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Ot · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Kill The Bugs
Kill The Bugs

“Specialization is for insects.”
— Robert A. Heinlein

I always get the sparks before a drop.

The headshrinker says it’s nothing serious, even expected from more powerful unicorns. The thaumic passageways clearing themselves for action, preparing for the overcharged power a combat suit can generate. Excess thaums generated by stress hormones and suppressed pacing urges. Psychological urges dating back when mares used to fight for their mates. Interference between hyperspace and unicorn magic.

I still worry. It helps to think of our goal. Optrunco Thysanoptera. Kill the bugs. I remember the massive ship descending on Canterlot. The flare of planetary defenses being destroyed by one-bug suicide ships, little more than a drive unit and a changeling drone. The last desperate defense by the Royal Guard, their bodies falling like burning leaves as the changeling defenses cut them down. The gloating changeling queen who had bypassed every unsuspecting defense of our world, drained Cadence of her magic, entombed Celestia in a cocoon, maneuvered Luna into a situation where she dared not act for fear of destroying that which she was sworn to protect.

Then the light as Cadence and Shining Armor joined their powers. We are the light. They are the darkness. We will be victorious, or the darkness will consume everything. And to that end, Optrunco Thysanoptera.

“Awright, shut yer yaps and pay attention,” barks Captain Moondancer, bringing my mind back to the ship “Last check before drop. Line up for inspection.”

It seems like such a short time ago that Moondancer was in my class in Canterlot. She always seemed so insecure and hesitant back then. Now she is an experienced officer in the Mobile Infantry, commanding every soldier onboard the Celestia’s Crown, a far cry from the little filly who used to check her answers against mine in alchemy class. She clicks and clanks across the steel deckplates in her command suit, bulging in unexpected places with extra power packs and various packages of nastiness. Powered armor can turn even a smallish mare into a goddess of battle, capable of breaking an enemy in half or delicately cracking an egg. My own armor is as much of a skin as I have ever worn, but I have seen Princess Celestia and Luna rise into the sky with their own alicorn command suits like wafting feathers, soaring in glory without a single flicker in the immense power shared between them. Since the original changeling attack, they have been the final defense of our homeworld, a blazing fire of sun to melt any more assault craft into vapor and the bright shield of battlestation moon, buttressed with missiles and beams until the surface is one glittering pattern of lights.

The darkness will not fall. Optrunco Thysanoptera.

The troopers each in turn allow our commander to examine suit readouts, exchange a few private words, and move on to the next while the butterflies in my stomach churn.

“Private!” barks Moondancer next to me. “Two degrees of fever. Report to sickbay.”

“But Ma’am,” starts Blossomforth before being brutally cut off.

“This mission is too important to have you barfing in your suit,” she growls. “The rest of your squad will have to pick up the pace. Thankfully, this is such a critical assault that the geniuses upstairs planned for some slack or we’d have to scrub the whole mission because you couldn’t go to sick call. Go!”

Then it is my turn.

There is a faint click of a private channel before Moondancer asks, “Hey, Twilight. Estrus meds not cutting it, sis?”

I shake my head before remembering that my motions are only fractionally transmitted to the outside world through the armored visor. Thankfully, Moondancer has been as close as a sister to me through school, which is why she likes to tweak me as the only sibling she never had. She picks up on my motion anyway with a low chuckle when I add, “They’re like throwing water at a volcano, but I’m under control, Ma’am.”

“You better be. One mare missing from your squad and restrictive rules of engagement mean this is going to be a real nutcracker. If you come back to the retrieval boat with one unexpended bomb or round of ammunition, I will be severely disappointed. Understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I respond instead of nodding.

“Just don’t go dragging any of the Skinnies behind a bush,” she quips, giving me a friendly pat on the shoulder that would have torn a limb off an unarmored pony. “Save it for the stallions when we get home.”

Sooner than I wish, it is time to back into the cold embrace of the drop capsule. Steel and ceramic surrounds me like a fragile eggshell around a pony yolk, and my sparks get stronger, giving little jolts of pain on the top of my head. If not for the tiny thread of a communications wire, my imagination would have me believe all the rest of the universe has condensed into a sphere no larger than my armor’s reach. Out of rote training, I check the condition of each of my squad and they blink back, tiny green lights in my heads-up display. As much as I wish one of them could be a stallion to quench my disturbing fire, I understand far too well why each ship of the Equestrian Navy is segregated, particularly now as I await the final word from the starship’s pilot.

