Quantum Gallop

Five of the youth of House Path are abruptly whisked away by the enigmatic Doctor Whooves, and they find themselves in a Ponyville that they can scarcely recognize. A tyrant queen rules Equestria, alliances were never forged with Griffonia and the Changeling Hives, and three of the group had never been born! Someone has changed history, and it's up to them to figure out when, how, and who did it, or Equestria will suffer, and the rest of the world along with it.
This is the direct sequel to "The Growing Years" and "A Different Perspective", and I advise reading those stories first.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/328566/quantum-gallop

1Likes
0Comments
2400Views
AA

16. Chapter 9 - Stake-out

Sterling Shield sat and listened carefully as Lucida gave a comprehensive explanation of how history had been changed from the one that he had known, with the other team members throwing in bits of information. Lucida left out certain critical details that she felt might compromise the changeling Guard’s views, but otherwise informed him as fully as possible. He asked a few questions to clarify a couple of points, but then fell into thoughtful silence as dawn’s first light lit the sky. Blue, being energy-depleted, fell asleep on the grass halfway through the explanation, and Destined felt inclined to join him after the solo time-jumps that he had pulled off.

Eventually Sterling seemed to come to a decision. “As I see it, I cannot re-link to my hive network without compromising history due to my knowledge of future events, including the ones that you say won’t happen if you achieve your goal, but would still influence decisions. I also cannot take up my position as a member of the Royal Guard because not only does Sterling Shield not exist on their rolls, but I also have not even been hatched yet! It seems to me that until I can decide on a course of action, I had best throw in my lot with you. I warn you though that if I perceive anything that I regard as a threat to that which I have sworn to protect, I willact to stop it.”

“We wouldn’t expect otherwise, Sterling,” Lucida assured him.

“Then what is your first step?”

“That’s a good question. Pif – how close to the critical event do you think we are?”

“I’m sorry, sis, but I can’t say anything more accurate than between one week to three months from now. I do know that the event is after Cirrus started school for the first time.”

“Then we had better find out exactly what the date is now, and when Cirrus starts school. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

“That should be easy enough,” Sterling said. “Unless they did things a lot differently thirty-seven years earlier, I could always get the Canterlot Gazette first thing in the morning. It’ll have today’s date right on the front page.”

“Good point,” Pif said with a nod. “What about you though? Are you going to keep wearing your Guard outfit?”

Sterling frowned. “Although the uniform has stayed the same for at least half a century, my rank marks would ensure that many should know me, but of course none will. I’m afraid that this could be a liability rather than an asset, so I will remove it for now.”

“At least you don’t need to change your looks,” Pif said as she pointedly changed form into her normal unicorn guise.

“What about those three?” The red changeling pointed toward Cinder, Destined, and Silk. “Thestrals were virtually unknown when I first started in the Guard, an alicorn stallion will draw lots of unwanted attention, and a dragon is right out.”

“No problem for either of us,” Destined replied as he lit up his horn. “I’ve been practicing illusion spells for just this kind of occasion. I’ve already hidden my wings before, but I can now do the same for Silk.”

“Hey! I want to keep my wings!” Silk protested.

“Don’t worry, Silk. Not only will this be only an illusion, but you’ll still have wings.” Destined’s magic flared, and he soon looked like a slightly taller than average unicorn stallion, but Silk now looked like a pegasus with feathered wings instead.

Silk held open his new wings and examined them. “Well, they don’t feel any different, but it sure is weird seeing feathers instead of membrane.”

“I changed your eyes too, and your fangs shouldn’t show.”

“That still leaves Cinder; are you going to hide her under an illusion also?” Sterling asked.

Destined shook his head. “I could, but a dragon moves so much different from a pony that that if I disguised her as one, she would still draw attention by her gait alone. However, after the last time, I devised a different solution. Cinder – you already know what this entails.”

The dragoness nodded. “You want to do this right now?”

“Are we ready to head into the city, Lucy?” Destined asked his sister.

“Nothing more that we can do here. We need to determine the date first and go from there.”

“Okay. Cinder, please step away from everyone else.”

Cinder stepped away a few paces.

“Everypony else, look away from Cinder and myself until I complete the spell. It will work better that way, and you won’t catch any side-effects.”

Everyone did as Destined asked, and then his horn lit up with the complex spell that he had prepared earlier. He cast the spell, and then informed the others that they could look once more.

Sterling turned around and failed to see Cinder. “You made her invisible? That should work.”

Destined grinned, as did the watching dragon. “Nope. Invisibility is a high-energy maintenance spell, and you also run the risk of ponies running into you. This spell is a lot more subtle and easy to maintain. It makes the observer’s eyes fail to notice her, and lose interest in looking in her direction. You’ve looked past her twice already, but failed to see her.”

Sterling looked again, but even when he strained his senses, he barely noticed anything amiss. “That’s a very clever spell. That would make the job of the Royal Guards very difficult.”

Destined smiled and shook his head. “Don’t worry too much about it, Sterling. Only alicorns and the very most powerful unicorns can master this spell to perfection. And even if you had a unicorn enemy capable of casting it, they would also have several other ways of getting around the typical Royal Guard.”

“That’s… not quite as reassuring as you think it might be,” Sterling said with a concerned frown.

“We live in a world of magic; you will never have a perfect solution to everything.”

“I suppose not. Shall we go, my new compatriots?”

After waking up Blue and reassuring him that Cinder was still with them, the group headed out of the gardens and into the city proper. Even at that early hour, many citizens were already making their way to their jobs, and of course the newspaper sellers were there to cash in on them. Blue bought a copy of the Canterlot Gazette even though they could have just glanced at the date that was clearly printed underneath the paper’s banner.

Lucida nodded in satisfaction. “If I recall correctly, the school term in Canterlot should start in nine days. I think we can afford to rest up and use those days to do some careful observation just in case there are other factors involved that Pif didn’t catch.”

“How long after school starts do you think it will take before we have the history-changing event?” Cinder asked.

“Not sure, but soon,” Pif replied.

“I hope so,” the dragon replied with a worried frown.

“Is anything wrong, Cinder?” the changeling asked, tasting the intensity of her emotions.

