across her visor, until they started to snap off and fall silent. The intake feeds for the plasma jets powered the entire system, and now, system by system, the armour was shutting down. Finally the visor went dark, leaving her completely blind and desperately mouthing at a switch in the helm, trying to restore power to the system. Gamely, the system tried to reboot, but crashed before it even got started.
Clockwork swore and took a shuddering breath, then with all the energy she could muster, she threw her weight up and back. She knew it was hopeless, but with the armour locked into this position, it could still potentially act like a glider to slow her descent. "Wait it can't. The wings " she choked, realizing the virtual light she used to make the wings of would have collapsed with the system failure; there weren't any wings for glide on! Clockwork clenched her eyes tightly shut, and hoped her brother wouldn't be TOO angry at her for joining him in the afterlife so quickly.
Clockwork almost didn't notice when the sense of speed began to fall away, but she blinked her eyes open when she did. She carefully flexed her head, mouthing at a control switch again. She was rewarded by several internal lights coming to life inside the visor, a low hum that started to power her systems back up, and after a moment her sight snapped into focus as her visor lit up. She could see the ground, still over a hundred feet below, but she was hovering in place surrounded by a corona of silvery light. Clockwork let out a sigh of relief as she realized who caught her.
"I think she's powered back up," someone said off to the side. Ultrapony? She wasn't sure.
"Not yet." Clockwork answered, "It takes a few moments."
"Good thing we were watching then, yes?" another voice asked, which Clockwork immediately recognized.
"Yes Princess," she sighed, "Thank you for the save."
"I hate to admit it, but you got that junk-heap to break the sound barrier," the first voice said, confirming it had to be Ultrapony, "So what happened? Your toy break from the shockwave?"
"As eloquent as ever, I see," Clockwork grumbled, "I don't know yet. I suffered a burnout, which isn't supposed to even be possible with these plasma jets. I mean, they're pure air-feed design into the plasma chamber "
"There's your problem." Ultrapony stated firmly, "After a Rainboom, you move too fast to collect a lot of air, it curves around you as if you were in a bubble. You can't get enough air to breathe properly after breaking the sound barrier, and you'll asphyxiate if you don't slow down again."
Clockwork blinked inside the helm, dumbfounded, "I I see."
"She's an earth pony," Luna pointed out helpfully, "she cannot be expected to know what a pegasus would about flight."
"Just another reason I'm against this thing on the team," he growled softly, then flew off to rejoin the group below.
"Damn, just when I thought he might turn into a decent pony." Clockwork grumbled, the system powered up enough to reactivate the wings, which flared out over her back and rotated to their hovering position. With the plasma jets back up as well, she was able to take control again, and Luna removed the magic holding her aloft.
"Are you sure he is the one at fault here?" Luna asked gently, "Go ahead back to your lab. I'm sure you have plenty of data to look over."
Clockwork sighed, and flew off slowly, unable to help feeling like a scolded child.
"I looked through Ironjaw at your Rainboom," Galaxi told her in her head, "It was breathtaking, a ring of silvery blue that stretched across the sky."
Clockwork grinned widely at that, suddenly cheered by the news, and angled the armour back to the lab.
"You did WHAT?!?"
Clockwork folded her ears at the outburst as the robotic arms undid the bolts and plates that held her in the experimental armour, "I attempted a Sonic Rainboom."
"But Miss Key, we did not have ANY testing data on that! We don't even have simulation data on breaking the sound barrier!!" the AI cried. It was times like this that Clockwork marveled at how pony-like Mai could be.
"We do now."
"I Yes, Miss Key. Downloading the data from the Dragonfly Mk I," Mai stated, then after a moment, "A complete burn-out. That must have been scary."
"My brother would've killed me when I got to the Summer-Lands."
"Is it possible to kill someone who is already dead, ma'am?"
"He'd have figured it out," Clockwork chuckled, then shook her head, "Assuming that's a threshold we need to surpass again, we need to plan for a lack of air in the system. It was on my list of things to address, but we need to bump it way up after this."
"What about icing up, ma'am?" Mai asked, "A majority of super-sonic flight happens at higher altitudes."
"Good point," Clockwork sighed as she considered the armour Mai reassembled without her inside it, allowing her to look over the steel plates. She frowned as she leaned in close and examined the helm.
"Mai, get a reading on the structural integrity of the helm, specifically at the very 'nose' of it."
"Scanning, ma'am Oh dear," Mai intoned, "It looks like a major structural weakness. I show stress fractures through the front part of the helm, with integrity down at least fifty percent."
