You Only Live Twice

by JohnPerry

Chapter 3: Back in the Saddle

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Melody Maker sat at her desk, scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment before putting down her quill and staring down at what she had written. After a moment she sighed, crumpled up the paper and tossed it into a bin behind her. The unicorn mare closed her eyes and rubbed her temples with her forehooves before opening one of the desk drawers and levitating out a bottle of hard cider and a small glass.

She took a long drink of the cider before leaning back in her seat and looking around her spacious, well-appointed office. It was furnished in the classic Canterlot style, with marble checkered floors, high ceilings, walls painted in purple overtones and tall windows that lent the room a light, airy atmosphere. But here and there were touches that reminded the mare of her hometown of Trottingham: a crystal chandelier, plush leather couches, chests and desks carved from the finest wood, portraits on the walls and a large woven rug in the middle of the floor.

Melody Maker swiveled around in her seat, gazing absentmindedly at the tall stained glass window before her. It sat in the middle of the wall, adorned with the Canterlot coat of arms. She stared out at the gleaming towers of the city and a glistening pool of water below that was surrounded by a tranquil garden, all filtered through the colored panes of glass. Her eyes became unfocused and she began staring at her faint reflection; she took particular note of her graying mane and the growing number of wrinkles around her eyes.

A sudden crackle of static snapped her out of her thoughts. “Ms. Maker?” said the voice of her secretary through the intercom on her desk.

Melody Maker placed the glass on her desk, then cleared her throat before pressing a small button next to the intercom. “Yes, Ms. Gofer?”

“Agent Octavia and Ms. Scratch are here to see you,” the secretary answered back. “We’ve already verified that they aren’t imposters.”

“Finally some good news,” Melody grumbled under her breath. “Send them in.” She removed her hoof from the intercom button and downed the rest of her cider in one gulp, bracing herself for what was to come. It had been a long time since she had seen either Octavia or Vinyl in the flesh. Normally, the agency preferred to keep its distance from its agents, in part to maintain plausible deniability but also to avoid raising the suspicions that would be caused by a bunch of undercover, supposedly normal ponies frequently visiting a government office. However, these times were proving to be anything but normal. She put the bottle and glass back in the drawer and closed it just as her office door opened.

“Ms. Maker,” said an authoritative voice from behind the door. Melody looked up to see Octavia striding confidently into the office. She was followed by Vinyl Scratch, who looked as relaxed as ever behind her signature shades. The DJ’s movements had that eraticism of barely contained energy and an unbridled excitement, while the cellist moved in carefully coordinated, calmly dignified strides. Melody found herself envying their youth before her mind turned to more urgent matters.

“Vinyl, it is good to see you alive and well. Namely alive,” she added.

“Aw, you always know just what to say, Double-M,” Vinyl chortled as she sat down across from Melody. Octavia hissed and poked her friend in the side, but Melody’s face remained expressionless.

“I only let employees of the agency call me by any nicknames, Vinyl,” the elder mare said sternly. She wasn’t looking up at Vinyl as she spoke, instead occupying herself with some papers on her desk.

“Oh.” Vinyl paused for a beat. “Sorry, Ms-”

“Fortunately for you,” Melody added, her tone lightening, “I’m reinstating your agency privileges. Welcome back, Agent Scratch.”

Vinyl’s mouth hung open for a moment and even Octavia raised an eyebrow at this news. After an awkwardly long pause, the DJ finally got her mouth to start working again. “Uh...I’m...not sure what to say...”

“Usually ponies start with some variation of ‘thank you,’ if that helps,” Melody answered briskly, never once glancing up from her papers.

“Uh...look, I appreciate the offer, but—”

“This isn’t an offer, Agent Scratch,” Melody interrupted, now looking up at Vinyl again. “This is a command. I need every pony I can get working on this. The entire agency could be in danger. For that matter, the safety of Equestria could be at stake,” she uttered with a stern finality.

“Hmph. I knew you’d guilt me with that ‘do it for Equestria’ stuff,” Vinyl grumbled, leaning back in her chair and crossing her forehooves. “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.”

