moonshineTheleocat

[Age of Heroes] Come one and all! Heroes get equipped!

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Ah, it is now finally the day where new heroes, and students of the Canterlot Hero Academy are finally getting equipped by the Acadamey’s local laboratory ran by Voronoi Fractal himself. Or more famously/infamously known as Machina. The reception hall just outside of the lab proper would have multiple students lined up with tickets in their hands of various numbers. And just above that door is a simple “Now Serving” sign with an electronic message of “Please Wait.”

 

The pony at the reception desk was busy polishing her hooves. She’d occasionally glance up to see how the world would be fairing around her. And for every new guess, she’d gesture them to one of the nearby chairs after handing them a number.

“Pardon, they’re currently busy in the lab, and will need some time before they can serve you. And no… I don’t know what in equestrian they could possibly be doing in there.”

But what could possibly be going on inside the lab? Not a single person has been served just yet. And surely with the event being set up well in advanced, the lab should already be prepped? Well… for those who don’t know the mechanized engineer all too well… you’re in for quite the treat.

Inside this very laboratory there were engineers and scientist all scrambling about as a testing was about to commence. Many of which quickly ran for the safety of the observation area. And there were a few interns watching this with quite a large amount of confusion!

“Mister Fractal! This can’t possibly be safe! You saw the charts! There’s a large amount of energy in that crystal! And we don’t even know where it’s from,” whined one of the interns, who would likely have a better result in whining to a wall that it should stop being a wall.

The stallion stared at the other as he spoke, almost not even quite there yet. And when he finally spoke, all he did was cant his head and drawled out in confusion “Mister?”

“D-did you not even hear a word I said?!”

“Oh! Of course I heard everything you said! I’m surprised that is even a…. oh wait. You’re new here aren’t you?”

There was a moment of hesitation, and finally a nod.

“Oooh,” the pony chuckled, now raising up to press his hooves on the certified testing cart holding said crystal. “You’re going to be in for quite the treat! Now! Do me a favor! And go into the observation booth while I do science without any proper safety equipment or measures! It’ll be perfectly fine! Or… maybe the poor janitors will have to clean me off the walls. Whichever is to come!”

-

 

Well… the worst came. As now the alarm lights inside the laboratory were flashing red and blue. A very simple code for “Things are all bucked up now, please panic.” Inside the testing chamber, angry, acidic green rift through time and space had torn open and was blasting the room with radiation and lighting. Many of the high durability safety glass had been ripped apart and sucked into the growing vortx, while it continued to destroy the room and the very foundations of physics!

Machina who was holding on for dear life to an Eclipse Aerospace Laboratory Courtesy Bracing Pole told the harrowing tale of the events in his own words. Let us listen closely now.

“WHAT A FOOL I HAVE BEEN TO IGNORE THE VERY CLEAR WARNING SIGNS ABOUT A POTENTIAL INTERDIMENSIONAL DISTABILITY AND OPEN A FRACTAL RIFT INTO A WHOLE NOTHER WORLD! WE ARE ALL FOOLS FOR PLAYING WITH THINGS THAT NO PONY EVER SHOULD! WHAT HAS SCIENCE DONE!? WHAT HAVE I DONE!?”

That angry rift was not amused. Nor did it care for Machina’s ramblings as it grew in both energy and sign. Until finally… it ‘popped’. What ever glass was not destroyed yet had been destroyed. Multiple heavy steel platings on the wall had been ripped off and flung everywhere. And the entire lab had been bathed in a blinding ray of light.

For those outside of the lab, they’d feel the ground shake violently before the power went out. A few seconds later… the whirling sounds of fans in the vents kicked on. It was a simple metaphorical voice that proclaimed “let their be lights” and so there was.

There was a crackle and a beep over the intercoms. A robotic sounding voice spoke as if nothing had happened. “Now serving… all.”

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Parallel universes, be them the same or different show up often in films, Books and Comics. An easy get around to make a new world for such settings and the dangers in them. But for many they are nothing more than that. Stories. Or were they?

