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IceStorm

[Las Pegasus]Dot your I's [Private: Attention Earth Writer]

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Journalism. If there was ever a way for a pony's reputation to be ruined, or immortalize, it was through the written words of the papers, and Ice Storm despised this. It was all to easy for somepony to start a rumor and spread around through the paper that something is happening when there's really nothing going on at all. However, Ice also was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that having a journalist on your side and able to say things in your favor, was important. Tempest had brought this to her attention several times in the last few months, as well as Sombra, and most of the ponies that she sought advice from. She hated dealing with them though, especially when she thought back to how they turned the attack on the Crystal Empire into a propaganda attack on the sisters themselves.

 

Ice Storm let out a sigh as she leaned back at her desk. She absolutely hated being here... She loved her hotel and casino, and her organization and everything that came with it, but she was a mare of action... not a mare to be stuck behind a desk waiting for others to arrive for a matter of potential business. She pulled out one of the articles from the pony of whom she had summoned to meet her here today. It was the article on the Crystal Empire attack. In fact it was multiples of them. There was one talking about whether they could trust the Caribou and whether the aid that they sent was a ruse for them to let their guard down once more. There was another talking about the conditioning of the guards and how they were woefully unprepared for defending Equestria and her ponies in time of need... It was one of the few articles she found that she actually agreed with from the attack. Then there was the one that Bluebelle had shown her. The one that tried to shoulder all of the blame for the attack onto the princesses and tried to question the leadership of the ponies that had lead Equestria for millennia.

 

She stood up, unable to keep herself seated anymore as she waited and she walked over to her window that overlooked downtown Las Pegasus. The lush padded carpet sank under her hooves. The design itself that spread across the floor looked like a pool of magma trying to spill through a rapidly melting sheet of ice. Ice could see the ponies outside going about their daily lives and she smiled. She knew that everypony in this city had a secret to hide, but that didn't mean that they were all bad ponies. Just that sometimes you need to do a few things behind the scenes to get things done. A sentiment that she knew herself very well, considering what most of these ponies were walking on without even knowing. Then of course, you have the three hour walk from the stop of the elevator to the ship yard where her supership was being built. It was coming along nicely at this point hull wise, but getting some of the internal parts and getting them into the shipyard unnoticed was proving to be a bit tricky. She took a deep breath and then looked up to the clock. "He should be here any minute," she said letting her spheres break away from her necklace, and orbit her neck, dropping the air temperature a bit in the room to make herself. She would worry about the comfort of her guest once she got the answers she wanted.

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Las Pegasus, and life in general, looked much different from below.  That simple fact could so easily be forgotten by the high-status ponies as well as the high-altitude ones, which was why writers of the irreverent bohemian type were laudable and necessary.  That, or something like it, would be Earth Writer's answer if you asked him to justify his existence and recent actions.

 

The pony himself looked to be the sort of stallion in need of justification.  The tan unicorn's black mane and tail were overdue for a trim, stubble coated his muzzle, and his hat and shirt had a general travelworn and neglected air about them.  Life had hit him hard in recent years, that and bad decisions, if Earth was being completely honest.  Which wasn't always, these days.  Hence the bad decisions.  Once, he'd been a star reporter of the Canterlot Chronicle newspaper, traveling the world, seeing the major events up close, and reporting the action to all the ponies back home.  But, the influence had gone to his head, leaving him in an unsober state when a powerful foreign mare sought to corrupt his pen for her own interests.

 

The whole sordid scandal left him without his position, or any visible means of support.  He took hack jobs, now, little pieces from customers who didn't mind an author whose reputation for honest dealing was shot to pieces.  Not the most savory of company, and he well knew that if he kept this up, he wasn't ever going to get out of this morass; it would suck him under like quicksand.  Enough cash to not be dependent on those ponies anymore...

 

Desperation of this kind often brought ponies like Earth Writer to this city, but he wasn't here to play the slots.  No, he was about to sit at a higher-stakes game than baccarat, with what he hoped was a winning hand, gathered through gumshoe work at docks and shipping ports, late nights at the public archives, and a few bummed rides out with desert barnstormers.  Those were flights he'd never forget, though the pictures were amazing...

 

His meager clothing was not enough to suppress the chill from entering Ice Storm's casino.  There was something altogether... comic book-y about the aesthetic, but that wasn't uncommon on the Los Pegasus strip.  Up through the ice castle our fearless hero went, to confront the princess in her front office.  Suppressing his discomfort, knowing full well this conversation wasn't going to be the most pleasant he ever had, he nonetheless put on a polite smile and tipped his hat.  "Good morning.  I'm Earth Writer, I take it you're familiar with my work?"

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Ice was thankful that she didn't have to wait too much longer for the pony in question to arrive. Truth be told the pony that she had sent for seemed familiar to her in some what, but she just couldn't put her hoof down on it. she heard the familiar sound of a clicking door before looking towards the stallion that was now standing in front of her. He was hard pressed to be the sort of reporter that she imagined him to be, but things never did seem as they appeared with these types. For all she knew, this pony just crawled out of something looking for a story to twist to his liking. Still upon seeing his face and hearing him speak his name, she could have sworn she remembered him from somewhere... Ahh yes, she remembered now, from the night of the attack itself. He was on the balcony, and he had briefly done an interview with her. She wondered whatever became of that interview because she didn't find in any of the articles that she found.