"That's what I was afraid of. Now I know why the few pegasai who can break the sound barrier throw their hooves before them now," Clockwork sighed, "They need something to pierce the physical barrier."
"There seems to be a great deal we do not know about high speed flight, ma'am."
"Correct, and I dread asking the only member of the team with that experience."
"You do not mean 'him', do you, ma'am?"
"Do you know anyone else?"
"I am against this idea, ma'am."
Clockwork sighed, "So am I."
"Look, I know you don't approve of the armour," Clockwork tried again, "but it's obvious I need some information on high-speed flight. The original Warpony design was a low to mid speed unit. This Dragonfly design is a high speed unit, and it's obvious I need some data on that."
Ultrapony looked derisively back at Clockwork over his shoulder, "What part of 'no' don't you understand, filly?" He returned to his cucumber and daisy sandwich, taking another large bite from it. The cafeteria the group had to eat from wasn't fancy, but it only needed accommodate the six of them, plus an occasional appearance from Luna. Mostly it was a mid-sized room that held a handful of metal tables to sit at, with one wall dominated by a series of rails to slide trays along, and behind it a number of glass panels protecting the food laid out below it. There was food present at any time of day, but Luna had been able to wrangle a cook to be present for the busier meal-times. This late lunch/early dinner, however, was not one of them.
Clockwork sighed and shook her head, turning away from the pegasus. She knew it had been a long shot, but she had to try, and couldn't help but feel disappointed by the rejection. She pushed her tray along the sliders and pulled out a plate of alfalfa sprouts with dandelion seasoning, ferried it over to a table, and started to eat.
"Look, it's not because I'm trying to be nasty."
"Coulda fooled me," Clockwork mumbled around her food.
"There's just no way to explain to somepony that isn't a pegasus how to fly," Ultrapony noted, "That would be like a fish trying to explain how it swims. A lot of it is instinctual, and the parts that aren't are usually learned the hard way. You're an Earth Pony, and no matter how hard you try to make your own wings, you're still going to be an Earth Pony."
"Is that why you're so against me being on this team?" Clockwork asked, her eyes fixed on her plate of food, "You've insulted me every chance you've had."
"You don't belong on the team, simple as that," the stallion said bluntly, "Neither did your brother."
"Why not?!?" Clockwork asked sharply, surprising herself in how angry it sounded.
"Because you had to use technology, plain and simple," Ultrapony said, finishing off his hay-fries, "You weren't born with a gift, you're just making toys to try and keep up with the ponies who were. You're sitting in a slot that would be better filled by a pony with actual power."
Clockwork's cheeks burned as Ultrapony carried his now empty tray to the return slot and trotted off, not even bothering to look back over his shoulder. The small mare looked back at her lunch and nudged the tray away from her. She'd lost her appetite.
"If your face were any longer, it would hit the floor, ya?" came a voice near Clockwork's shoulder. She didn't bother to look up, recognizing the voice, but nodded slightly.
"Want to talk about it, Little Key?" Ironjaw asked more gently.
"Is something wrong?" the rumbling voice of Thunderhooves asked.
"Not sure," Ironjaw shrugged, "But Little Key here seems a bit down, ya?"
"If I had to guess, it would have something to do with the departure of Ultrapony. He almost ran into me on the way out," the bison noted, "These halls are just too narrow for a buffalo like me."
"I can imagine. You want to have a bite?" Ironjaw offered, "Maybe we can cheer Little Key up."
"I'm not sure you'll be much help there." Clockwork finally said.
"I do not know about that." Thunderhooves offered, collecting a tray of wheat stalks seasoned with sliced apples and a heavy wildflower mead, "The very act of speaking about a problem can relieve the heart."
Ironjaw collected himself a plate of carrots and celery with a healthy dose of almonds and berries and plopped himself down hard enough to make a "clang" when his flank hit the floor. Clockwork glanced up at the pair as they settled in place and sighed.
"Uh oh I know THAT sigh, ya?" Ironjaw noted, "You always used to do that when the other foals at school were picking on you."
"Ironjaw!" Clockwork cried out and glared at him, and was met with a gale of laughter from the metallic pony.
"It seems we now have you at least looking up from your hooves," The bison chipped in, "Unfortunately, you have been absent from most of the practices while you design your armour."
"Yeah, I know," Clockwork admitted softly, "But I can only build it so fast. Every time I run into a new problem, I have to redesign multiple systems, everything is so integrated."
"I'm sure you' will do fine, ya?" Ironjaw offered, "You put on one hell of a performance today, for sure."
"Yeah, right up until the engines gave out on me."
