by That 1 Guy

Chapter 3: Research & Development

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Another day, another round of classes for which Clockwork had already completed the assignments. The school year was down to just a few weeks. Nothing of particular interest had occured, sans the occasional border skirmish that filled the papers (Bear Shot by Unknown Sniper! Family Seeks Justice!) or important essays (The History of griffon-pegasi Relations and Donkeys in Early Equestria, to name a select few.). Clockwork took it all in stride, as he had done for the past four years. Sure, he wasn't the best at every subject he took (he still regretted taking Biology), but he kept his grades up. That went thrice for Charger, who raised her hoof to answer every question regardless of the topic. She seemed a bit more straightforward in her speech recently, clipping her sentences and paying attention to every military speaker who came to their school. Clockwork was worried that this wasn't just a relapse of the whole "hero" phase.

When the pegasus was worried, he would always sketch. He couldn't draw to save his life, but he always succeeded in creating understandable blueprints on a paper where notes should've been. Recently, he had been trying to draw the peculiar engine his mind had - quite literally- dreamt up.

He hadn't even begun the inner workings of the machine, and it had already become the strangest thing he had ever thought of. Gems dotted its surface in an almost random pattern, a few vents here and there allowed for excess heat within the machine to escape. Yet, those vents fed back into the machine to give it an extra boost of energy. Was this thing self-sustained? Was it plausible? How big would it have to be to-

Clockwork slammed his pencil into his desk and looked straight ahead. His attention hadn't been grabbed by a harsh shout from his History teacher, but from a simple announcement made by said mare.

Clockwork waited for the usual "this wasn't on the school calendar" comment that Charger would always make during unexpected educational occurrences, but it was then that he remembered that the mare of his dreams was absent. This was the third time this month. That was bad. There were only so many places she would be, and almost none of them were good.

Clockwork's attention was brought back to the front of the room as a new voice addressed the crowd. Said announcer wasn't some "dumb grunt" like the last few that had come by, shifty eyed and resembling dazed drones. He was much less gruff in appearance, his eyes shining with a mixture of loyalty and intellect.

Clockwork tilted his head as the stallion explained that he was from the “Research and Development” branch of the Equestrian Military. The what?

“It’s a team of highly trained individuals selected specifically for their intellect and prowess in various fields,” the stallion explained, seeing the confusion in the face of many of his attendees, “I’m from pollution control and eradication.”

A rock settled in Clockwork’s stomach as he was once again reminded of why he was a cripple. He looked at his artificial wing with cold hatred. Why couldn’t someone make a decent prosthetic for once?!

Clockwork sighed as his memories floated back to the examination of his own medical records. Back during the nation's first mass mechanization, Equestria was putting out smog faster than it could contain. For a long time, nopony even knew the full risk the putrid smoke imposed on the population, despite it being an airborne mix of both magical and toxic substances. It was only after the first stillborn pony in over a decade was delivered were preventive measures taken. The pegasi did their best to contain it, but even they can only do so much. Despite Equestria’s shift of focus from industry to pollution control, dubbed the Second Revolution, thousands of foals across the kingdom were born with problems ranging from missing limbs to being so mangled that the stillborn fetus looked more like a small Lovecraftian deity than an equine. From what Clockwork had heard, recovery was beginning to wind down, but the damage has been done. If the pegasus remembered correctly, Cloudsdale now resembled an airborne Detrot, Windsoar was outright gone, and Los Pegasus had to stay over Applewood in order to avoid serious pollution. Individual cloud houses, once a piece of prime real estate, were all but nonexistent.

Clockwork was shaken from his musings of the past as he watched the R&D pony leave the classroom. Was he done that early? What did he miss? Everything?! Celestia damn him for daydreaming!

Clockwork’s thoughts were once again interrupted by the sound of the final bell of the day. It came early, as did all release bells on Wednesday. Couldn’t they have just moved early release to Friday or something?

