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Recap / Triptych Continuum The Bounce Test

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I'll get fired today.

Flash Sentry should not be in the Guard. It's not really as unkind a statement as it sounds. Everypony can see it. It's not that he's a bad pony, it's just... nothing ever goes right when he's around. He's been bounced from command to command, crisscrossing the world, traveling to every outpost the Equestrian Guard has in order to find somepony who can straighten him out.

They've all failed.

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Now, he's in the Crystal Guard; Equestria's temporary measure to provide the Crystal Empire with safety until they recover enough to start ruling themselves properly. This is the last chance for Flash Sentry to make something of himself in the Guard; if he can't hack it here, he can't hack it in the Guard, period.

Things are not looking very bright for Flash. But then... on the flipside, maybe they're actually looking brighter.

See, every morning, Flash wakes up and thinks to himself I'll get fired today. When he goes to sleep at night, somehow still employed, he drops off on a thought of I'll be fired tomorrow.

Now, is this a pessimistic acceptance of what seems inevitable? Or is it a prayer?

Read it here.

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Tropes found in this story include:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Pibto, for Cadance. It's short for "Princess In Barely Title Only".
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: The brief mention of the Saddle Arabian ambassador in Chapter 2, who apparently demanded Cadance wear a face-hiding veil when in his presence like any Saddle Arabian mare would, establishes that he is clearly this. Also, this suggests Saddle Arabia's status as a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Arabia comes complete with hosting a Crystal Dragon Jesus version of Islam.
  • Badass Family: Zigzagged. Flash's parents, Bulwark and Tower, are noted as being legends in the Guard, heroes whom even Shining Armor has heard of. Flash, on the other hand, is only notorious for being a blundering klutz. Double-subverted when the truth about Flash's Talent comes to light in the story's climax: with a Talent for defusing disasters, Flash may be something of a Destructive Savior at times, but he has the potential to be a truly great guardspony.
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  • Bizarre Alien Biology: It's mentioned briefly that Crystal Ponies have a special layer in their eyes that prevents them from suffering light blindness due to the constant dazzle from their surroundings and even their own coats. Their coats likewise reflect light, including beams hot enough to start fires or burn non-crystal coats. They can also trot and gallop across crystal surfaces with no chance of slipping. Most visitors to the Empire wind up at the point where they have to use sunglasses, and take at least one tumble per day.
  • Blessed with Suck: Flash Sentry's mark turns out to be highly unique... it actively talks to him. All ponies believe their Marks guide them in some way, but Flash actively hears his mark talking to him, in the form of thoughts and impulses that he knows aren't coming from him. When it's strongest, it manifests as distinct words that he can hear inside of his head — and those commands that he follows always lead him into disaster. And if actually told somepony that his mark was seriously talking to him, he'd be put in an insane asylum; even in the case of falling into the mark, that sort of thing just doesn't happen. Downplayed/converted into Cursed with Awesome by the end of the story.
  • Call-Back: In the final chapter, a reference is made to Flash's inability to remove the Power Limiter from Shining Armor's horn during the events of "Post Negative Comments Only". This turns out to be his talent preventing another disaster: if Shining had erected his shield, he would have sparked a panic-fueled stampede that would certainly have resulted in Crystal Pony fatalities.
  • Creepy Souvenir: One of the things that Iron Will and Flash Sentry find in Sombra's lab is a rack full of unicorn horns, painstakingly carved from the skulls of their former owners.
  • Destructive Savior: This turns out to be part and parcel of Flash's talent: he will always prevent disasters from hurting anyone, even if that means preemptively triggering the disaster first. There can be a certain amount of property damage built into this: the event which leads to Shining discharging him from the Guards ultimately collapses the barracks' ceiling — during the day, with only two ponies inside, both of whom see the cracks starting to spread and so can evacuate to safety in time. Painite's examination of the debris reveals that without Flash having impacted the primary fracture point, normal vibrations would have caused that collapse within a week — and most likely at night, with every Guard asleep and unable to respond.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Shining Armor and Iron Will's relationship has this overtone to it. Iron Will is close to Cadance for being the one being she knows will always be Brutally Honest with her (and Word Of Fanfic Author says he counts for her seneschal), and he does respect Shining Armor — but that friendship with Cadance is a little grating for Shining, thanks to husbandly jealousy.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Flash Sentry earned his mark by leaping in front of a filly at flight camp to protect her from being blasted with lightning. When he came to, his mark was on his flanks, but he's never been able to really figure out what it's for. In fact, it ultimately turns that making sacrifices of this caliber, suffering himself to save others from being hurt, is actually his talent.
