"Well, this looks idill… idiel… quiet, doesn't it Commander?"
The little purple filly barely poked her nose out of the bush as she watched a mint green unicorn and cream colored mare saunter past her position, chatting amiably with each other about food and music.
"Aye, Captain," she answered for the doll perched on her back in a faux deep voice, "Very peaceful. We cannot assume any individual pony present will know the whereabouts of our wayward navigator."
"What kind of conditions could have allowed these ponies to grow so large?" she asked wonderingly.
"Low gravity," she had the doll answer, "Less pressure downwards means they are able to grow taller."
"Huh, I never thought about that before…" she mused, rubbing her chin before pulling her head back into the bush. A cardboard tube pushed through the leaves where her head had been, which slowly swept from side to side.
"Sensors aren't picking up anything…" she grumbled, "I am not looking forward to doing this the old fashioned way. It might take far too long to try and get the information or location we need from the locals."
"More to the point, Captain, Gran-ites are rare; these ponies may not even recognize the significance of what they have seen," the doll answered.
"How long before the Admiral calls us back?" the filly asked softly.
"We have several hours."
"Then let's not waste any more time…" the filly grumbled, and leapt out from the bush, trailing a small shower of little green leaves as she stalked forward. She kept to the edge of the crowd, not saying a word, but her eyes intense as they tried to drink in every nuance going on around her. She would not miss anything, she would find her navigator, and she would-
"Hey there!" a chipper voice called from right behind her, and the lavender filly leapt straight up into the air, her blonde mane flaring every which way.
"GYAH!!! Are you TRYING to give me a heart attack?!?" she cried, whirling on the pony who had shocked her.
"S-sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," the white unicorn filly answered, "Oh! You dropped your doll."
"Huh? Oh! Thanks," she smiled and picked the old doll up and hugged it, "This is Mister Patches… "
"He's… uh… Nice?" the unicorn filly said uncertainly, "I like his… mane?"
Dinky gave a giggle, "Don't worry about it. He's old, and I know it. But according to Mommy, he's been in the family for years, passed down from generation to generation. I've had him forever."
"Awww, that's sweet," the filly offered with a smile, "Oh, I'm Sweetie Belle. I think we're in class together."
"I think so," the filly giggled, "I'm Dinky."
"Are you looking for something?" the filly asked, and Dinky had to resist the urge to look back at the Commander even as she settled him on her back. Even without him saying a word, she could feel him urging her to ask.
"Well, it'll sound kinda weird, but…" she struggled with how to put it, "The other day I was using some rocks when I was playing. They weren't anything special but… somepony took 'em. I'm trying to find them."
"Can't you just pick up any dumb old rock?"
"Maybe, but… well these were kinda special to me," Dinky hedged nervously.
"Oh… uh… Sorry. I don't think I can help you," Sweetie Belle shrugged.
Dinky smiled, "Hey, no worries, right? It was a long shot anyway…"
"What's a 'long shot'?"
"I dunno," the lavender filly admitted, "It's just something Mommy always says when referring to something she was hoping for, but wasn't likely to happen."
"Ooooooohh," Sweetie Belle grinned. She was about to say something more, but she heard somepony call her name. The white unicorn turned to face the approaching orange pegasus filly as she came skidding to a stop on her scooter beside them.
"C'mon Sweetie Belle, we need to get back to the Clubhouse," the violently violet maned pegasus filly told her friend.
"What about sweets, Scootaloo? Pinkie Pie said we could get some for our meeting…"
"She's actin' weird," Scootaloo answered, making a face, "She's talking to rocks and lint and even some sack of flour. It's kinda creepy."
"Awwww, I wanted some cinnamon buns…" Sweetie Belle whined then heaved a gigantic sigh, "Oh well. Seeya later Dinky!"
The lavender filly didn't seem to even notice the two fillies leave; her eyes were riveted on the gingerbread façade of Sugar Cube Corner. It had dual reputations in Ponyville, one for being the best bakery in Ponyville (not that it had much competition), and another for being the home of the hyperactive party pony Pinkie Pie.
"I presume you heard, Captain?" Commander Patches asked softly.
"I heard Commander," she answered softly, "But I'm not sure we're equipped to handle this. This enemy is a far larger threat than any we've ever faced before… worse, she could tell the Admiral on me!"
"Steady, Captain," the doll 'answered' her, "Remember why we are doing this."
