Chapter 2: The Road to War
The Next Day
The trip back to Ponyville had been particularly quiet, as Twilight had explained the situation to the rest of her friends, with each of them responding in their own way. Rainbow Dash told Twilight she'd have her full support, Pinkie Pie's mane nearly straightened, and Applejack simply wished to say goodbye to Applebloom and Granny Smith before they got sent away to Canterlot.
This awkward and unpleasant silence persisted until Rarity stepped off the Friendship Express, and stated, "By Celestia, I've never seen so many Zeppelins in one place." True enough, the skies above Ponyville were full of Zeppelins, and many more were parked all over the town. In a rare moment of insight, Pinkie Pie commented, "It's sad that something so beautiful can be so ominous."
"Rainbow Dash, I'd like you to come with me to meet the Mayor in the new command centre. As leader of the Ponyville Weather Team, we could use your input in preparing the defences." Twilight said to Rainbow, while Rarity and Fluttershy were admiring the Zeppelins.
As the two mares entered the new basement-turned-war room in the Town Hall, they could easily see its unfinished state. One of the first things Twilight noticed was the digital display table in the middle of the room, much like the one in Canterlot. Unlike the Canterlot War Room, however, most of the other equipment was still in the process of being installed. She then turned to the Mayor, to see her standing at the display table with ... Derpy Hooves.
"Welcome back to Ponyville, Command-" Mayor Mare was about to say, only to be interrupted by Derpy shouting, "Hi, Twilight!" In a way, Twilight was relieved; she still wasn't entirely comfortable with ponies referring to her as "Commander".
"Um, hi, Derpy. What are you doing here?" Twilight asked. In some ways, the wall-eyed pegasus reminded her of Pinkie at her most erratic.
"I'm your second in command." Derpy explained, fiddling with a few controls on the display table.
"You are?" Twilight asked, having trouble believing what the mailmare was saying.
"Yes! I was hoofpicked by Princess Luna herself." Derpy answered.
"Well, I suppose Luna knows what she's doing." Twilight commented.
"Here, take a look at this." Derpy then said, pointing at the display table. The map of Ponyville now featured several numbers scattered across it, in red, blue, and green.
"Ok, what am I looking at here?" Twilight asked.
"Red indicates locations for gun turrets, blue represents buildings that need to be shielded, and green represents locations for screeners, and the numbers indicate importance." Derpy explained, starting to show some method to her madness.
"Screeners?" Twilight inquired. It was the first time she had heard the term.
"I can answer that. A screener is a type of doorway designed to identify Changelings. If a disguised Changeling passes through a powered screener, its disguise falls apart, and its true form is revealed." The Mayor piped in, playing a video on the one wall-mounted display that had been installed to demonstrate. "The design was tested on captured Changelings in Canterlot, so we know it works. However, it also disrupts all types of magic that pass through it. Anything that passes through it would briefly be rendered magically inert. This way, a Changeling can't simply re-assume its disguise right after going through, or lash out with magic. Of course, it has same effect on unicorn horns, and it causes pegasus wings to lock up."
"I see." Twilight commented, taking a further look at Derpy's setup, seeing that it was far more thought out than she had initially expected.
"I'm impressed, but I doubt Fluttershy is going to happy about her cottage being the #1 spot to place turrets." Twilight commented.
"I know, but it's the closest property in Ponyville to the Everfree Forest." Derpy retorted.
"Ok, but what about the woods surrounding Sweet Apple Acres? If the Changelings cut through that, they'll be right on our doorstep." Twilight asked.
"I've been thinking about that. Turrets are going to useless in there; there's too much cover, and mines would cause considerable damage to the town's food supply." Derpy commented.
"Not necessarily. I could rig stormclouds to go off on proximity rather than contact. I call it a Lightning Mine." Rainbow Dash suggested.
"Good idea. I want you and the Weather Team setting up your Lightning Mines all over those woods. Just be careful." Twilight instructed Rainbow Dash.
"You got it, Twilight." Rainbow replied, flying out.
"Now, what's our best estimate on how long we have before the Changelings attack?" Twilight asked Derpy and the Mayor, once Rainbow had left.
"According to our long range sensors, around a week." The Mayor answered.
"That doesn't give us much time, so let's make the most of it." Twilight commented, turning to Derpy, "Derpy, you know I gave the order to have the town evacuated; has Dinky been sent away already?"
"My husband's taking care of it." Derpy explained.
The mailmare's answer seemed vague, so Twilight then asked, "What do you mean?"
"The Doc- Time Turner is personally making sure Dinky is safe." Derpy elaborated.
Twilight couldn't help but notice how Derpy corrected herself when stating her husband's name, and that she had said "my husband" as opposed to "her father", but decided not to press the issue.
"Ok. I suppose the next order of business is to figure out how we're going to construct our turrets, screeners, and shield generators." Twilight stated.
"Don't forget the gunships!" Derpy added.
"Is there anything else the Princess has neglected to tell me?" Twilight asked rhetorically.
