Automated wordcount: 147710
This was file was automatically generated by a google docs scraper, intended for use with e-reading devices. If you wish to have this removed from this list, email ra.llan.pcl+complaints @ gmail.com.

ARTICLE 2

By: Muppetz (!Gsih3Wfnlk)

Celestia paced back and forth in her chamber, reviewing the chart levitating a few inches from her nose.  Her brow furrowed, unsatisfied with its contents.  Exasperated, she threw the clipboard down on her desk, more forcefully than she had intended, accidentally knocking over a folder labeled “TOP SECRET- TIER 1.” It fell to the floor and spilled several photographs.  Celestia let out a tired sigh and her shoulders sagged.   She was grateful for the privacy she enjoyed in her quarters, it allowed her to loosen up a bit, or in this case, vent her obvious frustration.  

She began to telekinetically scoop up the pictures one by one, taking another hard look at each image of twisted, burning metal and scorched earth before placing them back in their folder.   One specific photo confused Celestia.  It was of a large charred piece of steel with the markings, “R-V38-X-540” and the flag of a nation that never existed.  She contemplated it a bit before it floated past her and settled itself in its place back in the folder.  More photos floated past her eyes, some even she had difficulty looking at.  Images littered with torn flesh, eyes staring lifelessly into the distance, limbs jutting out in skewed angles.  She desired to simply hide those photos away but she forced herself to examine them, scouring them for any sign of what could have caused this.  Another photo floated by.  Almost a dozen corpses:  all stretched out in a row, covered by white, bloodstained sheets.  She placed the rest of the photos in the folder, save for one, and set the file back on her desk.  She let out an exhausted sigh.  She technically didn’t need sleep, but she often found it helped her function more efficiently, and she had gone without it for almost a week.  She re-examined the chart for the tenth time hoping that there was something, anything, she may have missed.  “No notable progress.” She stared at the words, wishing they would change, but they remained quite the same.  She raised the one remaining photograph, arguably the most important photograph, and inspected it.  It was a hospital room.  The patient in the bed was covered in tubes and wires, hardly identifiable underneath all the bandages that encased it.  Celestia did not know what to make of it; she only knew one thing for sure…It wasn’t from here.

~~~~~

Twilight hustled about her library late at night, darting from shelf to shelf in a near-panicked fervor.  She plucked random books from shelves before dropping them into a large luggage case.  A young purple dragon tried desperately to calm the young mare, but she disregarded him completely, continuing to dash about the building.  

“Twilight you have to chill out! You’re going to give yourself an aneurysm.  I mean it’s probably nothing, maybe she just wants to talk or catch up or something.” He said, trying to block the pony from her bookshelves.  She wrapped him in an aura of purple magic and whisked him out of the way, as if he were nothing more than a cobweb.   

“Spike! You read the letter.  You know the Princess wouldn’t ask something like this unless it was an absolute emergency!” She replied, still bolting about gathering books, carefully selecting which could be most useful given the Princess’ rather vague letter.  

“It might just be a casual visit.” Said Spike, still trying in vain to get Twilight to calm herself.  She shot him a narrow gaze before whipping out a letter marked with the royal seal.  

“My dearest and most faithful student Twilight,” She began as Spike rolled his eyes.  “It is with a heavy heart that I write at this time, for I fear that, once again, Equestria is in dire need of your assistance.  I’m afraid that I must ask you and the other Elements to please join me in the capital.  I understand that this is quite a lot to ask of you and your friends, but I am afraid that I am left with little choice.  I apologize, but I am unable to tell you why you must make this trip.  However I assure you, it is a delicate matter which requires the up-most secrecy.  It was my wish not to entangle you or your friends in such affairs but I have run out of options.  I am sending my own elite personal guard to come collect you and your friends in the morning.  Please be ready, as your expediency in this matter is paramount.  Signed, Princess Celestia of Equestria.” She finished, and turned to Spike.  “Does that sound like a casual visit to you?!”

“…no.” Spike knew he had been beat.  “but you still need to slow down.  You only have a few hours before sunrise, and exhausting yourself doesn’t do you OR the princess any good.” This line of reasoning had more effect.  

“Uhg! I know!” Twilight cried, as she plopped herself down in the middle of the room.  “But what am I supposed to do? She didn’t tell me what she needs us for.  We could be doing anything, so I need to be ready for anything.”

“Twilight, You and I both know you have read and re-read every book in this library at least three times.  You’re the most powerful and talented unicorn I have ever met in my entire life,” Twilight brightened a bit.  “And you have the most dedicated friends in all of Equestria backing you up.  If anypony can handle Celestia’s problem, it’s you.” Twilight smiled and picked herself up, walking over to Spike.  

“Thanks Spike,” She said, wrapping a foreleg around him in a tight hug.  “You really are my number one assistant.”

“That’s what I’m here for sister.” He said confidently.  “Now go get some sleep.  I’ll clean up this mess.”

“Thanks Spike, I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She made her way to the stairs which led to her bedroom, and Spike began picking up books off the floor and tossing them up towards the ceiling, where they were snatched mid air by a large brown barn owl, who then deposited them on their proper shelves.  

Twilight settled down into her bed, but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t seem to keep her eyes closed.  Too many unanswered questions floated around her head.  She hoped that she wasn’t the only one having trouble sleeping.  Most of her friends had been present when the letter arrived, and they seemed just as confused and frightened by the implications as she was.  Applejack had been the first to excuse herself, saying she needed to alert her family and make preparations for her absence from the farm, which, not surprisingly, seemed to be her biggest concern, along with the need to inform Fluttershy who would, undoubtedly, be mortified at the prospect.  Rarity quickly followed suit, musing aloud about what in the world she was going to wear, whether or not to pack this or that, if she would get the opportunity to mingle with the royals and if so which formal dress she should pack.  Rainbow Dash seemed all too excited about the “mission” as she kept calling it.  She kept raving, “This is so AWESOME! I’ll bet the princess is going to send us on some super dangerous deadly covert operation, where we’ll hold the fate of the world in our hooves! Special Agent Dash,” She repeated to herself a few times.  “Man that sounds SO COOL! I wonder if we’ll get to go undercover.  Maybe were going to Stalliongrad! You know? To like, be spies?”  Dash kept on for a good five minutes, imagining every possible, albeit improbable, scenario that her polychromatic head could envision.  She eventually sped off for her cloud home, realizing she needed to get ready.  Pinkie Pie followed suit, all too concerned about which particular brand of sweets would be the most well received in Canterlot.  

Twilight lay in her bed, desperately wishing for sleep.  She let her eyes wander out her window.  Luna’s namesake hung high in the night sky.  The moon always calmed Twilight.   It cast its soft glow on the trees and roof tops, giving everything a silver-blue highlight.  The stars twinkled around the moon, accenting its orb perfectly.  A beam of moonlight from the window cast itself on Twilight’s bed, and her lids soon grew heavy.  Eventually the yawns got the best of her and she drifted into a deep sleep.  

~~~~~

Twilight paced back and forth in front of her library, occasionally pausing to open up a large piece of luggage to double check  its contents and make sure they hadn't disappeared.  Rainbow dash napped on the grass, her colorful head resting on the rather small bag she had packed for the trip.  Applejack had a similar idea; the rim of her down-turned Stetson covered most of her face, although it wasn’t really clear whether or not she was actually asleep.  Pinkie pie rummaged about in her pink luggage case, and from the sound of it, she was already busy devouring whatever snacks she had packed for the trip.  Rarity absentmindedly read a magazine while running a small file over her already-perfect white hooves.  Fluttershy entertained herself by playing with, and occasionally talking to, a small ladybug, which crawled around on one of her butter yellow hooves.  The sun hadn't yet breached the horizon, but it was light enough to see clearly.  As if on cue, the sun peeked above the horizon and beamed rays upon the trees.  

“Any moment now”  Twilight thought, eyes glued skyward towards Canterlot.  A few minutes later she noticed six black dots heading from the direction of the capital city towards Ponyville.  After a moment she identified the objects as six golden chariots, each pulled by four stallions, resplendent in golden armor.  Twilight alerted her friends, earning a whiny moan from Rainbow Dash about “five more minutes!”  The unicorn levitated the pegasus to her feet, and the six mares readied themselves.  A few moments later, the chariots landed in the street in front of the group.  They lined up in a long row in an impressive (but Twilight felt unnecessary) show of force.  Luckily most local ponies weren’t up this early, so the display went unnoticed by the town.  The stallions in the front right of each chariot formation detached  from their group and approached the girls.  One stepped forward and bowed slightly.  

“Ms.  Sparkle?” He asked in a gruff voice.  

“Yes?” She replied.  

“My name is Lieutenant Silver.  I am under orders to escort you and the other Elements of Harmony to Canterlot.  Do you require time to prepare yourselves or are you ready to depart?” Twilight looked back at her friends who all gave their nod of approval.  

“We’re ready.” She said with a sense of finality.

“Excellent.” The Lieutenant motioned with a hoof and the other guards began to load the girls’ luggage on to every other chariot.  Twilight watched for a while, slightly confused by the unnecessarily large number of chariots the princess had sent.

“Excuse me sir?” Twilight asked the unicorn timidly.  The lieutenant ceased directing his guards to look at her.

“Yes ma’am, Is there anything you need?”

“Oh, no, I was just wondering…why the princess went through all this,” She gestured toward the convoy of chariots and war horses.  “…all just to pick us up for a ride to Canterlot.” The stallion seemed to grow wary at the question, as if something about it had frightened him.

“I’m afraid that information is slightly above my pay grade ma’am.  This pick up was orchestrated by Princess Celestia herself.” Twilight was expecting a bit more of an answer than that.  

“But why? What’s going on that has the Princess in such a twist?” The tall pony seemed to relent a bit, his demeanor becoming even more uncomfortable.  

“If I knew the answer to that, I’m sure I wouldn’t be allowed to tell you.  The palace has been a bit hectic lately.  I haven’t seen her majesty this unsettled in a very long time.  Whatever she’s up to, she’s playing it VERY close to the chest.” This didn't alleviate Twilight’s fears.  She occupied herself by chewing on the end of a lock of her purple mane.  

“I’m tellin’ ya ah can get it mahself!” Applejack interjected from over by her luggage case, where she was giving two guards a rough time.

“Please just let us do our jobs Ms.  Applejack,” one tried to reason.

“Ahm perfectly capable of pickin’ up mah own things, thank you very much!”  

Rarity stepped forward and placed a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder.  “Darling, they’re just trying to help.  We all know you’re more than able to handle yourself, but these ponies have a job to do.  Just let them take the suitcase dear.” Applejack didn’t respond but she unhappily sidestepped and allowed the guards access to her luggage.  

Pinkie insisted on grabbing an armful of cookies from her case before surrendering it to the guards.  She then insisted they each have one for their “super duper good jobs loading all that super heavy stuff.”  The guards each politely refused, but Pinkie was rather…persistent, and before long each of them were nibbling on a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie.  Despite the circumstances, the scene was quite humorous.  

As soon as the last of the girls’ belongings were loaded the Lieutenant ordered the soldier ponies back to their stations pulling the chariots.  He directed Twilight and Rainbow Dash to the chariot second in line and they entered and seated themselves.  Applejack and Fluttershy were directed to the fourth, Pinkie Pie and Rarity to the sixth.  Twilight was, once again, concerned by the odd behavior of the guards.  

“Umm…Lieutenant?” She called from her spot in the chariot.  He trotted over to her.  

“Yes Ms. Sparkle?”

“I’m sorry to keep pestering you, but why exactly are half of these chariots empty? I mean the one up front could easily hold all six of us.  Why not just send us all in that one?”

“In the event of an ambush the lead vehicle is always the first to be attacked, and have you ever heard the expression ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’?” She had gone a bit pale, but nodded, wondering if the situation was really that bad.  The guard pony picked up on her reaction.  “I wouldn’t worry about it Ms.  Twilight, there hasn’t been any sign of direct aggression toward the crown in over 600 years.  I’m sure the princess is merely being overly protective of her most prized student and her friends.” He finished with what must have been an attempt at a reassuring smile.  It didn’t help much.  He took his place on the lead team, and motioned for them to take off.  The first chariot left empty, followed shortly by the second, and so on.  Soon the entire convoy had  left Ponyville long behind.  An aerial trip from Canterlot to Ponyville usually took only 15 to 20 minutes.  The prominent mountainside capital was visible from Ponyville.  It was truly a sight to behold; a magnificent feat of construction, a seamless synthesis of unicorn magic and architectural ingenuity.  With their destination rapidly approaching, Twilight felt her gut twist in anticipation.  Rainbow Dash was all too eager to get to the city.  

“I could have flown there twice by now!” She sighed as she impatiently tapped a hoof.  Twilight wished she shared Rainbow’s confidence, but she felt a lead weight in her stomach that gave her a rotten feeling about this whole situation.  

They landed in a large courtyard directly behind the palace of the royal sisters.  Rarity stepped down from the golden chariot, and drank in the view of the castle.  It was a marvelous sight; it shined like a diamond in the sun’s morning rays.  Now this was the kind of place a lady truly belonged.  She moved to join the others, walking as gracefully and dignified as possible.  The girls were then escorted inside the castle and led to a spacious lounge where they were told to wait.  They sat for about fifteen minutes before Celestia finally walked in, with Luna in tow.  The girls all scrambled to bow before the monarchs, and Celestia motioned for them to rise.  She looked tired.  Her normally flowing flawless mane was a bit less shiny and not nearly as wavy, as if the invisible breeze that seemed to constantly follow her had died to a whisper.  Still she managed to smile brightly and she went to nuzzle Twilight, which Twilight returned with enthusiasm.  

“Hello my faithful student.”

“Hello Princess.” She spoke with poorly suppressed relief.  Now that Celestia was here, she felt the tightness in her gut loosen; the presence of the sun goddess assuaged the dread accumulating in her heart.  Luna then interjected.

“I hate to break this up, Tia, but I’m sure they are all quite curious as to why we have plucked them from their homes and brought them here.”

“Of course, my apologies,” She took a moment to compose herself.  “Girls, what I am about to tell you is currently the most closely guarded secret in the Equestrian government.  Barely a handful of ponies outside my sister and I have been briefed on it, and even fewer have been given a full report.  It was against my wishes to do this, and it breaks my heart to ask it of you, but before we can proceed any further,” She let out a deep sigh, clearly uncomfortable with the track the conversation was on.  “…I’m afraid I must ask you all to submit yourselves to a spell which would render you incapable of repeating any of this information, whether by accident or by force, to any who may misuse it.”  

The girls were  taken aback.  What the princesses were asking for was in no way, a small favor.  

Rarity spoke, “Is that really necessary your majesty? Do you not trust us?”

Celestia’s face seemed to drain itself of happiness.  Her head lowered slightly.  This was exactly what she had hoped to avoid implying.  “It’s not a matter of trust girls.  It’s a matter of safety.  I trust you all with my very life, but this is far more delicate a matter than you can imagine.  This revelation could very well upset the entire balance of our world.”  A sliver of steel entered her voice.  “I’m sorry girls, I truly am, but this is how it has to be.  If you elect against the spell, I would not blame you for even a moment.  I understand it is a lot to ask of you, but should you decide against it, I will thank you for your time and you may simply return to the courtyard and the guards will take you anywhere you would like to go.”  

The girls remained silent for a moment, each grappling with the infinite implications.  They were at a crossroads;  their decision would forever change their lives, and it could not be made lightly.  

Twilight stood up to her full height and boldly approached the Princesses.  Her face bore hard determination. “I’ll do it; I trust you, your majesties.  I understand you would not ask this unless it was absolutely necessary.”

“I’ll do it too.” came a diminutive voice from the back of the group.  All were surprised to see that it came from Fluttershy.  However, the more they thought about it, the more it made sense.  Fluttershy always helped anypony in need, and the Princesses clearly needed her help.  

With that, each of the other girls quickly followed suit, nodding in approval to the goddesses.  Celestia’s horn glowed white hot, and so did each of the six mares.  A strange tingling sensation enveloped their throats.  The sensation reverberated through their vocal chords as it worked its way up to their tongues.  When the spell was finished, each of the girls sat dazed, chewing the strange feeling out of their jaws.  

“Excellent,” Celestia said with an obvious air of relief.  “Now, Luna if you would so kindly…” The dark blue alicorn nodded and her horn glowed softly as the doors and windows all shimmered in a protective sound proofing spell.

“Now, if you girls would like to make yourselves comfortable this may take a while to explain.” Princess Luna suggested. The mares found cushions and armchairs to rest on.  They formed a semicircle around the two princesses.  Luna continued, “Six days ago, at approximately 0200 hours, I spotted an unidentified object descending through the upper atmosphere at an alarming rate.  My first reaction was that it was merely a larger meteorite or some other space debris, but upon closer inspection it became evident that this was not the case.” Luna’s horn lit up and an image projected into the center of the circle:  A large bright ball falling through the night sky, surrounded by a cone of fire.  “As it came closer, it was clear that the object was mechanical.  And it was NOT one of ours.”  The girls were captivated and amazed, minds boggled by the implications.  “The craft was apparently somehow damaged and could no longer maintain altitude.  It crashed roughly sixty five clicks south of Manehatten.” Luna then projected a picture of the crash site, flaming piles of wreckage scattered around a smoking crater.  “I was one of the first to arrive on the scene.  We were able to shield it from the eyes of the general public.  The craft was irreparably damaged.  There were no survivors.  The entire crew of the vessel, maybe a dozen or so, were D.O.A.”

“That’s terrible.” Fluttershy squeaked, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.  Even Rarity had a hoof placed over her mouth in shock.  

“Yes…” Luna continued, “but I am afraid that is not where the story ends.  The bodies and wreckage were moved here to Canterlot and placed in a secure facility.  Some of our top scientists and mechanics examined the wreckage.  The vessel was obviously no longer functional, but they were able to glean a few of its secrets.  We still aren’t clear to its exact purpose, but we do know that it is a highly advanced piece of machinery most likely designed for voyages into deep space.  It was powered by engines more advanced than any we have ever been able to produce, and capable of generating staggering amounts of power.  It uses technologies that are still in the theoretic phase of our most advanced science research.  Our best medical professionals and healers studied the bodies, which were most likely the most important facet of this whole catastrophe.”

“Ah don’t mean ta sound insenitive,” Applejack spoke up.  “…but why exactly are the bodies of  some poor ponies so important, when ya have some sorta super advanced flyin’ machine ta worry about?  Ah mean, shouldn’t ya be focusin’ on which country this thing came from, and maybe askin’ them about it rather then bein’ all secretive and sneaky?”  The princesses exchanged an uneasy look.  

Celestia finally answered her. “Because Applejack…they…weren’t ponies.”  Applejack’s mouth worked for a moment as if trying to form words, but she instead settled on a very confused look, and kept her mouth shut.  

“As my sister said, these creatures are not equine in nature.  Nor are they any other species we have a classification for.”  Luna stopped to take a deep breath.  “At this time we believe that these beings are extra terrestrial lifeforms.”

“Wait wait wait wait wait…Let me get this straight.” Rainbow Dash stood up and interrupted.  “Are you trying to tell me, that aliens crashed here in Equestria?” She finished with a sarcastic laugh.

“…Yes.”

Dash’s face lost all traces of humor and she plopped back down on her haunches, a bit paler than before.

“….oh.”

“Excuse me, your majesty?” Twilight spoke up.  “This is all very fascinating and terrifying, but I still don’t understand why you need us here.”

“Well…” Luna replied.  “…do you remember when I told you there were no survivors?”

“…yes.” Twilight’s eyes narrowed in slight confusion.