The stallion groaned as he packed up his saddle bags and set out the door. He stopped when he caught something out of the corner of his eye. A rather pleasant looking combination of dark blue and bronze adorned a small pile of pamphlets on a desk by the entrance. He grabbed at least three of each, stuffed them into his bags, and headed down the hallway. He had some research to do.

We need you! Join today! Report for duty! so said the cheery earth pony on the flier, mane clean and teeth sparkling.

“Alright, alright, I get it!” Clockwork shouted at the voiceless recruitment posters that practically made up the wall. The Arms Race was at its height, and the pegasus could’ve sworn that there were a few new posters. His favorite ones though were two posters depicting the legendary Admiral Spitfire herself. She was a former Wonderbolt, now leader of the Loyal Fleet. It must’ve taken a ridiculous amount of courage to pose that way.

Returning back to the present, the stallion grabbed what he needed to from his locker and continued onwards. The sheer amount of patriotism present in every hallway of the school was almost sickening. Sure, patriotism was healthy, but this amount of it gave Clockwork a small headache solely from the ridiculous amounts of encouraging slogans, let alone the amount of reds, bronzes, blues, and grays. It made it seem like Equestria was populated entirely by shining examples of good old ponyfolk, despite the Buffalo, and zebras all beginning to trickle into the Equestrian mainland. The stallion stopped to rub his head with his real wing for a moment before heading out the building and through the school’s gates. He could read over the pamphlets during lunch.

Seastone was a happy hound to say the least, something rarely glimpsed in the bowels of the Consortium’s higher places of learning. Dogs twice his age in clean white lab vests looked down at him, sneering as he passed. Opposite them, younger pups, students, protégés and interns, looked on in mild wonder. After all, it was a rare sight to see a dog wearing the badge of a high gemsmith. Even the most stuck-up dog in the room let him pass by without hesitation, and he smiled as he passed former teachers of his, some even returning his faint grin with almost parental fondness, as he made his way to the main testing area.

The room was large, clean, and filled with branching chambers. Said chambers were in turn filled with their own secondary chambers, each headed by a pawful of scientists of varying fields and ranks, all prepared to deal with the issues that the Consortium faced. One hall for food production and improvement, another for boosting moral, and a dozen other hallways for even more tasks. Each was a little haven of science and advancement unique to their world and beyond.

However, the hall he was heading for was easy to spot, as it was guarded by griffons clad in armor not seen on the average winged grunt.

The two soldiers stuck out like errant rubies in the hustle and bustle in the center of advancement, their armor relics of a foregone era. Red sashes graced their sides, and going from the way their armor was ornamented, Seastone could only guess they were part of the Red Order, very high ranking members at that.

“Excuse me,” he flippantly said to one of the griffon guards. He quickly found a glaive pressed to his nose, and suppressed a yelp.

“Identify” commanded the guard. Seastone raised an eyebrow when he noticed the griffon was quite different from what he was used to, physiologically anyway. He was quite slim, yet toned as though they were expertly chiseled from marble. He seemed to be getting by on the minimal caloric intake necessary for the griffon body to perform at peak efficiency. His comrade was the same, almost like a clone sans a slight deviation in the color of head feathers and eyes.

“Seastone. Son of Greystone and secondary heir to the throne. Let me pass,” he announced somewhat bombastically, catching the attention of many of the other dogs in the hall. The glaive quickly returned to the griffon’s side, and the chimeric creature gestured him to continue into the Hall of Warfare.

Inside, it was clear that the place half-jokingly referred to as the “Griffon’s Wing” was living up to its name. Inside were more griffon guards, some less decorated than others, but it was clear that they were guarding something, rather, someone. The Red Order weren’t the average bodyguards. From what little he knew, they were bred to fight and nothing else. They had names like “Bishops” and “Templars”, and while they were an odd group of hypereligous fanatics, they were a well-armed and well trained group of hypereligous fanatics, given very special treatment under the griffon government.

Further down his own hall, Seastone found that the entity he was looking for was seated near the observation deck, consuming some sort of elegantly prepared fish for a meal. It looked much more like art rather than food, almost as if the Hall of Culinary Creation had a lovechild with the Hall of Art. It actually made the simple glass of water beside it look slightly out of place.