Sweet Apple Acres
Sweet Apple Acres was a sad sight. A Zeppelin was parked just outside the barn, and Twilight, Derpy, and Spike managed to arrive just as Applejack and Big Macintosh were saying goodbye to their grandmother and little sister.
"It'll be alright, sugarcube. You'll be back here in no time." Applejack tried to reassure Apple Bloom, but she had trouble believing it herself.
Twilight decided to give them a moment before she approached. Scenes like this were playing out all over Ponyville. On my order. She thought.
Before Twilight could say anything, Applejack turned and beat her to it. "Oh, hey Twilight, Miss Hooves. What can I do for you?" She asked.
Twilight was about to answer, but she was cut of by three familiar voices shouting "Yay! Cutie Mark Crusaders Refugees!" from the Zeppelin.
"We need your help in preparing Ponyville's defences!" Derpy blurted out.
"We'll do what we can, but I'm not sure how much we can help y'all. We don't have much in the way of horsepower or resources, and the best Apple to help you just got sent away to Canterlot." Applejack responded.
"Listen, I'm sorry about that." Twilight replied.
"Don't be. You were right to send them away. Ponyville just ain't safe anymore, Sweet Apple Acres least of all." Applejack reassured her friend. "Honestly, though, I don't see anyway to get the defenses ready in time."
"Um, actually-" Big Mac was about to say.
"No way! They caused enough trouble the last time they were here! I'd sooner hoof Sweet Apple Acres over to Queen Chrysalis herself than work with them!" Applejack shouted.
"Who are you talking about?" Derpy asked, slightly confused by Applejack's reaction.
"Who do you think?" Applejack responded.
"Applejack, they're the only ponies who can work quickly enough for us to be ready in time for the Changeling attack." Twilight reasoned.
"Oh? And what if those two do something stupid like cut the quality control again?" Applejack retorded.
"They won't. If we lose, they lose." Twilight pointed out.
"Fine." Applejack conceded.
Twilight then turned to Spike, "Send a letter to the Flim Flam brothers. Tell them what we need, and to meet us in the Ponyville War Room." She instructed.
"Time Turner could help. He's really good with advanced technology. And there's our friend Mjölna, too. She's a great mechanic." Derpy suggested.
"Good. Have them meet us in the War Room as well." Twilight replied.
Ponyville War Room
Twilight had her team, plus Flim and Flam, gathered in the War Room to discuss the best means to construct Ponyville defences. The difficulty in working with two stallions who had tried to run the Apple family out of town, only to get run out of town themselves was evident in everypony's faces. After examining both the blueprints and Derpy's map, Flim looked up from the display table, and said, "Well, Commander Sparkle, it's a tall order, but we should be able to modify the design of the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 to create suitable assembly lines for these machines."
"So you'll help us?" Twilight asked.
"For the right price." Flam answered. "5000 bits per gunship, 4000 per turret, 2500 per shield generator, 1000 per screener, pull 100000 bits initial setup costs for each assembly line."
"Ah should've known. Typical businesspony attitude." Applejack muttered.
"Costs like that could bankrupt Canterlot!" The Mayor commented.
"You expect to charge that after your cider?" Time Turner angrily asked.
Before the argument could descent into a full-out brawl, Twilight spoke up. "Listen to me, you two. When the Changelings begin their invasion, they're going to hit Ponyville first, and as long as we can hold them back here, we can keep them from attacking the rest of Equestria. If Ponyville falls, Equestria falls with it, and profiteering like this helps nopony but the Changelings."
"You make a fair point, Commander, but don't expect us to work for free." Flim conceded.
"I wasn't going to." Twilight replied. "I want Mjölna and Time Turner here to work with you. She's one of the best mechanics here in Ponyville, and he's an expert on the design side of things."
Time Turner and the sand-coated Earth pony then joined the two unicorn brothers as they left the war room. Just before Mjölna walked out the door, Twilight leaned over, and whispered, "Keep and eye on them, and make sure they don't try anything."
"I still think you're makin' a mistake in hiring them, Twilight, but I trust you." Applejack commented.
Dear Princess Luna,
I am happy to report that preparations for the Changeling attack are ahead of schedule, and we should be ready for them well before they're expected to arrive. I've secured a deal with the Flim Flam brothers to produce weapons and other defensive measures for us, and evacuations should be complete by tomorrow afternoon.
I must admit that I had my doubts about your decision to appoint Derpy Hooves as my second in command, but these doubts quickly proved to be unfounded. Her reputation here in Ponyville is less than stellar, and most ponies assume she is less than intelligent due to her eyes. While she can be a bit clumsy and absent-minded, it couldn't farther than the truth. She clearly has a strong understanding of the layout of the town, and of the best ways to set up our defences. I doubt I could have done nearly as much without her help. There is no better pony I could think of to be my second in command.
Your faithful soldier,
Commander Twilight Sparkle
After Spike the sent the letter out, Twilight couldn't help but think to herself, This is just going to get worse.