 

"I would say less familiar with your work and more familiar with you and your reputation, as well as a few pieces of yours that popped up around five years ago. Mainly articles on the attack of the Crystal Faire, and some of the slanderous accusations that were made in them. Using the loss of hundreds as a political stepping stone to push an agenda trying to question those that protect us," she said laying the article that Bluebelle had given her on her desk, as well as several others. Several others, that were either articles he wrote, or articles about him and his reputation. "I know that you used to be one of the premiere journalists for the Canterlot Chronicle. However, whether you sold out or just picked the wrong side I can't be sure but it seems like you've been having trouble getting even the Equestrian Star to give you the light of day to work with," she said showcasing the ease of which she was able to obtain her information.

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It didn't take long for Earth Writer to get a gauge of Ice Storm.  True, he'd done his research beforehand, and carried it with him in a stuffed manila folder, but a lot of scattered facts crystalized into a clear picture of the mare, her opinions, and her intentions from the few words she said in opening.  Truth be told, the reporter wasn't all that impressed by her reserach; all of that information was published publicly, most of it had his real name in the byline and the headline.  Compared to the digging he had to do, it was small potatoes.

 

Still, he had to acknowledge the thoroughness involved; it would make his explanation a little easier to furnish with context.  But first, some evident elementary confusion had to be cleared up.  Starting with the article he published on the Crystal Faire attack.  "Ah, now what you have there is what we in the business call an editorial.  Specifically, an opinion column, the sort the Chronicle begin with 'The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Chronicle etc., etc.'  Which context I note has been clipped off, so if you want to talk about propaganda techniques..."  He chuckled, unable and frankly unwilling to keep condescension from creeping into his tone of voice.

"I was asked to give an opinion on what happened and why.  I believed, and continue to believe, that Equestria's historically soft foreign policy made us tempting targets to foreign adversaries, and encouraged excessive complacency at home.  This has increased the frequency of attacks, and decreased our preparedness for them.  The result, as you said, is the death of hundreds.  Like most right-minded citizens, this event disturbed me, and I wished it to not happen again.  As I am not a soldier, but a writer, I could only identify the source of the mistaken policy, which must in a monarchy ultimately be the monarchs, and call them out for their wrong decision.  I was far from insincere, note how little I cared how much offense I gave to the readership.  A propagandist takes more care in such matters.  Honestly, though, a change on the sister's part would satisfy me; I'm not out for their overthrow.  I would just not dismiss a proposed change in management out of hoof.  And honestly, I'm not sure they would, either.  But that's another topic."

"Now, if you want an actual example of the fine art of propaganda, I recommend my later work."
  Exchanging the articles with a wry smile, the condecension in his voice morphed into self-deprecation.  "Note the care in the chosen verbiage, neutral-sounding adjectives subtly valenced into positive and negative conjugations, making Lady Heart Stopper out to be the Good Mare in every possible confrontation, no matter how tribalist her actual attitude.  This implants doubts, but no more than doubts, into the minds of those schooled into integrationism by our history teachers.  And through slowly growing doubts larger and larger horseapples can be lodged into the mind, until finally..."  He pulled out the last article of his that ever appeared in the Chronicle.  "We have this lovely stinker, for which the editor should have been fired along with me for putting into print, I wasn't even pretending to be objective.  I think I was drunk, to be honest.  She gave good wine.  Good stuff all around, hence why I wrote so well concerning her."

 

He took a deep breath.  "Well!  I wasn't expecting to be that honest with you, but at the end of the day, Truth is your only defense against the facts."  On that cue, he lifted the manila folder he brought with him.  "So... I'm thinking you'll be wise to respond in kind."

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Ice listened to the reporter talk, and the condescending tone that he chose to address her with. She would need to deal with that swiftly. She had several ways that she could do that though and the methods that she would choose would depend on his actions honestly. For now, she listened as he spoke on the article that he had written. So, he pinned the blame on what he believed to be was a faulty policy that had allowed everypony in Equestria to become complacent, and he blamed the sisters for such policy and said that while he wasn't out for their overthrow, he wouldn't dismiss a proposed change in management. He then started talking about another work and how he'd use his words to plant doubt into the minds of others and apparently he was the kind of pony that could be bribed into writing about whatever the highest bidder wanted to write about. Information that she herself could use to her advantage.

 

Truthfully, she didn't care about the article about Lady Heart Stopper in the slightest. She didn't summon him here for a lecture in the arts or the sleeziness of journalism. She mostly brought him here purely on behalf of Tempest's suggestion. If it were left up to her own devices, she probably would have sought him out for removal for intentionally trying to disrupt the lives of others from the fallacies that have been posted. She saw the manila folder that he had with him though and the comment that appeared to be a threat towards her made her smile. He had gumption, she'd give him that. She'd see just how far it would last. She motioned for her security entourage to depart from the room, and as soon as they were out, she pressed a button under her desk and nearly instantly steel shutters around ever exit and window slammed shut and any light that was in the room was now incredibly dim.

