Few paid any notice as yet another train rolled its way along the top of the massive divider wall, one of many that divided the city into numbered sectors. As far as anyone was concerned, it was just another shipment of materials and personnel headed for the old #1 reactor that stood at the city's northern edge.
Two ponies stood guard alongside the track as the train slowed to a halt near the power plant, neither suspecting that anyone would be so bold as to launch an attack on such a vital facility. Neither noticed the ponies concealing themselves along the length of the engine or the fuel car until it was too late.
The first of the guards had only begun to react to the sudden appearance of a turquoise Unicorn when he found himself thrown through the air, his head impacting the side of the train engine with sufficient force to send him straight into unconsciousness. When the second guard rushed to help his comrade, a sudden kick to the side of his head likewise incapacitated him. He never saw the cream-colored Earth Pony that had dropped him, the gray Pegasus that followed, nor the Palomino with the cowboy hat and cybernetic leg who appeared shortly after.
"C'mon, let's GO!" the Palomino said, motioning towards the train as the others rushed through the main gate.
The last to depart the train was a blue Pegasus with a rainbow mane styled into several fearsome spikes. Strapped across her back was a sword that was every bit as large as she was, and her rose-colored eyes had a strange glow to them.
"Follow me!" the Palomino told the newcomer, before dashing through the facility's doors. No sooner than she had disappeared through the doorway, though, several more guard ponies came charging out. How the Palomino bypassed them was anyone's guess. There were no questions asked; once the guards arrived, they reared up on their hind legs and used their forelegs to fire their machine guns at the Pegasus.
Reacting with speed that could only be described as superhuman, the Pegasus reared up and drew her blade, using its great breadth to shield herself from their projectiles. "I don't have time to mess around with you guys," she growled as she closed the distance between them. The guards reached for their batons as she came within range, but were each dispatched before they could even raise their weapons to parry her expert strikes. "Waste of my time," the Pegasus grumbled as she stowed her blade and continued on into the reactor compound.
Through the main gate, the Pegasus could see that the other ponies - minus the Palomino - had stopped while the cream-colored Earth Pony from before worked to bypass the security on the facility's entrance, while the gray Pegasus stood guard near the corner. The turquoise unicorn from before took note of the new arrival, and nodded approvingly.
"Wow! You used to be in WARHORSE, all right! Not everyday ya find one in a group like FRIENDSHIP," the Unicorn said.
"WARHORSE? Aren't they the enemy?" the Earth Pony asked. "What's she doing with us in FRIENDSHIP?"
"Hold it, Bonbon. She WAS in WARHORSE," he replied. "She quit them and now is one of us. Didn't catch your name, by the way..."
"...Dash," the blue Pegasus replied, before looking away.
"Dash, eh? I'm..." the Unicorn began.
"I don't care what your names are," Dash snapped, shaking her head at the Unicorn. "Once this job's over...I'm outta here."
Though the Unicorn was about to protest, the Palomino from before ran up to the group. Judging from the expression on her face, the crew had screwed up badly - and she was less than pleased. "The hay are y'all doin'?" she asked, glaring at each of them in turn. "I thought I told y'all never to move in a group!"
Her protests were met with silence from the rest of the group. Sensing that her admonitions were getting them nowhere, the Palomino spoke up once more. "Our target's the north Mako Reactor. We'll meet on the bridge in front of it."
"Got it!" Bonbon cheered, the security gate chiming as it slid open. Without waiting for any further instructions from the Palomino, all the others save Dash quickly burst inside. The Palomino began to follow after them, but stopped and turned to look at Dash over her shoulder.
"Ex-WARHORSE, huh? Well my name's Applejack, and I don't trust ya!" she said before running after the others.
Dash's gaze traveled skyward, where the #1 Mako Reactor loomed overhead. Her thoughts drifted to the past for several moments as she tried to piece together how she'd gone from being a WARHORSE first-class to being just another piece of mercenary trash working for some crazed eco-terrorists. Rather than dwell upon these thoughts, though, Dash steeled her nerves and entered the reactor control facility ahead.
It was only a short sprint through the reception area to the bridge that would take them all into the heart of the reactor. By now, there were alarms sounding throughout the plant, and numerous employees were hurriedly evacuating before they wound up caught in a crossfire between security and the terrorists. It would take the rest of security a few minutes to respond, and it was crucial that they blow the reactor and vanish before Shinra's goon squad showed up.
She met up with the others not long after - Minus the gray Pegasus, who had taken up a position on the bridge - where the Unicorn was working to decipher the code-locks on one of the final pair of security doors between them and the reactor core itself.
"Yo! This yer first time in a reactor?" Applejack asked Dash as she jogged up to the group.