 

 

~Drop your weapon, get down!~Over there, that one is getting away!~There! There!~Take him down!~ Bravo’s ears ring with radio chatter, his HUD marking targets, friendly's and the building's layout. It was like art as robots are blown apart, mercenaries drops and the building was rocked with gunfire. To the common wastelander his team moved like an art from. Clearing room after room in a fast moving wave of firepower. The mud walkers never had an hope. “Alfa, All units at location, respond code 3.” He speaks gently as he walks down an old hallway. Every hoof fall kicking up dust as he tracks his pray, so close after weeks of hunting… stalking. The game was over. ~Delta, Assault point secure.~Bravo, At checkpoint secure.~Charlie, Contact with a priority 2, clear and code 100.~Echo, Clear, no 647, no 107.~Foxtrot, Possible 647-E here, request airwatch tag and engaging 647, mark five.~

 

Bravo glances at his HUD, the news updating with text along with sound. He hums as he looks at a dark stairway going down to the buildings basement. “Alfa, affirmative. Searching for priority 1 in basement. All units not engaging marks proceed to designated checkpoints.” He watched the text flow as all his team fire back an affirmative to his orders. With them moving he walks down the steps of the ancient buildings. He can hear a thunderstorm outside. Bad one, the building was shaking from the thunder. He just hoped the old thing did not fall down on his head.

 

Down in the basement he found a lab, most of it broken with age or looting. To think 160 years ago this may have been some hard working front in the war. Full of ponies in lab coats talking about how the war will be over by winter, even if that failed to happen the first fifty or so times. But now it was home to nothing but ghosts of the past and his mark. An old pegasus, hiding behind some old lab gear. A runner. A traitor. Running away to help the mud walkers without thinking one moment about how his betraying of his home in the sky hurts all his race. It was disgusting. The Grand Pegasus Enclave had no room for traitors of state, home and race. “I will say this one time as I must. Given up, drop the weppen  and come out slow… We will take you back and you will face justice in a fair court.” Bravo says over his power armors speakers.

 

He knew what was going to come. No pony ever came back with him, they all know what fate was above the shield for traitors. Most wanted to go out their way, thare terms. And so when first shots of plasma were sent his way Bravo was already diving for cover. “It’s all the same with you traitors!” He shouts over the sound of hissing plasma as shots fly overhead melting the wall where they hit. The old fool did not brother to speak back. Smart pony, he know it was pointless. Bravo dashes in behind the next wall of cover. One good shot from his rifle and this show will be done. One sh- his line of thinking comes to a stop as a plasma grenade rolls up next to him. “OH BUCK ME!” He screams leaping away from it… and head long in to something else. The magic energy weapons fire started up something in the lab. Some raging vortex of power that ripped the air in front of bravo open like a broken window. A hail storm of jump smashed against him, bouncing off his power armor like rain as he flapped his wings trying to change the path of his leap. But it was to late.

 

...

 

His HUD went nuts, flickering and bugging out he passed the broken space and flies out in to another room and face first in to some mud pony. For a moment he felt like he has seen this pony before but he did not have much time to think about that before the two got to meet face to face at speed! The gateway to his home shut behind him. In one leap he did just what many a comic book loved to do. One universes to another with a face full of nerd pony on the other end. "ow." 

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Shifter wandered over to where Shifter had been told to go, the young hero always willing to follow the orders and directions of those who seemed to have a firm and unyielding grasp of their powers and life. Shifter knew that this was not the case always. Shifter was an example. The depth and width of the powers involved were unknown even to Shifter, and that was just the stuff that Shifter felt comfortable talking about. Unknown to most, not all, was that Shifter's personal identity crisis was deep and foreboding. Indeed, it was true. Valen Orange had been molecularly torn apart; Shifter, despite having all of the upbringing and life of that colt, couldn't even become Valen. Ad Gilded Lilly, the form Shifter took? A filly who had died helping Valen make his final escape. Shifter was everypony, everycreature, everything. Shifter felt like nopony, nocreature, nothing.

Shifter shook Shifter's head, almost letting the ticket drop out of Shifter's mouth. Had to focus! Shifter wasn't sure that any equipment was really needed for the type of power Shifter used, but wasn't going to say no to anything those in the know chose to give Shifter. It was guaranteed to be of some help and any young hero was taught at the academy to rely on their intelligence as much as their powers, to defer when they didn't know and others might, and to question when there was a mystery. All of these were probably good lessons. Shifter had certainly taken them all to heart in lieu of true answers to many deep questions. Could Shifter have known what was going to be given to the young hero that day? Perhaps if more thought had been given to it, yes. But Shifter's mind was rarely brought to the material around Shifter unless there was a pony in need of saving.

Shifter handed over the ticket and took Shifter's seat, whistling gently. It wasn't long before something unusual happened. Loud sounds, explosions, the sounds of chaos, and finally a small earthquake. This last one caused Shifter to jump up and transform into one of the kindly janitor ponies, a pegasus. Shifter didn't like this and considered running to get help, but the general ease of the ponies around Shifter allowed some calm to settle in. After a few more seconds, it said...well, ready to serve. Shifter wasn't going to question it. Heroes could be strange. Shifter hovered over to the door and knocked, changing back to Gilded Lilly- the Janitor's thoughts of feeling powerless amongst all the Empowered were a bit too sad for the moment.