“Glad to have you back, Agent Scratch,” Melody said airily, looking down at her papers again and using her magic to grab a quill and scribble something on a form. “Now go check in with the quartermaster, he’ll want to bring you up to speed.”

“Yes, boss lady,” Vinyl said, giving Melody a mock salute. The elder mare merely glared at the DJ as she sauntered out of the room. Once Vinyl closed the door behind her, Melody’s attention turned back to what she was writing.

“Agent Octavia, status report,” the elder mare demanded.

“Yes, Ms. Maker,” Octavia promptly answered. “I’m afraid the situation is much more dangerous than we had originally thought.”

“You have new information, Agent Octavia?”

“Yes. The changelings have somepony leading them. Con Mane is behind this.”

Melody’s quill slipped within her magical grip. She remained completely still, taking a moment to process what Octavia had just said. An icy silence fell between the two ponies.

“Agent Octavia,” the elder mare began, choosing her words carefully, “I was under the distinct impression that Con Mane was dead. By your hooves,” she added, her tone becoming very cold. The cellist swallowed hard before answering.

“I...was clearly mistaken,” she muttered, hanging her head shamefully.

“Are you sure it’s Mane? For all we know, it could just be a ploy on part of the changelings.”

“No, Ma’am. He knew details of our fight that only he would know. It has to be him.”

“You’re absolutely certain?” Melody asked urgently.


There was a long silence. Melody stared down at her desk, not moving an inch. Octavia sat nervously in her chair, watching her boss with a feeling of dread and anticipation. The only sound in the room was the soft ticks of a clock on the wall.

“Thank you, Agent Octavia,” Melody said abruptly. “You may go.”

Octavia quickly stood up and nodded at the elder mare before turning around and trotting out of the room. Melody resumed writing, her quill making scratching sounds of the parchment before her. The moment the cellist left the room and quietly shut the door behind her, Melody stopped writing. She sat there, staring into space for a few seconds before burying her face in her forehooves.

“You know, changing your password every six months doesn’t really make you that much safer,” Vinyl grumbled. “It just increases the chances that you’ll forget your password.”

“Well, that’s the procedure now, Agent Scratch,” the quartermaster, a elderly stallion by the name of Quite, said curtly. “Now pay attention, this is important.” He led her through a large, sterile room that served as the agency’s laboratory. The room was lined with various gadgets and weaponry mounted on the walls, as well as a couple of carriages and larger items covered with black cloths taking up much of the floor space. It was one of these covered items that Quite was currently approaching.

“I think you’ll enjoy this,” Quite said, placing a hoof on the cloth and pulling it off to reveal a gleaming cannon-like device with what appeared to be a large speaker on one end, a chrome finish and handles for holding it in one’s hoof. Vinyl’s jaw dropped as she gazed upon it and she lifted a hoof to remove her goggles from her face.

“Is that...?” the DJ asked, her tone breathless.

“Quite,” Quite answered, smiling. “We improved on your original design. It’s not quite as powerful as you originally envisioned, but the blast is nothing to sneeze at. Additionally, it utilizes a sonic disruption spell which will provide quite the annoyance to any pony you hit it with.”

“Can...can I try it?” the DJ asked tentatively.

“But of course,” Quite answered, pressing a button on the wall, which caused a wall on the opposite side of the room to slide away, revealing a glass window painted with a bullseye on the front. Vinyl trotted deliberately towards the weapon, taking a deep breath before wrapping a hoof around the handle and picking it up. It was lighter than she had expected, but still felt durable. She sat on her haunches, raising the device with one forehoof while wrapping the other around the base of the weapon to steady it as she aimed at the target.

Vinyl inhaled deeply before activating her magic, feeling it flow through her and into the device. A glow of blue light, matching that of her normal magic, appeared in the center of the weapon, increasing in brightness and intensity. The device began emitting a high pitched whine as the glow within the machine coalesced into a ball of energy that continued to intensify. Finally, Vinyl willed the device to fire and a blast of solid noise shot out of the speaker and hit the target square on. It took less than second for the window to be reduced to nothing more than a million glittering shards.