 

"You know, there is one thing that we agreed on. Equestria as a whole... is too lax. The guards are flimsy and unreliable. This doesn't have to be though. I'm sure in you're little folder there you probably have some interesting shipment records, and perhaps a record of a few different names involved. I will tell you that I have the answers that you seek, but I will also tell you that there are some answers that I will not disclose until the time comes. As far as who I am, I'm not actually surprised that you don't remember me. Apparently at the time, I wasn't interesting enough for you to either praise or slander with your writing as of all the articles I found, even through the ones that the publishers never put into the paper, I never found record of that interview. It doesn't matter though, that care free mare died that day just as many in that tower did as it collapsed around me."

 

"You're right in that something needed to be done. It's not the princess's fault that Equestria has become so lax, but our own. It's just as much your fault as it is a pony walking down the street. Everything we do, everything we have, everything we've become is all taken for granite and we expect others to always be there to protect it for us. We expect peace because for the last several hundred years, up until recently, that's all that Equestria has known. It's because of the fist fact, and not any sort of foreign policy that everything has gotten relaxed. This doesn't just stop at city guards or national guards. This goes all the way up to the royal guards. They are all weak and unprepared for real combat situations. They aren't qualified to protect Equestria itself, let alone the princesses. Somepony needed to step in where the guards couldn't. Somepony with power, and wealth to be able to fund their desires, and now here we are. You sitting across from the pony that has everything she needs to give Equestria the protection that it needs."

 

"Now, I'm not at liberty to discuss a lot of things, but there are some things that I can disclose," she said as the air in the room began to chill a bit more. The faint glow of her spheres could be seen brightening with the temperature drop and soon enough was giving off enough of a glow that the mare they were now forming a halo around could be seen through the darkness. "How about you tell me what you know, and I'll fill in the gaps with whatever information I choose to give you," she spoke moving around the room. This pony may have had resources, but she was certain that she had more potent ones and more of them. Especially since she now had changlings in the area, it wouldn't take anything for him to be watched by her without him ever even knowing what was going on.

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Earth Writer briefly considered disputing Ice Storm's allegation of 'slander'; that wasn't a term any journalist took lightly.  Legally, slander was defined as a defamatory false statement of fact, as distinct from opinion (even wrongheaded) opinion presented as such with reasons for the author coming to it.  He had never been guilty of slander against Equestria's rulers or its citizens (dissidents against Heart Stopper were another story).  Ultimately, however, he decided to let it pass; it wasn't as if it would be worth her time to prosecute him for damages, and if she sued the Chronicle?  No skin off his back anymore.

 

Against her claim of being uninteresting to him, however, he had to speak.  Laying out his folder, he picked out a sheaf of note-paper that had been ruined by an ink-spill.  Scraps of barely-legible shorthand were visible, enough for Icy to recognize the interview notes.  "I knew you wouldn't believe me if I just told you my fountain pen exploded.  But without that contextual fact, your conclusions regarding me and my character were off.  It's possible that I lacked similar context myself when I wrote that article on the sisters.  Part of the reason I wrote so provocatively was in the hopes that somepony would take notice and provide the factual context.  Editors print letters from the public for a reason; I never received one that answered my objections to my satisfaction."

 

While Ice Storm may not have written such a reply at the time, she gave it her best go now.  The stallion couldn't call himself wholly convinced.  "If we lived in a democracy, that argument would be admittedly unanswerable.  But isn't the whole point of supporting a monarchy on the public dime for them to lead, rather than follow?  Especially when we're all being idiots, as I well know we often are."  He shrugged.  "Eh, I could argue forever on this or most any position; I'm a veteran of the Veiled Garden debates.  But that's a bit beside the point; if you're aim is to solve our security problem with a bit more than love and tolerance, I'll try to restrain myself from pointless gadfly bickering."

 

Finding his teeth starting to chatter, he shuddered.  "Um, I'd be glad to go on, but there's a lot-t-t of det-t-tails I collect-ed t-to go through.... Could-d you let-t the room get-t a litt-tttle warmer?  Please?"

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"Not entirely," Ice Storm started. "No matter the type of government established by the governing body, there are still the civilians of which that make up the nation as a whole. It doesn't really matter if it's a democracy, a republic, or a monarchy. And truthfully. Equestria itself isn't a true monarchy either. It is a Triarchy. I don't include cadence in the equasion because she presides over the Crystal Empire, which in all technicality it's own entity, and thus would classify as a monarchy. Celestia may ultimately have the final say, but in all reality, it's really run as a council of three, compounding on the the fact that Twilight herself has a council of five. the overall heirarchy would be complicated even for the ponies in government to understand let alone any civilians. The problem with the issue that you speak of, is quite simple. Lack of communication. It doesn't matter if there's one ruler, or a council of twenty. If an issue never makes it back to them, and if they are intentionally kept in the dark, they can't fix it.

 

This start at the guard level. If the chain of command cannot be trusted to get vital information to the proper places through the proper channels, then they are a liability. Somewhere, because of their inability to deal with the situation, combined with the failure to let superiors know that there could be an issue, ultimately ends up in somepony getting hurt. That is a distinct lack of discipline that stems from stagnation. They don't believe that anything bad will happen where they are and that it can't happen to them. When it does, they're unprepared because they will always be caught off guard." she continued warming the room slightly. "Long and short of it, They can't... we can't fix a problem if we don't know about it. Why the communication lines are failing, I don't have an answer yet, but I will soon enough. Now, tell me what you know, and if I'm able to, I will let you know. Again, there are matters I will not be able to discuss due to national security protocol," she said subtly dropping some hints that there was definitely more about her than met the eye, but she presumed that he knew that already.