“Two minutes to drop. Exiting hyperspace.”

And just like that, the sparks stop. I am not the only mare to find Fluttershy’s quiet voice comforting, because I can see the vitals monitors of the entire platoon from my command suit. According to the plans, the Cadence-class battlecruiser Love Tap will emerge a fraction of a second before us, using her additional internal space crammed full of weapons and decoys to occupy the planetary defenses in a way Celestia’s Crown could never manage by herself. This is not merely a hit-and-run on a Skinny distant colony, but a message passed on from Equestria herself.

The Skinnies have provided aid and assistance to our enemies. This will change.

There will be casualties from our attack, because it scarcely could be otherwise. Every body, every injury, every destroyed building or disabled vehicle will need to be measured for their impact on our goal. Too little, and we will be ignored. Too much, and we will be judged a force too powerful to negotiate with, and the negotiations which must be underway will be broken off and drive the Skinnies further into the manipulative limbs of our enemy. The chain of logic is like a beautiful checklist which keeps me company during the long wait for—

The stunning noise of the accelerators slamming out capsules two at a time echoes through the inside of my helmet. Pairs of lights begin vanishing from my HUD, decoys meant to sprint down through the atmosphere and draw fire, jammers howling their electronic shrieks to their sensitive electronic brethren, and kinetic kill devices departing in a streak of light to destroy whatever targets the computers have determined will aid our assault. Then officers go next, to evaluate the situation and provide accurate intelligence to the troopers descending in their wakes.

I am so caught up in the plan, embossed into my mind with hypno-training and memorized checklists, that the slamming impact of launch takes me by surprise. Since there is nothing for me to do for the next several seconds, I make one last pass down my checklist for landing. The slamming impact of atmosphere is far more gradual than the launch, building to a piercing shriek that even layers of the capsule are unable to dampen totally. The first shell peels away in molten droplets and vapor within seconds, shaking my ride in a welcome manner because even the most precise ground fire cannot predict where I am going if even I do not know. The second lasts slightly longer, then the third and fourth peel off in giant strips that are designed to foil radar and thermal imaging. The sky above the Skinny capital will be lit by now with the flash of detonating missile bases and smoke from fires.

I am reminded of the innocent Canterlot foals swept up by Changeling attackers to be dragged back to their massive ship, and I harden my will.

The first ribbon chute lasts only one sharp tug before it too parts company with the shedding capsule and joins the thousands of pieces of junk floating down. A second lasts a few moments longer before it too is stripped away, carrying another layer of glowing protective armor with it. Then the third, which crushes me to the floor as it sheds velocity at a maximum rate. Activating my radar through the thin window exposed in my capsule would be foolish, but at least I can finally look with my own eyes.

Without hesitating, I blow the last connectors holding my capsule together and pitch forward, trying to make my descent as rapid as possible. A march of red triangles spreads across the HUD, concealed missile launchers being engaged by the Equestrian Navy with me between them. Streaks of white light ascend and descend around me as I spread the crystalline wings in the armor and shift my landing to apparent safety. It is a good decision I tell myself when something in the sky behind me explodes violently, most probably a portion of my capsule that the defenders have disposed of before it littered their city.

Landing, as always, is not my best skill. I have no idea how Rainbow Dash manages it, although to be honest, she has piled into the ground in ways I can’t even imagine. It does leave a hole into the top floor of the building I picked for a landing spot, so I drop one of my bombs inside before bounding away on jet-boosted wings.

One thing I have in great abundance for this mission is bombs. The Y-rack on my back spits one or two out with every armor-powered bound I make, depending on what the suit sensors or my own intuition has marked for destruction. Controlling powered armor is a dance, a mixture of movement and actions tied together with training in a way that not one mare in a hundred can master. As I leap along my marked route with thruster-assisted bounds, I mark targets before tossing my infrared snooper back up next to my horn with one twitch of my neck, designate power junctions and communication arrays, snap commands to my fellow troopers, and deal with hostile enemy fire from their own soldiers scattered across my path. Training and experience guide my motions, recorded for later review by my Princesses

I serve their will, leaving a trail of lethal fire across the face of the enemy capital city far more precisely than any orbital bombardment could manage.