“It’s...glorious,” Vinyl breathed, practically salivating at the sight of what her device had caused.

“Vinyl?” The voice of Octavia announced her entrance into the room. “Ah, there you are. I was wondering where you were. ...Wait, what is that?” she asked, finally spotting the shining weapon that her friend was clutching in her hooves.

Vinyl didn’t speak for a few seconds, clearly savoring what she was about to say. “Oh, nothing...it’s just MY BASS CANNON!” she squealed in an unusually high voice, wrapping her hooves around the weapon and hugging it tightly to her chest. Her eyes were closed and she had a smile stretching across her face; indeed, she was practically shaking with excitement. Octavia wouldn’t have been surprised if her friend began weeping from sheer joy.

“Well, she seems happy,” the cellist commented to the quartermaster.


“You know what? I don’t care about Con Mane, some dumb changelings, any silly threat to Equestria or having to put my skyrocketing music career on hold,” Vinyl said, rubbing a hoof lovingly over the bass cannon. “This...this makes it all worth it.”

“Are you...caressing that machine, Vinyl?” Octavia asked incredulously, but her friend didn’t seem to have heard her.

“I’m gonna call you Wubsy,” the DJ whispered softly in the general vicinity of where the cannon’s ear would be if it had ears. “Mommy loves you, yes she does...”

Octavia exchanged a nervous glance with Quite. “What have you done?” she muttered under her breath.

Quite cleared his throat, looking slightly uncomfortable. “If we’re quite finished, we have the matter of your accommodations to take care of. Word from command is you two are in particular danger from this threat, so we can’t have you returning to your homes; far too risky. Instead, we’re putting you two into an apartment nearby that will be kept under guard.”

“Under guard? By whom?” Octavia inquired.

“That will revealed in due time,” the stallion answered. “But you have my personal assurance that the apartment is in fine condition, in a convenient location, and with enough space to comfortably fit both of you.”

“That’s...wait, both of us?” Octavia asked, her eyes widening in alarm. “As in...living together?”

“Yes, you’d be sharing,” Quite replied simply.

Never!” Vinyl yelled, startling the other two ponies. The DJ was clutching the bass cannon tight to her chest. “Wubsy is mine! Besides, Octavia wouldn’t even know how to use him!”

“No, Vinyl, apparently we are to share...an apartment,” the cellist corrected her friend, hardly believing the words coming out of her mouth. She had known Vinyl for a long time, but the thought of living with her sent terrifying memories of a litter-strewn apartment flashing through her mind.

“Oh.” Vinyl relaxed and laughed in relief. “That’s good, I thought...” She trailed off and her expression changed as the meaning of what Octavia had just said sunk in. “Wait, what?”

Octavia glanced up at the apartment building standing before them. It was indeed in a convenient location; it sat on the edge of the Royal City, the central district of government buildings and parks that were oriented around the Royal Palace. What’s more, it was on the edge of the Royal City closest to the wealthiest neighborhood in Canterlot, where every street was lined with trendy boutiques, art galleries, sidewalk cafes and fancy restaurants. Only the richest ponies in all of Equestria could hope to afford a place here, and the building matched the neighborhood’s profile. It had white washed walls, balconies overlooking the street and what seemed to be a rooftop garden. It was the kind of place Octavia had only dreamed of living in.

“This looks like the kind of place that would have a noise ordinance,” Vinyl commented wryly.

“Actually, the neighborhood has seventeen noise ordinances,” Quite answered matter-of-factly.

Grrreat,” Vinyl muttered darkly. “I don’t suppose we could trade off for a different apartment? Maybe in a more relaxed neighborhood?”

Vinyl!” Octavia hissed. “I am not going to live in some pigsty of an apartment just because you want to blast your speakers at night!”

“How am I supposed to get any work on my music done?” Vinyl cried. “I need to feel the bass!”

“How can you think about music at a time like this?” the grey mare asked incredulously.

“How can you not think about music at a time like this?” the DJ shot back.

“Ladies, please,” Quite implored, stepping between the two mares. “I believe a public disagreement would be in violation of one of those noise ordinances we just discussed.”