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"If you want to know why communication is failing,"  Earth Writer pointed out, "You should probably look at the institution which shows up at most everypony's doorstep in the morning to tell them what's going on in the world, or at least what's going on that they ought to care about.  I could tell you thing or two about how the Fourth Estate works.  Or doesn't, as the case may be."  He finished with a sardonic smile.  If anypony was in a position to know how the news business was failing in its mission, a living embodiment of that failure was one.

 

Now that the room was slightly warmer, Earth Writer settled in.  "Well, there's two bodies of evidence.  One was the trail that led to you, and the other is everything about you that makes my supposition plausible.  The first starts with a remark that a zebra clerk made over lunch.  He works for one of the Unyasi tribes that got rich from mineral exports, talking about one order he processed for bilithium.  About the only industrial use for that is the lining of airship engines, but what was unusual about this order was that it was unpaired from any other mineral associated with airship construction, which his tribe also offers with a bundle discount to public and private dockyards.  But the order was much larger than what one would expect for any experimental lab use.  Well, it might be nothing, unless there were other isolated orders for those minerals and parts...."  Here he drew the first sheaves of evidence from his folder, copies and photographs of invoices.  "Had to do some gumshoe work, and not every part is accounted for, but it all adds up to a dreadnought, at least.  But no government agency or known private company is associated with any of these transactions.  Curious."

"And many of the minerals come from the same part of Unyasi, but they entered our continent by different ports, some quite distant from each other.  But, if we assume that they all come to the same destination..."  He pulled out a map, circling all the Equestrian and Aquellian ports where the minerals had come in through.  Rail lines were marked by average travel time, and the ones converging into Los Pegasus were circled in red.  "Minimizing the travel time between all ports of entry, this is the closest transport hub.  Not to mention, not five miles out of city limits, desert and badlands begin, where few residents or tourists ever venture.  Enough wealth and wealthy ponies pass in and out of this city to afford to buy and transport all that stuff, so as a potential build site and secret base, it makes sense.  So, that's the what, where, when, and how.  As to who... well, there was only one major move in shortly before all these purchases were put on the record, when a plot of urban land was transferred over from a certain Swift Squall to one Ice Storm."

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"Oh no. I don't care about the tabloid lines of communication. I already know that the press is going to tell ponies whatever they want the ponies in their area to believe to suit the mindset of those that read what they publish. What I'm talking about is why aren't letters being written up the chain of command? If those letters are getting written why aren't they getting to the avenues that they need to get to so that we can fix the problems that need to be fixed. The issue itself doesn't lie at corruption or weakness with the Crown, it lies with Corruption and weakness from within. Somewhere within the ranks of the guards are insurgent from other factions. One such faction that I am personally aware of and have fought several times already is WRAITH. It wouldn't surprise me to know that there are more like them. I will find them though, and I will end them," Ice said without a second of pause.

 

She did hold to herself though while she waiting for the journalist to finish putting the pieces that he had found together and presented his argument that there was something more going on with her because of the clues that he had already found. He also added that everything about her was confirming every suspicion that he had of her. She listened as he presented the evidence from the different shipments of the materials required for the ship that she was making and was able to conclude through the research that he had done that with all the parts and shipments that he had been able to track, while it wasn't all there, it all pointed to a dreadnought and there was no government record of any of it. He also added that the location seemed both odd and perfect. A centralized location between all the shipping points as well as a hub of transportation in general. Easy to get things in and out without much concern and the surrounding land made it easy to hide a base of sorts. He then further added that all of this started happening after one major transaction. A transfer of ownership of a an urban plot of land from Swift Squall to herself.

 

"There are some things that you have brought up that I will not be able to give details on. As much as I know that you would like all the answers to everything, due to matters of National Security I can only inform you that there is something that is being built outside of the city. I'm not at liberty to discuss what it is to anypony that is not a member of my organization. I will however start by the fact that is known and if you've done you're homework properly, you'd also see that I'm a high ranking member of The Lunar Guard, and am personal friends with the princess of the night herself. Everything that I have been doing has been approved. IF you wish to find out more, there are ways, but you may not like them," she said standing up and pressing the button under her desk once more returning the room to it's normal state.

 

"If you wish to know more, then you're more than willing to follow me. HOWEVER, all recording devices, cameras, notepads and writing utensils stay in this room, and once you enter this elevator you agree to all of my terms and conditions, including any that I decide to set therein henceforth. Also everything that you would see would be Tier-1 Classified information. Once you say yes, there is no turning back," she stated plainly as the Elevator door opened. "The clock's ticking. You're either coming or you're not."

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Tabloid lines of-?  Oh dear.  Earth Writer sighed; while Ice Storm was right to be suspicious of the narrative peddling of journalism, the rabbit hole went far, far deeper than that.  "I find it kind of ironic the way you disparage tabloids and come up with a conspiracy theory in one breath.  Without any evidence otherwise, I would say that the reason that no letters are being received is that none are written, and none are written because the populous has been trained to see nothing wrong.  The power of newspapers isn't merely their appearance of authority to the individuals reading them, its the fact that when ponies sanity-check their impressions of the world, nine times out of ten they're talking to ponies who haven't witnessed anything, only read it in the newspapers.  And it's from the populous that the guards are drawn.  That's not even touching the social, undisclosed connection to intellectual and cultural centers that discretely promote or suppress ideas.  I don't necessarily blame the public for any of this; that's just social dynamics at work, and the tabloids themselves are a fine example of what happens if you decide to not sanity-check your ideas.  But I'd hope that there's at least someone in authority who'd have a way of knowing better."