“The Emperor of the griffons, I presume?” Seastone asked heerfully to the large figure seated in the plush chair. Nearly twice the size of his guards, his reddish brown feathers and blinding white crest were a dead give-away to his identity. Then again, the ornate platinum mask sculpted to a dragon’s likeness that adorned his head also helped. While Seastone did not believe the rumors that he was a demigod, he could understand why they continued to circle. He looked like he was bored, something that Seastone hoped he could relieve with a combination of showmanship and destruction. It worked in theory, anyway.

The Emperor set down his glass of water and raised his huge head. His bronze hued beak, nearly untouched by the mask, was impossible to read for emotion.

“Seastone. Head of chemical weapons development and son of Greystone,” the griffon spoke low and carefully, like his words were meant to be inscribed on a stone tablet and regarded as law. From Seastone's perspective, it was entirely possible.

“Alas, at the moment I am simply chief of this lab, more specifically all developments regarding our new weapon. But let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” he said, rubbing paws together furiously in an attempt to lighten the mood. From the Emperor’s distinct lack of cheer, a twinge of fear ran up the dog's spine regarding his chances of being stabbed repeatedly in the back by the multitude of griffons that flanked him on every side. He was most worried about the Emperor though, whom he knew was fully capable of turning every dog to mulch on a whim.

Hurrying to the control panels, the diamond dog flipped a few switches, pushed a few buttons, and turned a few knobs. A few moments later, the light in the controlled experimental area burst into existence, revealing two figures in isolated containment chambers on opposing sides of the room. They were blocked off from the outside world by transparent yet bulletproof glass. Seastone knew every available piece of knowledge about the corundum infused substance. After all, he created the material when he was just a pup.

The first subject was a goat, but no goat that was native to the continent. While it was true that it had all the physical qualities associated with goats, goats did not have scaly torsos. Nor did they have several rows of sharp teeth. The live snake that replaced its tail also baffled the scientists in the Hall of Taxonomy. It was eventually identified as a rare creature from the land of Fleece, known only as a Bromophis. It was a creature that was in fact closer to dragons than any of the split-hooves linage. While such a rare specimen would normally be saved, there were more than enough of them prowling the nation’s rocky slopes, and the creature’s naturally high resistance to poison would make it an excellent test subject.

The beast snarled in the direction of the scientists and muttered something in its native language. It was unnerving to listen to, as its voice sounded like a goat’s bleat and a viper’s hiss perfectly synchronized. With little flourish and slight mortification, Seastone pressed the needed buttons, and a yellow-green gas began to flow from the wall opposite the glass.

Screaming, the monster began to ram it’s head into the corundum enforced glass with little success, and after a few moments it simply stopped and laid down on its side. Its scaly flesh was warped and slightly drooping, and little rivulets of yellow liquid were seeping through its natural armor. After making sure the Emperor had seen the beast's state, he dimmed the lights to the chamber and turned around to him. “What did you think of our first test of Battlefright, Emperor?”

Silent, the griffon continued to gaze at the darkened tank. Seastone wondered if it was true that griffon sight was as good as they said, that he could see the beast writhe in pain in the darkness.

“Brutal. Effective. Put the creature out of its misery immediately. It sought death in combat long before you made it suffer through what you just did, which makes it more worthy of camaraderie than you are at the moment,” he said before taking another sip of water. “Suffering is pointless in war should it carry on for too long. If the kill can be achieved faster, then do so. Now, explain why we are testing a gas meant for beings of flesh on a piece of vegetation.”

It wasn’t stated as a question. Seastone nodded lightly, hind paws trembling. “It is, in fact, a plant. A natural specimen of living Ironoak, carefully kept alive here, several hundred meters underground.” with the flick of a switch, the tree was revealed. A specimen carefully taken from the Everfree Forest, its growth had been accelerated far beyond the typical rate with the assistance of a cocktail of plant growth hormones and pure magic. Nevertheless, the grey-green tree, with its coppery leaves and golden roots, was a sight to behold.