    • At the end of the third chapter, Flash makes another such sacrifice to save Iron Will from being caught in Sombra's trap.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Its chapters' names relate to mirrors:
    Without Mirrors
    Upon Reflection
    Reversed Images
    True Polarization
  • The Jinx: Flash Sentry's ability to be at the epicenter of disasters is so amazing that Shining Armor openly wonders if maybe Flash has the purely theoretical negative counterpart to the already near-mythical good luck mark. (This actually exists in-'verse, but it's one of the rarest talents known, manifesting roughly once per generation.) To put this in perspective, in the first chapter, Flash is called up because he accidentally knocked over a stone statue of Sombra by leaning against it to scratch an itch. That statue was still partially buried into the ground, weighed vastly more than he did (80 bale-weights to his 1.5 bale-weights) and rolled over the top of Flash to fall down the hill. However, in the final chapter, it's revealed that this is a case of bad luck disguising good luck; whenever Flash caused a disaster, it was to defuse it, ensuring nopony gets hurt by setting the chaos off early. Knocking that statue down himself kept it from falling over onto the playground nearby.
    • Accidentally spilling a vat of potion while stationed in the zebra nation of Pundamilia Makazi — a super-special potion that requires three years of constant care (as in "will spoil instantly if it goes for more than 20 seconds without tending") to make, and just before the Equestrian ambassador was given the first taste of the potion. Which turns out to be a good thing because, in fact, the potion actually turns to a deadly poison if it spoils.
    • Unwittingly defiling a bufffalo burial ground whilst stationed in Appleoosa. This subsequently required two weeks of reconsecration, which took the form of deafeningly-loud, non-stop singing and dancing. Except it turns out that somepony else (possibly the Flim-Flam brothers, given that Flash recalls signs of cart tracks up there) had already done it before he'd visited.
    • An event in which he dodged being charged by the prince of the kudu is brought up; that prince broke his horn when he hit the wall instead, and Flash was immediately transferred before the king could find out. It turns out, kudu horns only break if the kudu is sick with a fatal illness, and that by making the horn break early, Flash got the prince diagnosed and cured.
    • And, in his most recent transfer-inducing event, somehow winding up in Princess Luna's bath. Whilst the princess was bathing in it. We don't know what this achieved, though, and it might just have been his Mark guiding him to the Crystal Empire.
    • In the third chapter, he causes a "catastrophic dump" in the Analyzer that Iron Will was given, which may have rendered the Analyzer useless (they don't know yet), but permanently dispelled all of Sombra's traps in that lab.
    • The incident that almost gets him expelled from the Guard for good has him bring down the barracks roof. Except, as Painite explains, the barracks was put up during the final, "appearance is good enough" stage of Sombra's reign, and thusly it was too flawed to actually sustain use. So, the place was going to come down within the next week. And it would have done it during the middle of the night.
    • At the very end of the story, he happens to be standing in exactly the right place to get knocked over by a crystal filly stumbling off a merry-go-round and land on a very sharp bit of broken crystal. But since Flash was wearing armor, he didn't get hurt. And if he hadn't been there, the filly would have landed on the same shard.
  • Lost Technology: The analyzers, devices from a pre-Discordian culture that are able to, as their name suggests, break down and analyze the composition and purpose of spells. Until the discovery of the one Sombra had claimed, there were three known to exist. However, they're fairly limited in what they can actually do. They have to be close to whatever they're trying to figure out, someone must be touching them or they won't work at all, they sample the local thaums and thus could potentially be corrupted — and in the end, they simply compare new spells to whatever they've been exposed to before, then point out areas of similarity. As Cadance says, they can't think and they can't extrapolate: an analyzer can tell you that this new spell is somewhat like a kinetic channeler it saw once, but will never make the intuitive leap required to realize the new working prevents movement.
  • Morton's Fork: Chapter 4 has Flash explaining this is why he ultimately stays in the Guards. His parents are military legends; he's a screwup. He brings them immense shame through his constant issues in the Guard, but if he outright resigned, that would be even more shameful. As humiliating as being kicked out of the Guard as utterly unsuitable would be, it'd be easier for them to swallow than him resigning over "hurt feelings".
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The idea of a "bad luck mark" can be taken as a reference to Trouble Horseshoes, the unfortunate Earth Pony stallion from "Appleloosa's Most Wanted", who had exactly that sort of talent and ultimately found a niche for himself as a rodeo clown.