“Hello? Hello?” Shifted asked, poking Shifter's head in. “Wow...is everything okay, Mister Machina?”

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.:: Deep In Machina's Mind::.
Machina was ‘conscious’ so to speak. Well, it was more accurate to say that he was technically unconscious as he was unresponsive, and burried under a pile of rubble and scuttled machinery. But he was conscious in a different sense. Instead of seeing the world as it was, he saw a world of artificial black. His body was no longer a combination of cybernetic implants, prosthetics, and organic pony parts.. But in this world.. He was completely organic. Like his accident never happened.

 

The ground he stood up was dully lit up by some unseen night source. And there were multiple screens around him displaying error messages and system diagnosis. And just a small ways before him, was a orange female sphinx created by thousands of tiny holographic cubes that grew and shrank in accordance to her movements and an invisible grid. She was casually looking through a ‘window’ that was displaying live footage of the Lab wreckage.

“Welcome Back to 'Hello World'’, Voronoi.” The sphinx drawled lazily. Her paws digits began to tap quickly at a keyboard starting up a reboot function.

Thanks, ARID! Looking beatiful as ever by the way!~” Machina chirped as he began to streatch his legs. Admitably, and regretably it felt good to be whole again. If only for a mere moment. Heck, he even began to explore his old body’s flexibility by lying on his side  and stretching a leg up into the air. Slowly he brought it back behind his head, similar to a cat. “It’s so strange having actual ligaments in my legs again! It actually hurts, ha ha! Oh!”

The pony quickly rolled over his back and back to his hooves. He began to quickly prance around like a giddy foal, enjoying the sounds of his clip clopping hooves, and the shock with each step. “What happened to the hello world I selected? I remember having something more interesting than this!”

To that, ARID’s gaze tore away from the monitor to gaze around with a bored look in her eyes. “I apologize, Voronoi. I know you enjoy your fantasy world and games. However, I am unable to interface with the remote device responsible for the simulation. I suspect it got damaged. We are currently in my preprogrammed response to null-resources.

 

“Welp! Bring up the screen savor then!”
“Affirmative… Screen Savor’s loading…”

 

The sharp tang of soap filled the air as thousands of bubbles began to erupt from the ground. Many of them were small. But a few were large and durable enough to lift a pony into the air. The stallion, as incredible of a mind he had, a mind that had forged himself a legacy in a matter of a few years… had reduced it’s self to the mental aptitude of a hyper active foal.

 

He danced, leaped, lunged, and flailed in joy. His mad giggles echoed through that empty space for an eternity, forever to haunt the bubble filled mind of a flighty professor.

 

-----

.:: The Waking World ::.

The lab’s testing chamber was in ruins. Broken glass laid everywhere. Expensive looking machinery had been twisted, warped, melted, and outright ripped apart and thrown about like conffeti. And in some areas, the concrete and steel walls looked like swiss cheese as objects had been thrown through them at high speeds.

 

Beside pony that was a new arrival to the universe was a rumbling in the rubble. Slabs of stone lifted and fell off a pile as Machina rose from his metaphorical tomb. His head turned one way with the whine of gyros in his neck. Clicked, and turned another way. One leg rose up, planted it’s self firmly on a large rock, and the next came to pull the pony out. If the robotic movements did not show signs of anything being wrong, than the unresponsive and dialated eyes certainly did.

 

“Please stand by. Machina is currently indisposed. His cybernetic implants had desynchronized with his nervous system, causing him to lose control of his own body, send a surge into said nervous system, and forced him to enter a temporary coma. I am awaking him as we speak.” ARID’s voice echoed over the intercom. Despite the cold mechanical tone of it, it somehow managed to display warmth and concern.

 

The air returned to silence for a mere moment. Something broke the silence. It started low, and quickly grew into a higher pitch. Just when it became unbearable, the pony’s body spasmed as arcs of lightning jutted from his body and licked along nearby metal surfaces.

The pony fell to the ground, and began to thrash violently. His eyes loooked around frantically as his limbs scraped and tossed at the rubble. “OH SWEET CELESTIA! MY LEGS! I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS! WHERE ARE MY LEGS!” The pony cried out, unable to recognize his own mechanical limbs.

A camera in the corner shifted, its lenses focusing on the voice of one of the academy’s students. “Please ignore the screaming for the time being. It is merely a side-effect of the re-synchronization process. It always causes post trauma anxiety. Scanning… you are… Shifter. Welcome Shifter. Shifter... be advised. My sensors detect that there is an unknown individual in the lab. Surveillance equipment in the testing chamber is currently... unresponsive. For your safety I recommend staying in the Lab's foyer.”