Flicking another switch, a burst of gas larger than the one preceding it descended from the ceiling, bathing the tree in a heavy coat of yellow green. Seastone nearly broke out into a grin when he noticed the leaves slowly curl and the bark, as metallic as its name implied, distort and wrinkle, the roots turning a metalic blue green. By the time the gas had settled on the bottom and faded away as was designed, the tree was a ruined husk of what it was before.

Turning around, he faced the griffon, smiling earnestly. “I suppose you trust us to deliver now, Emperor?” the dog asked, his mind searching for another name to call him. As far as he knew, Emperor was his name.

“You have proven your point. The gas shall do what it is designed for. It shall be modified to make those afflicted suffer and die quickly and nothing more. Am I understood?”

While Seastone could tell that was a question, it felt more like a demand. “Clearer than the finest diamonds, Sir,” the dog bowed.

“I hereby declare that this “Battlefright” is now under the complete and total control of the Diamond Dog Consortium and no one else. However, allies must be alerted before any detonations are to occur. Use of this gas must be very limited, for we wish to conquer and colonize, not raze. We will speak again.” the Emperor stood from his makeshift throne and headed towards the door. He was flanked on either side by highly decirated guards, but Seastone had the feeling that they were there for more of a symbolic purpose than a practical one.

When the Emperor had gone, every scientist in the room let loose a breath of air none of them were aware they had been holding. Seastone sighed and took to a chair, beckoning for a rag for his brow and a glass of water.


Clockwork fell flat on his flanks as he rammed skull-first into something he couldn’t see. He had been so absorbed in those damned pamphlets that he had forgotten to look up!

“Oh jeez! Sorry!” he hastily apologized as he tried to gather the now scattered pamphlets he had been reading. “I just think I might’ve figured out something I’ve been having trouble with for a while now and when that happens I get so absorbed in it that I just-”

“I know how yer thought processes work, Clocky, but this is crazy. . . ” a familiar voice cut of Clockwork’s own, sounding almost upset.

The pegasus’ now wide eyes met with his friend’s. “Moppet? What’re you doing here? You rarely come this far out of the Industrial District!”

A smug grin adorned Moppet’s face, followed soon after by rolling eyes. “Thank ye, genius. What I don’t know is why yer readin’ ‘bout the. . . Research an’ Development branch of Equestria’s Navy! I thought you were better than this!” he said, frowning as he spotted one of the little papers on the ground.

Clockwork finished organizing said papers and stood up, helping his smaller friend to his hooves with his wing. “Like I said, I think I’ve figured out what I’m going to do with my future.”

“Military?” the young mule asked with a noticable amount of dread. “Ye sure yer not just doin’ this for the yellow lass?”

Clockwork’s cheeks began to redden, again. “Erm. . . this isn’t a discussion we can have in the middle of the city. Wanna grab a bite to eat?”

Moppet shrugged, his face was still dark. “Sure. ‘Tis been awhile since I’ve had a professionally cooked meal.”

The duo set out to find a decent restaurant, and the search seemed almost pointless until Clockwork noticed a familiar color out of the corner of his eye. Squinting, the pegasus looked towards said color and almost yelped in delight when he realized he was looking at his other best friend. Both equines silently agreed on their destination and hastily approached. Charger would want to hear about this as well.

In no time at all, the duo had entered the restaurant and seated themselves opposite the yellow earth pony. Only after she had finished reading through a small stack of papers did she look up. She had small yet noticeable bags under her eyes, and her mane was a bit more bedraggled than normal.

“Clockwork, Moppet. Good to see you two.” she nodded before turning back to her stack of papers.

Moppet tilted his head, concern furrowing his brow. “Ye alright, lass? Ye seem a bit. . . off.”

The mare shrugged after pulling a rather thick, almost book-like object out from the stack. “I’ve been busy.”

“Define busy,” Clockwork replied.