    • When talking about how he earned his mark in Chapter 3, Flash talks extensively about a brilliantly talented but seemingly sociopathic young filly; a natural prodigy who learned how to create lightning at an age when most pegasi foals were still mastering flight, something he describes as "making sense, given her name", and who couldn't wait to show off just how good she was. And if that scared, or even potentially hurt, other ponies? That didn't concern her in the slightest. Somehow, she managed to worm her way out of getting punished, and ultimately went on to make it into the Wonderbolts Academy, though Flash desperately hopes she didn't graduate. Readers have little doubt that this selfish little narcissist was none other than a young Lightning Dust, already displaying the traits that would become her ultimate downfall.
  • The Necromancer: Sombra's interest in this field of Black Magic is well and truly cemented in this story: any corpses created by his policies were put to use, and he was also experimenting with severed unicorn horns. (As such are effectively unbreakable in the Continuum, they were removed through cutting away the base of the skull.)
  • Nepotism: Downplayed, but Flash was automatically given a place in the Guard because his parents were both famous Guardsponies themselves. Interestingly, it's strongly hinted that Flash himself doesn't want to be in the Guard, but was forced to in order to uphold the family legacy.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Justified: Sombra tied any spell which needed to run for the duration of the Empire's time-out into the banishment workings and Barrier. Now that the Empire is back, the Barrier down, and the only caster who understood how it all tied together is dead, nopony is capable of maintaining or recasting multiple effects. As such, a number of workings are decaying, including those Sombra used for security in his workshops. The problem is that they don't necessarily come apart cleanly. This is why it's necessary to get someone into the lab: they have to figure out exactly how the security spell works so they can disarm it before it decays enough to destabilize and go off on its own.
  • Reality Ensues: Turns out that in a land where everything is made of crystal, including the inhabitants, sunlight is actually a huge problem. Equestrian ponies being blinded — or set on fire! — is a recurring issue that the Crystal Guard is struggling to try and handle, as is the tendency for paperwork to go up in smoke if left in the wrong spot. Needless to say, Flash's tendency to somehow lose his sunglasses is not helping him there.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Somewhat. It's not that the Empire is looked upon as a particularly bad posting: it was just the only place Flash hadn't been assigned to yet.
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: There are very strong hints that Flash hates being in the Guard and wants out, but he can't simply up and leave, nor will he openly act out. If he gets drummed out for simply being unteachable, well, that's an honest way to leave the Guard. It's perhaps worth noting that there's no remarks to anypony getting hurt as a result of Flash's frequent accidents and chronic bad luck. Subverted in the third chapter; although Flash doesn't like being in the Guard, he's not actively causing the disasters after all. Instead, his mark keeps leading him into them, one after the other, because he's got a talent for Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Single Specimen Species: Iron Will is the only minotaur in the Empire. Which actually turns out to be important: since there were no minotaurs in the Empire under Sombra, his security spell isn't set to detect them.
  • The Squad: It turns out the titular "bounce test" is actually used to determine if a recruit has managed to integrate into their unit properly. The whole idea of a pony making a bed so neat that you can bounce a bit off of it with only mouth and hooves is laughable; no pony could do that. Instead, the idea is that the unicorns in the squad will secretly use their fields to fix all the beds of their squadmates in a sign of unity. Flash's exemption from this ritual highlights just how much of an outcast he is.
  • Unluckily Lucky: From the outside, this appears to be an aspect of how Flash's talent works. His mark compels him to take actions which will trigger accidents... in order to avert worse disasters. An incident created caused by Flash will result in property damage and no one truly getting hurt, as opposed to the disaster that would have happened if he hadn't been there. The unlucky part comes from the fact that the "no one getting hurt" part doesn't apply to him.
  • What's Up, King Dude?: The Cabinet of the Crystal Empire officially runs like this, to try and help restore the Crystal Ponies' confidence in their own government: unless classified material is being discussed, anypony is permitted to watch the proceedings. However, between the fact that grim necessity forces the Cabinet to use Sombra's old castle to meet in and the sheer despair of the Crystal Ponies, few bother. The government has recognized that at the very least, they have to get out of the castle: there's a new central building for the Cabinet under construction, to be called the Dome. In time, they'll be doing business in a spectator-friendly ampitheater.
    • That said, members of the Cabinet do feel comfortable with calling Cadance "Pibto".
  • Wrong Context Magic: A large part of Flash's problem: His mark breaks the usual rules of mark magic in two distinct ways. Firstly, it talks to him. Not even those who have fallen get actual words from their mark, just impulses and feelings. Secondly, his talent appears to include some degree of divination magic — something we haven't really seen in the Continuum before this.
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