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The unknown individual was in a heap in front of Machina, it’s black plating chipped and scoffed yet unhurt from the crash and falling debris. It’s scorpion tail twitching as two very big wings did the same. Small movements as the shocked and rather stunned individual recovers…

 

Bravo hated being in PPA well it was offline. It was claustrophobic, dark and all sound was muffled. Worse of all he was trapped in it as the emergency release was found just behind his neck and between his shoulder blades… And just out of reach of his wings and hoofs. So it was to no small amount of joy he saw his HUD flash it’s boot up and start showing emergency data. Whatever just happened it shocked most of his gear pretty bad, all of it had to be restarted and his MSB was overheating something nasty. So the first thing to be done was fix that.

 

About mid back the spin plates open with a hiss before a blast of steam and scorching hot air vented out around the glowing rod shaped core in the back, the heat was so heavy it made the air shimmer and wave. As that cooled off more of his gear was coming back online. First he can see, there was not much too look at. Trash. Rubble. Some pony was standing in front of him maybe. Than sound, he wish that came last as his ears were hit with somepony screaming about their legs. Next was the ta- “SWEET LUNA BUCK ME WITH HER BACK HOOVES!” Bravo screams in his helmet as the nerves in his real tail got forced back in to guiding his PPA scorpion tail. If this was a slow power up it takes a few minutes and feels numb. Do it fast? Well it felt like dozens of red hot drills in ones rump. But for everypony in the room it was just muffled screaming to go along with Machina’s less muffled sound.


After the pain dies down and Bravo stopped seeing stars he looks back at the checklist. Almost done. Voice. Legs. AFS and so onj cheek off as green. Well it felt like a long time he knew it was only a few short moments long. Pushing up off the floor he stands, shaking off dust as he looks about than at the pony he crashed in to. That was not the doctor, the lab did not look the same at all and his map was going nuts. All in all a chain of very distressing details and honestly he had no clue what to do with this. So he just screamed at Machina. “WHERE AM I AND WHAT IS GOING ON!? SPEAK UP MUD WALKER! WHAT I-” He stopped as his map dinged and updated. He was in Canterlot. “What.” He says to himself in utter confusion. Canterlot was a dead zone! Unfit for life! Even in PPA one will die in just moments! Yet he was alive and so were two mud walkers open to the air. “THE BUCK IS THIS!?” He shouted at Machina as if the poor mud walker will even know what he was asking about now.

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Shifter saw a great deal in a short amount of time. It was clear that Shifter had never really seen the sort of technology on display outside of The Institute. It brought no small amount of pain back to Shifter, but alas, such was the lot of life given to the would-be superhero. All such technology only ever seemed to cause pain and sorrow no matter the intent. Even here, during what was meant to be a simple and easy day where heroes and heroines got gear from one of the brightest minds in the field, something went wrong. Drastically wrong it appeared and in no small part due to some manner of malfunction. Another reason why Shifter was happy that Shifter wasn't a technology dependent heroine. Wasn't that Shifter immediately distrusted any and all pieces of it- Shifter was far from some Luddite- but it only too a few painful turns of the wheel for anypony to fear the prospects of failure that came with it. Shifter had seen that wheel turn harshly.

One of the cameras told Shifter to go back to the foyer. Shifter was also called a mud walker. What was a mud walker? It didn't seem to make much sense. Was that some sort of slur? Shifter's mind ran a bit with the confusion but centered itself upon the knowledge that it didn't much matter. Machina was hurt but...recovering, Shifter supposed. This new fellow was undeniably stranger. The armor had this unusual mix of crude markings and poor workmanship compared to what Shifter had scene coupled with unusually advanced technology. It was also uniquely built for a Pegasus. The user appeared...angry and no small part confused. He even picked up Machina and yelled at the poor stallion, who in turn had just been screaming about his legs. Was he suffering from some sort of momentary memory loss due to the accident? The whole situation was beyond unusual, and no small part of Shifter thought well of the system's advice. Turning back would be...safer.

“ARID, please contact medical and security,” Shifter said politely as Shifter entered the room fully now. Shifter walked up to the two, Shifter's soft hooves tapping lightly the broken ground of the lab. Shifter had to ensure that they were both safe. “Sir, my name's Shifter. You're okay. You're safe. You're in the Academy of Heroes in Canterlot. That stallion is Machina, a friendly scientist. If you would please unhoof him and calm down, everything will be okay,” Shifter spoke, a filly voice soft and sweet yet full of the gentle confirmation of fact. By the time Shifer was finished, Shifter was next to the two armored mysteries. “Mister Machina, you're gonna be okay. You're in your own lab...what happened?”