“That’s…not…entirely true.”

~~~~~

The girls all sat in a semi circle around the Goddesses of the sun and the moon, jaws agape.  Rarity was the first to regain her composure.  

“So you actually…have one of them, alive?!”

“Long story short, yes.” Celestia answered.  Dash shook herself free of the shocked daze she was in.

“Really?! That…is so…AWESOME!!! Can we see it!? Please!?!?”

“That was actually our next stop.  If you girls are ready we can go now.”  The girls all scrambled to their feet, eager to get a look at the creature.  

They followed the Princesses deep into the castle, walking for almost twenty minutes following corridor after corridor.  They finally reached a set of double doors guarded by six soldier ponies all in full armor.  The guards allowed them to pass only after Celestia gave specific orders to allow the girls through as well.  Soon, they came to the castle's medical wing.  The door bore a menacing looking “QUARANTINE” sign, along with “DO NOT ENTER” and several other scary warnings.  Another group of guards stood at this door allowing nopony to pass; the doors opened only for Celestia, Luna, and a chosen few other individuals.  Once beyond this portal Twilight noticed a distinct lack of ponies.  It seemed the princess had commandeered the entire medical wing.  A handful of ponies darted here or there scurrying about with charts, x-rays, and the like.  The princess led the girls to a large steel door.  She stopped before entering and turned to face the girls.  

“Now, it isn’t a pretty sight.  It was injured very badly in the crash, so I will urge anypony with a weak stomach to remain here.”  When none of the girls spoke up Celestia opened the door.  It led to an empty room with a large window in the far wall.  Visible through the window in a room beyond was a hospital bed.  On the bed lay a mass of wires and tubes so thick it was difficult to decipher the figure that lay beneath them.  It was somewhat similar anatomically to a pony.  It had four legs, the two closest to its head were considerably smaller, but still appeared well muscled and more importantly ended with dragon-like hands, rather than hooves. Strangely enough, his cutie mark appeared to be in the wrong spot, and none of the girls could puzzle out his special talent, from the alien mark. 

It’s head was oddly shaped:  It had no snout to speak of other than a slight protrusion below its eyes with two nostrils, which were plugged with clear tubing.  Twilight assumed that was the creature’s nose.  It had a mouth, but this was occupied by a larger plastic tube which pumped gas into the creature.  Its chest rose and fell rhythmically.  Its mane was cropped to a very thin buzz and ended short at the base of its neck.  The creature had hair only on its head, and it had some light fur on its chest and arms but other than that, it was mostly skin.  

Celestia hadn't exaggerated.  The alien was covered in burns and bruises.  Most of its chest was plastered in gauze which Twilight assumed covered more severe burns.  Its face had been cut and beaten.  The left arm was covered in bandages from shoulder to finger.  Its lower half was covered in a white sheet.  Any skin that wasn’t severely injured was connected to some wire or monitor, keeping track of its vital signs.  Celestia began to speak.  

“It is actually quite fascinating.  He has essentially the same vital organs as any pony; heart, lungs, stomach, liver.  If it were any different I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to keep him alive this long.”

“…Him?” Twilight asked.

“Oh my yes.  It’s a male.  It seems the anatomy was quite similar indeed.” Twilight blushed slightly.  “We aren’t quite certain of his age.  We think he is still fairly young.  He is fully matured but we can’t be certain how old they live to be exactly.  Based solely on his cell growth, we estimated him to be anywhere from twenty to forty.  Of course without knowing how old they can get, this is all just speculation and guesswork.  For all we really know, in his own species eyes, he may still be a newborn, .” They stood and gawked for another few minutes.  “Would you like to get a closer look?” Celestia actually sounded a bit excited, as if she were happy to finally have somepony to share the discovery with.  

The mares nodded enthusiastically and Luna directed them to an unnoticed door in the side of the room.  The door led to another empty room.  It was stark white and covered in strange nozzles.  The door sealed behind the group and a white disinfectant gas began pouring out of the nozzles.  Once the ponies were all effectively sterile, a light on the ceiling flickered green and a second door opened, leading to the room which housed the alien.  The girls all warily trotted over to get a better look, while Celestia and Luna busied themselves with the machines that were keeping it alive.  Luna eventually trotted over to the group of mares ogling the alien.  She then smiled and said,

“Look at this.” She placed a hoof on the creatures face and pulled back on its upper lip, revealing a set of white teeth.  “Notice anything?” She asked.  

Applejack spoke, “Its teeth are…sharp.  ‘Specialy them four.” She indicated the four canine teeth jutting from its gums.  “That means it’s a carnivore don’t it? It eats meat.”  Luna smiled, “Very good, that’s what we assumed at first too, but look.” She pulled back further revealing the teeth in the back of its mouth.  They were much more flat, designed to chew both plants and animals.  “Omnivore!” She said, a little too excitedly.

“What’s wrong with it? Why won’t it wake up?” Fluttershy spoke at a barely audible level.  

Celestia answered. “Well, by all means he should be long dead, and if anyone other than Luna or I had arrived when we did, he likely would have been.  He was trying his hardest to cling to life but he had sustained injuries that no living thing should have been able to survive.” Then, as if to emphasize Celestia’s point Luna began reading from a chart.

“Skull fractures, severe concussions, left foreleg shattered.  Six broken ribs, left lung punctured, spinal fracture, right hip broken, several organs bleeding internally, right rear leg broken in two places, and burns covering almost 20% of his body.  He’s had a bad week.” She bluntly summarized.  

“So why can’t you just, you know, heal him with magic?” Dash asked.

“We tried,” Celestia answered.  “We received…mixed results.  We were able to reset most of his bones, and stop the internal bleeding, but it’s strange.  He seems…resistant to magic.  When we try to heal a cut, sometimes it works, other times his own cells turn on the magically healed area, they seem to reject the healed tissue and it kills off its own cells.  He seems to mostly reject minor healing spells.  We have been slightly more successful with the more complex spells, but we, more than once, have inadvertently almost killed him.  You must understand that no creature should have survived such wounds, magic or no.  We debated for a long time simply allowing the poor thing to die, but we decided there was a chance we could save it and possibly learn more about it.  That’s where you girls come in.”  The mares all stopped and gave her their full attention.  “We have exhausted every avenue we could, yet he still hasn’t shown any sign of waking out of this comatose state.  It seems that the joint power of both Luna and I just isn’t enough.  The combined Elements of Harmony are one of the most powerful and ancient magics in existence.   Luna and I were hoping to tap that power and combine it with our own.  Then perhaps we’ll have a shot at saving him.”

“When exactly are you planning on trying this?” Twilight asked, eager to get started.

“Tomorrow,” Luna answered.  “You girls are surely quite tired from today’s excitement, and the spell is by no means an easy one.  We want you all to be well rested before we attempt it.”

Satisfied with finally having a solid plan, the girls returned to inspecting the alien.  

“Do ya think we oughta try and learn a bit more about it before we go wakin’ it up?” AJ asked.  “Ah mean, how do we know he’s gonna be friendly?”

“We don’t really,” Celestia answered.  “but we have actually learned a surprising amount about it.  It’s a carbon based bipedal, highly dexterous creature.  It breathes oxygen; it’s comprised mostly of water, all very similar to a pony.  The only real difference is its shape.”

“What’s all this?” Pinkie said, her lower half sticking out the top of a large metal crate.  

“That’s everything the alien had in its possession, when we first brought it here.” Pinkie began digging through the box.  She picked out a large pair of tan boots, and some rather strange looking clothes.  The other girls soon joined her in examining the creature’s odd possessions.  They found a pair of pants, with matching blouse that made Rarity gag.  They were both made of a durable material, on which was printed several thousand tiny squares, each a slightly different color of tan or brown, in  strange, seemingly erratic grouping patterns.  The effect created a camouflaged look.  A gold leaf was pinned onto the collar of the garment.  The pants had several pockets both in the front, back, and down the legs.  The blouse had two pockets on the breast of the garment.  Dash slipped her forelegs in the arm holes and stood on her hind legs.  She admired herself in the alien clothing.  

“I kinda like it.”  She announced.  “It’s very intimidating.” She chuckled and Twilight noticed some text sewn on top of either pocket.  She questioned Celestia about it.

“We think that’s his name, maybe the name of his family or clan.  We can’t really be sure.”

Twilight read the letters.  “DORAN” was stitched above the right pocket.  “U.S.  MARINES” was stitched above the other.  She found more clothes, a tan shirt, a pair of shorts, even socks.  She placed his clothes aside and continued digging.  Something shiny caught her eye.  She pulled out a long silver chain on which were two metal tags.  Both engraved with the same message.

DORAN

SHANE, T.     O-NEG

540 33 6010

USMC    MED

NO PREFERENCE

“What about these?” Twilight asked holding them up.

“Again, we can’t say for sure but we think it’s a form of identification tag.”

Twilight then came upon a heavier piece of black metal.  It was L shaped with a molded handle which would have fit his hand perfectly.  The long end of the L ended with a steel tube which ran the length of the piece, and a small lever protected by a band of steel which joined at either arm of the L.  Twilight held it up to Celestia.  

“Any idea what this is?”

“We assumed it to be some type of weapon.” She said, “I’d be careful with it if I were you.  We studied it a bit and it seems that it harnesses a combustible powder, to send metal slugs out of that barrel at incredible speeds.  It's either a weapon or it fulfills some other use we couldn’t think of.” Another item caught Twilight’s eye: a mess of buckles and straps all connected to a sort of rectangular tube made of tough canvas.  Twilight slid the metal device into the tube experimentally and it fit perfectly.  Another strap wrapped around the base of the L and snapped onto the other side of the tube, securing it in place.  Twilight gently set the device back down in its box.  Most of the girls had gone back to staring at the sleeping alien.  Pinkie scrutinized it with one bright blue eye.  

“You say it’s a he huh?” She examined his face.  It certainly appeared masculine.  He had a strong jaw, heavily muscled, but it was tough to tell with a creature she had never encountered before, let alone one this extensively bandaged.  Pinkie began to lift the sheet of its waist before her hoof was brushed away by Rarity who was giving her a clearly disapproving look.  The girls all chuckled.  

“Alright, have you girls seen enough?” Luna asked.  Despite their curiosity they realized how tired and hungry they were.  They all nodded an affirmative, and the group left the creature to sleep in peace.  

The Princesses treated the girls to a royal dinner before they were shown their rooms.  Celestia announced they would have free reign of the castle but they were urged to get some rest.  Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.  

Most of the girls went to explore the castle, however Twilight went to explore the library.  She sat in front of a stack of medical tomes, healing spells, and anatomy.  She strove to learn as much as she could about tomorrow’s procedure before she attempted it.  

Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash went back to the medical wing to get another look at the alien.  They entered the facility and passed the quarantine doors.  They stepped through the sanitizing spray and once again were back in the hospital room.  Pinkie Pie took full advantage of their lack of supervision and climbed right up onto the bed with the alien.  Legs on either side of it, she scrutinized it up close, face to face.  She lifted and eyelid with her hoof.  The pupil contracted inside a blue/green iris, but otherwise he kept staring off into nowhere.

“Helllloooooooo? Wake up Mr. sleepy bones!” She gently tapped him on the forehead.  “Anypony home?” She waited a moment for a response but the only answer she received was the mechanical whir of the breathing machines.  She hopped down and placed a cupcake on the bedside table.  

“What’s that for?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Duh, silly.  He’s been asleep for almost a week.  He’s gonna be hungry!”

“How do you even know it likes cupcakes? For all we know it’s going to try and eat one of us.” Dash seemed to realize what she had just said.  She and Pinkie Pie shared a nervous look, both realizing that actually was a very likely possibility.  Suddenly neither of them harbored any desire to be alone in the room with a potentially pony eating alien, and they began a not-so-casual sprint for the exit.  They practically ran back through the castle.  The met up with Rarity and Applejack who were exploring other mysteries of the castle grounds.  After the girls had their fill of shenanigans, they retired to their respective rooms.  Twilight remained nose deep in her books until she realized how late it was getting.  She reluctantly retired as well.  

~~~~~

The girls woke extra early, eager for the day to begin.  They were served a large breakfast in the main lounge.  They chatted non-stop about the alien, and whether or not they thought they could successfully wake it.  The door creaked open and a few palace servants came to clean up after the girl’s breakfast.  The six mare’s mouths were immediately forced shut.  That strange tingle once again echoed through their vocal chords, rendering them speechless.  The princesses’ spell definitely worked although it startled them a bit, reminding them that this was no trivial matter.  After the servants left, the mood in the room became more somber.  The girls’ thoughts began to drift toward some of the negatives of the situation.  

“Ahm still not sure wakin’ this thing up is such a great idea.  Ah mean, we got no clue as ta what it’s gonna do once it wakes up,” AJ pointed out.

“…Well…um…we don’t know that he’s necessarily bad either.  He may be very friendly, I’m sure he will be thankful for us saving him,” Fluttershy replied.

“Maybe…” AJ sighed, “but how friendly do ya think it’ll be when it finds all its friends are dead.  No matter how friendly it is, it will still look mighty suspicious ta see almost a dozen of your kin all dead and in Equestrian custody.” Fluttershy hid behind her own pink mane.  She had to admit it was going to be an awkward conversation.  Twilight spoke up.

“I think all we can do is try our best and hope that he is a reasonable being.” She spoke with assurance.  But deep down she felt just as wary as the others.  Ironically, Fluttershy seemed to be the most confident about the creature.  It was her nature to help nurse animals back to health, and this was simply a…big, alien, animal.  

“Don’t worry AJ, Let’s say he does turn out to be some sorta pony-eating monster.  He won’t be able to do anything with BOTH the princesses there.  I’m telling ya, we got nothing to worry about.” Dash said, hovering around the ceiling.  

“I’m quite certain Rainbow is right.” Rarity spoke up.  “But I simply can not help but agree with Applejack to a degree.  I mean, let’s say you are right Fluttershy and he turns out to be the most friendly gentlecolt one can imagine, but what do you think would happen if MORE of them show up here looking for their missing, and find them dead in an Equestrian facility….I doubt they would stop to ask our side of the story before they begin exacting their revenge.” This line of reasoning hit the group  hard.  None of them had anticipated the possibility of more of these things showing up.  The more they thought about it, the more nervous they got about the fast approaching procedure.  

As if on cue, Luna walked through the door followed closely by Celestia, who was looking much more like herself today.  It appeared that she had finally gotten a good night’s sleep.  She spoke to the group in a chipper voice.

“Are you ready?”  Her smile betrayed her obvious and contagious excitement.  Now that the two goddesses were here, the mares felt as though nothing could ever go wrong.  The girls all nodded enthusiastically and the group began the trek to the medical wing.  The trip felt like it took ages.  Each step carried weight.  Every hoof fall brought them closer to the room where all their questions would be answered.  They finally reached the door that lead to the observation room, but before entering, Celestia turned to the group.

“This is it girls, last chance.  If any of you want out, I suggest you get out now.”

“What? You expect us to quit now?! HA! As if.  Let’s do this!” Dash said doing a little flip in the air.  

“We’re staying.  We’re in it till the end, princess.” said Twilight with resolve.  The princess nodded and moved through the door.  The rest followed her though and into the sanitizing chamber.  The stark white room once again filled with the sterilizing smoke, and once the girls no longer harbored any risk of infection the light flicked green and the second door unsealed and inched open.  The princesses positioned themselves on either side of the bed.  The girls took places in a semi circle ending with the two goddesses.  

“Take a few deep breaths girls.” Celestia said as she closed her eyes.  Her brow lowered in deep concentration.  The princesses’ horns glowed, softly at first, but it quickly became brighter.  Soon it flared so the girls could barely see.  The bright aura of magic was blinding.  The air grew hot and thick.  Everything vibrated with energy.  A thick copper taste covered their tongues.  An arc of wild electricity connected the sun and moon goddesses.  The lights in the room flickered and dimmed.  Erratic flashes of lightning zapped to and from the princesses.  Occasionally a bolt would arc away and dissipate against the walls or floor.  Soon one string of electric fire linked itself from Celestia to Twilight, it then spread from Twilight to Rarity.  The bolt followed the circuit joining each of the girls consecutively, until it reached back to Luna.  It didn’t hurt like an arc of electricity should, but it made Twilight's insides flash from hot to cold, and her heart beat furiously.  She could feel the spell probing her entire being, searching for magical energies to absorb.  She felt the spell tap in to her magic, but it also went deeper, commandeering some of the very depths of her soul.   Twilight couldn’t hear any more.  Only an ear splitting ringing could be distinguished from the show of light and fire.  Twilight managed to look up to Celestia, her eyes were wide, they glowed white hot, and sweat beaded her forehead.  Her jaw was clenched  under obvious strain.  Twilight shifted her gaze to Luna, who seemed to be under similar tension.  Her own eyes did not glow white, but rather deep blue, almost black.  Twilight looked to her friends who were also squinting and dealing with similar afflictions, with the exception of Pinkie Pie who wore a pair of sunglasses and a wide, excited smile.

A bolt shot forward from each pony, and struck the alien in the chest.  A vibrant spray of sparks and energy shot in all directions.  The machines monitoring the creature went berserk.  The heart monitor sounded alarms as his heart rate skyrocketed to almost 300 beats per minute.  His blood pressure increased beyond dangerous levels, and his entire body seized.  His muscles clenched and his entire mass spasmed violently.  His face however gave no indication of cognizance.  He still appeared fast asleep.  He glistened as sweat poured through his skin.  His temperature reached 101 degrees, and was continuing to inch higher.  Sparks flew off the respirators as they stuttered to keep up with the oxygen his body was consuming.  The entire creature began to glow.  Soon Twilight couldn't see it beyond the cocoon of magic wrapping.  The noise reached an unbearable level.  Twilight’s ears pressed down as hard as possible, attempting to block it, but she soon realized the noise was coming from inside her head.  The cocoon grew brighter until she saw nothing else.  

The magic that enveloped the creature shattered with a thunderous crack and shot a shock wave in all directions, throwing the girls against the walls.  The room dimmed to pitch black.  Red light barely filled the void as emergency running board lights lit the floor.  The girls staggered to their feet.  Even Princess Celestia was knocked back on her haunches.  Luna lowered her wings, which she had raised to protect herself.  She hurried over to Rarity and Pinkie Pie who were in a tangled mess in the corner.  The overhead lights slowly flickered into existence.  Celestia helped Twilight to her hooves, before addressing the group.

“Everypony all right?” They groggily sounded off their affirmations.  Dash sat on her rump, head held between her hooves.

Barely.” She complained.

“I’m sorry girls.” Celestia said in a voice laced with regret.  “I didn’t know the reaction would be so…unstable.” Her head lowered.  “I should have done more research, but I cut corners and you girls paid the price for it.  I’m sorry.” Luna trotted over to her and lifted Celestia’s head with a nuzzle.

“You did the best you could sister.  You know we could have never predicted this.  Nothing like this has ever been attempted before, especially with something from another planet.” Celestia raised her head, and gave Luna a small smile, which quickly disappeared.

“Thank you, but it doesn’t change the fact that this was still my fault.  There were too many variables with this spell.  I shouldn’t have attempted it.  And now any hope of solving this mystery died with him.” She gestured back to the alien.  The girls forgot about it in the explosion.  The wires that connected it to the machines had been severed.  The clear tube that had pushed air into its lungs was gone.  Following the tube from the machine, Applejack held up the other end which had been melted off.  The alien lay there, oblivious.  Its cuts, bruises, and burns had all healed, but it showed no signs of life.  It lay perfectly still.  If anypony got a quick glance they may have assumed it was sleeping.  Pinkie Pie fearlessly trotted up to the bed and rested her head on its sternum.  She sat there for a moment.  

“He’s not dead.” She stated matter-of-factly.  

“What?!” Celestia and Luna exclaimed in perfect unison.  They both dashed over and pressed an ear to its chest.  They could hear the distinct, Thump Thump, Thump Thump, of a beating heart.  Suddenly it drew in a long breath, which caused all of them to take a step back.  It began to take steady deep breaths.  

“Dear me, …It is alive.” Luna said in a clearly shocked voice.  She then let out an amazed laugh.  “It’s alive! It worked!!!” Celestia didn’t celebrate, however.  She actually looked a bit concerned.  She raised a hoof to his head and lifted an eyelid.  The pupil contracted, but remained staring off into space.  Celestia’s horn lit up again.  A beam of green light encased the creature and scanned it.  

“I don’t understand,” she said.  “Biologically it’s perfectly healthy…but why hasn’t it woken up?”  She then telekinetically picked a machine off the floor and flicked a switch experimentally.  The tiny screen flickered to life.  Satisfied with the device, she grabbed two wires that protruded from the back and attached them to the patient's temples.  The machine began to display an erratic looking string of green.  

“What is that, exactly, Princess?” Rarity inquired.  

“This,” Celestia answered.  “…is a machine that allows me to see somepony’s brainwaves.”

“What’s it sayin’ about his?” AJ piped up from across the room.  Celestia turned the machine so that they all could see.  She pointed with a hoof to the screen

“These, are his brain waves.  More specifically Delta Waves, Two point one one Hz of them.”

“Umm…one more time, in Equestrian this time maybe?” Dash said slightly aggravated.  

Luna spoke up. “It means he is still very much asleep.” She shifted her speech to her sister.  “Maybe we underestimated the extent of brain damage.  He has sustained injuries that no amount of magic should have been able to fix.  There is no precedent to draw from here.  I think we threw out the rule book a long time ago with this one, Tia.” Celestia had to admit the truth in her sister’s words.  

“So what happens now?” Dash asked from her hovering spot above the alien.  

“I… don’t know.” Celestia answered.  “I suppose we’ll just have to wait for a change.  It’s out of my hooves now.  He’s on his own.”

The group left the room, defeated.  Celestia stopped at the nurse’s station and alerted them of the failed spell.  She instructed them to keep an extra sharp watch on the creature and immediately inform her of any change, no matter how minor.  The princesses led the group back to the study.  The royals couldn't linger, as they each had royal duties to attend to.  They told the mares they were welcome to stay as long as they liked, but if they chose to return home, a chariot would be available to escort them tomorrow morning.  Twilight announced she would stay as long as the princess had need of her, the others heartily agreed.  

Relatively free, they wandered for a bit, unsure what to do with themselves.  Rarity immediately seized the opportunity to acquaint herself with the nobility of the capital city.  She spent two hours in her room preparing herself before stepping out in a glimmering blue formal dress.  Fluttershy went to relish in the royal gardens, Rainbow Dash went to go stretch her wings, and Applejack went to find some way to contact her family and alert them of her extended stay.  Pinkie Pie was already gone; she had disappeared, seemingly into thin air.  Twilight, not surprisingly, made her way back to the library.  She didn’t have a specific research goal, so she grabbed a few books on medicine and anatomy, and made her way back to the medical wing.  She set up shop in the observation room and began taking notes.  She documented everything from the creature itself, to the care that the princesses had administered so far.  She entered the examination room with an anatomy book.  Her horn glowed as she attempted to duplicate the scanning spell she had seen Celestia use earlier.  She was met with limited success.  The message was fuzzy, but she could identify the alien’s presence.  She fine tuned her spell a bit and the connection became much clearer.  She scanned for any lingering injuries, but found none.  The creature was as healthy as it had ever been, maybe more so.  

“So why won’t you wake up?”  she thought.

Twilight had a new idea.  She probed the alien’s mind with her magic,  scouring for any signs of consciousness, but she found no indications of awareness. The recesses of his alien mind were chaotic. She felt the overwhelming presence of memories, most of which were completely incomprehensible to her. She likened the experience to being in an abandoned library, where all the books were bound shut. His mind was full of memories and thoughts. He clearly possessed unquestionable intelligence, not that it was in question.

Twilight retreated back into herself to make careful notes of her findings.  She wrote down everything she discovered about the creature.  The alien had several scars that were fully healed, implying they had been received well before the crash.  The scars also gave her an idea of how their society functioned.  They seemed to be far too advanced to still compete for mates, but she didn’t rule that out entirely.  They were obviously not a magic using species.  It would explain why the wounds were not healed immediately, but rather healed over time.  It also may have explained their far superior technology.  

“Invention is born of necessity,” Twilight mused to herself.  “Perhaps if we didn’t have magic we too would have been forced to adapt much more quickly.”  

She trotted over to the box which housed his belongings.  She pulled out his metal tags.  She copied their information down in her notes.  She looked over to the alien.  She looked back at the tags, and re read them.  “Doran, Shane T.”  A thought crept into her head.  She approached the creature and placed her mouth close to its ear.  

“Shane?”

A small beep rang from a machine behind her.  It startled her slightly.  But excited she smiled and tried again a little louder.  “Shane?” The brainwave monitor beeped, and the green line jumped slightly.  It was a small spike, but it excited her like a foal on her birthday.  She almost shouted now.  “Shane! Can you hear me?” The line jumped again.  He was responsive! “Wake up Shane!” The line made a barely visible spike.  “Wake up Shane T.  Doran!” She looked desperately at the screen.  It didn’t even move this time.  Her heart sank, She was losing him.  “NO! Don’t go back to sleep! WAKE UP! …SHANE!” She shouted at the comatose alien, visibly irritated at its fading cooperation.  The line continued the pattern she now recognized as Delta waves.  “Shane?” Nothing happened.  “Helloooo!” Still nothing.  

She went sat back down at her temporary desk, highly disappointed, but she didn’t let it mar the fact that for one brief moment he responded to an outside stimuli.  She avidly recorded the event, making a note of telling the princess the very next chance she got.  Hours passed as Twilight scribbled diligently, occasionally stopping to go check his heart rate or blood pressure.  Once or twice she saw a female pony with a red cross for a cutie mark change out its IV.  Each time the pony gave her a happy smile, but never exchanged more than a few pleasantries.  