"To save Lieutenant Rock," she sucked in a breath, "Best navigator in the Equestrian Federation Fleet, and my friend."
"Then what are you waiting for?" the Commander asked.
"For my knees to stop shaking…"
"I expected more difficulty from the guards."
Dinky scoffed at her doll before answering him, "The Cakes hardly qualify as security, Commander. Plus, Pinkie Pie seems to get a lot of visitors. I'm just surprised she doesn't have a door to her room that's outside of the store…"
"A design flaw, to be sure," the stuffed pony 'answered', "Of course it is possible they simply trust this Pinkie Pie completely."
Dinky frowned as she reached the top of the stairs; the only obstacle left was the glaringly pink wooden door before her, "You make it sound like she's pulling the wool over their eyes, Commander."
"She may very well be," he answered, "If she is the kidnapper of Lieutenant Rock, then it stands to reason that she is a far greater threat than the Cake's suspect."
She frowned at the thought, and sidled forward, her stomach low to the floor as she crept up to the closed door, trying to be quiet on the creaky wooden floor. Every time a board moaned or sighed under her hoof, she would freeze in place, her ears swiveling wildly as she tried to listen for any approaching pony. Finally she made it to the door in question, unmolested by anything other than the paranoia her mind. She made a shushing motion to her doll, and then leaned close to put an ear against the lower edge of the door.
"…oui!" some managed to catch of some female voice with an outrageous foreign accent, "We would love more tea, Mademoiselle Pie."
"I do say," a stuffy voice with a strange high class accent said afterwards, "You really should try these cupcakes, Madame LeFlour. They are quite superb!"
The first voice answered with a giggle, "Oh Sir Lintcelot, we must watch our weight, non?"
"I gotta say, Miss Pie, you really outdid yourself," a third voice answered, causing Dinky to look suddenly at her doll, her eyes widening as she recognized the gravelly tone, "But you really should take it easy and enjoy the party."
"That's Lieutenant Rock!" Dinky whispered to her Commander, who nodded quickly and answered with a shushing motion of his own as a new voice began to speak.
"Oh Rocky, how sweet of you to think so," came a perky voice that sounded oddly forced, "But I'm the hostess. I can't relax until ALL my guests are happy!"
"This is worse than we thought," Dinky fussed softly, trying to think, "Lieutenant Rock hasn't just been pony… er… rock-napped, but he's being forced into a tea party!"
"Lieutenant Rock was never one for such pastimes," the Commander agreed, "Last I heard, he didn't even drink tea."
"We have to save him… but how?"
"Hello?" the perky voice asked from inside the room, and Dinky quickly covered her mouth with both hooves, "Is somepony out there?" Dinky pondered backing down the stairs and trying to hide when she felt her Commander nudge her, motioning her forward with his hooves.
"Um… Hello?" she called in return, feeling stupid at her sudden inability to figure out what to say.
The door suddenly yanked open and framed the pretty perky party pony, Pinkie Pie. The suddenness of the motion caused Dinky to yelp and jump back from the doorway, her eyes meeting the piercing blue ones as they gazed down at her. The pony was an oddly flat shade of pink, with her mane falling in flattened waves of magenta about her head. In that instant she realized something was wrong…
Unable to help herself, Dinky leaned slightly to one side to look around the pink mare and into the room behind her. It was decked out for a party, with multi-colored streamers hanging everywhere, a riot of colorful balloons scattered about, and even a banner or two that read incongruous things. In fact, the only one that made sense to Dinky was the one declaring "Welcome Back, Rocky!" A table towards the center of the room was covered in a colorful tablecloth, and piled with so many types of cakes and pastries and cupcakes that Dinky's mouth began to water. Forcing her eyes away from the mounds of food, she glanced at the guests…
Dinky understood exactly what Scootaloo meant when she said Pinkie Pie was acting weird as she scanned the four seats about the table and her guests. One was a drooping bag of flour; another was a massive ball of lint with a conical party-hat somehow wedged onto it; and a third…
"Lieutenant Rock!" Dinky cried.
"Louie who?" Pinkie asked, looking behind her.
"Oh dear," the rock answered, though whether it was Pinkie or Dinky who voiced it for him neither pony knew.
"Rocky…" Pinkie started in a sweet tone that poorly disguised an undercurrent of anger that Dinky could all but feel, "Was there something you weren't telling me?"
"Madam Pinkie, how could you…" the pink pony vocalized for the lint ball, only to be subjected to a hard glare from the party pony.