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“Medical support is not needed. Machina’s biosignerature is stabilizing. Security… is not needed. No hostile threats detected. Extreme stress is detected from two parties. I would advise caution, but you are not heading safety recommendations.”

 

Machina was completely incoherent. Despite being picked up, and thrashing his mechanical limbs against the suit with loud clanks, he did not seem to be able to see the pony in the power suit. Much less hear him. No, his pupils were like pin pricks gazing into a distant memory. They saw the past as it was, back when he and his cousins were quite competitive. Always competing to one up each other in technology, till Machina had gone a little far and ruined his body.

But slowly, things began to fade and merge together. Bloody little stubs in his eyes had been swapped out for powder coated metal legs. He eventually calmed down. His screaming reduced to ragged pants.

 

There was a soft click, just before the hooves flared it’s chassy into four extensions extensions. The extensions unfolded with gentle clacks into griffon like digits that flexed as the pony moved them. It took a moment, but the pony was eventually able to feel the artificial sensations from them. Not quite like a real limb that can feel heat. But well enough to not crush something by grabbing hold of it.

 

“Mister Machina, you're gonna be okay. You're in your own lab...what happened?”

 

“Uwhaa,” The brown stallion drawled out when he heard someone call his name. He glanced down to his side to spot a pony among the ruckage. He was about to say something. But there was a pause. Why did she look so concern?

“Ah! Hello...er…” his eyes darted to the side for a moment, observing a floating text that only he could see through his eyes. “Shifter! Thank you for the reminder! And sorry for the mess! There was a bit of a catastrophic failure! We were experimenting with a new way to create toast you see!” The pony chirpped with a broad grin.

 

“Ok… yes I am aware of how rediculous it is. And no that’s not why I just spent nearly six gigawatts of power, and practically destroyed the second most expensive chamber in my entire lab. It was portals! Portals to another world! Far beyond the reaches like no pony has ever seen before! Beyond the viel of reality! Except… as you can see I successfully created a tiny little sucking ripple in time instead… which ended in complete disaster. BUT! Failure is a step to progress!”

The pony sighed as he turned to make his exit through the chamber’s door. Not that it mattered that he used the door… as there were plenty of holes in the wall. But he did not make it far.

No, his nose bonked into something solid, metal solid. His eyes rolled up momentairly to see a rather dirty looking form fitting exoskeleton on a pegasus.

“Oooooh! Is that a power suit!? I love it,” the pony chimmed with a musical lilt in his tone. He back pedaled and quickly began to skitter around the towering male to get a good look at him. His head dipping and bobbing here and there, and even brazenly peeking at the hulking stallions undercarriage.  “I gotta say! You’ve got no reason to be here! You got yourself quite the rig already! A bit old school looking, but very reliable! Durable aircraft aluminum alloy, Hydrolic powered scorpion tail, Annnnd… an arcane power cell!~ Very nice choice!”

The pony’s head quickly spun about to look to Shifter. “So! Who’s your friend! He's a down right buck after my own heart!”

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Being confused was maybe to gentle a word for how Bravo was feeling. But the pony he was shaking about to make talk was being useless. Lots of screaming but not about what he needed. But that face was… Was this pony related to somepony he knew? Well, that is something for latte. Letting the useless pony go he looked at the new face that was talking to him. Some small mud walker, a young filly? At least she was talking and useful. His map updated with ‘?Academy of Heroes in Canterlot?’ for where he was now. Odd name, it was nowhere on his map data.

 

After calming himself down to not spook the filly he was about to ask more when the augmented pony stopped screaming so much… And talked. A lot. About nothing useful. Blah, blah, blah none of that told him much. Seems like this pony was on one to many drugs. Than the augmented walked in to him and acted shocked. How did he not see him!? That alone left him more confused as the odd pony looked him over and went off about his kit. At first he was confused as too how he’d even know what it was but well… this pony was augmented. He may be insane but he must be smart.

 

Recovering from far to much going on Bravo takes a few deep breaths. “I am Castle Bravo from the Grand Pegasus Enclave. I demand you inform me as to where I am in detail or face punishment for holding a citizen and soldier of the Enclave.” He spoke in a strong demanding tone as he eyes the two strangers up. “And how I got here as as if you are helping that mud loving trash I was hunting, you will be charged for hiding enemies of the Enclave.” his scorpion tail flicked at Machina. “And… Do you have a brother? Gadget?” He asked.

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Under normal circumstances, one wouldn't expect a super-pony like Platinum Gem to arrive at such a place as Machina's lab at a time like this.  After all, this international mare of glamour and mystery gained all her powers from magical relics, rather than technology.  Not to mention the fact that she wasn't necessarily a hero....