Blue replied for his mate. “Cinder is due to lay her egg soon. We had arranged with Egg Warden to be available when that happened, but this is going to cut things mighty fine.”

“We’ll try to get this mission completed in time for you to lay your egg back home,” Lucida reassured the dragon.

Cinder nodded her head, glumly accepting the harsh reality of the situation.

“So, what’s next, boss? Food, I hope?” Blue asked.

Lucida nodded. “I haven’t forgotten, Blue. Let’s all find a place serving breakfast, and then somewhere to stay for a couple of weeks.”

“Sounds good to me,” the blue stallion said with a happy smile. “Food and sleep are what I need badly. However, we had better watch the bits. I packed plenty to cover a lot of contingencies, but not a severely extended stay.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Come on – I think I know a place to eat that has been around for at least four decades, so it should be here for us now.”

# # #

They had to go all the way into the outer suburbs before they could find accommodation that wouldn’t drain their resources too quickly, but fortunately the boarding house had several rooms available, allowing various couples to have their privacy. Blue was soon sound asleep on the bed with Cinder snuggled up beside him. Destined stretched out on his bed too, intending to nap, but an offer of a massage from Silk was too tempting to pass up. Pif said she needed to replace some of her lost emotional energy, but really she wanted an excuse to snuggle with Citrine for a while and unwind from recent events. She was still recovering from having been enthralled, and felt the need of some comfort. Citrine didn’t need an excuse though. That just left Lucida and Sterling, and the hippogriff was uncertain about sharing a room alone with just the changeling.

“You’ve obviously never hot-bunked before,” Sterling said to Lucida with a grin.

“Hot-bunked?”

“One shift rolls out of bed and the previous one rolls into it while it’s still warm. If we’re keeping watch on a target, I’m sure we can arrange to be on different shifts.”

Lucida was relieved that the Guard was understanding of the situation. “Yes, that will work fine.”

“Since neither of us are particularly tired though, may I suggest that we do a bit of scouting around? I suspect that neither of us know too much of the current circumstances. Perhaps we can check the location of Cirrus first of all?”

“That’s a good idea. I believe Cirrus’s parents have always lived in the same house, so that should simplify things. I’ll leave word with the others as to our intentions.”

After slipping notes under the doors of the three couples, the pair headed off to their destination. Lucida had no trouble finding the house, but there was nothing to be seen from the outside.

“I can taste some strong emotion from the back of the house,” Sterling said, “but only one source. Of course Cirrus won’t be leaking emotion, and his mother should be at work by now if she’s a City Guard as you say.”

“Perhaps a little aerial reconnaissance is called for?” Lucida suggested.

“Good idea. Allow me to make a discreet change first.”

Sterling found a place to change forms unobserved, and a pegasus soon replaced the unicorn.

“Okay, let’s go.”

He and Lucida took off and gained a little altitude. It was considered bad taste to fly too low over private property, and they did not wish to draw attention to themselves. They were soon over the small yard behind the house, and soon spotted a male griffon playing with his child. Lucida had to smile at the sight.

“Papa Free’s dad was always a good father. With such loving parents, it’s no wonder that he grew up to be like he is… or should be. I wonder what could possibly happen to change this?”

“Even from this distance, I can taste the love the griffon has for his son, and from the way Cirrus is acting, he is responding in kind. It’s hard to reconcile this with the image of Queen Gossamer that you described.”

“That’s the tragedy of all these history changes – they all end up making things so much worse for everybody, and not just our family.”

“The instigator must be a very selfish person.”

Lucida nodded. “Extremely so. Anyway, we now know that things appear to be normal so far. We can set up a watch on the family, but I’m not expecting anything to happen before Cirrus starts school, if Pif’s information is accurate. If something does happen though, one of us should be around to observe it.”

“I can start right now, if you wish,” Sterling offered.

“I don’t think that’s necessary. We can both rest up to get to work first thing tomorrow.”

“I don’t mind. It’s better than some of the boring jobs that a Royal Guard sometimes has to do.”

Lucida looked at him closely. “Something is bothering you, isn’t it?”

Sterling looked for a moment as if he was going to deny it, but then he sighed. “I’m disconnected from my hive network, and I’m feeling very uncomfortable. I need something to do to keep my mind off it. If I try to sleep, I’ll just have nightmares. Any 'ling who gets cut off from the network always does.”

“You're only putting it off, you know?”

“I know, but I’ll deal with it then. Right now, I’d rather do observation duty.”

Lucida nodded in understanding. “Okay, but when Cirrus’s family has their dinner, come back to the boarding house and join us for our dinner and report.”

“Will do, ma'am!” Sterling started to salute out of habit, chuckled self-consciously, and headed off to find an observation post.

Lucida smiled at the changeling’s dedication to the task that he had set himself as she headed back to join the others.

# # #

As expected, nothing abnormal happened that day, and Sterling returned for dinner. With the whole team rested, they gathered to go out for their meal with disguises in place and aversion spell once again active. Like the previous day, they chose al fresco dining to get around the problem of seating a dragon without arousing suspicion. The waitress wondered why Blue was ordering two full meals, but other than that, they did not have any trouble. Because the restaurant was so full and their conversation could readily be overheard, they kept the talk to harmless subjects until they returned to the boarding house. There they all squeezed into one room to discuss their plans for the next day.

Pif spoke up first. “After what happened last time, I’ve refrained from connecting to the Blue network all day, but I believe that I should now. You know that it could give us valuable insight.”

Lucida considered her words seriously before replying. “You’re right, but what are the chances of you being enthralled again?”

“Virtually none.”

“That seems awfully confident of you,” Lucida replied skeptically.

“I know, but I have my reasons. For starters there’s our theory that only my parent and I can do it because of our mutation, and Cirrus certainly isn’t in a position to do that at his current age. However, putting that aside for now in case I’m wrong, I was only enthralled because it was totally unexpected. After Chrysalis used it on me to force me to do something against my nature, I developed countermeasures for it. If I’d had them in place before connecting last time, Gossamer would not have been able to even communicate with you that way, let alone enthrall me. This time I won’t make that mistake.”

“That sounds reasonable. Go ahead.”