 

His words were less an argument, and more an exploratory criticism; on the whole, he didn't think it worth the effort to dedicate too much adversarial thought.  After all, they basically agreed that some fundamental problem was affecting the country they called home, and the former reporter wasn't going to try too hard to tear down any potential solution the mare was offering.  And her credentials were, as he had taken the trouble to find out, impeccable.  "I did indeed do my homework, which is why I did not take the incredibly stupid course of action in trying to blackmail you.  As it stands though, I'm desperate enough to have considered it under other circumstances, so..."  Packing up his file, he trotted to catch up to Icy.  "For three meals and a roof, I'm in.  The rest, as they say, is gravy.  You have my pen, if whatever Fellowship you're putting together wants one."

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When Ice Storm heard the comment from Earth Writer that he had done his homework and it was why he didn't take the incredibly stupid option and try to blackmail her. She lifted her eyebrow inquisitly. He apparently was accepting of the offer and added that his pen was hers if they ever needed it. Once the door to the elevator closed, she looked to Earth. "Indeed, it honestly would have been the last mistake you made. Would it have been something you tried, I would have set you up with a meeting with my new allies in the Changeling Isles and well, I don't think I need to go any further with that," she said to him. With that she put her hoof onto a secret panel that looked to just be another part of the elevator. When she did, a small door opened up and two large blue buttons appeared. She hit one of them and the elevator started.

 

"Three meals and possible more if you'd like. Like I mentioned coming into here, everything you see in this facility is highly classified information. To the point that the only pony outside of those who work here that knows what I'm building, is Princess Luna herself. My objective is to keep it this way until this base is fully operational and what I'm building is fully operational. At that point I'm planning on becoming a full fledged military branch of Equestria," she started as the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened and lead them into a hallway. "Right now I'm working on a method of transit from here to the main base. Otherwise, it's a good three to five hour walk from here to reach anything other than living quarters and eateries," she commented.

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If Earth Writer was intimidated by Ice Storm, he didn't show it.  Heck, the veneer of jaded cynicism he'd brought in with him had barely cracked in the cold.  "Getting your hooves in a lot of different pies, I see.  'Course, the more you share a secret, the more it isn't a secret.  I'd honestly be surprised if I was the only one to put enough pieces together to suspect, if not to know.  Granted, they probably wouldn't have enough to prove anything in a court of law, but I somehow suspect the courts have very little to do with our area of operation."  It might have been a little soon to use the collective first person, but to say a thing is partway to making it a reality.

 

Upon hearing that the eventual plan was to become a military branch in her own right, Earth Writer had to raise an eyebrow.  "Really?  I grew up in an REA household; my dad was an officer, high up enough for me to get a good look at the Joint Chiefs and their ilk.  I would pay good money to watch you at a General Staff meeting."  The results of which he hardly dared to speculate, but the clash would no doubt be incredibly entertaining.  Seeing the hallway stretch in front of them, the stallion pursed his lips somewhat.  "I don't suppose we could stop for lunch before we take that long a walk?  I'm not opposed to roughing it, but I only had a small cup of hotel coffee this morning."

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“Oh, I'm not dumb enough to tell the changelings exactly what I'm planning. After all, I trust Chryssalis about as far as I can throw her. The only thing that Chrissy knows, is that I have an organization and that I've been really gaining power. Not just in terms of actual power, but power in the Noble circle, political power, and business power. All of this that you see here, is self funded. I used my outstanding success of my franchise to put a casino here on the land that Squall gave me. He also gave me these,” she said pointing to the spheres. “Not the amulet itself. The spheres. I made the amulet that now holds them. It's hard to remain inconspicuous when you have these things orbiting you with no ability to remove them,” she continued.

 

“As it stands now, the casino funds the base. It also funds all of the shipments that you've tracked. Of course, getting the supplies that I've needed for the major project, and remaining under the radar is proving difficult. Because even is starting to take shape and within the next few months, I'm going to start arming the ship. That's going to be tricky as well. I'd be surprised if there aren't others that have made some connections. I'll have to make sure to start paying extra to use different ports,” she said as she heard Earth Writer tell her that he grew up in an REA household and his father was high enough that he got to see the joint chiefs and their ilk. He also added that he would pay good money to see her but heads with them.

 

“They wouldn't be any competition to me. As of right now the only ponies that could are Celestia, Twilight, and Luna… and with Luna, it depends on which one of us gets the jump. She's the one that been training me after all, and during our initial spar to assess my power level so she knew where to start… I almost beat her. We were using the training grounds in the heart of Canterlot though. So we were both holding back quite a bit. A rogue spell could have caused catastrophic damages. Shining Armor may be the Captain of the Guard, but STAR? STAR is mine and once it's a main branch, I will be looking to take over chief of command. The current system has failed the Equestrian ponies. It's time for a change,” she said as they stopped in front of a Long restaurant. “Noodles sound good?” She asked with a smile.