“Sparkle!” snaps a voice inside my helmet. “Pick it up. You’re falling behind.”

The marching green indicators in my helmet show Moondancer is correct. In my effort to be complete and neutralize every target encountered, I have lost track of my schedule. If I am to fulfil the will of my Princesses, it is a weakness I must rectify, and I acknowledge the order even as I tap my thrusters hard to head for the top of a larger building in my path.

I have been entrusted with two special thaumic weapons for this mission, and I pick out the best targets I can before my armored hooves crunch into the top of the building. Pulling the first rocket from its bracket, I prime the warhead for a density disruption charge and send it toward what can only be a lurking starship on a nearby hill, concealed from the orbital assault by a webbing of nets and several atmospheric missile interceptor launchers which will be unable to stop my attack. The second thaumic warhead I program for hydrogen vaporization and send into an unsuspecting water treatment facility glittering in the valley below. The first warhead will rupture nuclear power plant shielding, disabling the starship and anything nearby until the radiation is cleaned up, while the second will send gouts of expanding steam through the city main water lines, cracking pipes and allowing the fires nearby to burn unchecked.

Then I jump again, watching the building behind me vanish into a cloud of fragments as some defender decides too late that it is worth the destruction if they can kill one of many hornets buzzing around in their city.

There are far too many targets around my location to deal with in a systematic fashion, and I am already behind schedule. Landing in front of another building, I drop my infrared snoopers down over my eyes and reduce the aperture on my plasma flamer to minimum to cut through a wall, since I calculate that going through rather than over will be faster and less dangerous.

I have seldom been more mistaken.

All across my visor, the Skinnies glow brightly in the infrared spectrum, packed in tightly like I have interrupted some sort of concert or city meeting, although the probability it is a peaceful civilian gathering is unlikely since my armor is rocked almost immediately by small-arms fire. Out of instinct, I grab one of Pinkie Pie’s special bombs from my armor and toss it inside, where it begins to scream in the local language.

Surprise! I’m a sixty-second bomb! Fifty-nine! Fifty-eight!

The Skinnies begin running everywhere as I duck back out my self-created door, but only for a moment. I activate my shield and dart back inside, using my magic to set off an illusion disrupting spell in the process.

Three of the armed Skinnies shimmer and change, allowing me to selectively pick them off with focused bursts of plasma as I charge through the room. A fourth true native hesitates, and I leave him alone as an object lesson. There is a collection of paper notes and folders near the front of the room, and as I pass them on my way back to the street, I pop dragonfire pods across the whole table. The resulting smoke will flash up into the sky and rematerialize in the receptor onboard the Celestia’s Crown, but I can not consider that right now.

The dance continues at a more rapid rate, and the rest of my squad moves in perfect synchronization again, with Moondancer in her more maneuverable command suit flitting between targets as needed. As we approach the extraction point, we are moving through a more governmental area now, and I find more targets for dragonfire pods. We also find more resistance, and the command channels fill with rapid communication. Pinkie Pie has found a vehicle park and Rainbow Dash is moving to assist. Rarity has come across an entire wave of Skinnies ‘in such tacky uniforms’ and Applejack has dropped a building to obstruct their movements.

And I found a tank. Or to be more correct, a tank found me.

A series of stuttering explosions catches me mid-leap, flinging me sideways into a building and making my ears ring. The tank had been placed in exactly the right spot to catch my movements, and I could see its turret tracking my trajectory, most probably until its automatic loader could accumulate another stack of shells to finish me off. Despite my every instinct demanding that I run, I jumped toward the tank, activating as powerful of a thaumic burst as I was able on landing that scatters the surrounding civilian Skinny ground vehicles in all directions, and tips the tank up on one side.

Even in that awkward state, it was still dangerous, so I popped the armor’s claws and dug them into one of the hatches, pulling it off the tank with a screech of failing hinges and tossing another one of my friend’s special bombs inside.

Beg pardon, but I am an adhesive bomb, and I will be detonating in less than a minute, so you might want to get some distance. Oh, and I see a lot of lovely ammunition in here with me, as well as a power plant, so it’s going to make a positively glorious explosion. Now go on, scoot!

