When Twilight came to, she found herself in a deep crater strewn with boulders, with blue sky overhead. The great metal cube that had been her prison was gone. Had it all been just a nightmare?
She tried to blink away the fogginess that still surrounded her thoughts. Her right eye could blink, but not her left. Then, she noticed the thermograph superimposed over the normal vision coming in from her left eye. Oh no. She looked down, and saw the artificial left foreleg just as she'd remembered it. This was no dream. It had all actually happened.
But then, how had she escaped? Had her captors just dumped her off here? And where was "here"?
She stood up, grateful that the limpness had faded from her muscles. Her cybernetic leg still felt a bit awkward, but it took far less getting used to than she thought it would. In fact, she decided, if she were going to be stuck with all these cybernetic parts she'd better familiarize herself with each of them.
Her left eye provided a thermal-infrared false-color image of the world in front of her, but could it do anything else? She focused her thoughts on the eye, and — oh! That looked like a command menu. Well, "looked like" was too strong a word. Somehow, she simply knew what options her artificial eye had available and how to activate them, in a way she couldn't articulate with words. According to this command menu, the eye also had a zoom feature; she tried it out, and could make the eye zoom in tight at up to 5x magnification and zoom back out to normal. It also had a heads-up time display, but apparently the Borg reckoned time in Planck time units from some unknown event in the distant past; the numbers were meaningless to her. And ... recording? Her eye could record the images it took? Oh my. Yes, yes it could. In fact, it was recording right now. And it could play back any part of that recording she desired. She backed up 5.4 seconds — what the interface called 1044 Planck times — and watched. It was only thermal-infrared imaging, but she could still tell she was seeing the same crater rim her eyes had been absentmindedly pointing at for the last half minute, as it was five or six seconds ago.
Twilight felt a sudden thrill. If the Borg had left her eye recording since the moment they installed it, it should have a record of what happened while she was blacked out! She backed up ... farther ... farther ... farther ... there! The point where recording began. She played it back. There, in false reds and yellows and greens, was that buzzsaw she remembered coming for her horn. She flinched just from watching it. And there was the other module — a thin square box, she could see it more clearly this time — passing out of sight as it grafted itself to the right side of her head. She paused playback, and reached up with her right hoof in real time to feel her right temple; sure enough, that same thin metal square was still there, doing whatever it did. From her memory of that moment, she guessed it was some sort of communication module, since this was the moment she became fully plugged in to the ...
To the collec...
She shivered. The collective was still there! The symphony of a billion, the individual threads of conversation all woven into a tapestry with a single will and purpose — she could still tune in to any of them or all of them as easily as ever. But ... something was missing. It no longer sounded beautiful. It was just ... kind of there. It no longer held that irresistible allure to slot herself in as sixth-of-twelve. And now that she reconsidered the possibility, it revulsed her. The collective must have done something to her will, or her desires, and whatever happened that made her black out must have un-done it somehow and given her her will back.
She un-paused the recording. She had to see who or what had saved her.
In the thermal video image, the buzzsaw crept ever closer to her horn. Then, just when it had nearly made contact, the top half of the image got washed out in a blinding white glare. The spherical fringe of that glare looked eerily familiar ... and the pale rays streaming past it ...
Then, she recognized it. Even through the false colors of this thermal-infrared image, she recognized it. It was her horn, casting a spell in overdrive. She'd seen the same image before, on the day she'd earned her cutie mark; the day the sonic rainbow passed over her and she had unwittingly unleashed the full might of her magic. If she remembered everything that happened at that moment correctly ... yes! The right edge of the video playback frame was tinted ever-so-slightly warmer than its surroundings at that very same instant. That would have been the baleful white glow from her remaining natural eye. The few times in her life she'd summoned up one of those full-powered light shows, her eyes had always lit up with the blinding white light of some other world.
She continued the playback. The white glare flared outward until it engulfed the whole frame, and when it subsided a second later, the recording showed only the walls of the crater she was in right now.
Her horn had saved her. Somehow it knew it was about to be cut off, and had kicked in. She reached up and felt her horn, still in the place it had always been, and smiled with gratitude. Her little pointed shaft of keratin must have teleported her out of the Borg cube.
But to where? She was breathing the bright blue air of Equestria, but where on the planet's surface was she? She didn't recognize the jumbled boulders, or the granite beneath her hooves, or the clifflike walls off in the distance. No place in the Everfree Forest resembled this, nor did Ghastly Gorge, nor the Badlands, nor even any of the wastelands in the Frozen North. In fact, no area anywhere on Equestria was known for terrain anything like —
Then it hit her. She was standing in the remains of Ponyville itself.
She tried to imagine the buildings, and streets, and happy ponies that had stood in this spot mere moments ago. Her own library, gone. Fluttershy's critter ranch, and all the critters in it, gone. Rarity's dress shop, gone. The Cutie Mark Crusaders' clubhouse, gone. Sugarcube Corner, gone. The Town Square had probably stood right on top of the very stones beneath her hooves.
No, she corrected herself. This was only bedrock. Ponyville's landmarks had been a hundred feet over her head, level with the top of the crater's walls. Every building, every street, every cart and tree and plot of land were now all up in space, being chewed up and digested by that Brobdingnagian cube.
Speaking of which ... where had the cube gone? It wasn't blocking out the sun any more. In fact, it was nowhere in the sky. Had her captors found what they were looking for and simply fled?
Something caught her eye — not her natural eye, her thermograph. Something at ground level. She froze. There was a heat source not fifty yards in front of her. A heat source about the right size and temperature for a living body....