Sprocket- To touch the heavens.
“Hello everypony, and welcome once again to Midnight Masters! I’m your DJ and host, Hurricane! Not our gig to play this early, but fillies and gentlecolts have I got news for you. Those of you out in the Manehatten area might have heard regular explosions off in the distance for a few years now, some of you might have even showed up to investigate. Your monthly percussion was courtesy of a stallion by the name of Bronze Sprocket, one crazy inventor with his workshop set up way out there. Crazy stallion spent his days building flying bombs he called airplanes, one day he figured out that the explosions were working better than the planes. Took him a while, but he ended up coming up with something he calls Sprocket Fuel. Stuff blows up real nice, so of course he comes up with a way to strap himself to a big can of boom, which he’s named the Clockwork Strider. Thing is, it worked. Not sure if you’ve heard, but he’s gotten a bit of a following over the past few months. Well I’m sure you all will be happy to hear that he’s just about to try making history. First pony to hit space without magic, ain’t that a story to tell your foals? Hasn’t done it yet though, so you’ve still got time to set up shop. Just look where everypony else is, you’ll see the fireball. And Sprocket, if you’re listening: Good luck man, we’re all cheering for you.” A hoof smacked against the top of a radio, cutting off the stallion’s voice.
“My planes weren’t bombs, they just exploded a lot. Get it right.” The same hoof knocked against the radio’s top again, a mare’s voice coming out of the box.
“Ground control to Major Tom, do you come in Major Tom?” No response for the radio, even after a few annoyed clicks. “Seriously Sprocket, what’s up with the whole Major Tom thing?” Finally the yellowish brown stallion grins like a colt with a secret joke, the usual spark of manic energy in his golden eyes, covered by a pair of brass flight goggles. His voice, as always, had a bit of a sing-song tone to it like he was either about to break out into song or start mimicking somepony.
“If you don’t recognize the classics, then that’s a shame on you Ground Control. How are things on the ground floor, I’m almost ready for take off in here.” Sprocket shakes with anticipation, blowing some of his sand-gold curls out of his face. Most of his body was covered by a pressurized full body suit, his helmet tucked away next to the cockpit seat. A casual observer would probably question why he wore an aviator’s jacket over it, but those who knew Sprocket probably wouldn’t even bother anymore. The radio crackles again.
“Alright… Major Tom, the fuel cells are pressurized and filled, so you’ll be able to orbit properly and come back home. No breaches, the colts down here used their finest toothed comb. You should have three weeks worth of food, and the air-” Sprocket cut ground control off, pressing a hoof to the send button.
“Filters are running just fine, I just finished building those last week. How’s the ejection seat?”
“... As pointless as before, besides breaking Lugnut’s leg.” There was a bit of annoyance that survived the static.
“Then we’re good to go! Lift off in twenty. Major Tom, out.”
“Will you take this serio-”
Sprocket turns away from the radio, the steady clank of a stallion climbing up the service ladder coming from behind him. An ashen grey stallion with a hard-boiled blue stare comes into view wearing a fedora and pinstripe suit, his voice as gruff as he looks.
“This is a rather impressive operation you got going here, though a lot of this is a shot in the dark. I know you owe my boss a lot of bits, but you sure you want to do this mate?” Sprocket’s smile doesn’t waver for a second, actually growing a bit at the other stallion’s words.
“When I come back I’ll have more than enough to pay Loan Shark off, with interest. Thanks for checking on me though Collector, nice to know one of my knee breakers cares.”
“What can I say, your unique brand of crazy has rubbed off on me. I’d rather not need to break you like kindling there mate, best of luck. Make the world proud.” Collector tips his hat, climbing back down the service ladder.
Sprocket watches him leave, his ego definitely not in any danger, and starts his final preflight checks. Not having much time for anything besides a quick circuit, he hurries through and climbs up to the cockpit. A hula-griffin was glued to the control panel, much to the annoyance of his maintenance crew, near a picture of a mare stapled to the console. Her coat was a light brown, asymmetrical beige and dark brown patterns spread throughout. She also wore a pair of goggles propped up just above light blue eyes, one of the frames designed to look like a pocket watch. Her mane was tossed to one side, dark brown stripes interlaced through the amber. Her tail was cropped, quickly fading to a lighter brown. Finishing the pleasant asymmetry was a beige turtleneck with blue spots, matching the blue and white striped half-sock she wore on her hind leg. In the picture she had a confident smirk, posing with a wrench held in a hoof. Sprocket stares for a while, ignoring the radio’s shrill beeps.