Skinnies in their peculiar mottled uniforms began to swarm out of the remaining hatches, and I hit my thrusters to leap away, only to cancel the jump when I spot something out of the corner of my eye.

One of the soldiers had not made it all the way out of the tank, and was trapped in the hatch.

It took a complicated bounce off a nearby building and a heavy application of thrust, but I managed to land next to the disabled tank with seconds to spare. What to do with the Skinny was less obvious, particularly when I heard the bomb.

So terribly sorry, but it’s time to explode now.

Throwing all my energy into my shield spell, I threw the Skinny up against a nearby building and hunched over him while energy and concussions slammed into the armor repeatedly. Apparently, there had been a lot of ammunition stored in the tank, which performed the task of clearing the immediate area of hostiles quite admirably, although most probably not in the fashion which the manufacturers anticipated.

Once the explosions ceased and a gust of cool air swept through the area, I pulled away from the Skinny and took the opportunity to look him over. There was a red line of blood trickling down from his helmet, making me relieved that I had at least not rescued a changeling from certain death, although he was less than appreciative, since he almost immediately pulled out a hand weapon, forcing me to hit him in the face again and make another bleeding pressure wound across his forehead.

This would not look good on the recordings.

Triggering my foreleg pod dispenser, I select the medkit and cover his face with medicinal goo. Between Zebra herbs, unicorn magic, and Equestrian nanites, he should recover without significant impairment, and at least he cannot identify me as his assailant. And since only their officer class carry pistols, I make a quick swipe of my claws to open up his uniform and give the revealed papers a pod of dragonfire before taking off for another thruster-assisted jump.

From the images on my HUD, the rest of my squad has begun to converge on the pickup point, but the other squad is scattered, and a cold dash of fear goes through my heart when I do not see Moondancer’s identifier. We make a quick sweep to catch the Skinnies who are obstructing them in a crossfire and clear their path even as the retrieval beacon’s welcome voice sings out across our ears.

♫ Mares of virtue, mares of renown
Remember the fallen and lift your heads high
Where shines the light, shines the light of Celesta’s Crown ♫

Lieutenant Daisy of the second squad is carrying a gruesome burden, the reason why their progress had been hampered. Whatever weapon had struck Moondancer had peeled her armor away in multiple places, leaving only charred flesh covered in medical goo visible in the rents. I dropped down and grabbed her other side, and gave a heave when Daisy grunted, guiding the three of us in painful hops in the direction of the retrieval beacon.

This close to their center of government, the Skinny resistance was brutal, but our troopers had come together as we approached, and clusters of resistance melted away under precise plasma fire and the exuberance of mobile infantry with leftover ammunition they did not want to take home. In the middle of the firefight, a line of fire traced down from the sky with the black dot of the retrieval shuttle an insignificant speck at the top. It was still so far away but so close also as we struggled with the unmoving bulk of our fellow mare, laying down fire between jumps.

The retrieval shuttle burst as it neared the ground, shedding the unneeded descent stages around it while landing inside the protective fire provided by the weapons hardpoints that had been engaging targets at a rapid rate ever since leaving orbit. Each turret was linked into our suit’s fire control network and covered the boarding with profligate extravagance of munitions while we pressed in close array, moving Moondancer into the interior space first before the rest of her squad, while those of us with unexpended munitions clamped our suits to the exterior of the shuttle.

Fluttershy was not one to wait for a millisecond longer in a combat zone than needed. At the moment the last trooper fastened their restraints, the ascent engine roared and the shuttle shot up into the sky, jinxing and dodging what few shots came from the burning surface of what had once been a beautiful city, perhaps the equal of Canterlot.

Once my Y-rack clicked empty with the last bomb spiraling down to an unseen destination, I looked into the receding flames and tried to convince myself that this had been a victory, that our precise assault on the Skinnies’ homeworld had demonstrated enough Equestrian strength and restraint to make them change sides.

That the costs were worth the results, and together we would crush the changelings just as thoroughly as my own heart had been crushed when Shining Armor and Cadence had sacrificed themselves to save Equestria.

