Seated at her makeshift drafting station in Canterlot's library, Twilight put the finishing touches on the twentieth page and then threw her quill down, her jaw muscles completely exhausted. With no fingers, her only options for writing things down were to use her magic horn to move the quill around telekinetically — for which she lacked Celestia's fine control, giving her practically illegible penmanship — or to grab the pen in her mouth and write by moving her head. It was slow going even when she wasn't fatigued. Normally, Spike would take dictation for her. His clawed fingers were perfectly proportioned for writing. Spike. How she missed that little dragon.
Only twenty pages of engineering instructions in the last hour. She'd need to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of such written pages — with labelled diagrams — just to spec out the sublight propulsion system alone. There had to be a faster way.
"You look dismayed, my faithful student," Princess Celestia said as she wafted into the room.
Twilight looked up at her. "At this rate I won't have the instructions ready in time. Do you ... know any spells that might ..."
"Yes," Celestia finished her thought. Her horn glowed dimly, and a book drifted into view from behind her. "I saw you struggling here moments ago, so I got you this." The book levitated in front of Twilight's face, then opened to page 162.
Twilight's face lit up — what natural flesh was left of it, at any rate. "Am I reading this right? It looks like that spell will take any image I can see in my head, and copy it onto paper!"
The princess nodded. "It's from a very old tome. I haven't had occasion to open it in centuries."
Twilight grabbed the book with her own horn's magic, set it down on her table, spread out a blank sheet of parchment to one side, and read the spell's directions. Then she closed her eye, concentrated on one image from the Borg's improvised-technology library, and focused. Her horn shone white for two seconds, then there was a bright flash, and when she opened her eye the text and diagrams she'd seen in her mind were right there on the parchment for all the world to see.
"Yes!" Twilight cheered. "This is exactly what I needed! Oh, thank you, your highness!" She bowed quickly, then turned back to the stack of blank parchment sheets on her table. "I've got a mountain of spec sheets to copy down. I'd better whip up some conversion charts, too — I don't think there are many measuring tools in Canterlot that are calibrated in Planck units."
"I'll send for scribes to make copies of everything you produce," Celestia said. "Then I'll start rallying the troops."
Twilight stood on the balcony overlooking Canterlot's grand courtyard. She had never seen so many unicorns gathered in one place in her life. It was awesome and intimidating. At the same time, the hideous Borg implants marring nearly every face in that crowd reminded her of why she was doing this. On opposite sides of the courtyard, Celestia and Luna hovered above their own balconies, their presence giving official, regal authority to what Twilight was about to say.
"My fellow unicorns," Twilight began. "What we are about to ask you to do will test the limits of each and every one of you. Nopony should ever have to take on a challenge this daunting, but we have no choice. If we're to have any hope of rescuing our earth pony and pegasus pony friends from the grip of lifelong slavery, we have to jump from our current level of pony-powered rustic technology, and become an interstellar civilization, in only a few days. No intelligent species known, not even the Borg themselves, has ever accomplished such a thing."
She paused, and her voice grew more determined: "But we have something no other low-tech species has ever possessed: Complete blueprints for building every component of a starship. I know as well as you do that earth ponies make better builders than unicorns do, and that we'll be asking a lot of you to step outside your comfort zones. It can't be helped. But I think all of you have what it takes to adapt to these new and strange construction tasks."
"Princess Celestia has divided you into teams, according to your talents. Team A, you'll be building the space ship's hull. It has to be completely and utterly airtight; there's no air in space, and even a pinhole will allow our air to escape and doom us to asphyxiation. It also has to be enormous; it must be big enough to hold every earth pony and pegasus pony throughout Equestria with room to spare."
"Team B, you'll be building the warp engine. That's the faster-than-light drive. It's powered by antimatter, the single most dangerous substance in the universe. The engine should be able to provide warp two, which means the ship can fly at up to ten point zero eight times the speed of light. We could go a lot faster if we had a substance called dilithium, but dilithium exists on only a few planets in the galaxy and Equestria isn't one of them. The Borg are still travelling away from us at the speed of light, so a warp engine is the only hope we have of catching up with them."