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Whether or not Icy told the Changelings what was going on, Earth Writer would have bet good money that Chrysalis would shortly get a pretty good idea of what was going on.  Allies, or even just 'allies' talked all the time, especially at the lower ranks.  The reporter had frank doubts about the integrity of Ice's information control mechanisms, but he bit down on any criticism for now.  Best not to get into an argument with one's new boss first day.  "I'm not sure if switching ports will help, frankly.  Heck, if you'd just pulled it all from, say, Baltimare, I would have been led on who knows how many rabbit trails; it was multiplying them that let me triangulate you.  Honestly, if you'd set up a shell aeronautics research company and just directed all inquiries to an unhelpful Customer Desk, I probably wouldn't have found you out.  Especially as I well know you have enough contacts in that field to help out with verisimilitude."

 

Well, so much for not offering criticism, but hopefully she'd take it as the constructive offer that it was.  "I'm not talking about competition with the likes of the REA; it's coordination that's the problem.  There's gonna be a cultural clash you'll have to overcome sooner or later, and you don't strike me as the sort that would put up with what you perceive as institutionalized nonsense."  Let's leave aside for the moment speculation on whether her perceptions would be accurate.   "Ooh, how'd you know my weakness?"  Earth grinned at the mention of noodles.  "Maybe you could tell me a thing or two about my job. "  Would be only fair exchange at that point...

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Ice looked at the writer with a questioning glance when he brought up that it was the multiple ports that let him triangulate her. That has she used a single port it would have been much larger to use. "I see, but wouldn't using only one port have the adverse side effect of being too predictable. It would be all to easy for somepony of less that perfect tastes to be able to track something over a period of time and wait for a shipment to raid. It's one of the main reasons I'll alternate ports, times, materials, and personnel. It might make it easier to triangulate, but it also keeps ponies off guard to an extent because they won't know when the next shipment is arriving, or from where. The only place they would have a chance to intercept them would be at my front door, which would be... an unfortunate mistake for them to make. However, puppeting it under the guise of aeronautical research... could easily be doable," she said opening the door to the Long Restaurant.

 

Once they were inside the smells of soups and noodles galore became overwhelming. All of the different broths simmering and waiting to be consumed. When he mentioned the cultural clash that will inevitable come, she nodded to him. "I am fully prepared for that to happen, and your right. I won't tolerate institutionalized nonsense. It's that delaying and wait and see attitude that's cause the last several invasions. The main reason I personally sought out Tempest to be my second in command is she'd beaten all lines of defenses without so much a peep and she had an entire fleet upon Canterlot. Ponies can say all the bad things they want about it, but that mare is a tactical genius. On the flip side of that, if she knows where our weaknesses are, then it shows me where I need to shore up defenses, and create patrols to lessen their vulnerability..." she said turning to him.

 

"That is where you'll come in. I'll need you to sure up the loose ends on the information side. Making sure that the important information does get out. Of course, I have several levels of security clearance withing the compounds. Several aura reading ponies at all entrances to vital projects and information. Most of the ponies here don't even know what's being built in the ship yard. Simply put, you're to keep us out of the eyes of the media until I deem it's time for us to make our presence known. At that point in time, I'll be expecting you to paint us in a positive light. I'll need all the recruits we can get, and I want to target the ponies that Equestrian Society has failed. I want to take the homeless off the street and give them purpose, give them a roof and three meals. Once we're live we'll need to sound as appealing as possible. From there, well... that remains to be seen," she said sitting in one of the booths and motioning Earth to follow suit. "Tell me, what were you expecting or wanting to do for employment here? I'm sure we can reach some sort agreement, both on work and pay."

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The term "hoofchair general" was not exactly a flattering one, but neither was it inaccurate for most ponies who discussed strategy.  Technically speaking, even though Earth Writer was arguing very much from within that class of furniture, one could technically argue that Ice Storm had not yet accomplished enough to have fully left it.  Either way, the stallion felt little embarrassment in continuing the argument.  "There's a significant difference in minimum resources and capabilities needed for a port raid, and for a strike into the Equestrian Heartland.  I myself would prefer that whatever villain out there tip their hand early, rather than wait for them to build up long enough for them to be confident in their strength.  That's consistently been our problem; not knowing what threat is out there until their airships are over Canterlot, to cite the most recent example.  Better to bait them out, if you ask me;.  Of course, if you'd put them all through that one port under the shell company, the clerk wouldn't think anything off, and we wouldn't be having this conversation." He shrugged.  "All comes to a matter of what you want to accomplish.  Protecting a nation isn't ever going to be a safe business, so maybe we should think about getting the most out of the risks we take, rather than trying to minimize them absolutely."

 

Entering the restaurant, the unicorn took a deep sniff of the laden air.  "Mmm... I think the spicy seaweed buckwheat is calling my name."  Putting in his order, he joined the mare at the table.  "Just don't forget there's institutional knowledge as well as institutional nonsense there.  Part of our job as outsiders is to tell one from the other, without letting the latter devalue the former."  He snorted at the last, ears drooping.  "Listen to me, though; some part of my mind hasn't yet realized that I'm not a respectable journalist anymore, but a disgraced hack."  At the mention of Tempest Shadow, though, his ears and general demeanor perked right up again.  "Tempest, eh?  Now there's a mare I wouldn't mind meeting.  Air of mystery, and all that.  Appeals to the gumshoe in me, plus whatever is attracted by the femme fatale.  Or to speak more accurately, a fatal female.  I've found my tastes don't run to what's safe for me."