And that the changeling queen herself would not escape again, ascending into the sky in an escape vessel much like this one when she had been defeated in Canterlot.

Our efforts had to matter.

Moondancer died on the way up.

Optrunco Thysanoptera.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Meridian_Prime >>georg
I've always found that Heinlein quote ironic in the context of ponies, given both cutie marks and the adaptability of changeling shapeshifting.

A Starship Troopers crossover. Didn't see that coming. Brutal imagery on display, with underlying desperation and despair that bleed through all the more clearly at the end. Yet the characters still feel like themselves for the most part. My only major complaint is that the mention of estrus feels superfluous. All told, devastatingly evocative work.

Also, am I correct in thinking that Skinnies are EqG humanoids?
#2 ·
· · >>georg
Of all the early sci-fi greats, Heinlein was always the one I found least appealing. It's the ultra-militarism - one of the great appeals of early sci-fi for me in particular was how starkly optimistic it was. No unrealistic promises of utopia, just a belief that we could and would reach the stars and build a better life out there. The Mass Effect vision, as opposed to the 40K vision, if you will.

This is all essentially a justification to say that while this is fantastic, I don't know that I liked it all that much. Nothing to do with your writing skills - this is pitch perfect. Every line feels carefully crafted, and the way you transformed MLP's characters into Heinlein-esque ones is nothing short of inspired (I particularly liked the implication that the Skinnies are either EqG humanoids as >>FanOfMostEverything
says, or just straight-up humans). To say nothing of probably the best take on the prompt in the whole bunch. It's because you nailed the feel of this genre so well that it leaves me a little cold.

As such, while it's not really my cup of tea, congratulations on a damned fine job.
#3 · 2
· · >>georg
So, writing-wise, this is great. A strong Heinlein pastiche, without just mindlessly aping the style. Not my favorite style, personally, but that's pure individual preference, and I'm giving you full points for the writing accomplishments. But once I get past the surface appeal, I'm struggling.

Because, say what you want about Heinlein's politics (and I've got plenty to say about that), there was never any question what the message of his writing was. Starship Troopers is a polemic, of course, but even in his less strident stories, the themes of libertarianism and individual social obligation are right there. Here, I got nothing. You took a fight scene, and gave me the event-context to understand why the ponies are attacking, but didn't give me the idea-context I'd need to take anything away from that.

I'm also having trouble with the point of writing it as FiM-fiction. It's not for the setting, since you're basically just using Troopers's. It's not the themes, since as mentioned, you don't really seem to have any. It's not the characters either, as far as I can tell; recasting Moondancer as drill-sergeant-style taskmaster and Twilight as a faceless grunt whose defining characteristic appears to be her horniness... that's fine as far as it goes, but it makes me wonder: if you're not using pony characters, and you're not using pony setting, and you're not using pony themes, what are you using?

Maybe I'm missing something obvious. I have definitely been known to do that sometimes! But right now, I'm looking at this as a very well-written scene that doesn't do anything, and that doesn't take advantage of the strongest pieces of either of its sources material.
#4 · 1
· · >>georg
This really nails its cadence of action, which I know from experience is super-hard to do in writing. You do a great job of making the stakes of each moment feel immediate without overstating them and bogging the reader down. I'm also the sort of guy who really likes cool quick-and-dirty sci-fi technobabble, and I also have to admit that the idea of Fluttershy as a medivac pilot is about 5 different kinds of perfect to me.

While the best parts of this story are definitely the punchy, brutal moments like Twilight casually knocking the officer out or Moondancer dying, I think that similarly, the weaker parts of the story are the bits that get away from the moment-to-moment stakes and try to put together a higher-level message. To me, the bits about Shining Armor and Cadance felt a bit heavy-handed, and I didn't personally think they added very much to the overall message of the story. The whole point of the story seems to be to emphasize that all the soldiers are cogs in the machine, so giving one particular cog (Twilight) a backstory and a personal reason to be invested feels a little redundant.

So in the end, I did have a lot of fun with my reading experience, but I thought the piece as a whole may be having a difficult time putting together its overall message. Which only really affects my opinions about the piece in hindsight and on my subsequent readings, but is still a point worth mentioning, I think.

Thank you for writing!
#5 ·
· · >>georg
In which humans have to pick between evil invaders and less evil invaders.