 

But then again, wasn't it the business of villains to do unexpected and dastardly things?  

 

*I just have to wait for the perfect opportunity...*  Truth be told, she had been waiting and preparing for several days; knowing that at some point one of the semi-regular catastrophes this lab was known for would happen, thus leaving the place vulnerable to a quick grab and run operation.  You couldn't do the kind of science that Machina did without a great reserve of crystallized magical energy, and that energy would power relics just as well as machines...

 

It was just sheer dumb luck that her opportunity ended up coming when the lab was open to the public.  This was both good and bad, as confusion would be multiplied by the number of ponies present, but also the risk of being stopped by some pesky heroics.  But, she had only seen one neophyte from the academy go in, so she supposed that now was as good a time as any.  "Ready girls?"  She whispered hoarsely to concealed hechmares in the neighboring building.  "We're moving in.  Don't forget to sweep the perimeter clean of all crystal shards to take home now!"  She gave a slight giggle as she led the way.  Considering how her henchmares always dressed, she'd made a pretty good pun!

 

~***~

 

The first indication to the ponies in the lab that something further was about to go wrong was a deep, guttural rumbling within the plumbing of the building.  The rip through space and time that had been triggered within the lab had obviously not been kind to the structural integrity of the pipes, leaving them vulnerable to elemental manipulation.  With an ominous gurgle, the leakage from already broken or ruptured piping momentarily ceased, before suddenly gushing forth in a slightly saline surge that splashed like the waves of a mighty sea!

 

"BEHOLD!"

 

It was one of the deep, unwritten laws of this universe that supervillains would never approach sneakily when they could make... an Entrance.  And Platinum Gem had done exactly that bursting through the door, while simultaneously sending a magical ripple through the flooding to part the waters for her to walk through undampened, which she did with aplomb!  With golden mane, alabaster coat, and a jewel-bedecked figure of which it was rumored that the great Solar hero herself was jealous, the mare was an undoubtedly enchanting sight.  

 

Let's just not mention the fact that these looks were almost entirely due to one of her signature relics, shall we?

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Shifter's head cocked to the side. Was Machina right in the head? Unlikely. Science types like him were always two screws short of a table set and Shifter doubted that Machina truly grasped the frivolous nature of his research compared with the methods and means that he used to approach it. Unless of course he wasn't looking for a new way to make toast in which case, more power to the scientist then. All of this high-level science shouldn't go to waste the way it appeared to be. “Well, maybe you shouldn't be trying to make toast if the series of events leads to portals...through time?” Shifter asked quizzically as Shifter took a gander at the guest. “Are you sure it was JUST time, Mister Machina?”

Shifter didn't think an answer was forthcoming as the guest started to speak more firmly and directly as to the causes and means that brought him to this stage. Or at least as much as he could while calling them mudwalkers. By now Shifter was certain that it was a slur towards Earth ponies though Shifter wasn't sure if it was new or if Shifter was out of the loop entirely. Shifter was confident it wasn't a pressing concern as the guest, called Castle Bravo, started to spout off some nonsense about some sort of Grand Pegasus Enclave. What in Equestria was that all about? “I'm...not sure Mister Machina, but I think he needs our help,” Shifter said to Machina before smiling at Castle Bravo. “Mister Bravo, I'm not sure what you're talking about. I don't think I've ever even heard of a Grand Pegasus Enclave...maybe you took a hard knock on the head? If you lay do-”

Shifter was interrupted by the bursting of pipes. Out of reflex, Shifter turned into a pegasus colt and allowed the waters to wash down below as Platinum Gem made her appearance. It was true what the Threat Analysis had said about the mare. She was certainly beautiful. Shifter was a little too young to really be too caught off guard while the fact Shifter changed body types and chemistry made Shifter more immune to such charms, but that didn't mean Shifter couldn't appreciate the beauty. Beauty or not though they needed to focus on keeping this place safe, She was a villain, after all. This would be one of Shifter's first fights in a...while. Shifter transformed rapidly into one of the security ponies that the Academy employed, a large stallion in a dark blue security uniform.

“Platinum Gem, what are you doing here?!”

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The Grand Pegasus Enclave…. what in the hay was that? The first sign of the stallion’s confusion was his metal talons extending once he raised a hoof to give the back of his head a few scratches. He slowly shook his head with pursed lips and took a few steps back to get a better look at the stallion in whole. “I don’t know a Grand Pegasus Enclave… and I don’t have a brother named Gadget… I have a sister. But it’s not something you’d realize by looking at us both,” The stallion nickered.