 

The soup was not long in coming, and the stallion blew off the cloud of steam rising from the bowl, before slurping the red broth.  Immediately, his cheeks began to flush and his eyes grew wide and watery.  "Whoo!  Now that's the stuff!  Clears your sinuses right out!"  Grinning, he took a bit of crunchy veggie out of the soup with his magic, chomping it down as he considered Ice's offer.  "I'll admit, I wasn't going to be so bold as to ask for half of what you just put on the table.  Maybe a few commissions for ghostwritten propaganda, or something.  I mean, I sold my integrity off already, so I wasn't going to bargain out of my conscience..."  Dipping his head into the bowl again, he slurped up the long noodles, tears now actually dripping from his face.  Sniffing, he wiped them with his hooves.  "Sorry.  Not crying, I promise.  Never thought about trying to buy it back, but I guess if you're willing to take me on, you're sincere about the rest of what you said.  Giving meaning and cause to the down-and-outs, yeah?  I'm in."  He nodded, extending his hoof, before quickly pulling it back to wipe on his shirt first.  "Eheh, yeah.  Just one thing, though.  I would like advisory input on major operations I'm expected to write about.  If I'm actually going to write with anything like a convincing tone, I need to do more than just cover my patron's plot for a living.  I'm done playing that game."

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"I agree with that for the most part, and under normal circumstances I would want to find them and thwart them before they became a problem. On the flip side though, the materials that I'm bringing in right now are... not only vital to my operations, but potentially deadly if fallen into the hooves of those with ill intent. Especially right now considering my next few supply shipments are armaments," she said to Earth as she placed her own order. The beefy broth in combination with the corn, peas, onions, and sprouts all made her giddy, on top of the fact that it was a comically large bowl that dwarfed Earth's in size. She tore into them quickly and with a slurp she listened as he spoke. He wanted to meet tempest at some point. IT was kinda her idea to bring him into the fold so she supposed it would be fine, but she didn't know when that would be able to take place. Tempest was on her own private head clearing mission right now and wasn't going to be available for a while.

 

Everything else she nodded on. "Of course. After all, that's why we're taking this little walk of ours. IF I'm going to expect you to be able to handle and direct information from this place. You need to know what clearance levels are which and how to assert priority to the information. On top of that, you'll need to have an idea of what is going on at every instance so that you can't get blindsided. That said, the only pony I am accepting advice from on airship construction and strategy is Tempest. After all, she did drop an unseen fleet on Canterlot. The mare knows airships. As far as everything else goes. I mean what I said. We're trying to become the golden beacon, and give ponies the home they never had," she stated before taking another long slurp of noodles.

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Earth Writer had to acknowledge the strategical point.  It wasn't wise to bait a trap with your vital rations, after all.  Ice Storm had talked a big enough game for the reporter to have a perhaps exaggerated picture of her present capabilities; some re-calibration of his views was in order.  "Gotcha."  Another slurp brought more noodles into his mouth, washed down by a bit of the broth.  Some of the pepper flakes caught in his throat, causing him to cough into his napkin.

 

"Ahc, aha, ehem!  Excuse me, probably shouldn't eat so fast."  He settled back in his chair a bit, drinking down some cold water as he caught his breath.  "I promise not to step beyond my knowledge in any advice, nor to try and show up the experts.  That said, I hope you have a somewhat realistic expectation for your recruit base.  You can make good bricks out of mud, but nopony's gonna mistake the edifice for marble."

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"My expectations are for ponies to be able to do what they are capable of doing. Most of the ponies that I'll end up requiting starting off probably arn't going to know very much of what they are yet. The others are still looking for their place and a way to figure out how to use what talents they have. There are even moreso of ponies that the want to help fight and defend but the REA had slighted them for one reason or another. There is always a place for anypony that's willing to learn and shape themselves," Ice replied sipping at some soda.

 

"To go along with your analogy though, I would rather have ten thousand bricks of mud over 100 bricks of marble. For starters, if a brick of mud doesn't work for it's intended purposle, then it can be molded into something that works better for what you need. Marble on the other hoof. If you make the slightest error with marble, It becomes weak and brittle, and once it's in it's shape it cannot be molded. The marble will eventually become weak after wear and tear and crumble. The mud can be easily reinforced and can be a primary foundation for what's built upon it. It's not what you use to shape your soldiers. It's how you shape them. I mean, look at Equestria's finest. Selected from the 'perfect mold' of a pony and how many invasions, or catastrophes have they prevented? I can't think of one where they've been able to deal with a situation that's been presented to them, and they were picked to be the marble that you speak of," she continued as she stood and paid the tab. "Let's talk and walk. It will be a long one ahead of us."

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Earth Writer nodded at Icy's spiel.  "Sounds reasonable.  I'm just glad you have some realistic expectations."  He raised an eyebrow as she continued, peering over the rim of the bowl as he finished slurping the broth.  "*Acha-hah.*  Ahem, yes, the palace guard do seem to be more decorative than functional these days, though it's hard to get an exact count of how many things didn't happen, you know?"  He sniffed, blowing his nose as the spice cleared his sinuses.  "Sorry about that.  But yeah, I agree with your general point."

 

Slurping up the last of the noodles, he followed her out, now feeling significantly less out of sorts with the world in general.  Amazing what lunch can do for a pony.  "So... what else did you want to talk about?  I suppose there's some onboarding process I have to go through."