The story is like a glittery marshmallow: beautiful and fun on the outside, but lacking on the inside. The inside is that this does not feel like a self-contained story and more like a scene to something greater. I was hoping for some twist in the end: maybe the humans don't side with the ponies after all, or maybe Moondancer is a traitor or otherwise replaced by a changeling... which leads to another point: the enemy being changelings doesn't feel like it matters. With very few adjustments, this could be a story against Sombra's brainwashed forces or otherwise some generic seceding country from Equestria or what have you (though I do understand that, for the Ot theme to work, it had to be changelings.)

In short, the story doesn't really end. It just tapers off from the last scene to when the story stops. I get it: bugs bad, ponies good, and humans need to be convinced that the ponies are the good guys. However, I already learned that in the first few pages, and the rest of the story does not provide much to twist or at least detail that main idea I've learned (although Twilight saving a human from the exploding sticky bomb was a nice way to humanize [equinize?] her).

However, this is written very well. I am not well-versed in sci-fi so more than a few terms go way over my head, but that just adds to the mystique of it for me. The Pinkie Pie bombs were hiilarious! Besides that, you somehow make Twilight's long-winded and calculated point of view mesh well with an action story complete with the fast pace that it usually has. Kudos to you for that!

Over all, very strong in the middle of the pack, but it has a weak case for being at the top.
#6 ·
· · >>georg

I find myself agreeing with what folks have said before. I'm very glad the writing here isn't copying Heinlein stilted and wooden style, but the lack of info about this AU was a problem for me throughout. As a scene from a longer work, this would be fine, but as a standalone, it left me shrugging my shoulders.

#7 · 3
>>Comma Typer
>>Baal Bunny

I’m going to start off with a Twilight here. I’m sorry, but time has crushed me terribly. I barely managed to hack this one out, didn’t edit it hardly at all, and never got a chance to review anybody else’s story. Still, I *did* manage to get it written. The concept has been an idea in the back of my head for five years or so, which makes it feel nice to see it in print. Someday I’ll polish off the rough edges and get it on Fimfiction in full form, I promise. For now, all I can do is thank you all and write some responses.

Chris - (multipost) >>Chris

Very few war stories are pro-war. War by its nature is a bad thing we do to accomplish a good that hopefully outweighs it. In this case, both the bugs and the ponies have aspects of each other, but only one is going to survive to the end, and Twilight is faced with the possibility of losing one or more of her precious friends with every attack. And Celestia has her own student out on the front lines of the fight, taking on missions that are critical to their overall strategy.

Yet they fight. The alternative as a race is to die, or worse.

Fan of most everything:
Skinnies are humans, of course. And estrus is a reminder that they can build starships and powered armor, but some cycles are too powerful to totally suppress. Plus, it makes mares fight. At one time, I heard somebody suggest that we have an all-female brigade with PMS, because absolutely no army on the planet would want to face them. The logistics would be a pain, though.

Meridian Prime:
Thank you. Took me a second pass through the first draft in order to bring Twilight’s friends in, without which it would have lost a lot.

Chris (again)
Yes, depth is something I’ve always struggled with, much like my penchant for dangling participles. It should get deeper when expanded, at least out of the kiddie pool range.

And here we have the reason I struggle with depth (as above). The deeper you make it, the more you take away from the moment-to-moment flow of an ongoing action scene. (See Hour of the Octopus)

Comma Typer:
Yes, the reason it doesn’t feel like a self-contained story is because it isn’t. Go read Starship Troopers (not the movie, oh God no). This is a reflection, an example of what the same circumstances would look like in a pony world. The first chapter in Starship Troopers is actually a self-contained flashback, a way that Heinlein used to bring action and a ‘hook’ to the beginning of the book before laying out the life of the protagonist and his reasons for being there.

Baal Bunny
(re-reads the review) ah-HA! That’s *exactly* how Heinlein structured the first chapter of ST. “Gee that looks interesting and I want to know more about it.” I count this one as an unqualified success. I’ll never have the sheer amount of time needed to do a full pony treatment of the concept, but the fact that I can pull it off is a positive sign for my future as a famous author with a swimming pool and a yacht. (Would you believe a rather large bathtub and a floaty toy?)

Onward to glory!