“Tick-Tock, I’ll be in the heavens before long. Then you’ll have no choice but to date me, the first pony in space via mundane means! And the first to stay for a prolonged period too… Don’t look at me like that, Princess Luna doesn’t count. See you always do that, undermining me like that. You’ll see, I’ll prove you wrong and you’re going to go all-” He props his forelegs on the control panel, clapping his hooves together and throwing on an impressive falsetto while somehow sounding even more sing-song than usual. “Oh Sprocket you sexy, amazingly brave and intelligent stallion, I know now that you were always right! Please come here and kiss me you stud!” He made kissy noises until the radio stops beeping, buzzing and emitting a voice.
“Major Tom, if you’re going to do that please save it for when you’re not transmitting. Nopony wants to hear that.” Sprocket removes his elbow from the button, whistling innocently. “Ground Control to Major Tom, take your protein pills and seal your suit. Lift off in five.”
“You said it wrong…” Sprocket pouts as he pops a pill into his mouth and swallows it, scooping his helmet up from it’s place and snapping it on. There is a soft hiss as the suit’s sealed environment closes, the air filtration and pressurization systems kick on. “Commencing countdown, boosters are hot.” The shuttle shakes a bit. “Check ignition. May Faust’s luck be with you, Ground Control out.” Sprocket pulls himself into his seat, buckling himself in and giving the hula-griffin a tap.
In nearby Manehatten ponies of all ages gather on the taller buildings and nearby hills, waiting excited for the world’s first space launch. Even Princess Celestia, all the way in Canterlot Castle, watches through her enchanted telescope. Hurricane, once again giving a brief recap of the momentous occasion for all of Equestria and a fair bit of the world beyond, finishes up with “And now we wait.”
A small mechanics’ shop in Ponyville is closed up early today, as most of the small town is, in anticipation of Sprocket’s momentous voyage. A mare wearing a beige turtleneck sits just outside Tick-Tock’s Crafts, listening to the radio.
“You fool… Please Faust, keep him safe.” She looks down at one of the pictures spread across the nearby table, Sprocket and herself just after winning their elementary school’s science fair, a filly and colt showing off the mechanical spider they made out of a clock. Several other pictures cover the table, records of happier times when the two were a near unstoppable inventive team. Creative differences drove them apart, straining their friendship to the breaking point. Sprocket became obsessed with planes and flight, while Tick-Tock had gone the way of “freaky movie bits” as her old friend called it, though science called it robotics. “Goddess, what are you trying to prove Sprocket?”
A countdown, courtesy of Hurricane, starts on the radio alongside Ground Control’s own. “Five!” The ponies across Equestria join in. “Four!” A stallion in a fedora and pinstripe suit smiles as he looks up at the rocket from a dark corner of the observation deck. “Three!” An old friend whispers to herself, holding a picture of her oldest friend close. “Two!” Princess Luna joins her sister. “One!” A lone inventor glances over to his friend’s picture with a confident grin. “LAUNCH!” A lever is thrown, and the rocket leaves the ground behind as a single cheer joins nearly everypony in Equestria.
“I knew it would work.” Sprocket chuckles to himself, activating the radio. “But first, my jam.” Ground Control’s celebration is slightly tempered by confusion, replaced quickly with a tint of exasperation as Flight of the Valkyrie starts to play over the radio. Sprocket, being Sprocket, adds his own sound effects as the world watches his dream come true.
“Boosters one and two nearly empty, dropping them and starting the main booster.” He flips a few switches, humming along to the song as he does so. The rocket jerks twice, starting to spin slightly. An alarm starts to blare on the control panel, one of the main fuel lines registering a failure. Sprocket’s head whips back, already seeing flames in the main engine section. “Uh oh.” His hoof slams down on the transmit button. “We’ve got a problem.” He yanks his harness off, throwing his toolbelt over his suit and jacket.