"No. After all, I did work for Shinra, you know," Dash answered, watching the Unicorn work out of the corner of her eye.
"The planet's full o' Mako energy. People here use it every day," Applejack said, motioning towards the various machinery and controls surrounding them. "It's the life blood o' this planet. But Shinra keeps suckin' the blood out with these weird machines."
Dash felt her patience beginning to thin as Applejack rambled on. "I'm not here for a lecture. Let's just hurry," she replied, coolly and evenly.
Applejack couldn't believe that anypony could be so apathetic about the plight of their very world. "That's it! Yer comin' with me from now on!" she barked, taking up a position near Dash's side.
"Don't worry. Lyra and I got the codes for these doors," Bonbon told Dash as they approached the checkpoint.
"...code deciphered!" Lyra announced as the door opened. "Let's go!"
The group hurried into the security checkpoint, where they found the door to the elevator that provided the only direct access into the reactor core itself. Lyra took up a defensive position inside the checkpoint, while Bonbon moved to bypass the elevator's control panel.
"Think how many of our people risked their lives, just for this code..." Lyra mused as Bonbon worked. They were just moments away from entering the reactor core now, and the few seconds that elapsed before Bonbon announced that she'd deciphered the code seemed like an eternity. Applejack, Dash, and Bonbon wasted no time in piling into the elevator once the door was open.
"Push that button over there!" Bonbon told Dash as she took up a position near the elevator's door.
Dash walked over to the far side of the elevator, and reached up to bash the switch with her hoof. "Switch on," she announced as the elevator began its long descent.
Several tense, silent seconds passed before Applejack spoke up. "Little by little, the reactors'll drain out all the life. And that'll be that," she told Dash.
"It's not my problem," Dash replied with a shrug, still not interested in Applejack's rhetorical horse apples.
"The planet's dyin', Dash!" Applejack yelled, her entire body shaking with fury. How could the Pegasus be so casual about all this?
Applejack's rage didn't faze Dash in the least. She simply shook her head and responded to her with the same cool, even tones she'd used since they first met about the job. "The only thing I care about is finishin' this job before security and the Roboponies come."
The Palomino continued to stand there and quake with rage, and the urge to simply shoot Dash and be done with her was almost overwhelming. She knew that she would need the filly's help in finishing the job, though. There was no doubt in her mind that she was going to kill Dash, but it would have to wait until after they'd blown the reactor.
These thoughts were cut short as the elevator finally reached the bottom of the shaft, the doors sliding open to reveal the cold, misty air of the reactor core beyond. As the trio stepped out, they found themselves standing atop a massive bulk of machinery, with several large pipes driven down through the plant's floor. A faint glow - Mako energy - leaked from the cracks surrounding the pipes, and lent an unholy glow to their surroundings.
This was what they had come for. Now all they had to do was get inside of it, where they could strike at its heart and buy the planet - and FRIENDSHIP - a little more time.
Quickly and quietly, the three ponies charged down the winding stairs that surrounded the reactor core's exterior. Bonbon quickly located a maintenance access and smashed the flimsy door down with her hooves. "This way! Climb down the ladder inside, and wind up on a maintenance scaffold that overlooks the core," she announced before beginning her own descent. Sure enough, the core became quite visible as they descended the ladder to the scaffolding below.
"That's what we need to hit, right?" Dash asked as she looked over the area.
"Right. Plant the charges on the reactor core's housing, prime them, then get the hay out of there! I set the timer on the charges for ten minutes - enough time for us to get out, but not enough time for Shinra to locate and disarm them," Bonbon explained. "You two go ahead - I'll wait here and make sure they don't box us in."
Dash didn't like the sound of this plan, but she really didn't have much choice at this point. Together with Applejack, she made her way across the maintenance scaffolding and descended the ladder to the core service walkway below.
"What the hay's that?" Applejack asked, indicating something shiny that sat in the center of the walkway.
"Materia," Dash answered, walking over and scooping the tiny green sphere up. "Dunno what kind yet. I'll have to figure it out later." Somewhat heartened by the luck of this find, she placed the Materia into her belongings and continued along the walkway towards the core. Below them were even more massive pipes plunging directly into the planet's crust, each surrounded by a fiery halo of Mako energy so brilliant that it was almost blinding.
"When we blow this place, this ain't gonna be nothin' more than a hunk o' junk," Applejack said. "Dash, you set the bomb."
Dash glanced over her shoulder towards Applejack, eyes narrowing slightly at the terrorist. "Shouldn't you do it?" she asked.
"Jus' do it! I gotta watch to make sure you don't pull nothin'," Applejack replied, motioning towards Dash with her cyberleg. The autocannon which had been installed into the robotic limb was made painfully obvious, as was the penalty for "pullin' somethin'."