“Really? Then how about this?” Vinyl took a deep breath and cupped her forehooves around her mouth. “THANKS FOR NOTHING, BOSS LADY!!!” she bellowed in the general vicinity of the agency headquarters. Several ponies on the street jumped in alarm from the noise.

Octavia merely frowned at the white mare for a few seconds. “Are you just angry because we made you leave the bass cannon at HQ?”

Vinyl was silent for a moment, glaring angrily at the ground. “I just wanted to play with Wubsy...” she muttered under her breath.

“You’ll have plenty of time to do that later,” the cellist chided. “Now stop being immature and come inside.”

“Yes, mom,” Vinyl answered in a mocking tone, reluctantly following the grey mare inside. Quite trotted along in their wake.

The three ponies entered the lobby of the apartment building. The interior was light and airy, with marble floors, high windows and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. On one side was the desk of the doormare, who greeted them as they walked in. On the other side of the room was a set of couches arranged around a fireplace so clean it seemed unlikely it had ever been used. Sitting in one of those couches was a young stallion with a charcoal grey coat wearing a black bowtie and a bowler hat and reading a newspaper. Upon his flank was the cutie mark of an illuminated lightbulb, which stood out in bright contrast to his otherwise dull colors. At the sight of the newcomers he stood up and trotted towards them.

“Doctor Watt Sun, I presume?” Quite inquired.

The stranger nodded, reaching out a hoof to shake Quite’s. “Yes. Quiet, was it?”

“Quite,” the stallion corrected.

“Heh, that’s good. Normally I’m terrible with names,” Watt said with a chuckle. Before Quite could correct him any further, the stallion turned towards the two mares. “And I assume you are Octavia and Scratch?”

“Yes. And you are?” Octavia replied.

“Doctor Watt Sun, engineer and high-ranking member of the Pinkieton Detective Agency, at your service,” he answered, bowing slightly and removing his hat as a show of respect.

“A Pinkieton?” Vinyl asked skeptically.

“Quite,” the quartermaster said. “With every member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in danger and their identities known to our enemies, Princess Celestia requested the aid of the Pinkieton Detective Agency for our protection.”

“If Princess Celestia wanted to give us protection, why not give us the Royal Guards?” Vinyl inquired.

“Please,” Watt scoffed. “The idea is to keep you undercover. A bunch of Royal Guards would draw a lot of attention, wouldn’t you think?”

“Well then, forgive me if I don’t place my full trust in you,” Octavia said coldly to Watt. “We had some...issues with one of your agents.”

“Ah, you’re talking about Golden Harvest, right?” the stallion asked knowingly. “I assure you, she was taken care of. Nopony breaks a Pinkie Promise and gets away with it.”

“So the Pinkie Promise is a real thing?” Vinyl inquired. “I thought that was just some urban legend.”

“Oh no, it’s real. We take very dearly to the ideals of our founder.” Watt Sun placed the bowler hat back on his head. “Now, shall I lead you to your room?” With that, he turned and began trotting up the main stairs, followed closely by the other three ponies.

They proceeded up to the fourth floor of the building before turning down a hallway and walking past several doors until they reached one labeled ‘404.’ Watt rapped a hoof against the door and after a second it opened to reveal a young mare standing inside the apartment. She seemed to be similarly aged to Watt, with a chestnut brown coat and a cutie mark of a magnifying glass.

The two stared at each other for a moment, seemingly sizing the other up, before both simultaneously traced a hoof across their mouth, pawed at the floor with their forehooves, made a motion as if dropping something, pushed their forehooves along the floor, then traced a shape in the air with their hooves before placing one hoof on their chest and pointing the other to the side. Satisfied, they both stood back up, apparently oblivious to the odd looks the three agents were giving them.

“It’s alright, she’s not a changeling,” Watt said as if this explained everything. “This is my colleague Sharp Eye. She’ll be your other bodyguard, so you’ll be seeing plenty of us both.” Sharp Eye nodded to the two agents as she stepped back to let everypony into the room.