The sound of a few hoof beats roused Twilight out of her book, a textbook on modern medical practices.  She turned around to see AJ and Rainbow Dash enter the room.  

“Anythin’ yet there Twi?” AJ asked.

“Not really, A few blips on the monitors but other than that…not a thing.”

“C’mon sugarcube.  We’re gonna get ourselves some dinner and hit the hay.” Twilight stood and stretched her legs.  She followed them out, but first took one last look through the observation window.  She sighed and followed her friends.  While they were walking Dash hovered circles around them.  She began to speak,

“Ya know.  I’ve been thinkin’… What if this guy never wakes up?”  Neither AJ or Twilight had an answer.  “I think we aught to start selling tickets to get your picture taken with it.”  The girls all shared a laugh, thankful for the levity Dash brought to the group.

“I mean…what else are we gonna do, besides sit on our hooves and grow old waiting for this thing to finish napping?”  Dash did bring up a good point.  They didn’t really have a game plan anymore.  Twilight wasn’t comfortable with just “playing it by ear”.  Still, they didn’t have a choice in the matter.  Resigned to wait, Twilight returned with her friends.  None of the girls really noticed how much the day had taken out of them.  They all yawned their way through dinner, and fell asleep almost the second their heads hit the pillow.  

~~~~~

The girls were invited to have breakfast with the princesses, an offer which they heartily accepted.  They discussed a few trivial matters but were unable to broach the topic which they all so desired.  For they were, unfortunately, joined by a few members of the court.  Twilight recognized a few of them.  There was the current commander of the guard, who gave Twilight a wave and a happy smile.  There was also numerous diplomats and government officials, most of whom Twilight could not identify.  Luna was there as well.  She sat next to Celestia doing a very poor job of concealing her boredom with the proceedings.  Rarity was all in a fluster.  She had not been told that this meal would take place in the presence of some of Canterlot’s most notable ponies.  She insisted she had a gown that would have been simply perfect for the setting, yet she had left it in her room.  Despite her fussing she still managed to hit it off with the nobles; she schmoozed like a well oiled machine.  When she wasn’t busy making a name for herself, she kept busy pestering Applejack and Rainbow Dash about their horrid table manners.  Fluttershy was, as usual, hiding behind a lock of her luxurious pink mane.  She occasionally poked her head out to nibble at her meal.  Pinkie Pie somehow managed to shovel staggering amounts of food into her tiny body.  It didn’t seem physically possible for all that food to fit inside the petite pink filly, but wise ponies had long since learned not to seek logical answers when Pinkie Pie was involved.  After the meal, the group broke from the table and did their best to mingle with the princesses’ guests.  The commander of the guard approached Twilight.  

“Hello Miss Sparkle!”

“Hello Commander, it’s been too long.” She gave the tall pony a friendly hug.  She had met the colt numerous times during her tutelage under Celestia.  She had grown accustomed to his presence, and he had become fond of her.  He had no children of his own, and given his almost constant contact with Celestia, he had watched her grow up.  Once or twice Celestia had even left Twilight in his care, when her duties forced her away.  

“So!  What is it that has Celestia in such strange mood lately?”  Twilight panicked a bit.  They hadn't yet thought of a cover story in the event somepony started asking questions.  “I mean, if she were to confide in anyone, I just as well assume it would be you.”

“Oh…um..yes, the princess, well, I …uh…” She stammered desperately grasping for any excuse that came to mind.  But he cut her off.

“…and not to mention, it being important enough to recall her most faithful student AND the other Elements of Harmony.  It doesn’t seem like Celestia to go through all this trouble for a mere visit.”

“Oh well, you know how the princess can get…” She chuckled nervously.  He leaned intimidatingly closer and continued.

“Why, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say Celestia was trying to hide something.”  Beads of sweat began forming on Twilight’s forehead, and her fake smile grew to an arguably creepy level.  “Perhaps it has something to do with the reports of a strange object crashing outside Manehatten?” He leaned in even closer, noses almost touching.  She couldn’t escape his piercing gaze.  Just then Luna strode past and deadpanned,

“Relax Twilight, he knows everything,” And then passed by.  Twilight looked back at the commander who was now sporting a huge smile, barely containing his jollity.  The look on Twilight’s face was enough to send him over the top and he almost fell over from the strength of his boisterous laughing.  Twilight let out her breath, which she realized she had been holding, and brought a hoof up to her chest in a futile attempt to get her heart to stop racing.  She barely managed to speak.  

“…why?!” she pleaded, her voice colored with indignation and residual terror.  He fought back any additional bursts of merriment and answered her.

“Just testing your mettle kid….Needless to say, you failed.  But it’s always fun watching you squirm.” Twilight stared at him secretly hoping her looks could kill.  He reached up a hoof and mussed up her mane.  “Aw, don’t be mad Sparky it was all in good fun.” She stormed off to rejoin her friends leaving the still chuckling stallion behind.  It wasn’t the first time he had pulled a prank like this at her expense.

The girls left the gathering to return to the lounge.  If it weren’t for the whole “potential extra terrestrial invasion” thing, the trip would have been a lovely getaway.  They didn’t get many opportunities to be together for such an extended period of time.  It always felt right being together.  Life often tried to get in the way, but they knew in their hearts that nothing would or could ever separate them.  

~~~~~

Several stories below, a nurse pony sat at her station.  She quietly hummed to herself, filling out paperwork.  Her ordinary duties consisted of assisting the princesses’ royal physician, but Celestia herself had assigned her a special job.  She and only a handful of others were given custody of some sort of new species.  They hadn’t been told where the princess had found the poor thing but it was so near death when they brought it in, she feared it wouldn’t survive the night.  But the Princesses had seen fit to directly intervene and keep the creature alive.  The medical staff were given a rush course in its anatomy, and told to keep it breathing at all costs.  

And by no stretch of the imagination had the creature made it easy on them.  The first few nights it seemed to crash every other hour or so.  Its heart would give out or it would have a nasty reaction to some healing spell.  Lately however the beast had finally seemed to find some rest, (she wasn't sure that a coma counted as rest) but it was still a good thing.  It was at least staying alive by itself now…for the most part.  The Princesses had even recruited the Elements of Harmony for one big shebang of a healing spell, but from she had been told, they had not succeeded in waking the thing from its sleep.  Most of the “on call” medical staff elected to return to their usual schedules after learning the animal no longer harbored much chance of waking.  She volunteered to stay behind.  She was curious to see where this adventure was going to take her…and she had to admit, the increased pay helped a lot.  

A shocking sound shattered the silence of the deserted medical wing, a noise she recognized all too clearly.  Her heart sank into her stomach.

“Oh no…”

~~~~~

The mare leapt to her hooves and sprinted towards the only room in the medical wing with a patient.  The obnoxious beeping she sought sounded the alert of a patient going into cardiac arrest.  She had to stop a moment to grab a crash cart.  The rapid beeps of the alarm died for a moment and she slowed to try and hear it.  The beeping had stopped, but the noise that replaced it made her insides freeze:  the high pitched tone of a flat-lining heart monitor.  Every alarm in the room blared.  It was a horrible chorus of death, lamenting to whoever was unfortunate enough to hear its music.  She raced to the door, barged her way through, and stuffed herself in the sanitizing chamber.  If she had only stopped a moment she would have noticed a set of terrified blue eyes watching her through the observation window.  She didn’t even wait for the sprays to finish but rather she attempted to pry open the second door and force her way inside.

She stood for a moment, very confused.  She was definitely in the right room.  All the life support machines were sounding and flashing obnoxiously…but the bed was empty.  

“…this is just like the beginning of every horror movie I have ever seen.”  She heard the door close behind her as whatever had been hiding behind pushed it shut.  “Yep, JUST like every horror movie.” Her vision went black as something collided with the back of her head, and she fell to the ground.  

        

~~~~

Twilight decided to check up on their inter-planetary friend one more time before hitting the town with the girls, who were waiting for her in the castle courtyard.  She trotted through the hallways and passages that made up the now-familiar route to the medical wing.  She passed the sets of double doors that led to the medical facility itself, and after passing the nurses station, she immediately noticed something was out of place.  The friendly nurse who usually sat there was missing.  And even more jarring, some almighty racket seemed to be emanating from the room which housed the alien.  Dread filled Twilight as she cautiously moved toward the room.  She barely took a step before she was stopped dead in her tracks.  

She was frozen in terror.  A tall, two legged figure stalked out of the room…very much awake.  Time seemed to slow down, emphasizing the absolute enormity of the moment.  The alien paused as it noticed Twilight shuddering in fear.  It met her gaze.  Its eyes bored into hers with uncertainty, as if deciding whether or not the small purple mare was a threat.  Twilight noticed that it had found its clothes and its weapon, which was strapped to its right thigh.  It was much taller than it appeared laying prone in the bed unconscious.  Twilight’s head only came up to about its stomach.  It was probably 9 hands or so taller than she was.  How long they stayed there staring in shocked apprehension Twilight had no idea.  

The sound of angry shouts and the thunderous pounding of armored hooves snapped them out of their impasse.  Twilight saw the guards round a corner much farther down the hallway.  They slowed as they beheld the strange creature, but did not halt their charge.  The alien looked back and forth between the guards barreling toward him and Twilight a few times before it lowered itself and took off in a dead sprint, directly at Twilight.  Every fiber of her being screamed for her to move, but her terror stricken limbs would not budge, despite the monster ahead.  It was only fifteen feet away now, still in a full-on sprint.  Twilight’s hooves finally dislodged and she galloped in the opposite direction.  The alien followed her.  It was fast but not nearly as fast as a full grown pony—a  fact that, Twilight hoped, would allow the guards to catch it before it caught her.          

Twilight just ran for a few horror filled moments.  There was distance between her and the alien, but it was still following.  “Maybe it thinks I'll lead it to an exit,” she desperately thought.  She turned a corner and died inside.  It was wrong.  She had run into a dead end.  The hallway ended with a large window in the far wall and no side hallways to escape down.  She pressed herself firmly against the far wall of the hallway and prayed the guards had already subdued the beast.  Her prayers failed;  she saw it skid to a halt at the other end of the corridor.  She was trapped.  She tried to be brave, but her impending doom sucked the bravado right out of her.  The alien looked at her and then behind at the rapidly approaching shitstorm of guards.  It barreled toward Twilight and made it about halfway down the corridor before the guards turned the corner.  It exerted an extra burst of speed.  It towered above her now.  Even worse, he hooked a foreleg under the still petrified Twilight and squeezed her to his chest.  His left arm wrapped itself around her ribcage, pinning her forelegs.  Her rear legs still touched the ground, but barely.  Twilight was in too much shock to register what happened.  But that changed when she felt icy metal pressed against her throat.  She was a hostage now.  The purple mare had never been this scared in her entire life.  An alien being now held what felt to be a surgical scalpel to her throat.  

The guards stopped in their tracks.  A few of the unicorns’ horns glowed but from somewhere in the mass of soldier ponies, one said, “Easy boys, she wants it alive.” This did not seem to sit well with the alien who hugged Twilight closer and pressed the blade of the scalpel up to the hollow of her neck.  Some of the unicorns dimmed the menacing glow of their horns.  This Mexican standoff dragged on for several minutes.  Twilight could feel the alien’s heart hammering in its chest.  She decided to make a last ditch effort to save herself.  

“Please…” She squeaked out.  Its eyes bore into the back of Twilight’s head.  “Please don’t do this.  Celestia please don’t.” It didn’t release her.  “Shane?” The alien froze at the mention of the name.  “Shane please.” He felt a hot tear fall onto his arm.  He knew that voice.  It was the woman’s voice that echoed in his dreams.  His eyes darted around rapidly as if searching for anyway out of the situation.  The guards all reeled back when it spoke.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone.” The guards were in shock.  “But I need to leave, now.” One of the guards, an older unicorn, stepped forward.

“We can’t let you do that.  Now just put the filly down, and we can work this out.”

“I don’t think you understand,” He said with a crack of desperate laughter.  “I CAN’T be here! And the longer I stay, the worse it will get!”

“Son you just knocked out a royal staff member, and are threatening the life of the princess’ personal protege.  You aren’t going anywhere.” The alien did a double take of the purple pony he held in his arms.  “Just put her down and come with us, you're only making things worse for yourself.”

“I can’t!” He said desperately.

“What choice do you have, son?”

        He murmured to himself something Twilight barely caught.  

“There’s always a choice.”

They had backed a strange wolf into a corner.  It did what it thought it must to survive.  He shuffled a few small steps back and bumped into the window.  He snuck a quick peek out the glass pane, before he returned his sad gaze to the guards.  He pressed his head to the back of Twilight’s and barely whispered.  

“I’m sorry for this.”

He threw the scalpel to the ground and unceremoniously launched Twilight into the group of guards.  She screamed as she sailed through the air and collided, knocking several off their feet.  The alien turned and drew out the metal L from its holster.  It pointed it directly at the glass window.  Three ear tearing cracks ripped through the hallway, along with the sound of splitting glass.  The creature made a short running start before diving through the window, shattering the pane and disappearing out the frame.  

It only took a moment for the guards to regain their composure.  The pegasi in the group hurled themselves out the broken window and after the thing.  Some guards helped Twilight to her hooves and she assured them she was fine.  She went to the window and looked down the two story drop.  She saw the alien sprinting across the courtyard, desperately trying to escape.  Four pegasus guards were quickly closing the gap.  It had almost run a fifty yards before one of the pegasi slammed into its back, sending them both rolling in a tangle of limbs.  

The pegasus guard had him pinned against the ground, hooves wrapped tightly around its middle.  The alien threw an elbow back and it collided with the side of the guard’s head, sending his golden helm flying.  The pegasus soldiers were a bit closer to the alien’s height, but not by much.  The stunned pegasus rolled off his back, but by then the other guards had landed and threw themselves into the fray.  Two grabbed his arms and pinned them to the ground.  A third tried to jump on top of him, but as he was in the air, the alien reared his legs and delivered a buck that would have made Applejack proud, rebounding the guard into a tangled heap of feathers.  The alien wormed his right arm free, and slammed a fist into the cheek of the guard pinning his left arm.  The guard staggered back.  Now with both his arms free he grabbed the remaining guard by the head and crushed the flat of his forehead against the pegasus’ face in a devastating head butt.  The guard reeled back holding its face, leaking blood all over the grass.  

The alien scrambled to its feet and fled.  Several more guards poured out of the castle.  The alien continued to run in vain.  From the window Twilight had to admire its resolve.  It dashed around a corner as Twilight teleported down to the courtyard.  She charged as fast as she could after the guards.  She rounded the corner to see the alien running parallel to the base of the castle wall.  Several dozen unicorn guards blocked his path.  He skidded as he tried to veer away, but he was again obstructed as the pegasus guards landed, cutting off his only escape.  He was trapped.  His back was against the wall, and guards flanked him on all sides.  Twilight ran up and forced her way past the soldiers to get a better look.  He paced nervously, like a caged dog.  He breathed heavily, and he was covered in deep cuts, which oozed blood down his face, neck and arms.  He continued to pace, with his weapon dangerously in hand.  He was outnumbered, and he knew it.  He would die before he could get a shot off.  A large flash of light and a sonic pop resolved into Princess Celestia.  She stood in the semi circle of guards and stared at the alien, who stopped his pacing to inspect the newest threat.  He shifted his head left and right, processing the painful obviousness of his now hopeless escape.  He slowed his breathing and composed himself.  He silently stood still.  His eyes turned skyward.  He paused a moment to look at the sun, and admire the beautiful summer day.   His gaze came back down.  He stared at Celestia a moment, then at Twilight.  His gaze went to the horizon, and focused on a distant point.  His eyes closed with resolve.  He took a deep breath, and flicked the barrel of the weapon up under his chin.

“NO!” Twilight screamed.  Celestia raised a wing and cut off her view, sweeping her into a protective embrace.  Twilight winced from the sound of the shot, which echoed of the walls of the palace, followed by the unmistakable sound of a body crumbling to the ground.


ARTICLE 2

PART II

By: Muppetz (!Gsih3Wfnlk)

7 DAYS PRIOR

LOCATING…

Err.

WIDENING SCAN

Err.

Location – Cannot Pinpoint -

Running Diagnostic…

WARNING

Life Suppt.  Sys.  – 46.22% ---Yellow

Primary Sys.  Drv.  --- UNAVAILABLE

Re-routing Power to core drives.  

Run Primary System Analysis

…running

…running

-EX-V38-

CORVETTE CLASS ex.  SHUTTLE 540

8.42 Minutes after E.R.  event

COMMs.  LINK – UNAVAILABLE

RELAY – NOT FOUND

LOCATION – UNKNOWN

CURRENT TIME – UNKNOWN

STATUS – BLACK

“What happened?!” a tall, lanky man asked.  He scrambled about the deck searching for his wire-framed glasses, found them, and pressed them up onto his nose.  He pushed against the floor and rose through the air.  Zero gravity took some getting used to, but he had learned to navigate the ship with little difficulty.  He made his way over toward another man; this one was on his back, lying on the floor of the craft.  His upper half was obscured by the bulk of an electrical console.  The sound of a socket wrench clicking and the occasional blue flash of a torch was the only response.  “HEY! Did we make the jump?!” No reply.  “AARON! WHAT HAPPENED!?”

“I don’t fucking know, John! SHUT UP!” he finally answered, the sound of his voice muffled by the bulky machinery that separated them.  Another blue flash illuminated Aaron’s torso, followed by an unhealthy burst of electrical sparks.  Based on the enraged swearing, followed by fist thuds from within the console John could only assume that the repairs weren’t going well.  He slowly backed away, eager to avoid being caught in the engineer’s fury.  He left the cockpit, and floated down the small hallway that led to the living quarters: a large rectangular space.  The walls consisted of large white plastic panels.  On each panel hung a rectangular blue sleeping pad, complete with straps and snaps to secure sleeping soldiers in zero-G slumber.   Several panels were torn off the walls, uncovering a mess of wires and smoking circuitry.  A man sporting a crew cut and combat utilities floated in front of an exposed bundle of wires.  He held a wire between his teeth, a soldering iron in his right hand, and a set of wire snips in the left.  John stopped and did a concerned double take.

“…um…Shane? ...Do you have any idea what you're doing?” he asked tentatively.

“I ‘ave no clue” Shane said through the wires in his teeth.  Yet he continued fussing with the electric clutter.  

“You’re not a mechanic, Shane.  Let someone who knows what they’re doing mess with that, before you fuck something up.” Shane spat out the wires, but never bothered to turn and face the man.  

“I graduated with honors on the Dean’s list, was top of my OCS class, and have two doctorates! I can figure out a friggin’ circuit board!”  John almost argued when Shane flicked an ominous red switch.  After a moment a slight breeze flowed through the craft.  The ventilation fans came back online.  Shane spun around with a huge smile and triumphantly fired two middle fingers at John, which he began to bobble up and down.  

sssssSSUUCK IT, JOHN!”  He proceeded to make some more impolite victory gestures.  John rolled his eyes and shoved off a bulkhead, propelling him toward the opening in the back of the cabin.  The portal led to a small galley.  Attached was the mess, large enough to hold the entire crew.  He continued through the room and sailed through another opening in the rear bulkhead.  It led to a smaller room.  There were a few consoles and monitors, but otherwise it was empty.  A large air-tight hatch adorned the floor, painted with black and yellow stripes.  He planted his feet on either side of the hatch and pulled upward on a red handle.  The door hissed as John pulled the lever and snaked himself through.  The air was hot, thick, and filled with a gray haze that reeked of burning engine oil.  Several men shot around the room turning wrenches and sealing air leaks.  The lights were all out, making it nearly impossible to see.  Each man had a light stick strapped to his chest harness.  The combined flashlights produced just enough light to let them make their way around the electronics and machinery without injury.  The fans kicked on, and the haze slowly cleared.  

John meandered through the men and machines and floated over to a bulky man, with jet black hair, who was busy cutting wires before stripping them and splicing the bare copper ends together.  His callused hands repeated the task for several minutes on an assortment of different colored wires.  He acted with the skill and precision of someone with an intimate knowledge of the machine.  He severed one more green wire, and connected it to a black lead.  The lights in the room slowly flickered on.  The large man stood back and took a long sigh.  He finally noticed the new arrival.  He merely shook his head at John.

“That bad huh?” John asked, still floating in place.

“I never seen anything like this.  Half the ‘lectrical systems are fried beyon’ recognition, the other half got out completely unfazed.  It don’t make any sense.  Any EMP or electrical storm woulda’ shorted every system on board, but only certain things got hit.  The engine was goin’ haywire like nothing I ever saw.  The bridge drive was puttin’ out ‘nuff juice to cook us in our own hull.  We hadda’ vent the fucker TWICE before it was cool enough to get a man in here.” He stopped and shook his head again, defeated.  “Ma’ best guess at this point is that every governing system on board jus’ so happen to fail at the exact same time.  But even that don’t explain half a’ the weird ass electronic readin’s we picked up post-slip.”  John barely understood half of that.  He just flew the damn thing, and his knowledge of its systems was limited to that role.  

The brass was so paranoid about this stupid ship.  John didn’t even want to know how much it had cost.  The vehicle was state of the art experimental military tech, so secret that no one member of the crew would have complete knowledge of its systems.  Needless to say, this often made running it very difficult, especially given their current predicament.  It became commonplace to joke that they were going to be shot when they got home, regardless of their success, solely to ensure they would never talk about it.  Such black humor often got some chuckles, but they all felt a cold dread afterwards.  Believing the idea took little imagination.  An angry voice broke out over the din.  

“We didn’t even fucking go anywhere!” The man had moved in front of one of the very few and very tiny portholes in the craft.  John pushed himself over to the window, and peered out, beholding a strange sight.  There was a little blue marble of a planet.  Granted it did look similar to Earth; blue and green.  But the land masses resembled no existing continents nor did the oceans match any on Earth.

“…yes we did.” He said, before taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“No, look! Earth’s right there.  We barely moved at all.” John sighed and took his sleeve and wiped some condensation off the thick glass porthole.  

“…can you name any one of the continents down there for me?”

“…what?”

“Try and name just one of those continents, or a body of water, anything.” The man looked suspicious, but turned his focus out the window.  He pointed a finger and said,

“That, right there, is…uh...wait, no.  It might be…um.”  John could see the man piecing the puzzle together in his head, as he noticed the unusual land formations.  “…yeah, ok that might not be Earth.” he conceded in confusion.  He looked around to see most of the men had stopped to listen to the conversation.  One of them spoke up.  