“Ground Control to Major Tom, what’s the pro-” Is all Sprocket hears before he thuds against the back wall, having fallen from his seat. He crawls toward the door, already able to feel the bruises forming under his suit, to getting a better view of the raging inferno already blazing away. From here he can see the broken circuit board that probably sparked the whole thing, though it’s mostly melted by this point. The door slides open with some effort, and he leans down to grab the maintenance ladder. His boot slips against the smooth metal, and he tips forward through the opening. In his frantic flailing he manages to get a forehoof around a control panel, a sharp crack resounding over the blaze. To his credit, he doesn’t scream at the dislocation, instead pulling himself into a sitting position near the flame spewing fuel line. With his hurt hoof cradled against his chest he slips the utility spike through the ring of a wrench, the tool sticking to the small magnets embedded in his boot. A clang vibrates through his body, making him wince as the latch on the nearby cover breaks away. The wrench falls through the flames, the blunt utility spike used to sever and pull free a coolant line.
Liquid nitrogen sprays down the area, slowly killing off the flames. Sprocket takes a deep breath, gritting his teeth as he relocates his knee. “Now’s the fun part.” He sighs, waiting precious seconds as the pain fades from his hoof. On the other side and below the wildly whipping flamethrower and newly made ice-thrower is the flow control panel he needs to put a stop to the chaos. No room to get a lead up, and with six Gs pressing down on him he gets the feeling this isn’t a very good idea. His suit protects him from the flames as he dives, or more falls, through the streams. Worse though is the coolant, in the second that he is airborne he can feel the heat drain out of his right hind leg. Unfortunately he doesn’t get the chance to contemplate this, his vision going dark as he slams into the console he was aiming for.
He’s only out for a few seconds, the first thing that he sees being the cracks covering his helmet’s visor. Pain is the second thing he notices, white hot agony slicing through his chest with every ragged breath and an indescribable pain in his right hind leg. He’s pretty certain, through his pain clouded mind, that one of his lungs may have half of a broken rib jammed through it. Every jolt of the malfunctioning rocket threatening to make him black out once again, looking back he can see a bloody and broken bone jutting out where his hock should be. His suit in the area has broken away, along with a significant amount of his leg, replaced with half frozen blood and the jagged remains of his muscle. He struggles to manipulate the controls of the console, adrenaline likely the only thing that is letting him move at this point. After a few futile seconds he picks up one of the wrenches thrown free from his toolbelt by the impact, slamming it against the console until the failsafe kicks in. The flames and spray above slows, eventually stopping. A few small flames still burn, slowly consuming the last of their fuel. He smiles through the pain, somehow starting to pick himself up.
Once again his victory is snatched away as an explosion rocks the ship, booster two ripping free with a massive explosion. Sprocket is pressed against the wall next to the service ladder as the ship starts to spin out of control, the lights cutting out and replaced with red emergency lights. Wind whips through right next to him, dragging him halfway out of the ship before he manages to catch both hooves around the service ladder. Pain stacks atop pain, this time centered in his stomach. Looking down he can see a jagged shard of metal piercing his suit, his own blood leaking out from around the triangular debris. Glancing past it he can see flames covering most of the shuttle’s exterior, likely spreading to booster two and three. He doesn’t get much chance to think on this, his breath being pulled from his lungs just as the metal fragment is pulled from his side by the roaring wind, leaving a few pieces behind. He desperately pulls himself away from the encroaching threat of freefall, dragging his horribly wounded body back to the cockpit with his three remaining legs.
His efforts are for naught, the fire starting once more as he pulls himself through the door. He seals it to slow the inferno, collapsing against the wall. He doesn’t need to move to recognize his various injuries at this point, able to taste blood. Four shattered ribs, at least one impaling a lung, and blood from his various wounds paints the wall under him red. Worst of all, he can’t feel or move his hock anymore. His throat hurts from breathing smoke, his suit’s filtration system having failed after the second fall. Almost as an after thought he takes note of the cuts on his head, and the blood covering the inside of his helmet from a broken nose. His radio gets his attention, the panicked voice of Ground Control drawing his focus away from his many wounds.