Pif did not hesitate a moment to reconnect to the Blue Changeling network. She spent a few minutes carefully scanning for anything of interest before sighing in disappointment. “Not a thing. I can’t detect a single activity that isn’t totally normal.”

“Maybe Chrysalis’ agent has not arrived as yet?” Destined suggested. “Or maybe he hasn’t bothered to connect to the network?”

Sterling spoke up. “Drones can’t reconnect themselves to the network; only a queen can do that.”

“Huh? That can’t be right. Our very first history change was caused by an agent shouting a warning to Chrysalis over the network, and just like you, he would have lost the link because of the time-jump.”

“From the moment that I was disconnected, I yearned to rejoin the Red Changeling network. That was before I realized that I shouldn’t due to my presence being paradoxical. The point is that I would have if I could, but I can’t, and neither can any of the other hives’ drones.”

Pif shook her head. “Although you’re technically right, in this case I believe you’re wrong. We’ve already discovered that Chrysalis has been breeding radically different drones, such as a soldier-harvester, and a special breeder that we believe she’s been making for spare bodies.”

Sterling was shocked. “Are you telling me that Queen Chrysalis has found a way to transfer her mind between bodies?”

“That’s our current theory, yes. We have lots of evidence, not the least of which is the fact that she has supposed to have been killed twice.”

“That’s a considerable achievement, and I withdraw my objection. If Chrysalis can do that, I see no reason why she can’t breed a drone to do other extraordinary things such as being able to connect himself to the network.”

Lucida said, “So we’re back to the possibility that the agent either hasn’t arrived yet, or hasn’t connected to the network for some reason. With this in mind, we will start full surveillance as of tomorrow. However, let me stress this for our newbies – you are not to act on what you see. We not only have to find the cause of the history change, but we also need to understand its full ramifications before we jump back and fix it with absolutely the least interference with other events. Right now, we can afford to let the changes happen, but when we go back, we must get it right.”

While Lucida had addressed them all, she looked especially hard at Silk, Sterling, and Citrine when she said this. They all nodded solemnly in agreement.

“Right – let’s assign duties. Cinder – between trying to keep you hidden and your pregnancy, we can’t use you for surveillance duties. You will have to be our base operative.”

Cinder sighed in resignation. “It’s not so different from my House Path operations anyway. How many comms did you pack, Blue?”

“Only four,” the stallion replied as he rummaged in his pack. “I didn’t anticipate getting extra team members.”

“Comms?” queried Sterling.

“Long distance communication devices that Mom invented,” Destined explained as Blue passed one to him.

Sterling stared at it in fascination. “How does it work?”

They explained the principles behind them, and how to operate one. Sterling was extremely impressed.

“I can see these being very useful to the military.”

“Yes, but they’ve been improving communications for the general public also,” Lucida replied. “Now enough about them. We’ll take shifts on watching the house, and following Cirrus if he leaves it. His father usually stays at home, but his mother is a City Guard and is on duty most days. Although she is likely to be able to look after herself, we still need to keep an eye on her just in case. Pif, I want you to go to the City Guard’s station and determine her roster if possible. Follow her around until you’re relieved. Make sure you change forms frequently; Zephyr is quite observant and might spot you otherwise.”

Lucida turned to Destined. “You get to watch the house for the first shift. Use invisibility or the aversion spell, but I want as close a watch on Cirrus as possible.”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” Destined said with a salute.

Next she addressed the Royal Guard. “Sterling, you will relieve Des on the next shift. Use your changeling talents to achieve the same aims.”

“Yes, Ma'am!” he replied crisply.

“Citrine,” Lucida said, turning to the crystal pony, “I want you to relieve Pif. Use those street smarts that you boast about to stay inconspicuous.”

“Piece of cake!” Citrine replied with a grin.

Lucida next addressed the bat-pony. “Silk, you were very helpful to us at Gossamer’s place, but this really isn’t your job. You just got tangled up in this mess with us….”

“Stop right there,” Silk interjected. “I’m just as involved as you are, and I have personal reasons for making sure history is set right.” He looked meaningfully at Destined before continuing. “I’m not a delicate flower either. There’s a lot more to me than even Des knows yet. Anyway, count me in for whatever you need me for.”

“Thanks, Silk. You’re the obvious choice for the night shift.”

“I would have pointed that out if you hadn’t. Do you need me to watch all night?”

“No. If anything happens, it’s almost certain to do so within an hour of them going to bed at the latest. However, we will still have someone watch until the dawn shift starts.” She turned to look at Blue.

The earth pony’s ears drooped. “Really?”

Lucida gave him an apologetic smile. “Sorry, brother, but you are neither subtle nor inconspicuous, so that’s the best time for you to do some watching. However, you don’t have to watch alone. Cinder is also too conspicuous to be out and about Canterlot on a regular basis, and until she lays her egg, I don’t want her getting into any potential trouble either.”

The dragoness opened her mouth to object, but was cut off before she managed more than “Hey!” as Lucida pointed a talon at her and said sternly, “And no back-talk, Cinder. This is going to be run like a proper House Path mission this time. You won’t get involved unless it becomes vital that we need your fighting skills, and as this is a reconnaissance mission, that should not happen.”

She turned her attention to all of them. “I’ll be on call if anyone needs a backup. If Cirrus and his father separate for any reason, you will call me so that I can watch Thundercloud. If for any reason you see a problem on your shifts, call it in immediately.”

“Do you want me to start tonight?” Silk asked.

“No, I still believe that the critical moment won’t happen for a while yet, so tomorrow is soon enough. We will start refining our observation techniques then. I suggest that everyone gets a good night’s sleep, and we get off to a good start in the morning.”

“Sounds good to me,” Citrine said cheerfully, tugging on Pif to have her follow. The changeling waved her hoof goodnight to the others, even as she blushed at the randy feelings the crystal pony was emitting.

“Seeing as neither Blue nor I will be needed that early, we’re going to take a long, hot bath together. Coming, Blue?” Cinder asked coyly.

Blue visibly brightened. “Coming!” He hopped up and followed his mate eagerly.

“Somehow I think she has more than just a bath in mind,” Sterling commented with a smirk. “Such an odd couple!”