"Fine, be my guest," Dash said dismissively, her attention turning back towards the reactor. She was just about to approach and set the charges when a sudden wave of pain coursed through her skull, along with a deafening whine and intense nausea. Falling to her knees and gasping in response to the sudden assault on her senses, she swore she could hear a voice speaking in the back of her mind.
"Watch out! This isnt' just a reactor!"
The intrusion ended as suddenly as it had begun, leaving Dash with a killer migraine and a bit of blood dripping from her nostril.
"...what's wrong?" she heard Applejack asking as her hearing returned.
"What's wrong, Dash?" the terrorist asked impatiently. "Hurry it up!"
"...yeah, sorry," Dash muttered as she stood and approached the reactor. With practiced efficiency, she placed the charges on the inner housing as Bonbon had instructed, then pressed the shiny red button that caused the timer on the front to flicker to life. Just as Bonbon had said, they now had ten minutes before the entire reactor went up in flames.
The very moment that Dash had activated the charges, however, the air filled with a loud klaxon and an automated voice. "Explosive charges detected in reactor core. Execute security procedure orange. Repeat: explosive charges detected in reactor core. Execute security procedure orange."
What they heard next was not nearly as benign. The sound of something heavy could be heard advancing down the maintenance walkway behind them. "Heads up, here they come!" shouted Applejack as she turned around to see that the sound was coming from a massive, scorpion-like robot that had emerged from behind a door at the opposite end of the walkway. Both ponies reared up onto their hind legs, Dash readying her sword while Applejack took aim with her autocannon.
"The charges are already set," Dash reminded Applejack. "There's no other way; we'll have to bring this thing down in a hurry, then get out of here before we wind up well-done."
The scorpion robot activated a series of sensor arrays seated where its head should've been, its beams focusing on Dash long enough to determine that she was indeed a valid target.
"Look out!" Applejack yelled, but just a moment too late - the Scorpion robot spun about with far more speed than its size should've allowed, and lashed out at Dash with the bladed tip of its tail. Dash brought her sword up to parry the strike, but the sheer force of the blow sent both the sword and its wielder smashing into the guard rail behind them.
"That's it - no more Miss Nice Filly!" Dash said as she removed herself from the Dash-shaped dent in the railing. The glow in her eyes increased as she concentrated on activating one of the Materia socketed to her blade. The mare became surrounded in a green mist, and a loud howl filled the air as a bolt of lightning burst from Dash's body to strike at the mechanical beast.
Circuits within the robot's brain became fused, and a few wisps of smoke escaped its head. Confused and suffering, the robot began to shake violently, and raised its massive tail over its head.
"Careful, Applejack! Attack while it's tail is up, and it'll counterattack with its laser!" Dash told the Palomino.
"Ah don't care!" she replied as she took aim with her autocannon, firing off a long burst into the robot's sensor arrays. Though these arrays had appeared fragile, Applejack was horrified to see that every last one of her rounds deflected with minimal damage.
Before Dash could even react to her companion's blunder, the scorpion Robot had identified Applejack as the source of the attack, and brought the laser in its tail to bear on the pony. "Applejack!" Dash called out as the energy wave washed over her employer. She feared the worst, but was shocked to find that while badly-singed, Applejack was still alive - and conscious, no less!
"NOW YOU'VE GONE AN' DONE IT!" she yelled at the machine. "NOW AH'M MAD!" There was a loud electronic whine as Applejack stood once more, raising her arm towards the scorpion. Dash could tell that she was building up some kind of energy into her weapon.
"Damn it, Applejack! Hold your fire!" the Pegasus yelled.
Applejack wouldn't hear any of it. Once her weapon was fully charged, she released a massive burst of explosive force that sent her sprawling onto her back. The blast impacted the machine's head with such force that the sensor arrays were completely shattered, leaving the machine to thrash about blindly with its tail. Try as she might to get out of the way, Dash found herself once again sent sprawling by a body-blow from the massive appendage.
"C'mon, Dash! Finish that bastard off!" Applejack shouted.
After scraping herself up off the ground, Dash recovered her sword and focused her attention on the massive hole that Applejack's shot had punched in the robot's armor - and more importantly, at the exposed circuitry inside.
"Only one chance to pull this off!" she muttered as she took up her sword in both hooves. The next time the robot swung its tail in her direction, she leaped onto it and launched herself directly at the exposed robo-brain. Howling with fury, she drove the buster sword directly into the sensitive equipment, causing the scorpion robot to give one last, agonized thrash before slumping lifelessly onto the walkway.
"Good work, Dash! Now let's get outta here 'fore the place comes down around our ears!" Applejack shouted as she began to run for the maintenance access once more...