“SPROCKET!? Are you there?! Sprocket, if you can hear me eject! EJECT!” Sprocket pulls his broken body into his cockpit seat, ignoring the harness. A moment later his helmet falls away, ditched now that it is worse than useless. He breaths in mostly clean air, coughing up blood and clearing his throat.
“Major Tom here. Negative Ground Control. We’re a big ball of fire right now, if I eject now there’s no telling where it will land. Might hit Manehatten, or the Launch Center. Major Tom is going to-” He coughs again, barely able to register the pain by now. “Is going to put put this sucker in the water.” A boot taps against the wildly flailing hula-griffin. “Got my lucky charm right here.” He reaches out for the flightstick, getting no response. “You had one job.” He glares at the hula-griffin’s coldhearted dance. “Controls aren’t responding Ground Control, gonna look at them personally.” He starts to unscrew the panel, just ripping it off after a few seconds. “Buck me.” It takes him less than a second to spot the problem. The flightstick’s wiring was never connected in the first place, the wire too short to connect to the stick. A few thoughts go through his head at this point, each one less sensible than the last. First, his maintenance team would never have missed this. Next, that he could pretty easily cannibalize another wire if he thought he could hold the tools at this point. Lastly, that this was going to be one of his stupider actions today.
He touched each of the wires, to make sure that the backup power cells hadn’t failed too. A bolt of electricity jumped through him, making him grit his teeth in pain once again as his hind legs twitched. A thought strikes him at about the same time, and a few seconds later he digs out a wrapped chocolate bar. In most other circumstances he’d find it hilarious that a Moonbar might be what saves the day, Princess Luna smiling up at him from the foil wrapper. He tosses the chocolate, twisting the foil into a roll around the exposed end of the flightstick’s control wire between his hooves. “One job.” He taps the hula-griffin with a hoof, attaching the foil to the free wire. It takes most of his remaining strength to shove the flightstick forward and to the side, hoping it’s enough to counter the rocket’s spin as another explosion rocks the ship. He falls back into the seat as the rocket starts to tip forward, mostly limp. “Told you they were good for you.” He says to Tick-Tock’s picture, leaning forward and ripping it free from the console. He falls back, his free hoof slamming against the ejector seat’s trigger. The bolts in the panel above him explode away, tossing the panel into freefall. Cool air rips through the cabin, and for a moment Sprocket thinks he’s free. It takes a second for him to realize that the seat itself is malfunctioning. He glares at the hula-griffin, which softens after a moment. “Close enough.”
The radio gave one last message before the signal faded into static. “SPROCKET, EJECT DAMN IT!”
He shoves Tick-Tock’s picture into a pocket on his jacket, prying the hula-griffin free with a screwdriver and shoving her into another. “Well Tick-Tock, you always did tell me not to give up.” He reaches up, hooking a hoof into the opening and pulling himself up. The wind does the rest, ripping him free of the cockpit. Not that he can celebrate much, finding himself tumbling down the side of the ship. He sees the winglet a half second before hitting it, feeling something give in his back as he falls free of the shuttle. Booster three explodes violently just above him, ripping what remained of the ship to pieces.
“Everypony, reports are coming in faster than we can read them. I’m… not sure what happened, but eyewitness reports claim that the Clockwork Strider has… exploded approximately eight minutes after lift off. No known cause as of yet, and… Hold on… I’m… Goddess, this is really happening. I’m sorry everypony, confirmation just came in from Ground Control. Bronze Sprocket was… unable to eject in time.” Silence. “Equestria has suffered a tragedy today. I…” a moment passes. “We lost a great hero today. He will go down in history as the hero he was… A moment of silence everypony, for the hero Bronze Sprocket.” The broadcast fizzles out.
Sprocket would prefer if the report was true, that he had died in the explosion. The truth hurts much worse as he freefalls, watching his dream tear itself apart above him. The last thing he sees before his vision fails him is Tick-Tock’s smiling face as he falls toward the ground below.
“Two and a half minutes before impact. Don’t give up, you aren’t dead yet Sprocket. Get moving.”
-----To Be Continued?-----