"I DID say the Cap'n would need me back," the trio of rocks piled atop each other answered, "I didn' think she'd come lookin' for me!"
"Lieutenant Rock, I was worried about you!" Dinky cried, stepping into the room, "I thought you'd been rock-napped!"
"Oh heck, I'm sorry Cap'n. I didn' mean to worry-"
"Now see here!" Pinkie snapped, "Rocky is MY friend!"
"But…" Dinky started, her eyes wide.
"Miss Pie, please," the rock tried again.
"First my friends abandon me, and now some filly is trying to take my new friends from me?!?" the pony cried, heedless of the interruption, "No! No no no no NO!!"
"Commander?" Dinky asked the doll on her back, her eyes wide.
"This is bad, Captain," the doll 'answered', shaking his head, "This pony seems to have formed an attachment to Lieutenant Rock. My suggestion is we remove him from the premises and 'haul tail'."
"Bad idea, Commander," she hissed softly, "She could just report me to the Admiral."
"'Sides," the rock cut in, "I won't abandon Miss Pie."
"You do realize I can HEAR you, right?!?" the pink pony cried, "I will not let you… huh?"
"I said," the rock pile said, "I won't abandon you, Miss Pie."
"Oh Rocky!!" Pinkie cried, and swept up the rocks in a warm hug, "I knew you wouldn't leave me!"
"Lieutenant Rock… you would abandon your duties?" the filly asked softly, wiping at her nose angrily. She would NOT cry… she wouldn't cry… she wouldn't…
"Of course not, Cap'n," the rock-pile answered from within Pinkie's embrace, "But Miss Pie is hurting, an' she needs the support of her friends. If it means I gotta be gone from my duties to the Federation, then so be it. I'll stand proudly at my court martial."
"But… what about me?" Dinky asked softly.
"Cap'n, I ain't abandonin' you," he answered kindly, "But I cannot abandon Miss Pie either."
"I see…" the lavender filly answered softly, her head lowering.
"Captain…" the doll on her back started softly.
"I know what I have to do, Commander," she answered the doll in a soft voice.
"I'm sorry, Captain," the doll answered.
"No, Commander, there is only one pony at fault here," she answered resolutely.
"Cap'n, you can't mean-" Rocky cried.
"I concur, Captain," the doll seemed to nod, "We must enact a rescue…"
"You can't have him!" Pinkie shouted over all of them.
"NO!" Dinky cried, her young voice drowning out the others. Her eyes swept over each one, as if daring each to speak, before she reached the table and pulled off a napkin. She hunted around for a crayon as well, earning a curious look from Pinkie as the filly began to scribble on the napkin. With a sense of finality, she slapped the scribbled upon napkin against the rock-pile.
"Lieutenant Rock," she stated formally, "From this day forward you will be excused from duty as needed to assist in any party activities with one Pinkie Pie. This is effective immediately, and signed by myself. I will enter it into the formal record upon returning to the ship."
"C-Cap'n!" the rock cried, "Thank you. You dunno what this means to me…"
"No, Lieutenant, I don't," she answered, and then nodded to Pinkie, who was watching the filly warily from her position hugging the rock-pile possessively, "But I can clearly see what you mean to her. She needs you Lieutenant, and I would be a bad pony if I did not recognize that. You are my friend, Lieutenant Rock, and it is selfish of me to think I could keep you to myself. I can see no reason that your wisdom and friendship cannot be shared."
"Captain, are you sure that is a wise course of action?" Commander Patch asked.
"No, Commander, but it's the RIGHT course of action," she answered softly, "Admiral Mommy always says that the right thing to do isn't always the easiest. This is the hardest thing to do that I can think of... but it feels right."
"Thank you for understandin', Cap'n," the rock pile answered.
"Lieutenant, I'll see you on the ship whenever you're finished."
"Aye aye, Cap'n," the rocks answered, still held by Pinkie, who was watching the filly with wide blue eyes. Dinky offered her a smile, and turned away, started to walk towards the door. The filly didn't look back as she heard the other members of the party begin to almost all talk at once. Sure, she realized that, like she was doing with her doll, that the pink pony was talking for them, but…
Dinky stopped dead right as she was at the door, her eyes widening, "That's it!"
"Captain?" the Commander asked.