Charger set down her papers and looked her friend square in the eye. “I believe I’ve finally determined the appropriate strategy for my future.”

Clockwork and Moppet shared a look of concern.

“An’ that would be. . . ?” Moppet waved his hoof in circles, urging Charger to explain.

The yellow mare shifted focus from Clockwork to the mule. “I’ve decided that my skills best prepare me for a job in engineering. Since my father and I are not the most connected of family members, I have decided that I will go into the Navy.”

“How does that have anything to do with engineering?” Clockwork asked, taking a bite of his daisy sandwich. Moppet, to his surprise, snickered.

“I intend to become a Commanding Officer, perhaps a Lieutenant or higher rank. After my required service time is up, I will use my allotted salary to pay for my college years,” she spoke as if her words were set in stone.

“Couldn’t you just get a scholarship?” Clockwork all but pleaded.

Charger flipped through a few more of her papers. “It’s two weeks until the end of senior year. Ergo, it is far too late for either of us to seek out scholarship opportunities if we haven’t already acquired them. Furthermore, my time in the military will help to enhance what skills I already have. Leadership, endurance, discipline, efficiency-”

Moppet groaned. “Alright, we get it, lass. So ye want to be in the Navy. Ye sure ‘bout that? You know what they say ‘bout the Navy.”

“Why would you question my judgment?” she tilted her head slightly at the mule's words.

“Well, Clocky’s got the idea in his head to join the Navy too. I thought it was just the propaganda finally gettin’ to- OI!” The mule yelped in surprise as Charger snatched the few papers he had in his hooves away from him as well as those under his friend’s. Charger immediately scanned the pamphlets with a trained eye, not looking up for several moments.

“Research and Development Branch. Seems appropriate, given your special talent for machinery.” Charger looked up at the pegasus opposite her. “Though, you’d still have to go through basic training with. . . Clockwork, are you joining just so you can stay with me for ten more weeks?”

The pegasus smacked his hooves onto the table, cracking the wood. “No! I mean, not exactly. I mean, sure, we'd be able to stick together a bit longer, but there’s more to it than that!”

The earth pony raised an eyebrow. “Elaborate.”

“From what I’ve gleaned from these things, Research and Development is the military equivalent of any experimental technology development firm out somewhere else in Equestria. With R and D though, I’d be able to tinker with some of the newest, most advanced machinery Equestria has! Not only that, but the pay seems good and-”

“It’s not just about tinkering, Clockwork. You’ll be working with tools of war, and ponies’ lives will hang on whether or not you’ve successfully managed to detect any flaws that could have an impact on the machine’s user. I understand that you don’t want to fight a war, but this is just a different way of fighting it.”

“There is no war though!” the pegasus shouted. “Sure, I’m scared of what’s happening on the border right now, but skirmishes don’t escalate into full blown wars overnight. Look, I’m no soldier, but I want to help the kingdom and I’ve apparently got the brains to back me up. Besides, it’s not like I could fight anyway, I am a cripple after all!” he flared out his single wing to full breadth, covering Moppet in a patch of shade. Clockwork could tell by the startled looks on the other patrons’ faces that the sight of a pony with a missing limb was still a disturbing image. Without thinking, he folded the appendage back into his side.

It took Charger took a full 5 seconds to come up with her reply, but she didn’t seem too upset at his outburst. “I was not trying to dissuade you, only trying to provide you with the necessary facts. Much of those pamphlets’ content is propaganda anyway.” the mare stood, placed several bits on the table and turned to leave. “I suggest you do some real digging before you cement your decision. It could save your life.”

Before Charger could get too far, Clockwork scooped up the change and tossed it towards his friend, who immediately spun and caught it all in one gloved hoof. She was about to question Clockwork’s actions when she found him placing his own bits on the table, plus a bit extra to repair the crack in the wood. The corners of her mouth upturned slightly, and with that, she was gone.

Moppet whistled. “I can see why ye like that lass. Smart, good reflexes, nice figure all around, now if only she-”

Clockwork batted the mule with his wing. “I thought you said you knew next to nothing about mares?.”