"Is that what is eating you, Little Key?" Ironjaw waved it off with a hoof, "You'll be fine, ya? You're too good an inventor to let something like that stop you."
"That is not the problem, is it?" Thunderhooves interjected.
"No," the mare answered softly, "I asked Ultrapony for help. He's the only flyer on the team and I hoped he could give me some data for high speed flight."
"He refused?" Ironjaw asked around a carrot.
"You will need to explain," Thunderhooves said, chewing on a long stalk of wheat.
"He told me exactly why he feels I don't belong on the team," She said softly.
"That is what I thought. It is a discussion he and I have had several times," Thunderhooves noted in that rumbling tone of his, "He has been very clear to both myself and Princess Luna his objections to your presence on the team."
Clockwork laid her head down on the table and covered it with her hooves, "Great, everyone knew but me."
"Not so! I fail to see what his objection is," Ironjaw stated firmly, "Unless it is about that 'incident' from a some years ago."
"I know nothing of the incident you mention," Thunderhooves said, taking another bite of food before continuing, "But his objection lies in the belief that because Clockwork uses power armour instead of a natural gift means she is not a capable teammate. He insists this objection would exist even if Warpony has still been alive."
"NONSENSE!" Ironjaw cried, stomping a hoof on the table hard enough to send the trays bouncing and give the metal table a sizable dent, "Warpony was an excellent agent! Clockwork will be just as good, if not better!!"
Clockwork peaked out from under her hooves and sighed a little, "While I appreciate the defense, Ironjaw, I'm not entirely sure he's wrong. I've been working on the armour non-stop since I arrived, and it's been over a month, and all I have is a half working frame."
Ironjaw seemed about to pound on the table again when the bison stopped him. "You are correct that your lack of the promised armour was hurting your reputation within our group. However, not all of us lack patience. What I saw today dispelled any concerns I may have had, and you pushed the armour you wore far beyond what you promised. What you promised was a replacement for Warpony. What you delivered today proved you were not thinking so small, but were planning not to replace Warpony, but become your own hero. You will not be known as Warpony Mark Two when the names burn in the stars. You will be the Dragonfly."
"Dragonfly?" Clockwork asked softly.
"Is that not what you named the armour?" Thunderhooves asked with a smile as he took another bite, "I would deem it an appropriate name for yourself."
"Hah! He has a point, ya?" Ironjaw chimed in, "Maybe you should make the helm more dragon-like, with glowing eyes and "
"Ironjaw, we are not the inventors," the bison pointed out with an amused tone.
"That's it." Clockwork said softly, her eyes lighting up, and unfolded her hooves and sat up straight, "THAT is how to get around the Rainboom problem!! A dragon's head is angled with a pointed 'beak'. Reinforce the tip, a longer pointed angle for the head, and it will be able to handle the stresses of the sound barrier ."
"I know that look too." Ironjaw chuckled, gulping down celery stick, "Her mind is off and running, the ideas are flowing now, ya?"
"Does she often do that?" Thunderhooves asked curiously.
"It depends, ya?" Ironjaw offered, as Clockwork tore off running, leaving her tray of food on the table. The bison and metal pony looked to each other and considered the tray.
"Seems a shame to let it go to waste," the bison noted
"Definitely," Ironjaw agreed, "'Waste not, want not' as Momma used to say."
"Split it with you?"
"She's a danger to the team."
"Don't you think you're exaggerating?" Luna asked softly, only glancing briefly over her shoulder to Ultrapony, who was standing in the center of her office. He stood out with his blazing white coat and colorful mane and tail. Even his sunset cutie-mark with it's soft orange color seemed to stand out in stark contrast against the dark blues and silvers of her office.
"If you had not been able to arrest her descent, she would have not only killed herself, but killed half the team. That's to say NOTHING of the innocents in the floors below," the pegasus fumed.
"Did you talk to her about this?"
"The only thing she wanted was flight lessons," he snorted.
"And your response to her request?"
"Absolutely not," Ultrapony stated firmly, "Too much of flight is pure instinct. It would be impossible to teach how to flare one's wings to catch more or less of a wind when none but the most studious of pegasai know the mechanics themselves."
"So rather then even try, you rejected her attempt to improve her armour?" Luna asked pointedly, maintaining her gaze out the office window. Her eyes drank in the night-lilies she'd had planted in the garden, the warm night coaxing them to bloom brightly under the waxing moon.
"You already know my thoughts on having that contraption on the team."
"Yes, you've made that exceptionally clear." Luna answered softly, "Of course this wouldn't have anything to do with the fact her first revision of the armour kept up with you that entire course, would it? Who knows how much faster and more powerful it might become with further efforts."