Dinky just smiled and turned to face the party again. Pinkie's back was to her, as she went through all sorts of contortions to nudge each of the "guests" in turn as they "spoke", each one talking hurriedly and excitedly to "Rocky", even the Pink pony getting in her own comments. But Dinky understood this… she did the exact same thing herself in that little box she dubbed a starship.
She trotted up to an empty place at the table, her horn glowing as she sat her doll at an empty place setting across the table from her.
"Cap'n?" Lieutenant Rock/Rocky asked, being the first to notice.
Dinky just smiled, "I'm not expected back on the ship for a little while," she answered, "And I thought maybe I could help Miss Pinkie celebrate your return."
Pinkie blinked at that, her eyes widening, "You… you want to help?"
"Certainly," she answered with a broad smile, "So does Commander… er… Mister Patches. I mean, we couldn't leave without at least trying some of your famous cupcakes."
"Well… I suppose I do feel a little peckish," the doll said, Dinky using her magic to animate him while she faked his voice, mimicking how Pinkie was doing the same for the other "guests".
The pink mare's smile was so broad it threatened to split her face apart, and she vanished in a streak of pink and magenta, only to return seconds later with a heaping tray of cupcakes of every color of the rainbow.
Rainbow Dash yawned and stretched out on her cloud.
Today had been awesome. She'd gotten in several hours of practice, the weather team was totally on the ball for a few totally clear sunny days before the first of the winter storms were scheduled, and Princess Celestia had blessed everypony with some late season warmth. It was a wonderful, perfect, lazy day.
"Almost feel bad I had to ditch Pinkie to work today," she yawned, "We finished earlier than I expected."
Just as she was about to drift off, a peal of laughter below caught her ears… no, make that two peals of laughter, one smaller and lighter than the other one. Curious, Rainbow Dash stuck her head over the edge of the cloud to see what was going on. However, what met her eyes defied description…
She was used to Pinkie Pie being random, but this took the cake. She'd cut leg holes in a large cardboard box, stuck the flaps out like wings, and had taken a crayon to the side to write "ESS Pinkie" on the box. Further, inside the box a teddy bear, a silly patchwork doll, a trio of rocks she recognized (and filled her with dread), and a potted fern all nestled against the pink pony's body. On Pinkie's back a lavender unicorn filly perched, her hooves wrapped in Pinkie's mane as the party pony dashed about Ponyville wildly.
"Approach vector confirmed, Captain," the filly cried in a fake gravelly voice.
"Good job Lieutenant!" the filly cried in a more natural voice, "Captain Pie, the Navigator's plotted the course, and we're set for our supply run!"
"Okie Dokie Lokie!" the pink mare cried, and turned sharply, causing the filly to cry out with a laugh again as she held on to the dashing Pinkie, "Destination in sight, Sugar Cube Corner for resupply of cupcake provisions!"
"Captain," the pink mare called in different, made up, voice, "I'm showing a lot of turbulence along this route."
"Roger that, Lieutenant Fern," the filly cried, "Captain Pinkie, can you adjust course?"
"We're going too fast!" she cried.
"But we're heading right for the…" Dinky started, and then cried, "Hard to starboard!!"
Pinkie looked back over her shoulder at the filly without stopping, "Which way is starboard?"
"Just TURN!!" the filly shouted, and threw her hooves up over her head as Pinkie Pie crashed into a massive bush. The pair cried out as they tumbled end over end before coming out the other side.
"Captain Pinkie…" Dinky said in a shaky voice, "Damage report."
"Minimal damage, Captain Dinky," the party pony answered, shaking her head, "Just some…"
"Captain?" Dinky asked, and paused in her own examinations to look at the older mare. To her surprise, Pinkie was carefully examining a part of her mane, lifting a hoof to nudge it closer to her face. It took Dinky a moment to notice, but nestled in the tangled mass that was Pinkie's mane, was a brown burr stuck in place. Dinky's eyes widened, and she quickly started searching herself, finding burrs stuck in her own mane and tail. After a moment of panicked inspection, the two met eye to eye.
"Oh no…" Pinkie started.
"This is bad…" Dinky answered.
"But how could…?"
"It must be…"
"CLING-ONS!!!" the pair shrieked in unison. Pinkie immediately began to run in circles, shrieking like her tail was on fire about a "Sneak attack" while the filly started screaming about "Red Alert" and "All hooves to battle stations" and other such nonsense.
Rainbow Dash watched it all unfold before covering her head with both hooves, "As if one wasn't enough…"