Silk smiled too. “Don’t need to be a changeling to know what those two are feeling. But she has the right idea. How about it, Destined?”

Destined blushed furiously but nodded and quietly followed.

Sterling looked at Lucida. “New lovers?”

“Yep. Silk is self-confident, but Des didn’t even realize that he was gay until recently. My brother is a little bit dense when it comes to his sexuality.”

“Oh? And what about you?”

Lucida turned her face away. “I… I’ve been too busy to find a special someone.”

“I see.” There was an awkward silence for a long moment before Sterling continued. “Well, since you need to be on duty early in the morning, I suggest that you hit the sheets now. I’ll bunk on the couch a bit later.”

Lucida nodded gratefully, happy to be spared the awkwardness of having to share a bed with a near stranger. “I’ll have a quick shower first. It’s been a heck of a day.”

Considering that their day had started thirty-seven years in the future, that was quite an understatement, but the hippogriff was feeling more mentally exhausted than physically. A hot shower was just what she needed to be able to settle down first. She exited the bathroom feeling a lot better.

“Need help preening?” Sterling asked.

Lucida blinked in surprise. “What do you know of preening?”

“Well, I do occasionally become a pegasus, but that’s not why I learned. I share barracks with a pegasus who enjoys the attention, and I consume the pleasure he emits from the attention.”

“I see. That makes sense. I suppose I could do with a bit of help.”

Lucida settled on the bed and spread her wings. Sterling squatted by one side and worked on her left wing while she worked on the right.

After working quietly for a while, Lucida asked, “Does that pegasus know that you’re a changeling?”

Sterling chuckled. “No. He just thinks I like fondling his wings.”

Lucida laughed, then asked, “Well, do you?”

“Yes, but only for the pleasure it gives him. A 'ling has to eat, you know?”

“Yes, you do. I’ll let you work on my other wing too. You’re just too good at this.”

Sterling smiled. “Thank you, Lady Lucida.”

“Buck that! If you’re going to fondle my wings, you have to call me Lucy.”

“Your wish is my command, Lucy.”

“You’re terrible. No wonder Frothy liked you.”

“Who?”

“Forget I said that. Different history,” Lucida murmured as she sank into the pleasure of the preening. She fell asleep before Sterling finished the second wing.

# # #

Lucida was woken in the middle of the night by cries coming from the sofa. She found the changeling Guard tossing and turning in midst of a nightmare, and she shook him awake. He apologized for interrupting her sleep, blaming the nightmare on disconnection anxiety. Lucida understood and told Sterling not to worry about it before they both resumed their disrupted slumber.

It was the disciplined Royal Guard who actually made sure that everyone was woken on time. In spite of the nightmare, Sterling was well rested and quite used to starting dawn shifts, so after waking Lucida, he went to the other rooms to rouse the inhabitants, only sparing Blue and Cinder because the earth pony still needed to recover more energy and neither would be needed until much later.

Some food saved from the previous day served as breakfast for Destined and Pif, and they were soon on their way to their appointed tasks. Pif accompanied Destined to Cirrus’s home, intending to follow his mother as she left for her job in the morning. She reasoned that it would be a lot easier to find out Zephyr’s schedule and the people the griffon interacted with if she simply followed her from the very start. Destined found a high observation point that let him see both the front door and the back yard. Any visitors to the house could readily be seen, but his aversion spell ensured that he would not be similarly observed.

Pif found it disappointingly easy to discover Zephyr’s roster and responsibilities. She had secretly hoped that her first real try at being a changeling infiltrator would be more exciting. Nevertheless, keeping the griffon under observation without being spotted made the task more interesting.

Both checked in with Lucida on a regular basis, and the hippogriff brought more food and drink for Destined halfway through his shift. Pif supplied her own, buying refreshments from various places as part of her undercover operations.

Sterling and Citrine relieved Destined and Pif, and neither had any trouble maintaining their watches. When Citrine reported that Zephyr had returned home, Silk flew in for his watch and relieved both the changeling and the crystal pony.

At dinner that evening, Lucida summed up the day’s activities.

“As expected, nothing of significance happened today, but we did get a good feel for their normal daytime activities. Hopefully this will remain a stable pattern as it will not only make our job simpler, but it could also make it easier to spot something out of the ordinary. I’ll switch around your shifts so that you can all get familiar with each position, which hopefully might also make your jobs a little less boring. If things go as expected and nothing happens until Cirrus starts school, I don’t want carelessness setting in due to….”

Lucida was interrupted by an incoming comm call which Cinder answered.

“Operations. What’s wrong, Silk?”

The bat-pony’s voice came to them all with the comm in hoof-free mode. “Nothing wrong per se, but Cirrus and his parents have all taken off for a flight. Considering the casual nature of their flight, and Cirrus’s playfulness, I am thinking that this is just some family bonding time. I thought I had better let you know anyway.”

Cinder replied, “Thanks, Silk. Stand by for further instructions.” She muted the comm and looked over at Lucida.

The hippogriff gestured at the comm and said, “Here’s a perfect example of the unexpected. While this is probably a perfectly harmless normal activity, it is one where all three are in a position of vulnerability. If this is something that they do every evening, then it would be wise to have a second observer to watch for trouble and provide back-up for the first if necessary. For tonight though, I’ll let it slide. Tell Silk to carry on, Cinder.”

The dragoness nodded and unmuted the comm. “Silk – continue normal observation but report any further anomalies. Let us know when they have returned to the house.”

“Understood. Silk out.” The connection dropped.

Lucida said, “Cinder, do you think you can fulfill the role of secondary observer? The skies are fairly empty at this time, and with Destined’s aversion spell, you should be able to watch without being spotted.”

“I’d be happy to do so. Anything is better than sitting here all day with nothing to do but answer the comm occasionally.”

“Great. You can start that tomorrow.” Lucida then turned to Blue. “Are you rested enough? I don’t want you falling asleep on your late watch.”

“Don’t worry, Lucy. I’ve recovered plenty of energy by now, and don’t forget that I have been trained to deal with these situations too.”

Lucida nodded. “Okay. Good work today, everyone. Let’s hope that every other day goes as well.”