“Well then where the hell are we?” The silence that followed allayed few concerns.  

*Luke, SitRep.* the voice over the comm was muffled by static, but it was clear enough to understand.  The bulky man from earlier stood up and shouted back at the speaker,

“We’re stable, but the core drives are AFU.  We ain’t goin’ anywhere fast.”

*Air?*

“Scrubbers are back on, leaks are all patched.  It’s duct tape and rubber bands…but it’ll hold.”

*All hands to the bridge *

The men quickly filed out of the engine room, eager for some answers.  Only one at a time fit through the hatch in the ceiling.  The skeleton crew of eleven eventually found a place for themselves in the rather cramped bridge, facing a tall bald man.  It was tense and quiet as they waited for him to speak.  His voice was eroded by years of smoke and drink.

“Alright guys.  I don’t really know how to put this lightly so I’m just going to say it….We’re completely fucking lost.”

~ Present ~

Celestia sat in her throne room, tall and proud.  She was as regal and beautiful as the sunrise itself, smiling softly and patiently.  On the inside, however, she felt like she could scream in frustration.  Listening to some bureaucrat drone on about the defects in the Equestrian tax laws was about as entertaining as it sounds.  Luckily, several millennia of experience had worked wonders for her ability to appear interested.  She quietly amused herself by considering trying her hoof at professional poker, and for a moment her smile was genuine.  It was quickly replaced by its false counterpart as Celestia remembered where she was.  She wasn’t really paying attention anymore.  This was more Luna’s department;  her sister was the one who had written most of the tax codes anyway.  And they had worked splendidly for the past thousand years.  Why then did this bureaucratic know-it-all seem to think it needed fixing? She took a deep breath trying to suppress the urge to send him to the moon.  

It wasn’t his fault she was in a bad mood.  This had been a stressful week.  It wasn’t every day you get a surprise visitor from another planet, let alone one hell-bent on dying in your hooves.  She had exhausted herself fretting over that silly thing.  She and Luna rarely stopped working at it, trying every viable spell and medical procedure known to ponydom.  Each try was a gamble, sometimes they helped, other times they almost killed it.  The medical procedures were nearly hopeless given they were created with ponies in mind, not aliens.  It was utterly grueling.  No matter how hard they tried, no matter how strong their spells, the beast refused to wake.  Even the combined powers of the sun, the moon, AND the Elements of Harmony had been effectively useless.  She was out of ideas.  She had never really felt helpless before, and she didn’t like it at all.  

A short painful buzzing began to sound inside her head.  It surprised her for a moment before she remembered what it meant.  She had cast a spell designed to alert her of any significant change in the alien’s vital signs, and she was rather proud of it.  The magic was a fairly ingenious, but hearing it now brought her no joy.  In fact, she  hoped it was mistaken.  She had dismissed most of her medical staff and a good number of her guards.  After a week of virtually no brain activity the odds against the creature waking were astronomic.  A poor nurse was down there with it alone, and one of two things was happening; it was dying, or it was awake.  Celestia quickly stood up in the middle of the boring lecture and trotted down her throne doing her best not to look like she was in a hurry.  She seemed to catch the rambling colt off guard and he quickly scrambled to bow.  

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Gray, but I just realized I may have left my sewing machine on fire.” She darted for the nearest exit, leaving an extremely befuddled pony behind her.  The moment she was clear of unwanted eyes she teleported up to her chambers and found a scroll and parchment, she jotted a quick note to Luna before setting the scroll ablaze.  It dissipated into a thin cloud of smoke.  It would appear in front of Luna in seconds, but Celestia did not have the time to wait for a reply.  She teleported herself down to the hospital room, which housed the alien.  She inspected the room.  The life support machines were wrecked and strewn about the floor.  The bed was empty.  Celestia’s sudden arrival scared the hay out of two guards who were attending to a slowly recovering nurse pony.  

“Are you alright?” Celestia asked the nurse.  She nodded, and held her head between her hooves.  She was clearly suffering a massive headache but she seemed to be otherwise unharmed.  

“What happened? Where is it?!” She demanded of the guards.  They cowered a little under her gaze, but they both pointed a hoof down the hallway.  “It got away?!?!” she sounded a little angrier than she had intended.  

“We came running as soon as we heard the alarms going off ma’am.  When we got close, it was already up.  We tried to catch it.  But it took off down the hallway, chasing after a purple unicorn filly.” Celestia’s heart froze.

“Twilight.” She breathed.  Terror rose in the pits of her stomach.  It was after Twilight Sparkle.  Her most faithful student was in danger, and worse, it was Celestia’s fault she was even there.  Flashes of horrible scenarios flooded Celestia’s imagination.  She raced out of the room and down the hall following the echo of raised voices.  She sped along using powerful strokes of her wings to boost her pace.  Celestia heard the scream of a small, terrified filly.  She instantly recognized it as Twilight’s voice, silenced quickly by three explosive cracks, which echoed ominously off the walls.  Celestia’s heart stopped. “No,” she breathed.  Her stomach wrenched itself in knots.  Her eyes threatened to fill with tears as she feared for the worst.  She launched her entire being faster than physically possible, her mind rebelling at the thought of Twilight coming to harm.  She rounded a corner and saw a mess of guard ponies, some scrambling to their feet.  Twilight stood looking out a broken window at the end of the hallway.  Celestia filled with warm relief.  Twilight was alive and well, yet the alien was nowhere in sight.  

As soon as the sun goddess began to approach, the purple filly’s horn glowed a bright white, and Twilight teleported away.  Celestia leapt over a few guards to where Twilight had been standing, as if to try and catch her before she disappeared.  She looked out the broken pane of glass and saw her pupil following a large flow of guards, which lead around the corner of the castle.  Celestia opened her wings and soared out into the open air.  She glided around the corner and spotted a purple dot among the golden armor.  The sea of soldier ponies formed a semi circle against the castle wall.  Trapped inside, the awake beast stood defiantly, weapon in hand.  It then paced back and forth like a trapped wolf.  Celestia teleported herself down next to Twilight.  

She observed the creature up close, and the alien returned the favor.  Celestia didn’t move for fear of further spooking it.  He began to scan the ocean of guards that blocked him in on all sides.  He stood to his full height, almost as tall as Celestia, perhaps still a hand or so from being eye level.  His breathing became more regular, and it appeared he was finally calming down.  He looked up at Celestia’s sun as though he had forgotten where he was.  He scanned the skies, as if he were any ordinary pony enjoying the lovely day.  He lowered his gaze and locked eyes with Celestia, clearly recognizing her as the authority of the group.  His formerly peaceful visage dissipated and his face became a defiant, expressionless mask.  He didn’t even blink.  His gaze was narrow and flinty.  He flicked his stare over to the purple mare at Celestia’s side.  His eyes softened and betrayed sadness, but  the moment did not last.  

The creature sucked in a large breath, as if he were about to plunge himself into cold water, and shut his eyes.  Celestia saw the black steel weapon in his hand rise towards his own head.  The creature pressed the barrel of the weapon under its chin, and its intentions immediately became clear.  Twilight yelled out a desperate cry, and Celestia swept a protective wing over her protégé.  She saw the creature’s eyelids shut tight as it began to squeeze the trigger.  Her own eyes widened as she beheld the weapon glow with an aura of purple blue haze which shimmered like the night sky itself.  It jerked out from under the alien’s head the moment it fired.  The bullet still tore through the alien’s cheek, leaving a bloody furrow in its wake.  Celestia could hardly believe her eyes, as Luna forced her way through the guards, horn glowing and eyes black with anger.  

The cloud of deep blue magic engulfed the alien, telekinetically forcing him to the ground with brutal power.  Celestia felt tears wet her coat where Twilight clung to her mentor like a foal would its mother when it was frightened.  Celestia raised her wing and allowed Twilight to view the scene for herself.  Instead the frightened mare continued to bury her face into Celestia’s coat.  Celestia returned her gaze to the scene playing out in front of her.  The beast squirmed on the ground, fighting Luna’s magic with every ounce of his strength.  Luna broke through the line of guards and furiously stormed into the small clearing.

“NO! You are NOT done here yet!” she commanded with condescending venom.  “Do you have any idea how much work I have put into you?!” Celestia felt a twinge of pity for the confused creature.  Luna rarely lost her temper, but when she did, it was best not be in her path.  The beast was forcing itself against Luna’s spell with defiance that, even Celestia had to admit, was impressive ...  foolish…but impressive.  He managed to push himself to his knees.  Luna’s horn glowed even darker as he was crushed back into a prone position.  The alien grunted painfully, clearly tiring from fighting Luna’s spell.  It eventually ceased pushing and fell to the ground defeated and breathing heavily.  “There, now, was that so hard?” Luna brightened a bit.  As if to merely irritate his captor, the alien began to, once again, resist Luna’s spell, which she had no trouble holding.  Luna’s expression betrayed her severe annoyance.  “You REALLY don’t know when to quit do you?  Very well, have it your way.”  Luna’s horn flashed and the alien’s eyes rolled back into its head as it collapsed to the ground, unconscious.  

Twilight had returned her attention to the scene after hearing Luna’s voice.  She and most of the guards stood back, jaws agape.  Luna telekinetically lifted the alien off the ground and trotted back into the castle with the beast in tow as if he were nothing more than a puppy that had escaped its master’s supervision.  The guards looked at each other with a  “what the hay just happened” expression on their faces.  About half scurried after Princess Luna while the other half looked to Celestia for guidance.  She quickly composed herself and ordered most of them back to their posts.  She knew she would eventually have to explain what exactly they had cornered, but that could wait for a little bit longer.  This was only the beginning of a political nightmare, the likes of which Equestria had never seen.  Now that the excitement had died down a bit she could only dread what she saw in her future.  

A bright Rainbow blur landed with a thud in front of Twilight and Celestia.  Dash bolted over to a still dumbfounded Twilight and began firing off questions at the dazed mare.  

“Twilight, are you ok?! What happened? What’s with all the guards? Did IT get out?!?! Did you catch it? Did it eat somepony? Are you gonna…”

“Rainbow Dash.” Celestia cut the rambling pony off.  “Why don’t you take Twilight, gather the others and I’ll meet you all in the lounge shortly.” Celestia spoke calmly, but the tone of her voice indicated that it was not a request.  Rainbow looked from Celestia to Twilight, who still appeared a bit dazed.  Dash noticed how distraught her friend seemed and she nodded.

“Yeeeaah… C’mon Twilight, let’s go get the girls.” Dash was clearly doing her best to comfort her.  She draped a pale blue wing over the mare and walked her back toward the castle.  Celestia now stood alone with the few remaining guards.  She ordered them to follow her, and she too headed back inside the castle.  

~7 DAYS PRIOR~

“Yeah, I think most of us have already riddled that out.” said a rather small man with a receding hairline.  “What I want to know is HOW we got lost.” The bald man answered him.

“From what we can tell, something went wrong with the bridge drives halfway through slip.  The gate opened and we got through no problem, but then we started picking up these massive spikes in energy.  Before we could even think we had already lost half our electrical systems.  Without the governors the bridge drives started outputting more power than we though even possible.  Luckily the fail safes did their jobs, and shut all the power to the engine room.  Unfortunately, that meant shutting down; boosters, scrubbers, and stabilizers.  We dropped out of slip, now we’re here.  I suppose we should be happy to be alive.”  There was a tense silence as the men processed the situation.  Shane finally spoke up.

“…You know I gotta be honest, I totally saw this coming.”  A few men let out a bit of desperate laughter.  The off the wall statement lightened the mood despite the macabre circumstance.  “I mean come on.”  He continued with a twisted grin.  “The first manned voyage into a wormhole…who expected it to go off without a hitch?  I’ve seen the movies, this shit happens every time.”

“Can anyone explain to me, why the most advanced vessel on or off Earth, on one of the most important voyages in human history, gets outfitted with governors that fail mid slip.  Who the hell's brilliant idea was it to stick us with cheap guidance systems?”

“…the Department of Defense.”

“…welcome to the suck.”  The men shared a tacit agreement.  An older man with patchy gray-brown hair had remained quiet through the whole discussion.  He moved in front of a large yellow monitor that flickered with occasional static, and he began pressing keys.  He continued typing while the rest of the crew discussed the possibilities of repairing the ship for an attempt trip home.  

“We can’t get home if we don’t now which direction home is.” One man pointed out.

“It doesn’t matter what direction home is.  All our navigational systems are fried, the ship is barely holding together as it is, and I wouldn’t trust the bridge drives as far as I could throw them.” They continued to bicker for several minutes.  Then the older gray haired man turned around and announced in a rather disappointed voice, “…I know where we are.”

Every man in the room ceased speaking.  The bald man, who was in charge of the group, responded.

“Well, Thomas, feel free to share with the class.”

“Look,” Thomas began to once more type on the monitor.  He brought up several galaxy maps.  All of which had “NO MATCH” stamped across the front, except for one, which he pointed to.  “I took a scan of our current position.  I cross referenced it with every known galaxy and solar system we have mapped.  Not one single match.”

“Get to the point, Tom.” Thomas shot him a disapproving stare, before continuing.

“We dropped out of slip space into the wrong universe” he plainly stated.  

“…another universe?”

“Yes.”

“That is some science fiction bullshit” a young man in cammies declared angrily.

“How many universes are there, 'cause last time I checked we only had the one.”

“Possibly infinitely many, maybe just these two.  I don’t know.”  Thomas continued, unfazed by the comments.  “What I do know is that we are no longer in our own universe.  It’s the only explanation I can think of that makes any sense.”

“The hell you talkin’ about? That don’t make any sense at all! How can ya just leave the universe?” demanded Luke.

“Whenever we open a worm hole we create a field that is powerful enough to fold space-time over onto itself.  The idea behind those bridge drives down there,” he pointed a finger at the floor in the direction of the engine room, “…is to jump from one point in space time to another…it’s like… let’s say there are two dots on a piece of paper and you need to get from one to the other.  Rather than drawing a straight line, you fold the paper and touch the two together instantly.  That’s the theory behind an E.R. bridge.  Now if we take that theory and apply to a multiverse premise of reality then you would have to add several layers of paper on top of 'our' piece, to represent 'other' realities.  Now when you went to fold the two dots together, you would first have to go through several other “universes” before you got through to our own.  My guess is that we either overshot or undershot the mark.”

The explanation left most of the men more confused than when he had started.  Most of these guys were soldiers or technicians, not astrophysicists.  “Which leads me to my next point.” Thomas  continued.  “We need to leave as soon as possible.”

“No shit.  We all wanna get home.”

“You don’t understand.  We shouldn’t be in this universe.  We need to get back to our own universe, before we royally screw up both.” A panicked desperation colored his voice.

“What are you talking about?”

“Look, we don’t belong in this reality.  As far as our current understanding of physics goes, what were doing right now is impossible.  Conservation of matter just flew out the window!  God knows how many other “laws” we’ve broken!”

“Wait, how does our bein’ here endanger the universe exactly?” Luke asked.  Thomas threw his hands up in the air, struggling to find the right words.  He finally continued.

“What happens when you fill a balloon too full with air? It pops.”

“…universes can pop?”

“I don’t know, but to be perfectly honest I don’t want to find out.  You guys have to understand that we’re in completely uncharted territory here.  Once we go past that singularity, the rules all fly out the window.  Our 'rules' our, 'laws' could be completely meaningless here.  It would certainly explain the bizarre readings were receiving.  I don’t know what could happen.  Maybe our being here won’t change anything.  But there is no precedent to draw from here.”

“But we’re already here.  So that means we already know this universe is safe to occupy” Shane speculated.

“Not necessarily.  If you were to wander out onto a frozen lake and manage to NOT fall through the ice, do you think 'Oh I’m already here, therefore I am free to act as I wish,’ and start jumping up and down?  No.  We need to make as few waves as possible or we may accidentally erase time or rip apart space.” The men stood quiet for a moment, realizing the gravity of the situation.  A muscular man wearing a blue jumpsuit pushed himself over to the yellow screen and began staring at it.  He looked as if he were trying to decipher a forgotten language.  He pressed a button and a live feed began to play of the blue planet below.  He rewound the feed to when they first arrived.  He then played it forward again.  He stared at the video for several minutes.  He finally spoke, his attention never leaving the monitor.

“Uh….Colonel?”

“What, Allen?” Answered the bald man.

“You might want to look at this.”  The Colonel pushed himself over to the monitor and positioned himself next to Allen.  

“Watch this.” Allen said, as he started a poor quality video of the world they were orbiting.  The blue planet was marbled with green and the occasional wisps of white cloud.  They sat and watched  the video for a bit.

“What are you showing me?”

“Watch.” He said as he rewound a few seconds and pointed to the sun, which was slowly receding behind the edge of the planet.

“…Yes, we call it the sun,” said the Colonel, unimpressed.  

“You don’t see it?” Allen asked, slightly surprised.

“I see an extremely uneventful video.”

“Look,” he played the footage on a loop.  “What is the Earth not doing?”  The Colonel stared for a moment before his eyes narrowed as comprehension struck him.  

“What the hell? ...It’s, not...” he mimed a turning motion with his hand, “spinning.” The Colonel finished.

“Exactly” Allen said, excitedly.  The Colonel examined the stars that dotted the inky backdrop  of space.  He motioned a finger using the stars as a reference.

“The planet hasn’t moved at all…but the sun is still…setting.”  The Colonel slowly struggled to grasp the logically impossible implications.  “…which means,” He paused, and Allen finished the thought for him.

“…which means the sun is revolving, around the planet.”  An uproar of arguing and shouting erupted among the men.  Half darted to an unoccupied terminal and screens to witness the impossibility for themselves, the other half all struggled to make their opinions heard in an unholy shouting contest.

John made his way to the main console in the cockpit.  He lowered himself into the pilot’s seat and, out of habit, attached the harnesses which secured him in place.  He began typing at the console.  He stopped when Shane lowered himself into the co-pilot’s chair.  John turned to his friend.

“Do you think Thomas is right?  Do you really think we dropped out into another reality?” Shane reached back and scratched the back of his regulation crew cut head.  He then took a deep breath.  

“It all makes sense.  So far it’s the only explanation I’ve heard that does.  I never did much research on singularities, but it does fit the description; it even explains the screwed up planetary orbits.  It's just…” He seemed to struggle to find his words, “Inter-dimensional travel was only theoretical up until now.  After the first few drones went through the bridge and came out fine on the other side, we kind of dismissed the theory of alternate realities.  If he is right…” He shook his head, “I don’t know man, everything we thought we knew about the universe just got flipped upside down.” John nodded,  confirming some inner thought, and continued typing at the monitor.  He dialed up a large digital readout of the world they orbited.  

“So that makes this an “alternate” Earth, right?” he asked,  pointing at the digital imitation of the blue orb.  

“…I guess.”

“So, do you think there could be intelligent life down there?”

“Honestly?  I kind of doubt there’s anything more evolved than grass, and that’s pushing it.”

“Shane the optimist,” John teased.

“Shane the realist,” Shane retorted.  “Think of all the happy coincidences that went down when our universe was formed.  All these dangerously lucky sporadic events made life possible:  To start, you need a planet with water, and that eliminates like ninety nine point nine nine nine nine percent of all the planets in the universe.  After that you need a star that’s the perfect distance from the planet.  Too far and it freezes, to close and it fries.  Next you need a habitable atmosphere.  After that you need there to be some trace of life; an amoeba, a bacteria, some primordial ooze, whatever.  You need that life to evolve and survive for billions of years, until it grows into something intelligent.  You need this huge list of requirements, each requirement having a “one in a trillion” chance of occurring.  The more you think about it the more you realize how incredibly accidental life is.”

John continued to fiddle with the screen in front of him.  He stared at the digital copy of the little planet.  He dangled a finger over a key and turned to Shane, a devious grin on his face.

“Fifty bucks says I find life.” Shane perked up at the challenge.  He stared down the pilot and smiled himself.  

“Hundred says you don’t!” he retorted confidently.  

The finger dropped and the word “scanning…” popped up on screen below the blue image.  John pumped a fist in front of the monitor and chanted,

“Life, life, life, life!!!” Shane immediately mimicked the gesture with his own jeer.

“Death, death, death, death!!!”  The two men continued their childish cheering contest until the computer finished its scan.  Words died as they beheld the results, and stared slack jawed at the monitor.  “…that’s impossible.” Shane breathed, not even bothering to conceal his shock.  John felt as though he had been punched in the gut.  He hadn’t expected to see any life at all.  The computer continued to flash results on screen.  The bet was completely forgotten.  John twisted in his seat and saw the crew still arguing and darting around the bridge.

“DOC!  Get over here!  Colonel, you’re going to want to see this too, sir.”  Thomas pushed off a wall and floated across the bridge up to the cockpit.  The Colonel followed shortly after shoving his way through the mass of arguing bodies.

“What’s wrong?” Thomas asked.  Both John and Shane pointed at the screen.  The two new arrivals scrutinized the results of the scan.  Thomas’ mouth opened slightly, as if he were attempting to form words.  The Colonel’s eyes widened.

“Jesus…” He said under his breath.  The screen continued to flash the results.  The slowly growing dark side of the planet was pockmarked with dots of light.  In several places the lights were concentrated in a thick bunch.  “Thermal.”  The Colonel ordered, and after a few key clicks the digital planet shifted from blue and green to ghostly black and white.  The formerly blue parts had become a stark white.  The land had faded from green to a dull grey.  And the spots of lights had transformed into hot black dots.  “Are those…” The Colonel trailed off.  

“…Cities.”  The three other men said in unison.  Shane continued,

“Sir, this planet is hot.”  The Colonel gave no indication of having heard.

“We even picked up signs of a basic power grid,” John added.  A few of the crew members had made their way over to investigate.  Allen inspected the screen.

“Are those…”

“Yes.” The Colonel cut him off.

“So there are…”

“Yup.” This time Shane answered.  One of the fatigue clad men pushed his way up to the monitor.  

“There are people here?!” His voice hopeful and excited, “What the hell are we waiting for? Get them on comms.  Tell them we need help!”

“Comms are down.” Aaron deadpanned from behind the group somewhere.

“NO!” Thomas barked, “...we are not interfering here!”

“Fuck that! We should try and land, maybe they can help,” he argued.

“I don’t think you get it, son.” Thomas turned on the young man, with an uncharacteristic amount of bite in his voice.  “If we so much as wave at those beings, we could alter their flow of events in ways you can’t even imagine! You don’t seem to appreciate the ENORMITY the tiniest event can have on the timeline of a universe;  a universe that we were never supposed to visit in the first place!  I, for one, WILL NOT have the devastation of an entire world on my conscience!”  He slashed his hands through the air to illustrate his point.  The young man shrank at the outburst.  