Moppet shrugged, a wry smile present on his muzzle. “Doesn’t mean I don’t know a pretty gal when I see one. She does have a good head on her, but I can’t say I agree with what she’s doin'.” he paused, looking at Clockwork with a light frown, only for it to invert itself. “Anyway, I didn’t get to tell her my Navy joke.”

Clockwork tilted his head to the side. “What joke?”

Moppet raised a hoof and gestured across the restaurant. It was only now that Clockwork realized the mule’s point; nearly all of the couples sitting at the tables were of the same gender.

“Well, if you spend too much time in the Navy, you might go straight. The horror, the horror!” the mule answered with heavy sarcasm.

Clockwork grinned, knowing full well that his friend was making a joke at his expense. The two left the restaurant with haste. The sun was still high in the sky, but the duo had more than a bit of searching to do.

Clockwork groaned, slamming his head into his desk as he did. They had been to Golden Oaks, the single largest library in the entire city, and had found nothing! Not one single book with information regarding the Research and Development Branch! The best they had found was only about half a page’s worth of information in The Compendium of Military Knowledge: Volume 3! Was he really just-

“Found it!” Moppet cried out.

Clockwork jumped at least 5 feet into the air and darted over to where his friend stood. He held a small book in the air, which was promptly snatched away and looked over.

Officially Declassified: R&D

“How they hay did you find this thing so fast? My house’s library is like 3 rooms tall and wide!

The mule shrugged. “Just my thin’ I guess. There’s a section on numbers in the back, too.”

Clockwork groaned. “Well, anyway, let’s see what we’ve got.” he set the book down on a nearby table and began scanning through it like his life depended on it. In a way, it kind of did.

“Ah-ha! Historical summary! Let’s see here. . . "

Created just after the acquisition of firearms from the Griffon Empire circa 988 R.C., the Research and Development Branch (often abbreviated as R&D) acts as the Equestrian Armed Forces’ technological development center. Everything from weapons to generators to pollution con-

Clockwork tore out a small piece of the page and flicked it aside. After a few deep breaths, he continued reading.

Unlike other branches of the Navy, R&D focuses on the development of new beneficial technologies of every category, rather than a single type of warfare or specialized troops. However, this does not mean that members of R&D are inferior to other soldiers. Basic training at any military training camp is required to join R&D. As special training for the appropriate field varies, training for operation within R&D is an additional 4 weeks. There are no special training courses. The specialists come to R&D, not the other way around.

As with all military occupations, there is a 1 year minimum service requirement before discharge is permitted.

“Well then. . . ” Clockwork trailed off, flipping through the rest of the pages in seconds. He’d read the rest later. For now, he had gotten the information he needed. His curious smile turned to a frown in record time, and Moppet took notice.

“Somethin’ the matter, Lad? As much as I hate to admit it, ye’ve got the info ye wanted.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I like what I’m reading. Mom and Dad aren't gonna like me wanting to join, even if it’s with a branch that doesn’t focus on combat.”

“‘Tis what ye really want, though?”

The pegasus nodded. While his frown was still noticeable, a determined fire burned in his eyes. “I’ve thought it over a few times now. The pros definitely outweigh the cons. I may not enjoy parts of training, but progress has never been made without some suffering.”

“That’s the pegasus I know.” Moppet patted his friend on the shoulder, a thin line that could pass for a smile across his muzzle. “Tell ye what. I’ll stick with ye when ye break the news to yer parents. But, ye have to make me one promise.”

“Name it.”

“Ye’ll come back alive in the end.” the mule’s voice took on a tone highly uncharacteristic of him; somber.

“I promise.” Clockwork nodded.

Unfortunately, Gearbox and Quick Fix’s first response to Clockwork’s desired career was not received as positively. When given the news, they exclaimed a single word in perfect unison.


Author's Notes:

My apolgies for the possibly sloppy structure of this chapter. If you find anything out of whack, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Next Chapter: Exams & Promises Estimated time remaining: 12 Hours, 44 Minutes
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