Edited by PrinceBlueblood

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Ice nodded when Earth Writer acknowledged the fact that she had reasonable expectations. She had to have. With what she was getting hey hooves into, and the ponies that she was recruiting, she knew that there would be obstacles that they would have to come across. She knew there would be times where reassignments would be necessary, and initial assessments would have to be evaluated. “It is unfortunate that the guard is pretty much irrelevant at this point. As you said, too many gaps,” she started as they began their long walk.

 

“As far as what an onboarding process would be, it's not really much more than you would expect. Naturally due to the complexity of what we are and what we deal with, they are loyalty oaths, and secrecy oaths that are bound in arcane measures. Even I myself have a loyalty oath bound by aether to the Princess of the Night. Otherwise though, there's not anything unusual. You'll be issued a uniform, a dwelling, passes to the eateries like we were just at. As well as entertainment passes when we aren't in a time of hostility. Right now those are given out a bit more sparingly because we are still in build up phase. It's hard to get everything off the ground of no one is here working. You will also be provided with whatever tools you need to to do what you do. In your instance quills, can news articles, data inquiries and the like. If you were a mechanic pony, all your tools would be provided. You will also be given a security clearance code that is specific to you and you only,” she continued.

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Earth Writer nodded at the loyalty oath; only to be expected when one was recruiting a bunch of powerful ponies to do dangerous things.  It was a bit of a revelation that Ice herself was solely sworn to the Night Princess, but again not wholly surprising.  None of this elicited comment. 

 

Her remark about quills, however, did prompt him to pull a platinum-tipped pen out of his pocket.  "I wasn't wholly deprived of my livelihood after being fired from  the paper. Quills are cruelty to birds in any sense. No need to use archaic tools. Modern problems require modern solutions, after all; that's why you're doing this, right?"

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Ice wasn't all that surprised when she didn't get a response from him in regards to the oaths that were needed. Plus it was probably just as unsurprising that she had sworn an oath herself. It stood to reason that a pony with her power and resources had such an pact the ensure the safety of the land.

 

When he pulled out the pen and commented, Ice smiled before speaking. “Indeed they do. In which case I'll be sure you have a steady supply of ink,” she said as the continued. The rest of the walk consisted of sole of the different jargon that was used in the base as well as a bit of the layouts of the part of the base that they had just left. Eventually they came to a large set of heavily guarded double doors. As soon as Ice got close they came to attention. “At ease soldiers. Unlock the door.”

 

“Yes Ma'am!” They replied as a click was heard and they stepped into the room where a pony scanned her with magic. “Clear! Commander on Deck!” they said as the passed through.

 

“This part of the base is on lock down. The ponies that come here, do so for two months at a time before rotating out. That way no one gets to much flack about being gone for too long and most tend you stay happy,” she says walking to the end of the hallway to a set of steel doors. “The information of what's beyond these doors, stays behind those doors. Failure to heed this warning is an act of treason,” she said taking one a now very serious demeanor. The demeanor of a commander. “Do I make myself clear?”

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"Crystal, Ma'am."  Earth Writer threw Icy a salute, a decidedly non-regulation one, but a little too sincere to be called a mock-salute.  "Reveals by means of 'anonymous sources' are passe, in any case.  I prefer the big show, where you can send in the 8x10 color glossy photographs with the paragraphs on the back explaining each one to the major magazines."  Another legacy of his time with Heart Stopper; a mind more attuned to the demands of politics his superiors than journalistic practice.  Given that he was no longer a journalist, that would serve him well in this position.  "Now, my own personal curiosity is killing me, so will you save the life of this poor cat and let me see?"

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Ice Storm noted the salute that was sent towards her and she also noted that while it wasn't completely whole hearted it wasn't entirely fake either. It held at least a little bit of merit to it as the continued forth. Now that they had the introductions, the tour, and the talks out of the way, it was time to get to the big stuff. Well, big could be a little bit of an understatement at this point. When she heard Earth tell her that she was killing him with his own curiosity. She smiled as she pushed the code into the door and a loud hissing was heard as the locks disengaged and the doors opened.

 

When they opened, the revealed the massive underground ravine that had been further excavated and mined out for extra space for what the ravine was now containing. In the center of the ravine, was the husk of what would soon be the flagship of STAR. At this point, the hull itself was complete as well as some of the storage bays... In fact, the first four lower decks and all supply and cargo holds had been completed. The engine had been set, and off to the side of the ship some of the ships cannons have also started production. The ship itself was massive and stretched far down into the ravine. All and all it was about three hundred ponies long and thirty ponies wide.

 

"She doesn't look like much now, but when she's done... she'll be the pride and joy of the Equestrian Military, and a symbol of fear for everypony who oppose it. It will be the ship that when the enemy sees it, they know they've lost. The cannons that you see over there that are being built? it will have six of those. Two on the upper deck, and four 360 degree turrets on the keel, as well as several secondary batteries for anything that gets close to it. She is not without her weakness unfortunately though, as no matter how much we put into her, she's still going to be slow. She'll require an escort of at least four Air Destroyers. Right now though, making sure she gets finished on time is my primary concern. That is why her supplies are coming from multiple ports and can't be pinned down..." she said pausing to let Earth Writer take in everything.

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