# # #

As it happened, the following days were equally unremarkable, with only minor variations such as visits to the market to shop for food or paint supplies for Thundercloud, and on Zephyr’s day off, a family outing. Each of the House Path observers rotated their shifts so that they all got familiar with the day-to-day routines, although Silk still took most of the evening shifts. Even Blue got a chance to play watcher among the crowd while the griffons were enjoying themselves. One thing that they all noted was just how much the adults doted on their son. It was no wonder that Cirrus had grown up to be such a happy and loving adult. It only made them wonder even more what could happen to make such a drastic change that he would become Queen Gossamer instead. They wondered, and they dreaded.

And so the day came that Cirrus was to start school. The routine changed then. Instead of heading off to work, Zephyr got Cirrus ready for his first day, and the young griff was very excited. His mother took him to the school and showed him the basics, reassuring him that although she was leaving him there, she would be back later that day to take him home. Unlike many of the foals that were also there for their first time, he did not cry, nor even the slightest bit upset. Zephyr did not realize it of course, but Cirrus was consuming her love and reassurance, calming any fears that he might have had.

Destined got to watch Cirrus for the first watch at school, relieved later by Pif, while the other kept watch on his parents. It turned out to be a pretty typical day for first-timers, and Zephyr was standing at the main entrance, waiting for Cirrus when school ended. The walk home was uneventful, with Cirrus talking excitedly about his day while his mother smiled indulgently.

“Day ten, and nothing suspicious,” Lucida summarized. “Are you sure you can’t narrow down the date further, Pif?”

“For the hundredth time, Lucy, no!” Pif replied with obvious irritation. “I might not have access to the hive network, but I can still search my own memories quite thoroughly, and there’s nothing more.”

“Sorry. I’m just worried that we’ll miss something.”

Destined said, “I have a feeling that when it happens, it will be very hard to miss.”

Little did he know how right he would be.

The next day was equally uneventful, and the day after Destined was doing the afternoon observation of Thundercloud – an extraordinarily easy job as the artistic griffon spent the vast majority of the day in his studio, painting. He was easy to see through the studio window from Destined’s vantage point, and the real challenge was not falling asleep on the job. He did notice an odd anomaly though when it happened, and he got out his comm.

“Hey, Pif – has someone picked up Cirrus from the school yet?”

Zephyr just left with Cirrus a minute ago. I’m following them now. Why do you ask?

“Because Zephyr is here right now without Cirrus, entering the house as I speak.”

BUCK! Something’s going down! Get in closer and don’t miss anything happening. I’m calling in the others.

The connection dropped, and Destined swapped his aversion spell for invisibility for its greater security, and flew up to the window in time to hear ‘Zephyr’ calling to Thundercloud.

After a short delay while the painter put aside his tools, the griffon cock came downstairs to greet his wife. He reared up on his hind legs in order to give her his customary hug, smiling happily. “Where’s Cirrus?” he asked.

“He’ll be here soon.”

“I thought you intended to bring him home from school each day?”

“No, that was the other me.”

Thundercloud blinked in puzzlement. “What do you– AWK!” He staggered back from Zephyr, only then seeing the knife that had been plunged into his chest. He looked at the griffoness and tried to say something before his eyes rolled up and he collapsed to the floor.

‘Zephyr’ pulled the knife from out of the griffon’s heart and wiped the blade on his feathers. “Don’t worry about Cirrus – he’ll soon be in safe hooves.”

Destined barely managed to not give himself away as he retched in distress. The cold-blooded murder hit him far harder than the battles that he had been involved in. Thundercloud had always been a jovial and wonderful grandfather to him and his siblings, and to see him so callously killed by someone pretending to be his grandmother had made his stomach turn. As he spat out the last of the bile in his mouth, he activated his comm. “Thundercloud is dead. We’ve found the changeling agent,” he reported tersely.

Lucida replied, “Oh, Tartarus! Keep watching, Des. The real Zephyr will be home soon with Cirrus, so Pif and Sterling will join you then. I’ve already sent Blue as reinforcement because he can get there fast. Remember – don’t interfere with events.

“I haven’t forgotten.” Destined switched off the comm and grimly returned to watching through the window.

The disguised changeling made no effort to dispose of Thundercloud’s corpse, but instead took his form and then left the room to wait by the entrance, calmly but with a hint of a smirk on his beak.

Destined could almost predict what was about to happen, and the minutes spent waiting for Zephyr and Cirrus to arrive were some of the longest of his life. When Pif made her way to the side of the house where Destined was invisibly lurking, he knew that the moment had come. Pif had stopped close to the window, knowing that Destined was nearby. He moved over to her and reached out a hoof, extending the invisibility spell to her. Then they moved back to the window together to observe once more.

“Where’s Sterling?” Destined whispered.

“Watching the front door for now,” Pif replied. “If the agent leaves with Cirrus, we need someone on them right away.”

They saw the front door open, and as Zephyr stepped inside, she reacted with surprise to see Thundercloud there as he was normally in his studio when she got home. Nevertheless she gave him a hug as Cirrus looked on in puzzlement. The watchers knew what was wrong; the young changeling-griffon could not taste his father’s affection, or any feelings for that matter, and could not understand why. He did not even know at this age that normal griffons could not taste emotions.

Zephyr headed off to the living room with ‘Thundercloud’ close behind. She had barely passed through the door when she stopped in shock at the sight on the floor before her. A moment too late, she whirled to face her husband’s doppelganger, only to feel the same knife that had slain Thundercloud pierce her heart. Her last conscious sight was seeing Cirrus staring, frozen in shock at what had just happened.

 

 

As tears welled in Cirrus’ eyes, the fake Thundercloud was engulfed in magic green fire and was replaced with a changeling drone. Unlike the typical drone, this one was a lot more strongly built and had subtly different markings, but it was still obvious to the observers that this was a Blue Changeling, and Chrysalis’ special agent.

The drone grinned in satisfaction and said, “Don’t worry, Your Highness. I will soon have you back in the hooves of your real mother. Her Majesty, Queen Chrysalis, will be delighted to be reunited with her only surviving royal offspring, and the Blue Hive will become stronger for it.” He moved up to Cirrus to take him by the hoof, but the youngster backed away from him in horror.