 

His gaze turned to Shifter while wearing a broad grin. “But you’ve not lived till you have tried toast cooked in an unorthodoxed way! But yes… I do believe you’re onto something…” The stallion hummed. Several holographic rings appeared near the pony’s temples, projected from small hardlight projectors hidden within the patch of synthetic skin on his neck. A moment later, and a full visor formed and looped around the pony’s eyes. The visor flashed through multiple colors as the pony began to rotate the rings with a talon.

 

“X-ray… no. Thermal… no. Erm… echo visor… no. Blacklight… no. Infrared… no. Ah here we are, the scan visor~” The mechanized stallion chimed. With a quick tap of a holographic ‘button’ in the middle of those rings, the visor flashed green and then blue as it locked onto Bravo.

At the bottom of the visor visible from both sides, one could see a tiny progress bar roll from one side of the screen to the next. Meanwhile multiple windows appear around the stallion’s eyes. Each window depicted some curious information, or an exploded view of the suit as a whole. More importantly, once it finished a single window appeared in front of Machina’s eyes with the final results.

“Mmm… “ the pony hummed softly as he observed the readings. “Well… it looks like the experiment yielded some results after all…” He clicked his tongue a few times and nervously shifted between his prosthetic legs. “Now… don’t be alarmed. But the “Grand Pegasus Enclave doesn’t exist here… the largest pegasai military would be the royal aero-navy. That technology of yours is both years behind, and somehow up to date in some aspects. Common joke is that the military is always ten years behind. Well… you’re about fifty, but the efficiency of that battery? Twenty years ahead. And.. you got traces of radiation… and there aren’t a lot of places here that’s actually irradiated. Put it in short… you’re in another timeline…”

 

The pony’s thoughts were cut short. The many hardlight projectors hidden in the synthetic patches of his skin quick flared into activity. Rounded, blue-green, translucent plates of light quickly formed a few inches from his body and rounded over to protect the organic portions of his body, and eventually bleed over into the mechanized bits. It was not his typical armor, but in a pinch it served its purpose, provided the pony doesn’t take too many harsh hits. His visor flashed red with the words “WARNING: HOSTILE ACTIVITY IMMINENT” written across the screen.

 

There was a brief but thunderous roar that took to the air when the stallion’s prosthetic legs opened up around the hooves. A quick, discharge of tremendous energy sent Machina hurdling backwards through the air towards a nearby wall. He struck it hard, and allowed his tallons to cruch the concrete for a purchase in three legs, while the other was outstreatched. Several vents had been exposed, pumping out heat while a ball of energy grew in it’s talons.

The pony was ready to fire it towards the attacker. But once he heard the voice, the ball disappeared.

“Platinum Gem? Well I’ll be! Stand down everyone! She’s welcome here. A friend! With benefits really! We were once in the same bedroom, and here we are in the same lab. Long story,” The stallion laughed at his own crude joke. Wheter there was some truth in the benefits bit is unknown. It is a crazy, caffeine addicted scientist we're talking about here.

He wiggled a bit, trying to dislodge himself from the wall… but to no avial. It seems the hydraulics in his talons have locked themselves in place. He’ll have to pry himself off, or blow the wall up a bit more. Machina hummed softly as a video feed appeared on his visor showing… maids trying to steal his poorly guarded, energy crystals. Crystals that have been stored with complete disregard of safety, and most likely incredibly unstable now. This will be interesting. “I almost blasted you through the my one undestroyed wall, hun! What brings you to these neck of the woods?”

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The filly was to no shock, not useful. But they seem innocent so that alone was a gift to see from a young one. The real useful one was the mud walker named Machina, cleary insane but there was some real smarts in that head. Shame it must be cooked out on drugs. But the show of tech keeped on going as he… did something. Scan visor? Bravo arched his eyebrow, out of view behind his helmet but he was very intrigued and confused as the screens… popped up. How did they do that? Magic? He was not a unicorn. It must be teck and that was very alarming. Mud walkers can not be allowed to have something like this.

 

The alarm only grew when he talked about his gear, did this mud walker just scan and work out his gear? And had the gall to say it was old? And what did he mean not a lot of places had radiation? Almost all the world was tainted with it, even the most clean zones had a faint amount of it. Others? Even in his PPA he’d be cooked alive in moments. Well this Machina told him a lot… few parts were useful. Was he in some underground bunker? Maybe. He was teleported. Was that what the old lab was working on? Maybe. He thinks on everything he took insofar, gathering himself to speak. This was going to be a long day…

 