“Uh...Colonel?” Shane spoke up tentatively.

“What?” The Colonel said while massaging his temples.

“All universe ending paradoxes aside, I think we should try and look at this from another perspective.”

“What are you talking about, Major?” He said with annoyance.

“Well, what if we were back home and an unidentified ship came screaming out of slip space, heading for Earth, registering weapons, and not responding to any hail or comms?  What do you think our first reaction would be?” The Colonel stopped rubbing his head and looked up, realizing Shane's point.  Shane pointed again at the monitor.  “If they’re half as advanced as I think they are, they’re going to pick up on us, IF they haven’t already.  I’d say were about one panicked button push away from swallowing a Titan missile.”  This line of reasoning seemed to have a much greater impact on the crew, who had yet to really consider the planet’s perspective.  “…and if we are going to try and get home, we need to try it now, because without those stabilizers, orbit decay is going to start becoming a problem in…” He looked down at his watch.  He tapped the digital screen on his wrist a few times, before realizing it had stopped working.  “…soon.” He finished.  That seemed to be all the motivation the Colonel needed.  He rose and barked into the crowd of men.

“Luke!?”

“Sir?”

“Get this ship back online.  We’re leaving!”

“…aye sir.” He said, clearly struggling to suppress his urge to argue.  

“Everyone! …get your shit squared and get ready for a jump.”

“Sir?” John spoke up, “…if I may inquire as to where we're jumping?”

“The exact opposite of our original coordinates.” He answered plainly.  

“I’m not sure if that’s how this works, Colonel,” John tried to argue.

“Does anyone have a better idea?”  The commanding officer challenged.  No one spoke up.  “Good, now get the ship running, I want this fucked up universe in my rear view in less than ten mikes!”

The crew scurried about the ship, stumbling over one another in their haste.  Each man was busy manning consoles, or repairing fired circuitry.  Despite the Colonel's persistant demands for a miraculous revival, the crew completed the job in roughly thirty minutes.  The engines still sparked irregularly, but they seemed capable of sustained exercise without much difficulty.  

The ship was poised and ready for the E.R. bridge attempt. Every man at their station. The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife.  The instant the Colonel gave the order John slammed a lever forward, the engines hummed, and the air filled with a palpable charge.  The ship lurched forward.  Had there been any windows, the men might have beheld a bridge opening in front of them.  It was technically invisible, but the way it bent the rays of light around itself created an irresolute black sphere.  They might have noticed its violent pulsations.  It strobed into and out of existence, throbbing and wavering between imploding and exploding.  The men realized something was amiss after the ship began shaking aggressively.  Screens cut to black, lights flickered, and the air became noticeably hotter.  

“What’s going on?!?! Someone talk to me!!” The Colonel demanded from his fastened position on the bridge.

“Bridge drives are overheating!” One man shouted from his seat.

“CUT THE POWER!”

“We tried that already, it’s not responding!”

An explosion rocked the ship.  It would have knocked them all to their knees had they not been buckled down.  Red lights flashed inside the craft and an ear splitting alarm blared.

“THE FUCK WAS THAT?!” the Colonel demanded.  

“The engines are gone! Fire on deck two!! Sir we just lost…everything...” a crewman replied.  He quit his panicked work at the controls and threw his arms up in defeat.  “The planet is dragging us down, sir.  We’re going to hit the upper atmosphere in about sixty seconds.”  

The men feverishly worked to try and restore power to the engines.  The Colonel disconnected from the chaos.  His face grew grave.  It didn’t matter now, they couldn’t pull out of this.  Soon the ship began to vibrate as it contacted the planet’s atmosphere.  The craft punched its way through the upper layers of ozone and tore through the night air, straight toward the surface.  Most of the men had stopped their work.  They knew the score.  It was over.  This is how their story ended.  

The Colonel took a small photograph out of his breast pocket and ran a finger over it.  It was a little boy, no more than a year old.  He was sitting on the grass with a large red toy truck.  He was smiling at the camera, blissfully unaware.

“FIFTEEN THOUSAND FEET!” The man at the console yelled above the cacophony.  The  craft rocked as it hit a denser pocket of air.  It screamed toward the ground.  

“TEN THOUSAND!”

John held a fist out to his friend in the seat behind him.  Shane connected his own fist.  

“See you on the other side, kid.” Shane said sadly.

“FIVE THOUSAND!” The Colonel raised his head.  

“It’s been an honor gentlemen.”

“BRACE!!!”

The ship slammed into the ground.  Its metal exoskeleton took the brunt of the impact, sending ripples through twisted metal. Dirt, fire, and smoke erupted in an enormous cloud of spray.  Warped chunks of flaming shrapnel flew in all directions.  The ship plowed through a small burg and continued to skid along the ground, gouging the earth and snapping trees like twigs.  It carved a deep furrow in the soft soil, uprooting plants and crushing rocks.  The ship began to drift sideways, finally lurching over onto itself, flipping on its back before continuing the roll into its belly.  It ground to a halt.  Its formerly grand appearance was now shattered and dejected.  The pinnacle of human technology lay lifeless, twisted and hacked, in a fiery heap.  Smoke billowed from the pile into the dark sky, toward the stars it once called home.

From her perch, the Princess of the night observed.  She saw the machine fall, blazing, from the heavens.  She spread her midnight blue wings, and took to the sky, veering toward the pillar of smoke and fire.


Don’t forget to rate.  It does nothing....but it boosts my self esteem.  unless you vote less than 5.

Forgot to add Deds

THANKS TO

N3uro and Eights for the edit party.

Thanks to the dudes on my Ponychan thread.

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC IS OWNED BY HASBRO

ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS

NO PROFIT WAS MADE IN THE CREATION / DISTRIBUTION

I DO NOT REPRESENT THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

AND STAFF SERGEANT...IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND HAVE SOMEHOW DISCOVERED MY PONY FOLDERS, PLEASE DO NOT KICK ME OUT, I CAN TOTALLY EXPLAIN


ARTICLE 2

Part III

By: Muppetz (!Gsih3Wfnlk)

Pinkie Pie concentrated intently on the cupcake sitting on the table before her.  Focusing all her attention on the sugary confection, she twisted her head left and right, analyzing it from all sides.  Her visage was cold and calculating.  With surgical precision she inched her head forward and peeled back the paper cup that encased the base of the treat.  The cake rested on the paper, bare.   Pinkie Pie circled, stalking it like a tigress, awaiting the perfect opportunity to strike her prey.  She crouched close to the floor.  She crept up to the base of the table and slowly rose toward the top, until only her eyes and nose peeked over its edge.  In a spontaneous pink blur the cupcake disappeared.  To an untrained eye the only noticeable changes were Pinkies cheeks, engorged with sugary cake, and her lips, smeared with vanilla frosting.  She slowly started chewing.  Like a connoisseur of fine wines, she shifted the cupcake around her mouth.  She rolled her eyes in contemplation, occasionally lifting a quizzical eyebrow.  

Twilight magically lifted a teacup to her mouth.  She was again glad to be a unicorn, because her hooves were still trembling.  She couldn’t shake her jitters.  The events of late replayed over and over in her head, despite her best efforts.  The day's shocks flashed in her mind’s eye.  She could still feel the icy metal against her throat; she could still hear the vibrations of his voice next to her ear.  Her ever-logical curiosity questioned his apparent knowledge of the Equestrian language.  However, it wasn’t necessarily that he spoke, nor was it really what he had said that interested Twilight the most; it was how he said it.  Something was in his voice, maybe fear, maybe desperation,  she couldn’t quite tell.  One thing she was sure of; something had spooked him, bad.  A book fell to the floor behind her; the leather bound tome collided with the marbled floor with a loud smack.  Twilight nearly jumped out of her seat.

“Rainbow Dash! Will you quit yah quit yer’ horsin’ around keep yer’ hooves on the ground fer once?!” Applejack scolded the colorful pegasus, who flapped down from the top of a bookshelf.  

“My bad,” She murmured contritely.  Twilight was still shaking.  Fluttershy crawled up onto the dais next to her and wrapped a soft yellow wing around her.  The warm atmosphere of the lounge coupled with the serenity that emanated from the yellow pegasus helped calm Twilight.  

The room was dim; a small crackling fire provided soft, ambient light.  Bookshelves lined most of the walls, and each shelf supported rows upon rows of ancient, dusty knowledge.  The girls sat in front of the fire place.  Several plush cushions and low easy chairs provided a quiet place to sit and read amongst the rows of literature.  Twilight took in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the room.  It reminded her of her library home back in Ponyville and the connection helped her feel a bit better.  She tried to recall Celestia’s lessons on meditation:  a slow steady breathing technique; in through the nose, hold it for a moment, and out through the mouth.  She repeated the process a few times and her heart lowered to steady rhythm.  Yet she still felt a bit on edge.  

“Are you alright Twilight? Fluttershy asked.

 “I’m fine,” She replied, sounding far from confident.  She held out a slightly shaking purple hoof.  “It’s just the excess adrenaline working its way out of my system,” she rationalized to herself and anypony else.

“I simply can’t imagine how dreadfully frightening it must have been.” Rarity piped from her perch on a large cushion.  “You’re absolutely certain it didn’t harm you, darling?”

Twilight nodded, her thoughts wandering. “I don’t think he ever wanted to.” Twilight said quietly.  

“Uh, I hate to bring it back up, but didn’t he kinda hold you at knife point?” Dash pointed out, earning an angry glare from Applejack.  But the comment didn't phase Twilight.  

“I can’t explain it; maybe you had to have been there.  He seemed…afraid.” Twilight shook her head, grasping to find better words to explain the feeling to her friends.

“I’m sure he was.”  Fluttershy finally chimed in her soft tone.  “Imagine how frightened the poor thing must have been!”

Poor thing?!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed angrily.  Fluttershy shrank behind her  pink veil of hair.  “That ‘poor thing’ just knocked an innocent nurse out cold, held Twilight hostage, then beat the hay out of five guards, and Fluttershy feels sorry for it!” Dash threw her forelegs into the air.  Fluttershy blushed but surprised everypony when she continued to defend her position.  

“…well…think about it, I’m sure to him, we’re the aliens.  He must have been terrified when he woke up and found a world full of strange creatures chasing him.”  

“She has a point there, Dash.” Applejack agreed.  “If ya’ll woke up on a strange planet and a bunch o’ alien monsters showed up and tried to run yah down, would you have just let em’ catch ya?”  Dash folded her arms and grumbled under her breath.  

“I don’t think it’s us he was afraid of.” Twilight corrected.  

“What do you mean?” asked Rarity. “What else could have frightened him?”

“I don’t know.” The purple unicorn admitted, still struggling to communicate the feeling to her friends.

“At least you got to see it awake.” Dash complained as she hovered about the room once again.  Twilight let out a blatantly sarcastic laugh.  

“Yeah, lucky me.

“Ah jus’ don’t understand what could’a had the big fella so troubled that he’d go an’ try ta’...well…”

“…off himself?” Dash offered.  

“…yeah.” Applejack finished.  No one had an answer.  The prospect of something  so awful that the alien would rather die than face disturbed the girls greatly.  They let  silence fill the room; the longer it went on, the less willing the girls were to breach it.

 Rainbow Dash continued to fly laps around the ceiling.

 “…where the hay did the Princess go? We’ve been sitting here for like an hour” She finally said.  They all agreed that waiting was getting more and more difficult to bear.  Yet they all knew it was best to let the Princess act as she saw fit.  So they resigned themselves to wait.  

Silence fell over the girls again, each filly absorbed in their worried contemplation.  The only exception was Pinkie Pie, who placed another pristine cupcake on the table.  Once again she studied the confection.  The girls cautiously observed for a few more moments before Rarity bravely spoke up.

“Pinkie, darling, what in the world are you up to over there?”  Pinkie Pie looked up from her work.  She wasn’t wearing her usual happy smile.  In fact, she seemed rather upset.  

“I’m trying to figure out why he didn’t eat the cupcake I left him” she huffed on the verge of tears.  “What if…what if he didn’t like it” she sniffed, “…and that’s why he ran away?”  She plopped down on her haunches and her pink hair started losing its tight curls, a dangerous sign the girls recognized instantly.  

“Aw c’mon now, sugarcube.  You make the best darn sweets in Equestria, and everypony knows it.” Applejack trotted over and nuzzled the side of Pinkie Pie head.  Pinkie brightened slightly.  

“Really?” She looked up at the orange farm pony.  All the girls nodded encouragingly, voicing their agreement.  Pinkie’s smile widened.  

“Absolutely darling,” Rarity rose from her cushion and approached Pinkie Pie.  “…and if you don’t believe us, well then we’ll just have to ask him ourselves.”  An excited grin spread across the pink pony’s face.

~~~~~

Celestia stalked through the castle corridors in search of her sister.  Two dozen of the Royal guard accompanied her in an impressive formation.  They hindered her progress a bit, but some small part of her was grateful for their protection.  She did not fear the creature, but it did have a nasty habit of throwing proverbial monkey wrenches into her plans.  She located her sister’s presence with a quick and easy spell.  Luna's aura blazed like a bright sun amongst dim stars. An unusual testament, given her position as the Princess of the Night.  Luna was in the dungeon and Celestia felt a pang of dread.  Nothing said “good first impression” like a dungeon.  Yet the beast seemed to be doing everything in his power to be placed there.  Luna’s presence suddenly disappeared.  

After a moment of confusion Luna reappeared in her private quarters at the other end of the castle.  Putting Luna’s peculiar behavior out of her mind, Celestia quickened her stride, and the guards at her sides kept pace.  Celestia hurried toward another presence, one that felt foreign. She had no doubt what emitted that peculiar aura.  Celestia wished she could simply teleport there but she did not like the prospect of abandoning her guards.  She was confident the alien posed no threat against her power, but millennia of experience had taught her that the safer road was the one most wisely traveled.  So she remained with her guards, albeit at a quickened pace, and soon they reached the castle prison.  

The dungeon was a place rarely traveled by any other than guards or inmates, and it had seen its fair share of both.  Although it was never an official prison, it did prove useful from time to time.  Celestia entered the building and was surprised by the number of guards Luna managed to marshal on such short notice.  At least six soldiers guarded every door, and a constant rotation of patrols roamed the hallways.  They rushed out of Celestia’s path as she approached, lowering their heads in reverence until she passed.  

Celestia approached the spot her sister had vanished from fifteen minutes ago: the maximum security wing.  Unsurprisingly, there was a distinct lack of Luna.  There was, however, the commander of the royal guard, whom Celestia approached with relief.  He stood outside a thick steel door with nearly a platoon of guards.

“Commander.” She greeted the armored stallion.  

“Princess.” He replied, with a small bow.  He never directly faced the Princess but instead kept his gaze fixed on the large door.

“What exactly is the situation, and where has my sister gone?” She knew the answer to the latter question, but she hoped he could shed some light on Luna's movements.  

“I just got here a few minutes ago myself.  Princess Luna sent a priority message ordering myself and as many troops as I could get over here as soon as possible.  I showed up with the entire fifth and here she had our little visitor out of bed, lookin’ like he’d been dragged through hell, lying unconscious on the floor.  She said she needed it secured and left the thing in my care. Then she said she had to go “get some things,” and disappeared!”  The commander barely concealed his aggravation, and Celestia couldn't blame him.

“You have it locked up?” She asked, her heart filling with even more dread.  All hopes of a civilized first contact between two species fluttering out the window.  He nodded.

“Not that we had much choice.  Come see for yourself.” He walked the Princess over to the metal door and slid back a tiny rectangular section, revealing a small window.  The room was large and its walls were padded, clearly designed to contain the nastiest of inmates.  The alien leaned against the far wall.  Its two forelegs were secured with thick steel braces that were bolted to the wall with heavy chains.  It was a sorry sight.  His head fell against his raised left foreleg, and Celestia noticed a large U shaped mark on his face near its forehead.  The mark was swollen and the skin was split open in some places.  The occasional drop of blood streaked down his cheek, accentuating his depressed countenance.  

“What happened there?” Celestia asked, indicating the corresponding spot on her own head.  The commander sighed.  

“Right after Princess Luna left our friend here decided to try and wake up.  Apparently he wasn’t in the best of moods because it took six of us just to hold him down.  Without Luna here to put him back under…” He held up an armored hoof and inspected a small smear of blood.  “…we had to improvise.”

“Was that really necessary commander?” The princess asked, hopeful for the possibility of salvaging one scrap of a diplomatic interchange with the alien.  The stallion finally turned to face the princess.  He sported a large, obviously painful black eye.  

“…yes.” He said, with a twinge of sass that she wouldn’t have tolerated from any other pony.  He took one last look through the tiny window before pushing the iron slide back into place.  “He’s got some fight in him, I’ll give him that.  But the poor bastard doesn’t seem to know when he’s been beat.  I don’t know whether to respect or pity him.”

Celestia’s eyes wandered over to some of the guards filling the hallway.  She  noticed one nursing a bloody nose and another examining an awkwardly-hung wing.  Celestia offered to heal the commander’s eye, but he refused and insisted that his own healers were more than capable of dealing with minor injuries.  With that Celestia began issuing orders, trying to rein the situation back under control.  She ordered constant patrols of the perimeter and corridors.  She divided the guards into three groups, staggering their watch duties so at all times at least two groups were on patrol.  As soon as she was satisfied the level was secure she left the rest under the supervision of the commander and withdrew to hunt down her sister.  

Celestia exited the dungeon and stepped out into her summer sun.  She stood in the courtyard a moment, took in a deep breath, and savored the radiant heat from the sky.  Celestia breathed in again and felt herself begin to unwind.  She didn’t allow herself too much relaxation; there was still much work to be done.  She disappeared with a loud pop and reappeared in her sister's bedchamber.  

Luna's large and lavish chamber occupied the tower adjacent to Celestia’s. Luna had unusual style when it came to decoration. Several of Luna’s personal items stood out of place. Trinkets and baubles dating back well over one thousand years ago, still garnished the room. They mixed themselves in with some of the more modern possessions Luna had accrued since her return. It gave the room a dual personality, that Celestia knew, many ponies actually found “creepy”. Celestia herself rather liked it. It seemed to have a wonderful balance. She admired the skill with which Luna embellished her quarters. She had paintings and artifacts, each of which held special meaning to the young princess. Some could now be considered ancient, but having lived just as long as her baby sister, Celestia recognized several of the pieces, and even allowed herself a moment of nostalgia. Luna did not, however, allow her room to be dominated by her past. Many modern pieces of art and furniture decorated the room. Celestia even recognized some albums from the bands that the kids were calling trendy these days.

Luna was darting back and forth gathering an assortment of papers, quills, and books.  

“Luna?”

“Hellooo, dearest sister.” She said, in a sing song voice.  She smirked widely.  

“Luna, are you alight?”

“Of course! Isn’t this exciting?! Oh, think of all the things we’re going to learn!” Celestia recognized this part of her sister. Luna, ever the scholar.  But Celestia had rarely seen her this enthusiastic.  Granted, a situation of this magnitude had never presented itself before.  

“Calm down, Luna.” Celestia insisted, amused by her little sister's eagerness.  “…this situation needs to be handled very delicately.”

“Oh please don’t get all stoic and imperious on me now, Tia.  I know you’re just as curious as I am!” she said, with a sly grin.

“Yes, Luna, I am curious.  But we can’t let that interfere with our judgment on this issue.”  Luna stopped skipping about the room and shot Celestia a quizzical look.  

“What do you mean?”

“Think, Luna.  How exactly do you see this playing out?  How long can we keep this creature imprisoned against its will?  How can we justify keeping it caged up solely so we can study it?”  Celestia let the question hang in the air for a moment.  Luna frowned.  

“Are you seriously suggesting we let it go?” She said, her tone shimmering with skepticism.  

“No.” Celestia quickly dismissed that idea, “…No, or …at least not yet.  Not until I can guarantee he isn’t a danger to himself or others.  And so far he’s done a splendid job of proving otherwise.” Luna appeared put off by Celestia’s words, clearly unhappy at the prospect of being denied her prize.  Celestia noticed this, and continued.  “This isn’t the same as discovering a new breed of plant or examining a strange bug.  This is an intelligent life form.  It’s an entirely new species, one we know next to nothing about.  It’s clearly a combative specimen.  For all we know this is how they all act all the time.  Perhaps that is how their culture functions.  Or maybe this one is merely frightened and trying to find its way home.” Celestia paused for a moment to collect her thoughts; she feared she was beginning to ramble.  “My point being, this thing is not from our world.  And whether he likes it or not, he has just become the representative of his entire race.  We can’t treat him like some science experiment.”

“We also can’t treat him like some foreign diplomat,” Luna retorted,  “He’s not.  But I can agree with you to an extent.  Inter-planetary war is not something I wish to incite.”  

Happy they had reached a common understanding, Celestia nuzzled the side of her young sister’s head.  After a moment of reluctance, Luna returned the affection.  Celestia moved away and took in a deep breath.

“This turning out to be quite a week.” Celesta said, with a sigh.  

“Indeed.” Luna responded, matching her sister’s weary tone.  Celestia smiled down at Luna.  

“I’m glad to have you back at my side, dear sister.” Celestia said with a slight hint of sadness coloring her voice.  Luna smiled back up at Celestia returning the bittersweet smile.  

As if to ruin the golden family moment, a wisp of smoke wafted in through an open window, and with a dull pop materialized into a tightly wrapped scroll.  It fell to the floor and both princesses stared at it for a moment.  Luna pranced forward and telekinetically lifted the roll of parchment.  The scroll unraveled itself in front of Luna’s careful gaze.  She only looked at it for a brief second before holding it up for Celestia’s inspection.  It read simply;

He’s awake

Celestia recognized the Commander’s penmanship.  Celestia looked back up to see that her sister had continued stuffing papers and notebooks into her favorite midnight blue saddlebags with the crescent moon embossed in silver thread.  She filled a side pocket with quills and another with a newly sealed inkwell.  Luna squirmed into the straps that held the saddlebags in place.  Once they were all fitted and tight, she experimentally flapped her blue wings a few times to make certain the bags would not interfere mid-flight.  She shot Celestia an eager grin.

“We need to stop and talk to the girls first.” Celestia said, instantly subduing Luna’s excitement.  She rolled her eyes and lowered her shoulders but her annoyance quickly vanished.  She perked up and said,

“Fine, but let’s hurry!” She bolted ahead and took the tip of Celestia’s wing in her teeth.  Her horn began to glow.  Celestia realized what was about to happen, but she was too late to stop it.  A blinding white light engulfed her, followed by a violent jerk on her wing and a flare of heat.  The sensation faded just as quickly as it came, and Celestia immediately yanked her wing back from Luna.

“Luna, I HATE it when you do that!” She flexed her wing.  It was sore, but seemed to be fully functional.  She also noticed her stunning white coat was sullied with black scorch marks.  “Oh, now look what you’ve done.” A quick spell returned her beautiful white fur to pristine order.  

Celestia scanned the dim lounge and knew immediately where Luna had dragged her:  there were the faces of six clearly shocked and confused mares.    Twilight held a hoof to her chest and was breathing heavily.  Fluttershy appeared to have sought shelter under Applejack.  Rarity had a hoof clasped over her mouth where she had restrained from spitting out her tea.  Pinkie Pie seemed to be the only one who remained unfazed by the sudden intrusion.  She sat staring off into space, chewing on something, sitting next to a tiny pile of wrappers.  

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry girls.” Celestia started.  “Things are bit…hectic right now.”  The girls recovered from the intrusion instantly.  Rainbow dash shot down and landed in front of the pair of princesses.  

“Is it awake now?! Can we see it?!” she began firing off questions.  One by one the girls joined in a cacophonous inquisition.  

“Are you going to keep it?”

“Did it say anything else?”

“Girls…” Celestia said, raising a hoof to try and quiet the curious fillies.  

“Will you send it to the moon??”

“How many ponies did it eat?”

“Aint’cha afraid it’ll git out again?”

“DID IT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT CUPCAKES?!?!”

“GIRLS!” Celestia hated raising her voice, but it had the desired effect.  The mares sat down quietly and waited for Celestia to speak.  “Thank you.” She continued.  “Now… Yes, It is awake, Luna and I were just about to go see it…”

“Great! Let’s go!” Dash began flying toward the door.

“No.” Celestia said as she used her magic to pull the colorful pegasus back down to a cushion.  “You girls are not to go near that thing, not until Luna and I make sure it’s safe.  Do you understand?”  Celestia’s tone was still soft but she spoke with a voice that demanded nothing less than absolute compliance.  The girls, of course, voiced their protests all at once.  “This is not up for discussion, girls.  Promise me you’ll stay away.  At least until we can be certain it isn’t actively hostile.” Celestia almost feared they would refuse, but the girls eventually mumbled their begrudging agreement.  

Luna tapped her hoof impatiently.  Celestia gave her an annoyed glance.  

“I’m sorry girls, I know this isn’t what you wanted, but this is how it has to be.  I know you all want to help, but I can not risk your safety any further.”

“We understan’ Princess.” Applejack spoke up.  “We jus’ wanna help any way we can.” AJ smiled apologetically.  Celestia smiled sweetly back at the orange farm pony.  

“I know you do.  And I’m certain your services will be invaluable.  But for now, the castle is yours to enjoy…with the exception of the dungeons, of course.”

“Wonderful! It’s all settled.  Now, if you’ll excuse us…” Luna interrupted and pushed her sister toward the door.  The girls made small bows as the two monarchs exited.

Once outside the hallway Celestia considered chastising her younger sister for being so rude, but Luna had already begun trotting down the hallway.  Celestia followed and quickly caught up.  She noticed that Luna had neglected to simply teleport herself to the dungeons.  Celestia realized why when her sister began to speak.

“Why not just let them come? We could use them.” Celestia agreed to an extent.  They each had gifts that would be very useful in the coming ordeal.

“I can not risk it, Luna.  The only reason Twilight Sparkle is even alive right now is because that thing chose not to harm her.  I allowed the life of my most faithful student to be placed in the hooves of a creature I knew nothing about.  If any of them had been hurt…” Celestia shook her head.  The idea sending shivers up her spine.  “…I don’t think I could live with myself.”

Luna immediately sensed the shift in her sister’s mood.  The subtle signs would have gone unnoticed by any other pony, but over the years Luna had learned to read her sister.  She had tells, even if they were understated.  Celestia liked to believe her stoic facade had the world deceived, and for the most part it did.  Except to those with the advantage of several millenniums of sisterly familiarity.  

“Tia?” She asked delicately.  

“…and it would have been all my fault.  I should have never asked them to come here.” Celestia continued as she walked.  “If that thing had a mind to, it…”

“Celestia!” Luna interjected.  Celestia stopped.  Her sister held her gaze with steeled determination.  “Listen to me.  That was not your fault.  None of this,” She waved a hoof in an all-encompassing motion.  “…is your fault.  You did not ask him to show up.  You did not bring him here.”  Luna’s eyes bored into her sister’s as she drilled the point home.  “You have never led Equestria astray, dear sister.  And the events of late would have been enough to break the will of even the most stalwart dignitary.  Nopony can control fate, Celestia, not even you.  What happened, happened, and there is nothing you or I or anypony can do about that.  It is not your fault.  You are doing what needs to be done.” Celestia stared at the midnight blue princess.  She had forgotten how poetic her sister could get.  “We need those girls’ help.  You don’t have to shoulder the weight of the world alone, Tia…Not anymore.” Celestia blinked back the mist that began accumulating in her eyes.  She moved forward and kissed Luna’s forehead, before wrapping her in a tight hug.  Luna draped her forelegs around her sister’s neck and hugged back.  

“Thank you.” Celestia finally said, releasing Luna.  “You always were good at cheering me up.”

“It’s my special talent.” Luna said, with a wink as she continued to make her way toward the dungeon.  “...that and the whole…you know… moon thing I do.” She added with a dismissive wave of the hoof.  They both chuckled at Luna’s lighthearted vivacity.    In unspoken consent, they elected to walk rather than teleport.  

As their destination grew closer, Luna’s excitement began to visibly return.  She quickened her pace once the dungeon was in sight.  They made their way past guards  patrolling in rank and file.   Celestia craned her neck skyward and saw several squads of pegasus guards surveying the area in impressive aerial formations.  She returned her attention to the ground to see Luna just pass through the entrance of the building.  Celestia followed her inside as guards bowed.  

Celestia felt her heart race; equal parts excitement and curiosity spurred her ahead.  She and Luna approached the silvery steel door that they knew housed the alien.  A muffled voice emanated from the other side, although it was difficult to determine its message.  

The Commander of the Royal Guard maintained his post.  The princesses approached.  

“Hello, Aegis.” Luna chirped, as she dug inside her saddlebags.

“Your highness.” He replied with a small bow.  Luna was one of the few he allowed to use his personal name.  Celestia nodded to him.

“Commander” Celestia greeted, and he gave Celestia the same bow.  Celestia took a deep breath.  “So, How’s he doing?”  Aegis gathered his thoughts before responding.  Celestia noticed his eye had been healed, although he still squinted.

“Well,” He started.  “…remember when it was unconscious?” Celestia gave him a confused look, wondering where he was taking this.

“…yes?” She cautiously answered.  

“I kinda miss that.” He replied with a hint of sarcastic reminiscence.  “It hasn’t shut up since it woke” the Commander added, as he moved to the door once again.  

“What has it been saying? ” Luna asked impatiently.  A tower of paper lay on the floor, and a quill already scribbled away on the pad under Luna’s magical influence.  The Commander reached up and massaged his head with a hoof.  

“It’s been mostly just nonsense, the occasional ultimatum, and talking to himself.  All sprinkled with ever increasingly creative swearing.  I’m not entirely sure he’s…well…sane.” He moved a hoof up to the rectangular metal slide that covered the small window to the cell.  The loud voice instantly poured out.  

“…the Voyager Project’, they said!  ‘It’ll be great for you career’, they said!”  Its voice was unmistakably male, and from the sound of it, still very cranky.  Celestia lowered her head a bit and peeked one of her shimmering pink irises through the hole.  It was indeed awake.  It punctuated every painful exclamation with a heavy yank on its chains.  It continued ranting to nopony in particular.

“… ‘This is some serious “Star Trek” shit, Shane.’ OH! REALLY??  I DON’T SEE ANY FUCKING GREEN WOMEN, DAVIS!  DO YOU?!  NO!!!  Instead, I’m chained to wall, on some ASS BACKWARDS planet being detained by MUTANT FUCKING HORSES!!!” He slumped against the wall.  Celestia wondered if he had finally screamed himself out.  But no.  “If I get probed, I swear to God, I am going to beat the SHIT out of you!” The alien looked up at the door.  He noticed the eerie pink eye gazing back at him.  He shot up, his eyes wide and desperate.  

“Hey! Lemme out!” He moved forward as far as the chains would allow.  “Listen to me, you can’t keep us here!  I KNOW you can understand me! Listen, you DON’T KNOW WHAT YO…” The words were reduced back to muffled vibrations as the commander slid the heavy block back over the window.  Celestia looked at him as if to demand an explanation.  

“Sorry, but statements like those,” He nodded in the direction of the door.  “…are usually prequel to some rather…descriptive language.”  The princess believed him.  

There was something it had said, however, that concerned her much more than  explicit language.  She looked at Luna.  From her sister’s worried countenance, Celestia knew she heard it as well.  

“He still doesn’t know...” Luna said softly, a hint of sadness in her voice.  Celestia nodded.

“Princess?” the Commander queried, clearly not following the discussion.  Celestia inhaled deeply.  She exhaled and said in a voice barley above a whisper.

“He said ‘us’.”

