Twilight could hardly believe her ears. "The fusion reactor's running already? That's a full day ahead of schedule!"
"It's a good thing, too," the unicorn at the head of Team D said to her. His artificial right foreleg looked like he'd been using it for a tool rack. "Team B says they're going to need extra antimatter for some 'ground tests,' whatever that means."
Twilight nodded. "So long as you can still make enough to get the whole ship there and back, that's all that matters."
"Frankly, I'm surprised at how well the antimatter containment unit's worked so far," he replied. "I was expecting everything to blow up the moment we cranked out that first antideuteron."
Twilight clicked her tongue. "Find out who it was that made the containment unit so safe, and put him or her on the short list for the crew. We don't want any antimatter leaking out and annihilating when we're underway."
He smiled back at her. "Alread done."
"Well, then!" Twilight said, pleasantly surprised, "Carry on!"
She trotted away to inspect the next team. Celestia had been right. The teams could handle themselves on their own pretty well. Or at least, they could in the short term.
It was the ugliest thing Twilight had ever seen. It looked like a clam, if a clam could be a quarter of a mile long. Melted lumps of black metal scarred every inch of its surface. "That's our hull?!"
Shining Armor, the leader of Team A and Twilight's older brother, nodded. It had pained her to see her brother in Borg plating, and with an artificial left hind leg, but at least he still had both natural eyes. "She might not look like much, but she'll hold air."
"I can't see any hatches," Twilight noted. "How are we supposed to climb aboard?"
Her brother grinned. "Look closer."
Twilight squinted her one natural eye. "Oh my goodness," she pointed, "Is that the hatch?"
"No no, that's a welding seam. The hatch is to the left."
Twilight could see nothing. The whole area to the left of the welding seam looked smooth, except for the edges of the metal lumps. Then, amazingly, one of the lumps swung outward, and a unicorn stepped out through the new opening. "Warp core housing diameter is within, uh, ten-to-the-thirtieth Planck lengths of spec," the egressing unicorn announced.
Twilight raised her remaining eyebrow. "I never would've thought to look for a hatch there."
"There's a second hatch on the inside of this one," her brother said. "It looks a lot more like a normal door. We opted for a double-layered hull design, to minimize the odds of a leak. Oh, and one of the spec sheets you copied down had instructions for making rubber-rimmed metal sealing pads, that can be slapped into place over a small hull breach by hand. I figure we'd better stock the ship with about 30 of 'em, just in case."
Twilight was thoroughly impressed. "Good thinking! Um ... and before I forget, I have a favor to ask."
"I'd like you to be on the crew. For your magic."
Shining Armor frowned. "I'd need to appoint somepony to take my place as captain of the royal guard while I'm gone. Canterlot still has other enemies besides the Borg, you know."
"I know," Twilight said. "But you also have a power no other unicorn posesses. Princess Celestia is honing all of her best protective spells for the mission, but ... you're the only pony who can create an omnidirectional barrier around something as big as this hull. The Borg's weapons are terrifyingly powerful, and I don't know if Celestia can hold them all off herself."
Shining Armor took a deep breath. "If that's what you need, then you'd better assign my wife to the crew too. You know how much stronger my barriers get when Cadance and I combine our magic."
Twilight smiled. "How could I forget? All right, consider it done. I'm sure Princess Celestia will approve."
"I'm just a little worried, though," her brother admitted. "All three Princesses, aboard a type of vehicle nopony has ever built before, chasing down the worst threat Equestria has ever faced? If the worst happens to them, there won't be any princesses left in Canterlot."
Twilight nodded, and suppressed a shudder. "I ... I'd better go check up on the other teams," she said, and turned to go just a little too quickly. Bad enough the lives of my friends depend on my whole plan going exactly right, she thought. Now I'm risking the future of Equestria too.
"No no no!" Twilight shook her head violently. "You've got to move the impulse driver coils either farther back, or farther forward. They generate a subspace field of their own, and we can't have it overlap with the subspace bubble created by the warp engine!"
Team C's leader neighed. "Now hold on a minute. The warp engine is Team B's job, not ours. Why shouldn't they move their driver coils instead!"
"Because," Twilight explained, annoyed, "Warp engines don't have driver coils. You can't control the radius of their subspace bubble; it depends entirely on the mass of the object they're trying to move."
"Not according to page 246 of that warp engine spec you copied down, it doesn't!" The unicorn reached into a saddlebag with its mouth, and pulled out a rumpled sheet of parchment that had obviously seen much use. "Warp coils, it says here, use plasma generated by the warp core to create a subspace displacement field, which can be — I repeat, can be — fine-tuned for shape and size."
Great, Twilight thought. Even their own technology is internally inconsistent. "Okay. You win. I'll talk to Team B and see if they can make their subspace bubble a little bigger. If it's tuneable like page 246 says, this shouldn't be an issue. I just ... I could have sworn they'd said their subspace bubble is of fixed dimension."
"What do you mean, your subspace bubble is of fixed dimension?!" Twilight asked, rolling her eye in frustration. "Page 246 of the warp engine spec states that —"
"We can't use page 246," Team B's leader interrupted her. "It contradicts page 387 in at least 3 places. Now that we've gotten our hands on some antimatter and have had a chance to generate a nonpropulsive warp field, we've pretty much confirmed that page 387 is the correct model. Maybe page 246 would hold sway if we had that 'dilithium' stuff you mentioned; but in a pure, unmoderated deuteron-antideuteron warp reaction, the subspace bubble is absolutely fixed in size and shape. I'm just glad that this fixed size and shape are big enough to accomodate that ginormous hull." The unicorn pointed to Team A's creation, the quarter-mile bumpy clam too big to fit inside Canterlot.
Twilight sighed. "All right. I guess I'll have to give Team C the bad news." She turned to go.
"Ms. Sparkle, wait," the team leader seemed apologetic. "I'll send one of my couriers to tell them instead. Don't worry about it. You've got bigger fish to fry."
Twilight wrinkled her nose. "Fried fish? Ew, no thanks. But ... now that you got me thinking about food, I think I'll go make myself a daffodil sandwich. Carry on!" She trotted away. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't had anything to eat at all since the Borg invasion. She'd been too preoccupied. She just hoped those Borg nanoprobes hadn't messed up her stomach the way they'd messed up her skin.
All in all, despite the setbacks, things were looking better than she'd feared. Luck willing, they might even make the construction deadline. But one unknown still bothered her: The Borg relied on microcircuit computers, which would be totally beyond anypony's ability to fabricate for at least the next several years. Without computers to run her ship, all the hardware would have to be controlled manually. She could only hope that her crew would be up to it....