The drone paused in puzzlement. “Princess Gossamer, you must come with me. Your time with these foster carers is done, and it is your destiny to make our hive great.”

With tears pouring from his eyes, Cirrus glared at the drone. “You killed my dad and mom!” he screeched. “I hate you! I HATE YOU!” For the first time in his life since he had unconsciously taken the form of a griffon chick, Cirrus shape-changed into his natural form, and a chrome-carapaced young Queen glared at the target of her hatred, her eyes shining with power. Her horn glowed, and without even realizing what she was doing, Cirrus lashed out at the agent.

The drone gasped and shuddered, and then sank to his knees. “Wait! Stop, Your Highness!” he pleaded weakly.

To Destined’s surprise, he felt Pif also slump down beside him. “What’s wrong, Pif?” he whispered urgently.

“Cirrus is draining the agent’s energy, but it’s so unfocused that she’s doing it to me too. I have to get away.” She tried feebly to move, but fell to the ground instead.

Destined was about to abandon his post to help Pif, but Blue arrived just then, casting around for a sign of his siblings.

Destined moved away from the window to allow his invisibility shield to drop in order to use his telekinesis. He lifted Pif onto Blue’s back before his brother could react, and said, “Take Pif out of range now! Check out the front for Sterling – he might be affected too.”

Blue knew when there was a time for questions, and a time for action, and he immediately complied without a word. Destined was able to re-establish his invisibility and go back to watch. He was just in time to see the agent reach out weakly to Cirrus and croak, “Please….” The drone shuddered, his eyes dimmed, and then he lay still. There was no doubt in Destined’s mind that the agent had been drained to death.

Cirrus’ eyes lost their glow, and then the young Queen shifted back into the form of a wretched griffon child once more. Cirrus wailed in grief, throwing himself on the still forms of his parents, oblivious to the blood that was being smeared on feathers and fur.

It tore at Destined’s heart to witness this, but there was nothing that he could do to ease Cirrus’ burden at this time. Anything that he could do would only interfere with the sequence of events, and it was vitally important that they understood everything that had led to the horrible future that they had seen. He knew one thing for sure already though, and that was why Cirrus had taken the name Gossamer later in life. It was surely burned into the mind of the grieving child.

Blue returned without Pif, and Destined took him into the invisibility screen.

“Is Pif okay?”

“Yes, and so is Sterling. Once we got out of range, whatever was affecting them stopped. I gave Pif some of my energy, but Sterling said that he would be okay. Naturally I left them back there though. What happened?”

“Cirrus drained the agent of all his energy thereby killing him. Pif and Sterling just caught the fringes of the effect. Now we wait to see what happens with orphan Cirrus.”

The unceasing heart-wrenching crying eventually attracted the attention of a neighbor, and after the unicorn mare had stopped throwing up after witnessing the sight, she called the City Guard.

The officers were equally shocked, and dismayed to find one of their own was a victim. The body of the drone perplexed them as they had no idea what it was, and an investigation was launched. In the meantime though, two city officials came to take Cirrus away, and Destined and Blue followed. Destined contacted Pif and Sterling by comm, and Pif replaced Blue. Sterling immediately went to watch the house again in case anything of interest happened there, and he took on his Royal Guard appearance complete with illusory uniform in anticipation of having to deal with authorities.

Lucida was updated on all events, and had recalled Blue. The three best at inconspicuous observation were already on the job. She anticipated that Cirrus would be taken to the Royal Canterlot Orphanage which she knew was headed and run mostly by disguised Yellow Changelings, which would be the ideal place for the bereft Cirrus. However, as further reports came in from Destined, she was surprised to find that he was taken to a different facility. Canterlot Child Services apparently dealt differently with children of non-pony species, and while the place that they took Cirrus had many pony children, it also had a minotaur calf and a zebra foal. Cirrus was the only griffon, however.

When it became clear that Cirrus was not going anywhere for now, Lucida recalled Destined, leaving Pif to watch over the orphaned child. It was a rather subdued dinner that evening as they reviewed the day’s events.

“This is my hypothesis so far,” Lucida announced. “Future Chrysalis was aware that Free had spent his early years in Canterlot after his parents moved there, but although she knew roughly when, she did not know exactly where. The purpose of fostering Gossamer with her biological father was to overcome the problem that killed all her previous royal offspring, so she obviously did not want to interrupt that process. We can’t know exactly how long Chrysalis had intended for Gossamer to remain in their care, but judging by the timing of this incursion, she judged that her child would be strong and ready for reintegration into the hive at this age. She knew that Cirrus had attended school here, so all she had to do was have her agent watch the school to locate Cirrus. The agent followed Zephyr and Cirrus home, and then used the next day to establish their schedule, just like we did. Then he acted today, as we witnessed. However, neither Chrysalis nor her agent foresaw that her child would have such a negative reaction to the way it was done. In hindsight, they would have been far better off just kidnapping Cirrus, or at least not letting him witness the deaths, but Chrysalis is an extremely poor judge of pony and griffon character, and we know that Cirrus strongly identifies as a griffon even after he becomes an adult in full knowledge of what he is. Any comments?”

Sterling said, “That sounds plausible to me, but it burns me that none of us picked up on this agent yesterday or the day before.”

“Don’t be too hard on us, Sterling,” Destined said. “After all, you of all 'lings would know that Blue Changelings specialize in infiltration and uncovering secrets, and we were probably dealing with one of Chrysalis’ new elite.”

Sterling nodded. “Yeah, but it still bothers me that I somehow failed in my duty.”

Lucida shook her head. “No, Sterling, that’s not true. We’re here to find out what went wrong, and that’s exactly what we did. Stopping the murders is what will be done when we jump back in time.”

“So what happens now?” Citrine asked.

“We watch Cirrus for a while. We already know two factors that will influence his future. Number one, of course, is the murder of his beloved parents. Number two – he knows that Queen Chrysalis was responsible. As he learns more about himself and what he is, he will surely come to hate her passionately.”

“How long will it be before we know enough to be sure that we have covered every important element? We’re cutting things a bit fine with Cinder’s egg,” Blue said worriedly.