And soon as he opened his muzzle things got wet. Grand. A lot of things happened very fast, for all of it Bravo did not move as he just watched the unfolding drama as he shakes his giant wings, than opens them out. He’s never meet one pegasus yet with wings close to his. “You got my wings wet.” He mutters over the speaker in his helmet as he looked at the new face… By the sisters… He was glad he was already stretching his wings out. Platinum was her name? “You are the best looking mud walker I have ever seen in this hell hole.” He says with a fant sinker, the rest of the room being blown off now as he zoned in on this pretty mare. She was a friend… with benefits? Well, maybe it’s time to switch gears and make friends with some mud walkers. “Are you from a Stable? At the least the parents? Don’t see no pip-buck on you… But you look more beautiful than the pinup mares in postcards.” He added to help put a better hoof first. Whatever was up with this mare… she put even put Air Raid to shame and was not an easy bar to jump over. 

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So, the neophyte was a shapeshifter, eh?  Platinum Gem could have guessed that, had she cared enough to research the filly beforehand.  Perhaps she should, but Aun- Solar's academy took in so many students that keeping track of all of them was a fool's errand.  Only time would tell if this one was worth paying attention to, and perhaps that time would not be so far away, either...

 

"What does it look like I'm doing?  I'm here to clean up, and clean out!"  She giggled, her laughter reminding one of the faint chimes of golden bells.  It wasn't even spoiled by Machina's crude attempt at humor, though she did roll her eyes.  

 

"Benefits, pah.  You hardly give enough of those to your janitors, with what they have to deal with!"  Whether an old friend, or an old rival, it was clear these two knew each other well enough to banter.  "Leaving all these valuable things in a pile for anypony to pick up, I mean really.  High time somepony taught you to clean up your messes!  We'll just help ourselves to the tuition fee, hm?"

Whatever the pay package the lab's cleaners were given, it was no secret that Platinum paid her own maids well, base salary as well as hazard pay, with insurance to boot.  You really had to shell out to get good help these days; many villains found themselves defeated not by any dashing heroics, but by prosaic bankruptcy.  Crime, after all, doesn't always pay.

 

And then, of course, there was the third mysterious interloper.  Oh, he looked the crude type, no doubt; one hardly ever heard such a phrase as 'mud walker' in these enlightened times, even from the most jingoistic unreconstructed old pegasi.  But Platinum couldn't deny, there was something about rough strength that she innately admired, along with a fine pair of wings... "Hm, well, I'd say the same for you, flyboy, but alas, I don't have x-ray vision."  She dropped her voice to a low purr, the kind that ran like a leitmotif through the fantasies of every soldier in every age.  "So why don't you lay aside the heavy metal and let me get a good look, hm?"

She stalked forward, capping off her question with a wink.  Oh, she was playing this up, all right, so much so that a genre-savvy pony would suspect that she was playing decoy...

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This form belonged to one Sterling Silver, and he was very much a stallion. Normally quite affected by somepony like Platinun Gem. Normally more than a little cowed. Indeed, momentarily Shifter had to corral the thoughts that ran through the mind. Only a moment and this wasn't a normal stallion. Shifter had complete control. Perhaps Shifter's allies were not as reliable as one could hope. Machina, the scientist, was terribly indisposed with her beauty. They had a past that wasn't fit for a young mind to stay long on. Or maybe it was just playful banter. Shifter wasn't sure if playful banter was much warranted when the Academy itself had been breached. Shifter hoped it was all a plan to ensure that Platinum was caught off guard. Machina was, for all his craziness, a hero.
 

Shifter was more concerned about Castle Bravo. He was still throwing around terms Shifter didn't understand but was more completely smitten by Platinum Gem than anypony else. Hmm. And he seemed so serious, too. And Platinum had even stated what she was here for! Sweet Sisters, talk about a beauty overkill. Shifter thanked the stars, for the first time, that the powers Shifter had dulled or perhaps prevented such an animalistic reaction. In any case, they appeared to be momentarily useless. Charmed. The sound of the Maids rummaging took Shifter's attention away from the unusual arrangement in the main chamber.

“Sisters above, I'll do it,” Shifter muttered to nopony in particular as the security stallion ran to confront one of the maids, all of whom were outside of the main chamber. The stallion galloped quickly, coming to a stop just inside one of the side rooms where he found a maid going through the area, looking for Crystals. Good. Good, only one here. “Ma'am, you need to cease your activity and come with me,” Shifter said in the best security voice that could be mustered, drawing close to the maid in a battle stance. Shifter looked around, trying to formulate a plan for what to do with the maid if the plan worked. First, get close. Maybe it would be easy and the maid would be subdued?

No doubt she wouldn't allow that to happen, but that was fine. Shifter had many bodies that could be used for this fight. As long as Shifter was able to get skin-on-skin at some point, the real victory would be won.

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