"Team C, you'll be building the impulse engine. That's going to be our slower-than-light maneuvering drive. We'll need it to take off from Equestria, and when we drop out of warp near the Borg cube. Since we're not planning to leave the solar system, we can also use it as an emergency backup drive to limp home if the warp engine should fail."
"Team D, you'll be collecting the antimatter fuel supply for the warp engine. Antimatter requires an incredible amount of energy to produce in macroscopic quantities, more than any existing energy source on Equestria. But fortunately, the Borg have specs for building a hydrogen fusion reactor that can run on plain water."
"Team E, you'll be rigging up a structural integrity field for the hull. This should reinforce the hull enough to withstand stray micrometeorites, as well as the stress of high-speed atmospheric egress and re-entry. I would have preferred to also build a deflector shield array around the hull for extra protection, but deflector generators look to be a lot more complicated than any of the other gizmos we're going to be building, and I'm afraid we just don't have enough time to master the fabrication techniques."
"Team F, you'll be building the ship's sensor suite. My Borg transceiver can give me constant updates as to the cube's position, but only if I'm in two-way communication with them; that means that so long as I leave my transceiver turned on, they can tell exactly where I am. We cannot afford to let them know that we possess a functioning starship. So, while we're underway, I'll have to turn my Borg transceiver completely off. We'll have to rely on passive sensors that can pick up the Borg cube's warp signature across vast distances, if we're to have any hope of tracking them. You'll also be building a subspace communications transceiver of our own, and an audio-visual display that can show us any sounds and images the Borg send us when we meet up with them. From my sweeps of the Borg libraries, they've only negotiated with another species a few times in history, and every time they used audio and video on subspace carriers."
"Team G, you'll be building the artificial gravity generators. We'll need them to keep from floating around inside the hull after we've left Equestria. More importantly, we'll be using artificial gravity to counteract the tremendous acceleration forces that our impulse and warp engines will produce. Without such inertial dampening, we'd either take months to get up to speed or be squished against the hull's rear wall."
"Team H, you'll be wiring up the interior lights, and the consoles that'll allow us to control all the ship's systems from one central location. And Rarity," she smiled down at her friend, "Those controls are gonna need to be color-coded."
Rarity's eyes lit up with excitement. Finally, after the hell of losing Ponyville and her dress shop and her fur color and most of her friends, she had a chance to shine.
"Team I," Twilight resumed, "You're logistics. We're going to need enough food, and water, and air for a small crew on the way out and a ginormous population on the way back. We're also counting on you to build — or find — whatever storage bins or barrels are necessary hold all these materials on board ship."
"And lastly, this ship is going to need a crew. We're going to need unicorns to work the control panels. A couple of members from every team are going to need to stay aboard with a full tool set, in case any of these strange new systems we're building breaks down in flight and needs to be repaired. And we're going to need lots of magic power. Magic is the only thing the Borg can't defend themselves against. We'll need the most powerful, most versatile magic unicorns among you to provide our fighting force." She raised her one remaining foreleg, indicating the far sides of the courtyard one-at-a-time. "Both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have agreed to come on this mission. I, too, will have to go along, not so much for my magic as because I'm the only one among you with direct access to the Borg collective."
"We're only going to have one shot at this. If we don't launch on time, or if the warp engine fails, or if we can't muster enough magic to convince the Borg to release their captives, our friends are doomed. So we want each and every one of you to do everything in his or her power to succeed. We're all going to be learning as we go, and there may be more than one right way to finish your task. Use every dirty trick you have, every spell at your disposal, every clever way you can think of to save time. This starship doesn't have to be perfect. But it does have to work."
Twilight stepped back a few paces. She'd motivated this crowd as much as she could. All it needed now was one last regal touch.
Princess Celestia fluttered forward. She let her horn glow bright white to bring all eyes onto her. "Princess Luna and I fully endorse Twilight Sparkle's plan. You each have your assignments. Now I, Princess Celestia, hereby decree: let's go save our friends!"