“Hopefully only a few days. We could even make a few short hops forward if necessary, but I think we pretty much know what we need to know to fix this history change permanently,” Lucida reassured him.

Cinder put a reassuring hand on Blue’s shoulder, talons that could easily rend his flesh playfully caressing his coat. “Don’t worry so much, love. It will work out.”

Blue smiled at her. “I don’t know what it’s like for dragon males, but pony fathers tend to be more involved.”

“Especially first-time dads, right?” Cinder asked with a grin.

Blue laughed. “Yeah, you got me there.”

Lucida said, “I’ll reorganize the schedule to watch Cirrus, but we’ll play the rest by ear. Celestia knows what happens next.”

# # #

“Pony foals can be complete monsters,” Pif growled.

Destined cocked a curious ear in her direction. “What brought this on?”

“Not one whole day in that institution, and they’re already tormenting Cirrus.”

“Griffons are not known to put up with that sort of thing, not even chicks,” Lucida commented. “Of course Cirrus isn’t purely a griffon, and he could be reacting badly to the foals, especially as he’s still depressed at losing his parents. Any particular reason why they’re tormenting him?”

Pif snorted in disgust. “Because they’re bullies. I found out why those foals are there instead of the Canterlot Orphanage. They’re all problem children who need to be watched carefully. Cirrus has been dumped in with the delinquents.”

Lucida nodded thoughtfully. “We might be witnessing reason number three why Cirrus grows up a villain. Lots of ponies’ lives have been soured by childhood experiences. Depending on how the authorities handle this, Cirrus could become very embittered in that environment.”

“Those so-called authorities seem very biased against non-ponies, if you ask me. I’m going to have words with Auntie Celestia when we get back.”

“Just don’t forget that thirty-seven years will have passed, Pif, and the situation might have changed since.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, but if I find the same thing in the future that I have here and now, heads are going to roll.”

# # #

Two more days were spent watching with no change to Cirrus’ status, and Blue’s patience was being sorely tested.

“We’ve got our answer!” Blue said vehemently at dinner that night. “Cirrus grows up bad. It’s time we went back and fixed things.”

“You’re half right,” Lucida conceded.

Blue’s eyes widened in surprise. “I am?”

“I believe that we’re not going to see anything more significant in the next few days. However, I want to jump ahead and see how things progress.”

“Is that really necessary, Lucy?” Destined asked. “Stopping the murders will stop those events ever happening.”

“I admit that I don’t know for sure, but that’s really an argument for doing so anyway. Lack of knowledge has always been our weakness in these time changes, so understanding their cause and effects can only be of benefit to us. Besides, I don’t think that we need to stay for more than a few hours each time. Would that suit you, Blue?”

“Anything that gets us back home sooner is fine with me.”

“Have you got the energy needed for a jump?”

“Since having that vision, I’ve been practicing storing more power. A small jump into the future will hardly affect it. We could leave right now!”

Lucida shook her head. “No. Although the quick surveys that I have in mind won’t be much trouble, once I’m satisfied, we’re going to jump back and stop the murders. For that I want everyone fresh and ready to do their part. So what I’m saying is that everyone gets a good night’s sleep, and we leave in the morning.”

# # #

Sterling got to see exactly what was involved with a time jump this time, but because they only jumped ahead a few months, the duration spent in the time vortex was far briefer than the thirty-seven year jump that he had first experienced.

Pif was dispatched to check out Cirrus’ status while the rest idled in a nearby park. She returned in just under three hours, and her expression was far from happy.

“Want to know what happens if you get bullied?” Pif said without preamble. “You either get to be the eternal victim or hit back. Guess what? Cirrus did the latter, apparently using his changeling abilities to get dominance. He’s already top dog in the institution. It would be hilarious to see such a youngster in control if it wasn’t for the horrible things that he’s now doing.”

“Well, that confirms reason number three,” Lucida said thoughtfully.

Sterling frowned. “But if he’s just being a bully and cowing the others, how is he getting enough love to survive?”

Pif rolled her eyes. “He isn’t, but you know he can get by on other positive emotions. Here’s the worst part – Cirrus keeps all the other troublemakers in line, which makes him the darling of the administrators. Cirrus reaps energy from the pleasure and satisfaction that they have in him. He’s not too subtle about it though, and they don’t understand why they are so tired lately. After I witnessed that, I’d seen enough.”

“That’s okay, Pif. That answers a lot of questions. Let’s all have some lunch and give you time to cool off before we jump forward again.”

# # #

The group jumped forward a few years this time. Pif reported that Cirrus was the de facto controller of the institute, having apparently enthralled the director without even realizing how he did it.

“Cause number four,” was Lucida’s conclusion before they jumped forward again.

This time, Cirrus was of the age to be released from the institute, and Lucida assigned several of the team to follow up several leads over the next few days. They discovered that while he could have easily have stayed there with his control firmly entrenched, he had become ambitious. Pif’s extremely cautious exploration of the hive mind had shown that Cirrus had encountered a Blue Changeling and had wrested him from the hive network. The drone had taught him everything that he hadn’t known about changelings. When he learned that Chrysalis was the Queen of the Blue Hive, he vowed to destroy her, and set about a campaign of finding and stealing any of her drones in Canterlot.

Lucida accepted all the reports and sighed. “Well, it’s pretty obvious now what happened. Cirrus came to understand exactly what he was, and pretty much abandoned everything about his past except for his intense hatred for Chrysalis and preference for the griffon form. At that point Cirrus became Gossamer, the name that he had heard the agent call her, probably as a slap in the face towards Chrysalis. Gossamer built a power base from stolen drones and Chrysalis tightened up her network in response so as to not lose any more. Gossamer didn’t stop at that though; she kept on extending her power base until someone in the palace took notice. At some point, Princess Celestia got involved and confronted Gossamer, only to be enthralled also.”

Pif nodded in agreement. “That’s what I figure too, and without an investigation that could take months, I doubt that we’re going to find out much more.”

“We’re not going to do that, are we?” Blue asked, almost in a panic at the thought. “This has already taken longer than I hoped.”

“No, Blue. I’m satisfied now, so it’s time to set things right,” Lucida reassured him.

“Thank Celestia! Can we please leave right now?”

