Twilight bounded up the ramp at the edge of Ponyville Crater, her metal foreleg clattering on the boards. "It's too soon!" she mumbled to herself as she galloped. "It's too soon! We're not ready!" It was at times like these that she wished she had wings and could fly. She chuckled briefly as she ran. Twilight Sparkle as an alicorn, could you imagine it? No, only princesses could be alicorns, and she was in no hurry to marry a prince or get adopted by royalty.
Royalty. . . . she turned to Spike, who was jogging along beside her, struggling to keep up. "Get a message to Celestia," she said. "Tell her we've got visitors from space. We have to assume the Borg have come back. She's got to get the word out as fast as she can, and prepare Canterlot's defenses. I'm headed to HMS Rescue to confirm the signal."
Spike was too panic-stricken to speak, but quickly composed himself and took out a writing scroll. He couldn't keep up with Twilight and write at the same time, and fell back. Twilight galloped ahead. If anyone could get a message to the Princess in a hurry, Spike could.
It wasn't far from Ponyville Crater to where HMS Rescue had been parked, but the one-time spaceship was still closer to Canterlot than to Ponyville. Twilight finally arrived, panting from all the galloping, and clanked aboard. "Applejack!" she shouted as she rounded the corner to to the bridge, "What's the status?"
"The warp signature's still comin' right for us," Applejack answered with her usual country twang. "Looks like it's chuggin' right along at warp six."
Twilight did a quick mental conversion. "That's 392 times the speed of light."
"Uh, if you say so," Applejack said. "The instruments here say that at this rate, it'll be right on top of us in less than an hour."
Twilight's heart leapt into her throat. "That's not enough time to mobilize! Our only spacecraft is the one we're sitting in right now, and it'd take hours to get it spaceworthy again!"
Applejack looked grim. "We couldn't take on the Borg in this big ol' empty space boat, even if we could get it off the ground."
Twilight put a hoof to the Borg receiver implant on the side of her head, hoping to hear it more clearly. With a Borg cube back in their star system, the chatter from the collective would be splattered all over subspace. She might be able to tune in and pick up a hint as to what they were . . .
She frowned. "That's odd. I'm not getting any signals from the collective at all. The last time they were this close, I was still reading them loud and clear."
"Maybe they figgered out you were listenin' in," Applejack said, "And scrambled their signals or somethin'."
Twilight shook her mane. "But I'm not getting any signals at all, scrambled or otherwise. It's like the Borg aren't even there." She squinted at the displays on Applejack's console. "When we confronted the Borg cube, we took snapshots of its warp signature. Can you compare the readings you're getting right now with those records?"
"Well sure," Applejack said. She punched a few buttons and turned a few dials, and an intensity-versus-frequency plot appeared on one of the displays. Applejack looked back-and-forth between this old record and the new data flooding in. "They're both warp signatures, all right, but this new one doesn't look a thing like the old Borg cube's did. It's like it's comin' from an entirely different kind o' warp engine."
"Well I'll be." Twilight turned her attention to the viewscreen. It was zoomed in on the point in space where the the warp signature originated, but down here at the bottom of Equestria's atmosphere it only showed the light-blue of daylight. Wistfully, she peered at the center of the screen, imagining what might be there just beyond the sky. "I don't think our visitors are the Borg."
"What?!" Applejack said. "Who else in tarnation could they be?!"
Twilight replied, "The collective was always jabbering on about all the species they'd assimilated. Don't you remember?"
Applejack looked very, very uncomfortable. "I try not to think about mah time in the collective. Thankfully, most of it's a blur."
"Oh!" Twilight put a hoof to her mouth. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to . . . well, anyway, there were a few details I picked up while I was still connected, which I'd almost forgotten 'til now. Apparently there were hundreds of species that had figured out how to fly between the stars. Maybe our visitors belong to one of those species."
Twilight made a sour face. "If I'd paid more attention to that part of the Borg's database when I had the chance, I could have printed out the warp signatures used by each of those species. We could've used that as a reference right now."
"Water under the bridge, sugar cube," Applejack replied. "We'll just have to see who's a-knockin' at our door the old fashioned way."
"Are you sure they're headed straight for Equestria, and not for one of the other planets or moons?"
Applejack nodded. "Straighter'n an arrow comin' through a keyhole."
"Then they either know we're here, or are going to find our civilization as soon as they come close. So there's not much point in trying to hide from them. If we wanna find out who they are, maybe we can just ask them. Are they within subspace communication range?
Before Applejack could answer, a red light beeped for attention on her console. She gasped. "Looks like they are. They are hailing us!"
"Already?!" Twilight dove under a console on the side of the bridge and tried, vainly, to hide.
"What's the matter, Twi?" Applejack asked. "I thought you wanted to talk to 'em!"
Twilight was clearly stressed. "I was going to have Princess Celestia talk to them, when she got here! Whoever they talk to is going to be their first contact with anyone on the whole planet! It needs to be someone who represents all of Equestria!"
"Oh, c'mon, you'll do fine!" Applejack said.
Twilight screamed, "Do I look like a princess to you?!?!!"
Applejack snorted. "Fine, if you won't do it, I'll answer 'em."
That brought Twilight back down to reality. "Oh, no no no no, I'll do it! Put me through."