~~~~~

Pinkie Pie sat perched on the edge of a tall stone tower.  She teetered on the rim of its battlements but seemed to have no fear of falling.  Wind whipped at her hair, tossing the tight pink curls about at its fancy.  From her vantage point she had a magnificent view of the entire castle grounds.  One section held her attention more than any other: the dungeons.  She stared, unblinking at the tall black structure.  She saw the formations of pegusi sweeping the sky and the royal troops on the ground marching about, ever vigilant.  Her steadfast gaze never wavered.  Her tail flicked back and forth, like a cat waiting to pounce.

DEDS

Thanks to;

CESCO

He is a terrific editor, Thank you.

VOLDEMORT,

Thank you for Auto-Saging my thread.

MY PONYCHAN THREAD,

For posting death threats, amusing reaction images, and settling my conflicts through tiny squabble wars.

If you get a chance don’t forget to rate. If I get to 5 stars I can die a happy man.

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC IS OWNED BY HASBRO

ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS

NO PROFIT WAS MADE IN THE CREATION / DISTRIBUTION

Muppetz – September 2011


ARTCLE 2

Part IV

By: Muppetz (!Gsih3Wfnlk)

Celestia and Luna stood outside the cell, neither willing to speak.   The commander of the guard stood by their side.   Two dozen soldier ponies, clad in full armor, guarded both sides of the door.   Luna knew this conversation was going to come sooner or later.   Admittedly, she would have preferred the latter.   She gave her older sister a concerned look, and Celestia returned it.  

“We have to, Luna.” Celestia said, answering Luna’s question preemptively.

“I know, It’s just…this is certainly going to be awkward,” she said, brushing a lock of blue mane out of her eyes.  

“He deserves to know,” Celestia said, steeling her voice.   “Commander?”

“Highness?” He replied, happy to be back in on the conversation.

“Open the door.”

Aegis fumbled for a moment.  “Your highness, I really do not feel that that would be wise,” he sputtered, eager to dissuade the Princess.    

“I need to speak with it,” she stated calmly, as if she just wanted to take a relaxing stroll.  

“You want to go INSIDE?! Princess I really must protest! It’s not at all safe, please allow somepony else to go in your place.  It’s far too dangerous for either of you.  Why don’t-”

“Commander!” Celestia interrupted him.  She locked him in an intimidating gaze.  “We are hardly helpless little fillies! I appreciate your concern, and your protests are duly noted.  So if you would, kindly open the door.”  The seasoned guard shrank under Celestia’s gaze, but he would not back down.

  Loud yet muffled shouting emanated from beyond the steel door, and all heads turned to face it.  The Commander looked back at Celestia, concerned defiance written across his face.

Now,” Celestia added.  

 Luna stood and watched the silent exchange that ensued.  For a moment she feared the Commander might outright defy orders.  But he slowly lowered his head in a disconsolate bow.  

“Right away, your highness,” he said, defeated.  He spun about on his hooves and turned to face the two dozen guards.  He whistled loudly, and they all snapped to attention.  The Commander tapped both sides of his forehead with a hoof and pointed it to the steel door.  Without missing a beat, the guards lined up into two rows that perpendicularly flanked both sides of the cell.  Anything that left that room would have to now go through a wall of armor.  

Celestia followed the Commander to the gleaming steel door.  He produced a complicated key, took it in his teeth, and inserted it into matching keyhole.  He looked over at one of the unicorn guards, and nodded.  The guard nodded back, and his horn began to glow a pale blue.  The commander gave the key a twist.  Tiny machined levers could be heard maneuvering out of place, along with the deep sonorous grinding of several large steel deadbolts sliding into an unlocked position.  

Celestia stood by Luna as they watched and listened to the inner machinations of the large steel door working.  The voice from the other side had fallen silent.  Luna felt her heart beginning to beat faster as her excitement and trepidation reached a boiling point.  

“Who’s going to be the one that tells him?” Luna asked, as she looked up at her big sister.  

“Well, I think it-”

“Not it!” Luna interrupted Celestia, a large grin on her face.  Celestia sighed and shook her head at her little sister’s childish tactic.  

“Let’s at least try and get him to answer a few questions before we tell him.  I doubt he’ll feel much like talking once he finds out.”

“How long do you think we’ll be able to stall him?” Luna asked.  The door slowly opened inwards, sliding silently on oiled hinges hidden in the wall.  Celestia brought her head down by Luna’s and spoke in a hushed voice.

“I don’t know.  Just try and avoid the subject for as long as possible.”  She rose back up to her full height.  

The door opened all the way, and there he stood.  He no longer pulled on his restraints, and he stared at the two alicorns in the doorway.  His gaze occasionally flicked from one to the other.  He was in poor shape, not that Celestia expected that to have changed since the last time she saw him.  The hoof-mark remained on the side of his forehead.  But it had stopped bleeding, as had the score across his face where the bullet tore through his cheek.  

Celestia stepped over the threshold of the room as slowly as possible, taking extra care to make no sudden movements.  Luna followed her sister inside.  Despite Celestia’s attempts to appear non-threatening, the alien took a few cautionary steps back.  He watched the two carefully, waiting to see what they intended.   Celestia stopped in the center of the room, and Luna stationed herself directly to Celestia’s left flank.  The three stood staring at each other for a few painfully long and awkward seconds.  It surprised the princesses when it spoke first.  

“Where are my men?”

“…so much for stalling,” Luna muttered under her breath.  Celestia ignored her.  

“How about we start with something easier,” Celestia suggested.  “Do you have a name?” He didn’t answer right away.  Instead he appeared to fight some indiscernible internal struggle.  He looked around the room to ensure no one else was in earshot.

“Shane,” he finally choked out.  

“Shane T. Doran?” Luna asked.  He locked eyes with the dark blue alicorn, curious.

“…yes,” he answered, before hesitantly asking, “…how do you know my name?” Luna stuck her nose in one of her saddlebags.  She pulled out a long silver chain, on which hung two metal tags.  Seeing them, the alien patted his chest with his hands, realizing his necklace was indeed missing.  With a flick of her head Luna tossed the chain to the creature, and he snatched it out of the air.  He turned its tags over in his hands before slipping the chain around his neck and tucking the tags into his blouse.

        “Well Mister…”

Major,” he corrected. “At least give me that much,”  he said under his breath.

Major Shane T.  Doran,” Celestia began again, “I can imagine this is all just as confusing for you as it is for us.” Celestia stopped when she heard chuckling, an unusual tone of sick desperation coloring the alien's crooked laugh.  

“Lady, you have no idea.”  She felt a tingle of indignation at being referred to as “Lady,” but she held her tongue.  

She continued, “Yes, well as I am sure you have guessed we have some questions that need answers.  Your cooperation will make things much easier on the both of us.” The creature’s head hung low, frustration showing plainly upon his face.  

“Save yourself the time.  I can’t tell you anything.” he said, rubbing his temples with the heels of his palms.  Celestia expected some resistance from the alien, but she never expected him to be so rudely forward about it.  

“Why not?  I think we have a right to know a few things, like, oh I don’t know…” Celestia tapped a hoof to her chin in mock contemplation.  “What are you?  And why have you crashed an enormous spacecraft into my country?”

“Yeah, because we did it on purpose,” he replied sarcastically before realizing what the pony had said.  “Wait…your country?”  He lifted his head and quizzically re-examined Celestia.  

“Yes, my country.  You landed in the sovereign state of Equestria.  I am Princess Celestia.  I rule along with my sister, Princess Luna.”  Celestia nodded toward her sister.

“Hi!” Luna said, waiving a hoof to emphasize Celestia’s point.  He stared pensively into the space between them for a few seconds.

“…you guys send princesses to interrogate people?  I can’t tell if that’s incredibly stupid or really badass.”

“No, we don’t.  However, you happen to be a special project of ours,” Luna explained.

“I’m flattered,” he said, the words dripping with cynicism.  “But you still haven’t answered my original question.”

“And you haven’t answered mine.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?” Luna prodded.

“Because you were never supposed to know.  I shouldn’t be here!”  He gave a tug on his chains, anger slowly rising in his voice.  “None of us are supposed to be here! THIS…” he moved his hands in large circles, gesturing the world in general, “was never supposed to happen.”  He pulled on his restraints again with growing yet futile tenacity.  

“What do you mean?” Celestia inquired, pressing him for a straight answer.

“We didn’t want to come here.”  He visibly grew more and more uncomfortable.  

“So you came to my planet by accident? …How!?”  Celestia added,  disbelief obvious in her tone.

“I can’t tell you!  Don’t you get it?!”  Each of Celestia’s questions upset him further.  “I.  AM.  NOT.  SUPPOSED.  TO.  BE.  HERE!  We…” he gestured a triangle, connecting the two alicorns and himself, “…were never supposed to meet.”

He began to pace, not getting far given his restraints.  He pulled on his braces with mounting frequency.  Apparently explaining the situation only frightened him more.  “I shouldn’t even be talking to you!”  He threw his arms in the air.  “With every second I exist here, I am just making it worse!”  The frustration in his voice was blatant; he was clearly irritated that the two alicorns didn’t understand.

“Let us say you’re telling the truth,” Celestia humored him, “…and you arrived here solely by virtue of some freak accident.  Why fight?  Why run?  If it was truly an innocent mistake then surely, you had nothing to fear from us.”

“I wasn’t running because I was afraid of you.”  He spat, rejecting the idea as if it offended him.  

“Then why do it?!” Celestia demanded, thoroughly exhausted of his mystic, evasive answers.  

“I’m trying to protect you!” He answered, just as hotly.

“Protect us from what?!”

“FROM  ME!!!” He shouted.  He let it hang in the air for a moment.  “HOW have you not picked up on this yet?!  I AM NOT FROM HERE!  With my every action in this universe I disrupt the natural flow of events that SHOULD have taken place, had we not arrived here.  Every breath I take in this universe is a SIN against the very laws of nature.  Just my presence here is a threat to this world, my world, and the entire fucking fabric of reality as we know it!”  He slashed his hands through the air to emphasize his point, rattling his chains.  

Celestia and Luna let his cryptic words sink in.  Celestia couldn’t seem to puzzle his bizarre argument together.  Luna, on the other hoof, lifted her head as her eyes widened with comprehension.

“ ‘this universe?’she repeated to herself.  She looked at the alien, who had taken the brief silence as an opportunity to once again begin futilely fighting against the chains that held him in place.  

“Celestia, I think he’s saying he came from another dimension.” Luna said, quietly.  “What if they found a way to jump the streams?”

“…aaaannd the blue one finally clues herself in,” he muttered to himself, not bothering to turn around.

Luna was unfazed by the remark.  She turned to Celestia, who was busy waiting for Luna to explain herself.   “He thinks jumping the lifestreams will cause some universe ending paradox.”  She let out a dry laugh, not because she found the situation funny, but simply because she finally understood.

 Celestia finally saw a trace of the alien's reason.  It was a backwards philosophy, but it made sense of his behavior in sort of pseudo-rational way.  

Celestia looked up at the alien, who now braced both his legs against the wall.  He was pulling against the chains shackled onto his forelegs.  He struggled so hard he appeared to stand on the wall, parallel to the floor.  

“What are you doing?” Celestia asked, trying not to smile at the spectacle.

“Struggling,” he grunted unequivocally.

“Why?” she asked amusedly.  Shane lowered himself to the ground and turned to face the sun princess.  

“Lady…”

Princess.”  It was Celestia’s turn to correct him.

Princess.”  He rephrased through gritted teeth.  “As you may or may not have noticed, I am chained to a wall.  That pretty much limits my options for entertainment to struggling or counting the ceiling tiles, and I’ve already done that… there are forty two!” He turned back around walked his rear legs up the wall, pitting every muscle against the steel links.  He ranted to himself again.  “…could have gotten the universe of Swedish bikini models, but nooooooo, I get the land of colorful sentient horses.”

“Ponies.” Celestia corrected him again.

“Whatever!” he barked as he gave another heavy tug on the chains.  

“If I release you do you promise to behave?” Celestia asked.  

“I promise nothing!”

Celestia sighed as she nodded at Luna.  The midnight blue princess’ horn began to glow as she traced a large rectangle in the air.  When the glow of her sister’s magic died down Celestia’s horn flashed quickly, and the metal braces on the alien’s forelegs snapped open.  He clutched at the air in the brief moment of weightlessness before he crashed to floor of the padded cell.  

Shane groaned in pain as he rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself to his knees.  He rubbed his wrists which were raw and chaffed from his constant thrashing.  He reexamined the two princesses.  His gaze quickly flicked to the door which the princess had “accidentally” left open.  Celestia pretended not to notice.  Even if he made it out the door, the two dozen guards would easily drag him back in.  But that was not what Celestia had in mind.  What he did now would give her a significant insight into its personality.  

He smiled widely at the tall white sun goddess, then at the lunar princess.  

“Well, your royal highnesses...”

“Flattery.  Oooh how manipulative of you,”  Celestia thought.  She already had an idea of what he was playing at, and she couldn’t help but smile back and play along.

“I do hope we can put some of these unpleasantries behind us and- WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!!!” He adopted a terrified face and pointed to the upper corner of the room behind the two alicorns.  They both instinctively craned their necks to see what he was pointing at.  “Suckers!” he shouted as he sprinted for the open door.  Celestia turned her head to see him collide, head first, into a bright white barrier that flared to life upon his contact.  He fell flat onto his back in a very undignified manner.  