The apartment was expertly furnished, with a spacious layout and plenty of comfortable chairs and couches and a large window that let in lots of sunlight. The balcony had a few potted plants and offered an excellent view of the street below. One corner of the room was devoted to a cozy kitchen that was already well-stocked, separated from the living room by a bar.

“Now, there’s five floors in this building, three below and one above. You’re in the most defensible one,” Sharp Eye said as she began running through a mental checklist of defense measures. “Nopony can see you from the street unless you stick your head over the balcony, and the balcony overhead should provide some cover from anything that flies. One of us will be monitoring you at all times from the building across the street,” she explained, pointing a hoof out the window at another apartment building facing theirs. “Both of your bedrooms have a window, so each room has been arranged so that the bed isn’t within sight of anywhere outside the window, in case of a sniper attack. The walls have been muffled, but loud noises will still carry into the apartments next door, so be careful about any loud conversations.”

Octavia raised her eyebrows, looking mildly impressed. “Well, it looks like you thought of everything.”

Sharp Eye smiled at the compliment as Quite approached them. “Well, we shall leave you to it, then,” the quartermaster said before turning to the two Pinkietons. “Gentlecolt, filly, you may take your rounds.” Both nodded and promptly trotted out of the room, followed by Quite. He turned around and glanced back at the two agents. “Ladies,” he said with a bow before stepping out of the room and closing the door behind him, leaving Octavia and Vinyl alone in the room.

The two mares glanced at each other. “Right,” Octavia began. “Let’s set some ground rules.”

“Oh, here we go.” Vinyl smirked and rolled her eyes.

Firstly, you are to always clean up after yourself. Wash your dishes after you use them and pick up anything you leave behind. If you want to make a mess, you can do it in your own room. Secondly, anytime one of us leaves, we are to tell the other where we are going.”

“Fine,” Vinyl replied with a shrug.

“And no loud music. Use earphones at all times.”

“Now that is crossing the line!” the DJ cried. “That’s like me telling you you can’t play your cello!”

“Excuse me, my cello doesn’t create nearly as much noise as your tastes in music!” Octavia said indignantly.

“It’s about the principle of the thing,” Vinyl grumbled.

The grey mare relented. “Fine, you can play your music, but just keep it down.”

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The two mares glanced at each other before Vinyl, who was closest, shrugged and trotted over to the door. She opened it to reveal a elderly, orange-coated mare with a white mane, manicured hooves, a shining necklace and a considerable amount of makeup on her face. “Hello!” she said cheerfully. “I thought I heard voices coming from in here! I’m from next door, just thought I’d say hello! Oh, my name’s Amber, by the way.”

“Hi there,” Vinyl answered. She was slightly taken aback by how friendly this mare was. Ponies who were wealthy enough to live in a place like this were usually too snobish to even bother speaking to her. “Name’s Vinyl, nice to meet you. Oh, and this is Octavia,” she added, jerking her head back towards the grey mare.

“Charmed,” the cellist said, bowing gracefully.

“Oh my, aren’t you polite?” Amber replied, laughing lightly. “Judging from your cutie marks, I’d say you’re both musicians! Are you two in a band together?”

“Oh no, we don’t play together, but we’ve known each other for a long time,” Octavia answered.

“Oh, I see...” Amber said with a glint in her eye. “Well, let me just say that you two are an adorable couple!”

“...What?” both musicians answered simultaneously, looking dumbfounded.

“Well, don’t let an old mare like me keep you then!” Amber chortled, already walking away. “If ever you need anything, I’m right down the hall! Ta-ta!” She waved farewell before stepping into her own apartment.

Vinyl and Octavia remained silent even after she left. After a moment, they glanced at each other.

“...Did that really just happen?” Vinyl asked.


“Joy,” the DJ grumbled, returning inside as Octavia shut the door.

“You know, this could be to our advantage,” the cellist said thoughtfully. “Posing as a married couple could alleviate a lot of suspicions—”

“If you ask me to take you out on a date, I’m bucking you across town,” Vinyl growled threateningly.

“Perish the thought,” Octavia muttered, rolling her eyes.

Next Chapter: Mare of a Thousand Faces Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 48 Minutes
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