“First we discuss our plan of operations, then we leave.” Lucida gave him a reassuring smile. “Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”

“Let’s do it!”

# # #

‘Zephyr’ entered the house and was mildly surprised to find Thundercloud waiting there to meet her. The changeling agent was pleased that she did not have to fetch him down from his studio, although she did not want to kill him this close to the front door. She had to lure him into the living room first.

Taking off her helmet, ‘Zephyr’ moved toward the living room, saying, “It was quite a busy day, today. Come give me a hug, dear.”

“With pleasure, darling,” Thundercloud said with a smile, following her into the room.

The disguised changeling came to an abrupt halt when she realized that there was a pony waiting in the living room. “You didn’t tell me we had a guest, dear.” She turned to look at Thundercloud, but he had an odd expression on his face that set off an alarm in her head. Then she finally noticed something else wrong. ‘Why can’t I taste his love?’ She decided to leave, but before she could take a single step, she found herself surrounded by a violet sphere of magic that was emanating from the horn of the blue unicorn.

“Uh-uh! Leaving now would be quite rude, darling,” Thundercloud said with a nasty smile before green flames engulfed him, revealing Pif in her natural form.

The changeling agent’s eyes widened in shock. “What are you?”

“Would you believe your Queen’s granddaughter? Let me show you a trick that I had the displeasure of learning from her.”

Pif’s horn lit up, and the agent’s eyes glowed green. The disguise dropped and the changeling stood there rigidly.

“You can drop the force-field now, Des,” Pif said before she addressed the agent once more. “Who do you serve?”

“You, Your Highness.”

“Right. You will also obey every order given to you by my siblings and friends as if they were given by me.” Pif sent the relevant data over the mini-network.

“Yes, Queen Epiphany.”

Pif stuck out her tongue in disgust. “Bleah. I feel unclean now.”

Destined said, “We’ve got the agent – time to get out of here.”

Pif nodded and assumed Zephyr’s form, then said to the changeling, “Assume a pony disguise and follow me.”

The agent shifted to a unicorn form and followed Pif to the front door, with Destined close behind. As they exited the house, Destined dropped the silence spell that had prevented Thundercloud from hearing what was occurring downstairs, and then firmly closed the door behind them. Anyone who had seen Zephyr arrive without Cirrus would see her leave again and return with him a little later, assuming that she had come home earlier to meet the two unicorns that she left with. The team had gone to great pains to ensure that history was changed to the minutest degree that they could manage.

Sterling and Lucida were waiting outside just in case of unforeseen circumstances. They joined up with the others and they all rendezvoused with the rest of the team back at the room that was their base of operations. Pif entered with a grin and cry of triumph, only to be brought up short by Blue’s expression.

“Why the long face?” she asked.

“Cinder has laid her eggs,” he replied soberly.

“Oh, no! Wait! Eggs? Plural?”

“Yes, she laid two. We didn’t expect it, but there’s the result.” Blue gestured to where Cinder was on the bed, curled protectively around two gleaming eggs.

Lucida took in the sight and said, “Don’t worry, Blue. We can head home virtually immediately now. We can interrogate the agent later.”

“No!” Cinder said firmly.

Lucida blinked in surprise. “No? Why not?”

“I’m not risking the eggs in the time vortex.”

“You’ve been through the vortex several times while pregnant – it’s no different now.”

“It is different, and I won’t let you take my eggs through it.” Cinder curled even more tightly about the eggs.

“It’s no use, Lucy,” Blue said. “I’ve already been over this with her. You have to realize that dragon mothers are extremely protective of their eggs, and the only exceptions that they might make are to let their mate mind them for a while, or the specialist egg-minders. Small male dragons have always been poorer hunters, but good at caring for unhatched eggs, so it has been ingrained into the dragon psyche over the centuries that the eggs are safe with them. We had Egg Warden lined up to care for Cinder’s egg back home so that it could free up Cinder for her duties, but other than that, she won’t risk them for anything.”

“Go back without me,” Cinder said firmly.

“We can’t,” Destined replied.

“Why not?” Citrine asked.

“For starters, I don’t know exactly how the Doctor’s state of grace works yet, but I believe we have to all finish together. Even if I’m wrong about that though, there are a couple of other problems. First, I would need Blue’s power to take us forward that far. I can’t manage that by myself.”

“I’m not leaving Cinder!” Blue said with finality.

“Even if you did and I brought you back, then I would be stuck here. Then there’s the other possibility. Even if I could take the rest of us back and leave you two here until the eggs hatch, if a time-change was made at the wrong moment, you could get lost to me. History follows the path of highest probability, and the time-jumps always follow that path. I can only go back and forth, not sideways. You could get lost in an alternative history, and never be found again!”

Everyone was shocked by Destined’s exposition, but finally Lucida asked, “Are you sure about this, Des?”

Destined’s voice grew higher and more stressed, and he waved his forelegs dramatically. “No, I’m not! That’s the whole point! I can’t be certain about any of this, and that’s why I think it’s too risky to split us up.”

The hippogriff stepped over to Cinder and the dragoness gave a soft growl of warning. Lucida said, “Are you sure I can’t persuade you to come back to the future with us, Cinder? I promise that we will take the utmost care with your eggs.”

“No,” was all Cinder said before turning away from Lucida to lay her head over the eggs.

Lucida sighed and said, “Well, if Cinder won’t go, and it’s too risky to split us up, that just leaves one alternative – we all stay until the eggs hatch.”

“And how long is that?” Silk asked.

“Ten months,” Blue said mournfully.

“Ten months! We’re stuck here for most of a year? What are we supposed to do in that time?”

Blue said, “I have a better question. What are we to do for money? My stash has almost been used up. I never anticipated anything like this.”

Lucida gave them a wry grin. “There’s one answer for the both of you; it looks like we have to get ourselves jobs. Any suggestions?”

Nothing but stunned silence answered her.

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

Oops! Well that spoiled a near-perfect operation. Now they're stuck with no really good option. Those eggs had better be worth it!

Now what do you suppose they'll do for ten months? And what will they learn from Chrysalis' agent? Find out in the next chapter - "School Days".

Art by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf

   
Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...