"I could care less if it would win the war single-hoofed," Ultrapony growled, "it should not be on the team!"
"Clockwork Key is as much a Special as you are, Sunset Sparkle."
The pony bristled visibly, "You know I stopped using that name."
"Your mother would have a conniption if she was still alive," Luna stated softly, "She named you to honor her friend."
"Who DIED thanks to Clockwork's brother!" Ultrapony shouted.
"So you blame her for that?"
"She sent Lady Sparkle into that trap," he seethed, "Yes, I blame her for it."
"Then allow her to redeem herself," Luna stated softly.
"Your mother wouldn't support you in holding this grudge forever," Luna said softly as she turned to face the stallion, "She forgave me, in time. I am asking you give Clockwork the same chance to redeem herself. By being on this team, she is trying to make good on what was perhaps the most costly single night of my Agency. I would suggest you reserve your anger for the Imps. They are the ones who laid the trap, both the one that killed both Lady Sparkle, and the one that caught your mother."
"Oh, I didn't forget them either," he growled darkly, "but we're stuck here sitting on our hooves while we wait for your precious little pony to get her Celestia-damned armour up and running. Even then we're not going into action, because you want to spend your time 'teaching' us to work together."
"You don't see the value of teamwork?" Luna asked.
"Not at the cost of all this time."
"Then what do you propose, or are you here to demand I do things that you know I won't?" Luna asked, looking the pegasus eye to eye.
"Mark my words. She's going to get someone on this team KILLED!" He fumed, and stormed from the room.
Luna let out a long sigh and shook her head, "How in the world did you handle your son, Lady Dash? He's even more impulsive and headstrong then you were..." She gave one last look to the flowers outside, then followed the stallion from the room. Celestia wanted her to be there for some state dinner, an official function in awkwardness for her, but at least her sister warned her about it this time. She tugged the door closed behind her and trotted away to get ready.
A sliver of moonlight caught a motion from the corner of the room, a leathery body almost made of the same stars Luna heralded into the sky every night unfolded itself. Baleful yellow eyes looked around the room for a brief moment, then hissed a soft laugh as it climbed back into the shadows, leaving only it's rasping voice in its wake.
Any and all feedback and comments are welcome.
Spark Chapter 2
Spark Chapter 7
Spark Chapter 3
Also, since the begining that I'm thinking and wanting to say ''that'' : This story makes me think of a good mix of ''The Avengers'' who would have X-Men (X-Ponies) in the team. They even even their own base, with training the ''specials'' and everything.
Quite enjoyable read...
Little Key (curious pony with a lot of tech. ) and Galaxi (somewhat shy, but she has an interesting and loable personality) are the best character so far, to my opinion.
I also like the 'well-literate' Buffalo and the Russian-like Ironjaw
...Trixie, I mean TOME doesn't have much for her, yet... and Ultrapony is, well, I suppose he's supposed to be ''the character we don't like'', right now ? But now that we know that he has some motivations being what he do (after being related to RD helps), then I guess he will get better.
Sorry, some of your conjecture makes me SO want to respond, but it would give away future plot points, in case my mantra didn't tip you off Still, I'm glad you're enjoying it. Admittedly my inspirations are coming from all angles in the Comic book multi-verse, tho the Avengers and the JLA are good solid foundation points for it (tho I don't think Luna would make a good Professor X).
As for the characters, don't worry. Tome gets some fleshing out in future chapters, tho I had to evolve her away from her character from the show a bit to reflect her "growth" as she aged... and to make her a bit more palatable. Clockwork and Galaxi I nailed it looks like, as I did with ironjaw (Yeah, I hear him in my head with a slightly heavier Russian accent then I write him with). Thunderhooves is an odd one, because I hear him in my head like a lot of real Native Americans, with a slightly formal enunceation of words and phrasings. Ultrapony is Ultrapony. I won't give away anything with him... he's got too many plot points associated with him.
(And on that note... We know for Twilight... but how the other 'died' ? IF they did die, and 'some' of them aren't just hidding somewhere... Considering Pinky Pie's improbable nature, she's most likely trapped somewhere, maybe another dimension or something ?)
As for the original group, Twilight was rather old (as in, Granny Smith old) in the Prologue, so the rest of them wouldn't have been very active. However a later chapter does note a few other notables form Ponyville and what they're banging around doing (Again, I have to prevent myself from giving away spoilers, as that's down in Chapter 9!!)
I know Ultrapony is acting up a whole storm of dickery but I can't help but think that he might have a reason for it.
and if he doesn't, Eh.
you updated this on the last day of my finals. So thank you for making a stressfull day better!