“Muthr Fffknng sunvabch!!! Peess ov shhhht!” He clasped his face with both hands and began swearing even more loudly and incomprehensibly in obvious pain.  

“Oooh yay! We found a spell that works!”  Luna clopped her forehooves together in a giddy school filly fashion.

“Indeed.  Quick, write that one down.” Celestia agreed.  Luna pranced out of the room and returned with a scroll and quill.  The feather scribbled on the floating parchment.  

They returned their attention to the alien, who had stopped his pained swearing for a moment.  He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling.  The cut on his forehead had begun to bleed again, not as profusely as before, but a drop slowly trickled down the side of his head.  The U shaped mark from where the commander had “improvised” his version of Luna’s sleep spell had turned deep purple,.  

“Are you going to be alright?” Celestia asked, restraining her amusement.  He worked his jaw, shut it with a sharp click and gazed at the ceiling for a moment before answering.  

“My head hurts,” he deadpanned.  He stared angrily at the ceiling again for another moment.  “Are you going to let me leave or not?”

“No.” Celestia answered, curtly.

“Why not?!  I haven’t done anything wrong!” He pushed himself to his feet and began pacing the edge of the invisible barrier, occasionally poking it with a finger in various places, testing it.  Each time his finger was pushed right back by a white flash.

“If you two really are 'princesses' here, then you obviously have levels of government.  The fact that you even have this room tells me that you have some sort of justice system…  Or that you are really into S and M, which I doubt.  You kids don’t really seem like kinky types.”  He flicked his chains with a finger and they swayed with a soft clink.  Celestia blushed at his implied meaning.  Luna tried not to grin, amused by the off-color remark.  “But I digress,” he continued.  “You can’t keep me prisoner here forever.”

Luna pranced forward, a slyly smiling.  “Oh come now.  You aren’t a prisoner.” He looked down at Luna.  “You’re more like…a trophy…or a pet.”

Shane's eyes narrowed as he stared daggers into Luna.  She back stepped toward her sister.  “He doesn’t have a very good sense of humor.” She pouted.  

“I have a great sense of humor.  I’m hilarious.  That just wasn’t funny.” He defended.  

“Well, Major Doran,” Celestia started, “you are correct.  We do have a justice system.  Unfortunately, our laws were not written with extra terrestrial creatures in mind.  So, no, you are not bound by our laws.  But neither are you protected by them.  I can keep you here as long as I want.”  She despised threats, but they were all he seemed to respond to.  

He looked at Celestia.  “So, what now?  I sit here and wait to be dissected while you two let the universe rip itself apart?”

“I don’t think you have to worry about the universe.”  Luna assured him.  She was still slightly amused by his rather primitive philosophies of reality.  “As for the dissection…well…we weren’t planning on one, but it is still very much an option, so I suggest you start to behave yourself.

Celestia could barely keep her jaw from dropping at the sound of such threats coming from her baby sister’s mouth.  She waited, heart pounding, for the alien’s reaction.  

Celestia’s terror soon turned to wild confusion when the creature began to smile, as if Luna had just told the funniest joke he had ever heard.  His smile widened revealing his front teeth.  The knowledge that they were designed to tear flesh played in the back of her mind, but she put the thought aside and decided to deal with it later.  

He started to chuckle devilishly.  Once he managed to contain himself he pointed a finger at Luna, and looked at Celestia.  “I like her.”  He still wore a happy smile, with the occasional residual snicker.

Celestia had officially abandoned any attempt to find reason in the alien’s behavior.  “Twilight Sparkle’s pink friend made more sense than this...thing!” she thought. 

Luna smiled back at the alien, happy to have made a new friend.  “You certainly are a peculiar species,” she remarked.  She faced her older sister.  “Do you think they were all like this?  Or did we just so happen to save the strange one?”

Celestia’s heart dropped straight down into her stomach, and she shot Luna an alarmed look.  Luna clasped a hoof over her mouth when she realized what she had just implied.  They both turned to see if the alien picked up on Luna’s error.  Celestia’s blood ran cold as she saw the look on his face.  

His smile had completely evaporated.  All former signs of happiness now quite absent from his grim visage; he now only looked confused, and worried.

“…What?” he asked shakily, “she said ‘save the one’.”  He approached the edge of the barrier and pressed his hands against it, making it glow dimly.  “Where is the rest of my team?!” He demanded, worry growing in his voice.  The two alicorns exchanged uneasy glances.  There was no more avoiding it now.  He noticed their hesitation, his worried expression turning to a terrified anger.  “WHERE ARE THEY?!” He shouted, as he pounded a fist against the barrier.  Celestia was dreading this.  She inhaled a deep breath.  

“I’m sorry.” She started, her voice barely audible.  “They didn’t make it.”

He stared back at them for a moment.  “…I don’t understand.” He added, shaking his head.  “didn’t make it?

“The ones you came here with,” Celestia tried to explain, “they…died in the crash.  There was nothing we could do.”

“…which ones?” He tacked on desperately.

“…All of them.” Celestia had to swallow the lump in her own throat.  She truly sympathized with the creature.  He was rude and strange, but he had a good heart, and she hated giving good ponies bad news.  

All of them?” he repeated to Celestia.  She nodded sadly.  She then motioned to her sister.  Luna’s horn glowed softly, and she pulled out ten more silver necklaces, each adorned with two matching metal tags.  

Shane looked as if he had been bucked in the gut.  He was so focused on the tags he didn't notice they were floating through the air.  They passed the barrier and the alien grabbed the bulk of silver chain with a shaking hand.  He held out the necklaces like they were a venomous snake.  He rested one hand on his forehead before brushing it through his short buzzed mane towards the back of his head.  He inspected the tags as if they held a secret to some all-important riddle.

“You were the only one we could save” Celestia solemnly explained.  

He leaned against the back wall of the cell.  He slid down to the floor and clutched the now tangled bunch of tags in his hands.  He peered off into space, gazing at some distant unseen point.  His mouth worked for a moment as if he wanted to say something.  

Celestia felt it would be a good time for them to make their leave, and let the creature have a measure of privacy.  She motioned for Luna to move towards the door and started for it herself.  Luna looked back and forth between her sister and the alien.  She started to follow Celestia out.  Halfway to the door, however, Luna turned toward the alien who was still sitting on the ground, clutching the metal necklaces in his hands and staring off in the distance.  Celestia stopped to watch her sister.  

Luna slowly made her way across the room, passing through the barrier unfazed.  She stopped before the creature.  He looked up at her.  She could see the sorrow in his eyes, despite his otherwise stoic expression.  She brushed the tip of her snout on his forehead.  

“I’m sorry.” She offered.  He didn’t acknowledge her gesture, but chose to return gazing at some far off point.  Luna turned and strode past her sister and out the door.  Celestia attempted to swallow the lump lodged in her throat.  

She followed Luna out the exit, and the silver door sealed shut behind them.  Celestia stepped back out into the hallway, absentmindedly following her little sister.  Many new questions swam in her head, most about how to proceed now that she had a basic comprehension of the situation.  She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she failed to notice Luna had sopped walking, and narrowly avoided bumping into Luna’s flank.  She looked up and saw the commander staring at the two.  

“Well?”  He was doing a poor job of concealing his curiosity.  “Did he talk?”

“Technically yes, he did.”  She replied.

The commander was clearly discontent with the half answer.  “Technically? What did he say?”

Celestia took a deep breath, trying to find the right description for the strange beast.  “He was very vague.  He refuses to answer any question directly.  He is very clever, and exceedingly stubborn.”

“Come to think of it, you two would probably get along quite well.” Luna teased with a playful poke.  The commander ignored her.  

“Did you…you know… tell him?”

“Yes.” Celestia answered somberly.  

“How’d he take it?”

“As well as I suppose anypony could when receiving such news.”

“Did you get anything important out of him?”

“He was quite…” Luna twirled her forehoof in a small circle, as if to try and capture the right word from thin air.  

“Odd,” Celestia finished for her.

“Indeed,” Luna agreed.  

The commander was unsatisfied.  “Odd how?  Where is he from?  Why is he here?  How did he get here?”  He piled on the questions.

“He doesn’t seem too sure himself.  He made it very clear he did not come here by choice.”  Luna paused, “We think he may have jumped the lines from another universe.” Luna explained.  

Another universe?” The commander repeated.  “As in…a universe, other than this one?”

“Yes.  That is what is traditionally meant by the word ‘another.'”

 “And by accident? You don’t accidentally jump lifestreams!  It’s not even possible.”

“Theoretically, it’s very possible,” Celestia explained.  “It’s just…nopony has been able to devise a spell able to do it.  Logic dictates it can be done,” Celestia looked back at the steel door, “apparently they found a way.”

~~~~~

Rarity trotted up the castle steps, admiring how the setting sun accented her new outfit.  Her new crystal pumps glittered in the fading sunlight, and dusky orange rays played upon her red satin dress.  She was quite satisfied with herself.  She had been in Canterlot for almost five days and she had yet to even step hoof outside the castle walls.

“Ah don’ see why I even needed a new outfit.” Applejack complained, staring distastefully at the shopping bags that Rarity had saddled on her.

“Because, darling, you are an honored guest of the royal family, and seeing as we may be staying for some time, I expect you to start dressing like you belong here.”

“Why did I have to come?”  Rainbow Dash whined, hovering above the group.

“Because you are just as bad as she is,” Rarity pointed a hoof at Applejack, “…maybe worse.  I mean really, Rainbow Dash, you would have such a lovely mane if you would just brush it every now and then.”

 “Hurry, Rarity.  The princess is probably done...” Twilight looked around nervously, before continuing in a hushed voice, “...meeting our friend.”  Twilight’s pace quickened.  

Getting AJ and Rainbow Dash looking half civilized was the stated objective of the shopping spree, but Rarity also used it as an excuse to force Twilight out from the dark of the Library and into some sunshine.

“Our friend is locked in a cell, darling.  He isn’t going anywhere,” Rarity assured.   Twilight spent the majority of the errand checking the time and fretting about returning to the castle.  Rarity did her best to help the poor dear relax a bit, but admittedly she had her hooves full reining in Rainbow Dash while forcing Applejack into a dress.

“How are you so calm about all this?” Twilight demanded.

Rarity looked back at Twilight with a sad smile.

“Darling, I’m more worried than I have ever been in my entire life.”

“I’m not.” Rainbow interrupted, boastfully.

Rarity shot her a disapproving glare before trotting over to Twilight, and continuing, “but I learned a long time ago that fretting over something you can not control does nothing but aggravate your frustration.  Besides, a lady must always keep her composure, even during the most trying ordeal.”  Rarity gave a shake of her styled mane to emphasize her point.  

Twilight smiled at Rarity’s exuberance.  To any other pony, her behavior could often be misconstrued as conceited or snobbish.  But any of her friends would testify that there was nothing further from the truth. One would have difficulty finding a more giving or charitable soul in all of Equestria.  Twilight knew that Rarity was only trying to help her unwind the best way the fashionista could.  

Twilight tried to relax, but there was simply too much to do besides wasting time shopping.  She was relieved when the group finally elected to return to the castle.  The sun had begun to set, and soon Luna would raise the moon to bring forth the night.  Twilight was eager to get back to her place by Princess Celestia’s side, and she was also anxious to see if Fluttershy had received any updates.  The shy yellow pegasus chose to remain at the castle while the rest of the girls went shopping, much to Rarity’s disdain.  None were really surprised; Fluttershy was hardly the “hit the town” type, not to mention her reluctance to reappear on the fashion scene after her rather unsavory days as a model.  

They had tried to invite Pinkie Pie, but her behavior lately had become strange, even by her standards.  She appeared only sporadically; apparently she had been spending most of her time in the castle kitchens, doing Celestia-knows-what.  

Twilight doubled her pace, vaguely aware of Rainbow Dash arguing with Applejack about who would win a race back to the palace grounds.  This inevitably led to an argument about whether or not wings were fair use.  Twilight rolled her eyes and mentally blocked out the debate, trotting ahead to catch up with Rarity.  The castle was growing closer with each step.  

~~~~~

“What now?”  Aegis inquired of to the two princesses who still clearly contemplated their conversation with the alien.  Both were distant, lost in their own thoughts.  He couldn't blame them; he imagined something of this magnitude had never occurred before, even during the two alicorns’ seemingly infinite reign.

Luna looked out a window high up in the wall of the stone hallway.  Dusky scarlet light poured through in a soft beam of evening illumination.  

“I’m afraid I must take my leave for the moment,” she stated, disappointed.  “Night is approaching and the moon isn’t going to raise itself.”

Celestia nodded.  “Go ahead, I’m going to try and find the girls.  They’re probably eager for some answers.  I’ll meet you back here when you’re finished.”

Luna nodded back, satisfied with the plan.  She turned with a flick of her long blue tail and began to trot down the hallway toward the exit.  Each guard lowered his head as the princess of the night passed.  

 Aegis watched Luna slowly disappear around a corner.  Celestia spoke to him. “Commander.”  

“Ma’am?” He answered, eager for any order.

“I am going to visit with Twilight Sparkle and the other Elements of Harmony.  It’s probably a little late for this, but I’d still like to try and keep this as quiet as possible.  Have you heard any word about how the public are reacting to that little display earlier?”

“If by ‘display’, you mean an extra terrestrial rampaging through the castle courtyards… then yes.  Such a thing is rather hard to miss.  Luckily for us, most of that area was used by medical staff, and since you had the hospital wing locked down, very few civilians saw it.  So far the most popular rumor seems to be that a strange new pet of Luna’s escaped the castle before it was cornered by her guards.”  He let out a dry laugh.

Celestia sighed in relief.  “At least they aren’t panicking in the streets.”

Yet,” he cautioned, “you know this is going to get out eventually.”

“Yes,” she continued somberly, “however, until that time arrives, try and keep things relatively low-key.  I must meet with the Elements of Harmony.  I leave the situation in your capable hooves, Commander.”

“What am I supposed to do with him?”  He gestured toward the cell door.

“Try and see to it that he’s comfortable.  He’s had a rough day too,” she said with a hint of gloomy humor.  

“So… what, we’re friends with this thing now?”  He asked, irritated.  

“He is not our enemy, Commander.  Of that much I am certain.  However, as unfortunate as it may be, I am afraid I must keep him contained for the time being.  He is not our prisoner.  But he will stay here, until I deem otherwise.”

“Highness.”  He bowed his head in compliance.  

With that Celestia turned and started down the hallway, toward the exit.  She stepped outside to see the last rays of sun sinking below the horizon, elongating the shadows that danced along the ground.  

Luna would soon raise the moon.  Celestia wished she could be there to witness her sister bring forth the night; although Celestia had seen it countless times, Luna conjured a breathtaking show.  No matter how skillfully Celestia raised the moon during Luna's imprisonment, she could never replicate the subtle perfection that Luna fashioned from the moon and stars.  Luna always made the night sky shimmer and sparkle in a way no one else could copy.  Celestia was infinitely proud of her day, but she equally admired Luna’s night.  

Conversely,  her younger sister never could handle the sun.  She could raise it easily enough, at first, but she could never get the arc right.  It would always move halfway across the sky before steering off course.  Luna would become exceedingly frustrated, and therefore quite adorable.  They soon both learned to keep their day jobs, as it were.  Which, Celestia felt, was as it should be.  

She quickly prepared to teleport to the lounge where the girls spent most of their time.  If she wasn't in a hurry she would have preferred to walk.  Teleportation was not a spell she particularly enjoyed casting.  It was tiresome and required an enormous amount of concentration.  Celestia could only think of a few unicorns that had the power necessary to attempt it, and even fewer who had mastered it completely.  Her horn began to glow brighter and brighter until, in a flash of light, the sun princess disappeared completely.

She reappeared with a sonic pop in the dark lounge.  Her eyes took a moment to adjust.  At first she thought the room was empty.  She scanned the dark corners and her eyes eventually spied a long, luxurious pink tail.  She followed the soft pink strands to find it was attached to the rear of Twilight Sparkle’s friend Fluttershy.  “The element of kindness,”  Celestia reminded herself.  The upper half of the yellow pegasus, however, was obscured by a large plush red cushion she dove under for cover.  The poor thing was shaking like a leaf.  Celestia forgot how easily this one scared, and she felt awful for having frightened the little pegasus, but some part of her couldn’t help but be amused by Fluttershy’s rather adorable attempt at hiding.

 A wicked thought crept, unbidden, into Celestia’s head.  She grinned devilishly.  She simply couldn’t resist the opportunity.  She crawled toward the opposite side of the cushion as stealthily as possible.  She lowered herself to the ground and snaked her head under the cushion.  She soon beheld the sight of a terrified Fluttershy, her own butter yellow hooves wrapped around her head, eyes shut tight.  Celestia held as still as possible for what seemed like ages, waiting for the pegasus to open her eyes.  And soon the one aqua blue eye, which was not obscured by a lock of pink hair, slowly peeked open.

“Boo.” Celestia whispered.  

“EEEEEEP!”

The small mare shot back in terror.  She fled towards the door but she stopped when she heard the demure chuckling of princess Celestia.  “…P…Princess?” She began, confused and out of breath.  

“Oh, forgive me, my little pony.  I just couldn’t resist,” Celestia answered, still laughing.  

“Oh…um…It’s ok, Princess.  I just wasn’t really expecting anyone; I mean at least not until...Rarity came back with the others.

Celestia didn’t understand anything after ‘expecting’ but she was fairly certain she caught the name Rarity.

“And where, exactly are Rarity and the others?”

They, um, went shopping.  They should be back any moment though.”

“At least some ponies are enjoying themselves,” she thought.  She considered sending out a few guards to collected them, but she decided it would be better to simply wait.  She sat at a nearby table and motioned for Fluttershy to join her.  She heated a small pot of tea with a quick spell.  She poured both herself and Fluttershy a cup.  

Um….Princess? If  you don’t mind me asking.  Is everything alright?”

Celestia smiled at the shy young mare.  “Well, I would say that everything is as alright as it can be, given the circumstances.”

Fluttershy smiled back.  “Oh…good.  I think.”

Right at that moment the door to the lounge pushed open and several familiar voices could be heard squabbling about something.  

“I don’t see why using what I was born with is unfair.  They’re my wings, and I think I should be allowed to use them!”

“Just cuz you were born with wings don’t mean you get ta use em’ to an unfair advantage.”

“How is it unfair?! Your legs are stronger than mine, So would it be fair if I said you had to wear saddlebags full of sand?”

“No! That’s the point of a race.  Tah see who is more physically capable of reachin’ the finish line first.  Without any unfair advantages, like extra limbs.”

“Well without my wings, YOU have the unfair advantage.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash continued their argument, oblivious to the princess' presence.  They entered the room and began setting the shopping bags down from their shoulders.  Twilight and Rarity soon followed through the door.  Twilight immediately lit up with excitement and concern when she noticed Celestia.

“Princess!” Twilight dumped her own shopping bags and trotted up to the table before remembering her manners and slipping into a quick bow.  AJ and Rainbow Dash had ceased their bickering and hurriedly scrambled to bow as well.  

As per usual, they fired off questions at an incomprehensible speed.  Celestia patiently waited for a moment, but when they showed no sign of slowing she held up a hoof.   A second later they all had piped down.  Celestia began to slowly explain the situation.

“Yes, I did speak with him,” she started, “and for the most part he refused to answer any questions directly.  I’m not entirely sure why he is being so circuitous, but he seems very adamant about sharing as little information with us as necessary.  We have our own speculation as to why, but without his confirmation we can not be certain.  We did learn one thing, however.  It may be our greatest insight into his behavior.  He is not an extra terrestrial.  He did not, in fact come from another planet.”  She let the revelation sink in.

“So, wait.  Where is he from?  He certainly isn’t from Equestia,” Rarity queried.

“No.” Celestia confirmed, “He is not from this planet.  Nor is he from any other planet in this universe.  Apparently he is from another universal stream entirely.”  

“So howd’ he end up here?” AJ inquired.

“You don’t mean… lifestreams?” Twilight asked in a whisper.

Celestia smiled.  There was a reason she had chosen to personally tutor Twilight.  Her ability to grasp amazingly complicated concepts never ceased to amaze the sun princess.  “Very good, Twilight Sparkle.”  The small purple mare blushed.  “Yes.  We believe that he somehow skipped his from own and landed in ours.”

“But, Princess.  I thought that was impossible.  I mean, weren’t all attempts transit a stream abandoned thousands of years ago?”

“Alright.  I’m sorry, but does anypony want to PLEASE talk normal?” Rainbow Dash whined.  The other girls agreed with her.  Twilight and the Princess may as well have been speaking another language.  

“I’m sorry, girls.  Twilight? Would you like to explain?” Celestia offered.  

Twilight nodded, eager to share her frightening knowledge of every aspect of everything ever anything-ed by anypony anywhere.  

She began with a brief history of ponies first discovering magic, and how unicorn ponies seemed to be the most adept at channeling it’s power.  “…eventually a very powerful unicorn by the name of Arcturus was experimenting with some very potent teleportation magic.  Until he discovered it, teleportation was barely more than an unexplored hypothesis.  He theorized that one would be able to cast a spell that would allow near instantaneous travel from one point to another.  As it turns out, he was right.  He was the first unicorn to successfully cast the teleportation spell.  It was a rather crude version of what we practice today, but it proved his theory was sound, nonetheless.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes had already begun to droop.  She wasn’t interested in a history lesson.  Applejack was at least trying to be polite about her boredom.  She kept an interested face, but her eyes had  glazed over, and she became lost in her own daydreams.  But Twilight continued, unfazed.  

“…As he became more and more proficient at these teleportation spells, he noticed that as the distance increased, the inherent accuracy of the spell decreased.  Several unicorns began to injure themselves when they attempted the spell, often because they failed to estimate for the change in elevation from point A to point B.   They would accidentally appear at their destination, ten feet off the ground, or worse…under it.

Rarity shuddered at the thought of being surrounded by filthy dirt.

“…so Arcturus attempted to set a magical waypoint to the desired destination, so that the need for rough guesstimates about relative changes in geography would be much easier to factor.”  Twilight had to stop and take in another deep breath before continuing.  “While he was unable to make his magical map, he discovered something else entirely.  His spell revealed what he described as ‘the golden threads of the world.'  Apparently he had inadvertently revealed the lines of the universe, the very foundation of the cosmos.  He called these lines, ‘lifestreams.'  These lines all combine to form what was to come to known as the ‘Empyrean Web,'  or the lines of the universe.” Twilight's tone became more excited.  “I have only ever seen them once, myself.  So it’s rather difficult to describe, but imagine golden lines everywhere.  They are completely invisible and intangible, normally.  They can only be seen using the same spell he created thousands of years ago.  They pass through solid objects unfazed, like a beam of light would pass through glass.”  Twilight began to demonstrate by pointing all over the room with her hooves and connecting invisible threads to opposite sides of the lounge, looking about as if she could see them all before her.  “But that wasn’t the only thing he discovered.”