Applejack tapped a single button on the console. The viewscreen switched from a view of the sky to a view inside the bridge of another starship. The being in the center of the screen looked to be standing upright, just like the Borg had done, although the screen cut the view off below the torso. Other beings of similar stature populated the bridge behind it. The head and forelegs of the being in the center were the only bare parts not covered by clothing, and they had no fur, only skin. Its forehooves ended in bizarre, fleshy, dangly bits, much like the claws of a dragon only not sharp. Something about the creature struck Twilight as male, despite its alien physique, and she decided unconsciously to call it a "he."
He opened his mouth to speak. "I'm Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the Federation starship En . . ."
His voice trailed off. Twilight noticed him peering intently at her, his eyes flaring wide like he was seeing a demon. Then she realized what parts of her his eyes were pointing to. He was staring at her artificial eye and the implant on the side of her head.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard suddenly bellowed, "BORG PROTOCOL!!"
The scene in her viewscreen turned red. Klaxons blared across the audio. She heard background voices yelling "Red alert!" "Shields up!" "Randomizing shield frequencies!" "Arming photon torpedoes!" "Ready on helm!"
"No, no, wait!" Twilight tried to call out above the cacophony. "We're not the Borg!"
Captain Picard glowered at her, unable to make out her words over the din. "The Federation will not be assimilated! I've resisted you before, and you will not take us down again!"
"Captain, no! I swear! We're not the Borg!"
Picard furrowed his brow, then made a gesture to someone standing out of frame. The din quieted instantly. "What did you say?"
"I said we're not the Borg! My implants are from a failed attempt by the Borg to assimilate us a month ago."
Picard stood there with his mouth open, not moving. Then: "Stand down red alert, Number One."
The lights switched from blaring red to subdued yellow. Twilight heard a voice out of frame say, "Captain, you can't seriously believe them!"
Picard spoke to his crew member without turning away from Twilight. "The Borg have done many despicable things, but no one's ever seen them engage in trickery." He addressed Twilight firmly. "We came to your star system because we detected a non-dilithium warp signature. It's the kind of signal we usually see when a species first discovers warp travel. No species at such an early level of development has ever resisted assimilation by the Borg." He leaned a little closer to the viewscreen. "How. Did. You. Do it?"
Twilight shrugged. "Unicorn magic."
Picard rolled his eyes. "No. Seriously, how did you do it?"
Twilight looked puzzled. "Unicorn magic, like I said."
"And I suppose you built your subspace transceiver with pixie dust and fairy wishes?" Picard asked wryly.
"Oh, no," Twilight shook her head, "Pixie dust is way too unstable for that."
Picard took a breath to speak, but before he could, a dark-haired feminine biped behind him said, "Captain, I sense that she's telling the truth. Or at least she thinks she is."
Picard frowned, then looked offscreen. "Number One, is the Universal Translator glitching out on us?"
A voice from offscreen replied, "No sir, language substitution accuracy's reading 99.8%, well within nominal."
Picard seemed to be thinking about this. Hard. Then: "Unicorn magic. And pixie dust. These things are real on your world?"
Picard went on, "And unicorn magic can resist the Borg?"
"Well, yeah," Twilight replied. "It's chaotic. The Borg can't adapt to it. When they tried to assimilate me, my horn teleported me out of their ship." She grinned slyly, and tapped the module on the side of her head. "But not before they installed the comm circuitry that let me listen in on the collective. My horn also burned out circuit 121840, so I could tap into their database without being under their control. It it took me nearly a week to figure out that was what had happened, but in the meantime I could still use their own knowledge against them."
A half-dozen emotions played across Picard's face as she said these things. Then, slowly, he relpied, "I've . . . been in the collective too." His jaw clenched. "With circuit 121840 fully in play. Many of the crew you see around me tried to break me out of it, but they couldn't destroy circuit 121840 without killing me in the process. And they only got the opportunity to try after I had . . ."
Twilight's natural eye widened. Apparently his earlier claim of having "resisted" the Borg before was more . . . complicated than he was letting on.
Picard shook himself back to the present. "This unicorn magic of yours. Can it be used by other species?"
"No," Twilight answered. "Not unless you were born with a unicorn horn."
Picard looked disappointed. "Ah well. We should be in close orbit about your world within the hour. We need to discuss the situation with you. Your situation, and our situation. As this will represent your first official contact with the United Federation of Planets, we would like to meet with a few of your world's representatives, if that's possible."
"Um . . . sure!" Twilight said nervously. "I'm sure Princess Celestia could take time out of her schedule for you." She thought about this a bit; best not to over-promise. "And if not her, then maybe Princess Cadance or Princess Luna can talk."
Picard raised his eyebrows. "I . . . look forward to meeting one of your . . . princesses. I know very little about your government, though — is there a reigning king or queen?"
"Weeeeellllll . . ." Twilight said, "Princess Celestia is really more like a queen than a princess. But we call her Princess anyway. Some ancient taboo about evil queens and poisoning the well, I don't really understand it as well as I should."
"Ah," Picard said. An edge of impatience was beginning to show in his voice. "Princess it is, then. Picard out."
With a quick chime, the viewscreen went blank, and reverted to showing the blue sky of Equestria.
Twilight looked at Applejack. "Looks like we're gonna have visitors. I'd better get this news to Princess Celestia — the sooner, the better."