Of course it’s not.” Rainbow Dash plopped herself down on the ground, pulling at her eyelids with her cyan hooves in misery.  

Twilight shot her a venomous glance, and continued.  “As he fine-tuned his spell he found that some lines faded, and some new ones appeared.  Eventually he plotted all these lines and found that throughout the range of his spell, only one remained constant.  He believed this to be our line, the line that represented our universe.  This in no small way created a lot of controversy, as it implied that each other line represented a different universe.  Nopony really wanted to believe that realities other than this one existed, and the theory was roundly dismissed by most scholars and magicians.  But as time went on, evidence began to pile in his favor.  And thus began the frantic attempt to 'jump' into another universe.  Needless to say, Nopony had ever been able to accomplish the feat.  Not even Arcturus himself.  After such mass speculation and disappointment, the lifestreams faded in the minds of pony kind to little more than a natural curiosity.”

“What the princess is suggesting,” she paused for dramatic effect, “is that that thing’s species must have somehow found a way to detach themselves from their stream, and somehow ‘jump’ to ours.”

“I didn’t think it was physically possible,” Rainbow began.

“I know that’s why it’s so excit-“

“No.” She interrupted.  “I meant I didn’t think it was possible for me to be MORE confused then I was twenty minutes ago.  But you did it.  Amazing.”  The colorful pegasus massaged her head with her front hooves.  

“Ah hate ta agree with Dash, but I still don’t see how any of this explains why he’s here, or why he’s been so desperate ta…well… ‘leave’.”

Celestia finally spoke up.  “From what we gleaned from his incoherent ranting, we think that he believes his presence here is going to cause an apocalyptic tear in the fabric of reality.  He seems to think that his arrival and continued interference in our universe will disrupt our timeline or something of that sort.  We never really expected a genus as advanced as his to have such an outdated notion of time, but it does make some sense of his rather ...desperate...actions thus far.”

“Yeah?  Well I still don’t trust him.” Rainbow declared hotly.  “In fact, I say we aughta’ let that big dummy sit there in that dungeon for a few more days and think about all the damage he’s done.  I might even go teach his sorry flank a lesson.”

Celestia turned and caught the polychromatic pegasus in a brutal stare.  “Miss Dash,” Celestia stated in a tone eerily reminiscent of a mother scolding a young foal,  “do you know why he attempted to take his own life?”  The room was dangerously quiet.  Dash didn’t answer but cringed under Celestia gaze.  “He did it because he was afraid of damaging this world.  That alien, who has no stake in this dimension, was willing to die to keep you safe.  That is more than I can even say for most of my own subjects.  You would do well to remember that.”

“...Sorry princess,” Rainbow Dash apologized quietly.

Celestia relented.  “It’s alright.  I understand your anger.  You are merely concerned for the safety of your friends.  But please refrain from letting such narrow vision shape your attitudes in the future.”

The room was quiet for a moment because none were ready to speak.  Soft moonlight spilled through the few windows.  Luna would return to the cell momentarily, if she hadn't arrived already.  

“Excuse me girls, I must return to the dungeons.  Luna and I are going to try and speak to it again.”

“Can we come this time princess?!” Twilight brought the full force of her puppy dog face to bare.  “Pleeeeaaaassee?”

Celestia saw that each of the six mares were looking up at her imploringly.  She felt her heartstrings tug, but she was immune to such tactics after having her baby sister try them for centuries.  

“I’m sorry girls.  Not tonight.  Perhaps tomorrow.  Now is not a good time.”

“But whyyyy? You said yourself that he didn’t mean any harm.” Twilight protested.  

Celestia sighed.  “Yes, I did.  And I believe that.  But…I’m afraid our new friend may not be ready for introductions right now.” She paused for a moment.  “You see, he has just learned that he is the sole surviving member of his species.  And I do not believe he will feel much like talking.”

The mood chilled.  A dull pop cold be heard from the other side of the large oak doors that led to the lounge.  A split second later, they were thrown open with a surprising amount of force.  

There in the doorway, stood Luna, breathing heavily.

“Celestia!”

“Luna? What going on? Are you alright?” Celestia shot to her hooves, alarmed at her sister’s state and apparent alarm.  

Luna stopped and caught her breath.

“We have a problem!”

INB4 LUNA GETS A PERSONALITY AND MAKES MY FIC EFFECTIVELY IRRELEVANT

DEDS

Thanks to CESCO for my edit work, he does a wondrous job of putting up with my bullshit.

Also everyone be sure to keep an eye out for his new podcast,

Everfree Radio

It looks like a lot of fun.

Thanks to my thread, and all the great feedback.

As always questions and comments are welcome so I’ll include this for awhile, before I come back and delete it later.

[email protected]

As always

have nice day

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC IS OWNED BY HASBRO. ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS.

NO PROFIT WAS MADE IN THE CREATION/DISTRIBUTION

Shout out to the guys who were talking about this fic on x-box live.

Yes I heard about that.

I have spies, EVERYWHERE.

no one is safe


ARTICLE 2

Part V

By: Muppetz (!Gsih3Wfnlk)

“Didn’t you try talking to him?!”  Celestia queried as the two princesses trotted up the front steps of the large black monolith that served as the dungeon.  

“I did try!  But he seems to be having a bit of a breakdown and I don’t think he’s listening to me.  I barely convinced Aegis not to sic the guards on him… At least not until we get back.”

“He didn’t get out, did he?”  Celestia asked, dread coloring her tone.  

Luna let out an exhausted sigh.  “Not yet, no.  But he’s certainly giving it his best attempt.”

Several sharp ringing noises echoed between the walls and intensified as they approached.  They rounded a corner and found thirty guards stacked on both sides of the cell door, awaiting the order to enter.  The soldier pony’s faces bore hardened resolve, but Celestia could easily see the fear in the guards' eyes.  They knew full well that at any moment they may have to charge in and subdue the intimidating creature.   The furious din resounded from the cell; it sounded  like a hammer smacking a steel anvil.  Each strike was accompanied by a bright flash of white light, clearly visible through an open metal window in the door.  The racket was muffled yet still loud enough to make Celestia’s ears hurt.  Each crack rang out at intervals of a few seconds, pausing occasionally for a moment before resuming relentlessly.  

The Commander spotted the two new arrivals and trotted over to them.  

“What happened?”  Celestia shouted over the noise.

The Commander shook his head.  “We were doing what you told us.  We were arranging for him to stay here tonight.  At first he just sat there and watched us, but then… he just started…laughing like a madcolt, and started trying to break down that barrier.”  He shook his head again.  “He’s lost it, your highness.  We tried to talk him down but…”  He swung out his forelegs, defeated.  “He wouldn’t listen to Princess Luna, He won’t listen to us.  I would like permission to send in the guards and have him restrained before he hurts somepony.”

“No!  Don’t send any more guards in.  If you rush him he’s just going to assume he’s under attack and he could become violent again.”

Become violent?  Princess, he’s violent now!”

“I can talk him down.  He’s just scared.  He’s also probably in shock.  Just open the door and I can get him back under control.”

“Yeah, I can get him under control too…with some chains and a heavy sedative.  Plus MY option doesn’t involve tossing our Princesses in a cell with a rabid animal.”

“He isn’t an animal, Commander.  Inside, he’s just like you or me.  He has hopes and fears, and he definitely isn’t rabid.”

Celestia walked over and peered through the small window.  The alien was too preoccupied smashing a steel chair against the barrier to notice.  Each blow sharply cracked with a bright flash.  Celestia turned to Aegis with a slightly annoyed look.  “Who gave him the chair?”

“It’s a chair!  I didn’t think he’d try and use it as a weapon!” the Commander defended.

 “I think, for future reference, we need to assume that anything we put in his hooves, he’s going to try to use as a weapon.  But I have to agree with Aegis, I didn’t foresee the chair thing becoming a problem,” Luna piped up.

Celestia rubbed the side of her head with a hoof, attempting he alleviate the inevitable headache growing behind her eyes.  She took a deep breath.  “Alright, I’m going in.”

The commander begrudgingly began to open the cell door as Celestia contemplated how best to console a distressed trans-dimensional being.  No ideas came to mind.  

Luna trotted up to Celestia’s side and waited expectantly.  Celestia looked down at her sister, amused.  “Coming?”

“Indeed!  This is a grand opportunity to study distress levels and possibly help us understand his emotional responses.”

The door began its slow inward glide.  The ringing paused.  When the gap was big enough, Celestia slid inside, followed closely by Luna.  The creature lowered his chair and took a look at the new arrivals.  He had shed his camouflaged outer blouse in favor of the olive drab t-shirt beneath it.  The shirt was dotted with bloodstains and its fabric was torn in several places, presumably from shattered glass.  His eyes flicked from Celestia and Luna to the door.  Luna followed his gaze and quickly moved to block the exit.  The creature merely chuckled, shook his head, hefted the chair behind his head and swung it into the barrier.  

Luna raised a wing to shield her eyes from the flare of light, but the steel pang still made her ears hurt.

“Shane,” Celestia began tentatively.  “Are you alright?”

He stopped in mid swing, lowered the chair and pointed a finger at Celestia.  “I think I figured it out!” He said excitedly.

“That’s wonderful.  How about you set down the chair, and tell me exactly what it is you’ve figured out.”

He let the chair fall.  It landed with a thud against the padded floor.  “Everything!  This explains everything!” His lips twisted into a desperate grin.

“Do share.” Celestia said trying to maintain a calm tone.

He threw his arms out to either side.  “I’m dead!”  he stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.  “I’ve been dead this whole time!  It all makes sense.”

“That makes…no sense… at all.”  Luna corrected.  

“It does!  I’m dead… and this is hell.”  He looked around the room distastefully.

Celestia tried not to take the analogy personally.

“Major Doran, you aren’t dead.”

“Nope.  Dead.  I’m in hell.  God is pissed off because I never went to church…also probably because of all that ...war stuff  I did,” he said, somewhat to himself.

“War?”

“Yes, and now I’m in hell, and for some reason my punishment is to be eternally tormented by childhood fantasy creatures...you are all the manifestation of some repressed childhood memories that probably have everything to do with my mother.”

Luna raised her head toward Celestia and whispered in her ear, “I think Aegis was right, he may have lost it.”

“He’s just in denial, he’ll snap out of it,” Celestia assured her.  “You aren’t dead, Major.  We spent a lot of time ensuring that.”

“I have to be.”  He let out a sad, humorless chuckle.  “There’s no other way I could have fucked up this bad.”

“I know this isn’t easy for you, but you can’t run from this.  You are very much alive, and you know it.  It might not be what you wanted, but this is how it turned out.” Shane stopped and stared into Celestia’s eyes, a pained look on his face.  “I’m sorry, Shane.  I truly am, but you were given a second chance.  Fate, destiny, dumb luck, call it what you will-”

“No!  I can’t be alive.  This can’t be real!”  His voice grew more and more desperate as he tried frantically to deny the truth.

“It IS real, Major Doran, accept it!”

“No No No No!  I can’t let this happen!!” He began to pace, eyes wide in panic.

“It HAS happened.  I know this is tough to swallow but this is real and you know that.  We are running low on time, Major.  I can not protect you forever.  I may be sympathetic to your situation but trust me there are those of us that won’t be.  I can help you.”

He gave no inclination of having paid any attention to what she was saying.  He was pacing the perimeter or the cell, looking for any means of escape, frantically scouring the walls with his eyes.  His pacing only seemed to heighten his anxiety.  “I want out,” he stated plainly.  “I have to get out!”  His tone shifted to desperate panic.

 “Calm down, Shane.  Listen to me, you can’t-”

“NO!  I’m done! I want out!  I wanna go home!”  He bent down and picked up the chair.  He reared it back and smashed it into the barrier in front of him.  

“Shane!  Stop!” Celestia commanded in an unnaturally loud voice.  “You need to calm down!”

He ignored her and continued smashing the steel piece of furniture into the glowing wall.  A razor thin crack sheared through the wall.  Each additional blow spread it further.  Shane saw this and began to beat into the wall with renewed vigor.  

“Shane you can’t just leave!”

“Watch me,” he seethed.  “I’m SICK of this SHIT!  I.  WANT.  TO.  GO .  HOME!”  He punctuated each word with a blow to the barrier, which was now spider webbed with cracks and pulsating violently.

With the barrier on the verge of collapse, Celestia spread her wings and readied herself.  If force was all he could understand, so be it.  

He raised the chair back one more time, intending to deliver the final strike...

“STOP!”   A new voice echoed in the tiny room, a voice that rarely raised above a whisper.  Celestia had to turn to see it for herself, to confirm the voice’s owner.  A small yellow pegasus stood in the doorway, eyes wide and wings spread.  

Alarm sounded in Celestia’s head.  She was about to protest the little ponies presence.  But Luna tapped Celestia on the side.  Celestia looked to her little sister, who was busy watching the creature with a small smile on her face.  Celestia followed her gaze to the alien.  

His chair was stopped mid-swing and he stood frozen in place, staring intently at Fluttershy with a mixture of fascination and terror.  Celestia flicked back and forth between Fluttershy and the alien.  It took her a moment to realize what exactly was going on.  She remembered Twilight Sparkle mentioning this strange phenomenon in a few of her letters.  They called it The Stare.  Brutal mental dominance was an odd talent for such a shy, innocent young girl; Celestia had never seen a power like it.  This was the first time she witnessed its use first hoof.  

Fluttershy focused, unblinking with a determination in her gaze dangerously out of character for the demure pegasus.  “Put it down,” she ordered.  Celestia eagerly turned back to see if he would comply.  

The muscles in his arms shook slightly, and his one eye twitched, but his fingers slowly uncurled from around the back of the chair and it fell to the floor with a soft thud.  

“Good,” Fluttershy continued, a satisfied flavor in her voice, “Sit.”

He didn’t respond to this demand as easily.  He continued to stand, muscles twitching.  His head turned, trying desperately to break eye contact.  But no matter which way he held his head he couldn’t seem to sever her line of sight.  He struggled, jaws clenched and sweat beading his forehead.  Fluttershy noted his attempts to rebuff the effects of her stare.  She stormed past the doorway, into the room and directly up to edge of the cracked, glowing wall.  Her eyes nearly doubled in size as she bore the full brunt of her control upon him.  

Sit,” she repeated.

This time he obeyed without hesitation, falling back onto his rear with his two legs spread out into a V in front of him.  He was sweating profusely and the veins in his neck and arms stood in relief against his skin.

Fascinated, Celestia and Luna watched the mental exchange, amazed at the ease with which the mouse had commanded the lion.  Celestia was astonished.  This creature had resisted some of the most complex and powerful magic known to ponydom, and here he was, brought to heel by the sheer willpower of a small pegasus.  

“Good, boy,” Fluttershy praised.  Celestia thought she saw the corners of his mouth lift ever so slightly into confused smile.  Celestia let the pegasus control the alien for a few moments longer than she probably should have.  She was grateful for the brief respite.  It gave her the precious seconds she needed to collect her thoughts.  She also hated to admit she felt a dark satisfaction from the sight.  Aside from the delicious irony, she now had a definitive weapon to use against the thing should he choose to misbehave again.  There was still the question of exactly how Fluttershy was able to get past the guards in the first place, but that could be addressed later.  

Fluttershy hovered over the clearly petrified alien and exerted a level of dominance over the creature that caused Celestia to actually feel bad for him for a moment, and judging by the veins bulging in his neck and the random twitching of muscles, she needed to stop Fluttershy’s stare before she caused him permanent damage.  Not that Fluttershy would ever intentionally bring harm to any living creature, but it was impossible to predict what manner of effect the stare could be having on its alien psyche.  

“Luna,” she started.

“I’m on it,” her sister replied, anticipating the request.  Luna stepped forward and her horn glowed softly.  Fluttershy was wrapped in a shimmering blue cloud of magic and with an inaudible “eeep,” she was whisked out of the room.  The Night Princess followed the floating pony and shut the door behind her, sealing Celestia inside.  Celestia wasn’t concerned, if she so desired she could merely rip the door from its frame.  

The moment Fluttershy was out of sight he sucked in air, filling his lungs as if he had been holding his breath the entire time.  He scooted away from the door as fast as his legs could push, until he hit the back wall of the room.  He tried to push himself through the wall, all the while gasping for air.  He rubbed at his eyes vigorously, attempting to scrub out Fluttershy’s influence.  Once his more violent convulsions ceased, he contented himself by hugging his legs close to his chest and resting his chin on his knees, and blinking excessively.

“Are you going to be alright?” Celestia started, slightly concerned.  

He didn’t respond.  He merely focused on blinking and twitching his eyes.  

“Shane?” she began again, taking a tentative step forward.  He started, surprised, as if he forgot all about Celestia.  

“I’m sorry about that, but you left me little choice.”  Celestia pretended the coincidence of Fluttershy’s sudden arrival was intentional; sometimes maintaining the illusion of control was just as important as actually having it.  If she could convince the beast that she had the ability to use Fluttershy against him at any moment she might be able to discourage any further misbehavior.

He finally spoke through gritted teeth, squeezing his head between his hands.  “What the fuck did you do?!  It...  I couldn’t…think.”

 “They call it The Stare.”

He ran his hands through his short mane, a few times, before sucking in a large breath of air.  “This IS real…isn’t it?” he asked sadly, finally looking up to Celestia for an answer.  He calmed down as the reality of his situation sank in.

Celestia felt a pang of genuine pity.  For all the trouble he had caused her, given the sheer magnitude of his predicament, one could hardly expect him to accept it without conflict.  “I’m afraid so.” She answered, as sympathetically as she could.  

He took a moment before speaking again, before he said tersely, “That sucks,”  as if the words summed up the entire situation.  

“I’m sorry,” was all she could think to say.  She wondered where Luna had wandered off to after disarming Fluttershy.  It was not like her to miss out on a rare opportunity such as this.  

“Why me?!” he posed, shaking his head, trying desperately to refute Celestia’s words.  “Why should I have to live?!  Why did they all die and I didn’t?!  Any one of them deserves life more than me!”  Celestia didn’t have an answer.  “If this is real it… how can it be?  …It doesn’t make sense.”

“What doesn’t?”

“Any of this,” he slashed a hand through the air.  “How is it possible that I’m here?  This shouldn’t be…doable.”

“You are referring to the fact that you are now occupying a new universe?”

“Yes.  I mean… there are like… rules...rules which cannot be broken, ever.  Conservation of Matter for example.  ‘Matter can not be created or destroyed.’  Does that even apply in this place?”  He gestured to the world in general.  

Celestia nodded.  “Of course.”

“And that rule is impossible to break, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Then how were we able to leave our universe?  How did all that stuff; the ship, the equipment, ourselves, leave the closed system that is, our universe?”

“I fail to see how the rule has been broken in this scenario.”

He stared at her with a blank expression, disappointed that she had not caught on to his implication.  “We removed matter from our universe.”

“So?”

“So we broke the rule.”

“The rule forbids destroying or creating matter.  You did neither of those things.  You simply moved matter from one spot to another.”

“But we took it out of our universe.”

Celestia tried to think of a way to explain.  “Think of it like two rivers.  One river is ‘your’ universe, the other, is mine.”  He was a bit perplexed by the sudden analogy, but waited patiently for her to continue.  “If I were to pluck a pebble from the bed of your river, and toss it into my river, do you think that because I removed matter from one river and added it to another, realities will cease to exist?”

“But for this to be possible both ‘rivers’ would have to be a part of the same system.  They would have to both need to be….like…”

“…smaller parts to a larger whole.” Celestia finished for him.

“Yes.  But they aren’t.  Our universe has closed boundaries that nothing enters or leaves.”

“For a species so advanced your vision is still quite narrow.”

“This has been our understanding for about two hundred thousand years.  Excuse me Princess if I’m having a little trouble letting go!” he replied hotly.  

Celestia noted the number with interest, adding the age of his species to the very tiny library of information she had on the creature.  “Try not to think of it in terms of boundaries and limits, but try instead thinking in terms of ‘what is’ and ‘what is not.'” His only response was a blank, slightly annoyed, stare.  “Widen your stance, expand your vision.  Existence does not end within the confines of any one reality.  Your transition was but a drop in an infinite ocean.  You have not left in the traditional sense, merely relocated yourselves.  Nothing you, or anypony else, can do will ever halt the inexorable flow of time.  Yes, your presence here has and will continue to change the flow and direction of this ‘river’ but you will never stop it.”

“How can you know this?  How can anyone know that?”

“I know it, because I am connected to this world in ways no others are.  I can not explain it more than that.  You will have to accept that on faith.”  He sarcastically snorted.  As if faith was the last thing he would be giving to Celestia.  She continued anyway.  “You know it, because you are here speaking to me now.  You are the living proof that negates the structure you so desperately cling to.  Why do you deny the truth when it presents itself?”

“I don’t know,” He rubbed his face with his hands in a tired fashion, “I’m not an astrophysicist.”

 “What are you?”

He looked up at her, wearing an amused smile, as if it had become a game to see how long it would take her to finally ask.  “I’m a lot of things.”

“Are you any one thing more than the others?”

“Yes, but given our current standing I’ll assume you aren’t interested some of the more subtle formalities of my person.”  Celestia was amused by his sudden shift to eloquence but allowed him to continue without comment.  “What do you want to know?”

“How about your species.”

“Human.  ‘Homo Sapiens Sapiens’ if you wanna get fancy.”        

“Where are you from?”

“Personally?  Kentucky.  But that probably doesn’t mean much to you, so suffice to say I’m from a little blue planet not all that different from this one.”

“How did you end up here?”

“Mostly, I don’t know.  What I do know is classified.”

Celestia was scarcely satisfied with the answer, “I think this is hardly the time for secrets, Major Doran.  We deserve to know what exactly we are dealing with.”

“I agree.  But I still can’t reveal mission critical information to a foreign government.”

“I’m just trying to do what is best for both of us.”

“What was ‘best’ would have been letting me die with my men and ending it there,” he retorted bitterly.

“Shane …I’m sorry for your losses, I truly am.  And believe me this is not how I wanted this to go.  But we did the best we could with the time we were given, and we will do our best to help you, but we need your cooperation here.  You need to let us help you.  We are not your enemies.”

He looked up at Celestia suspiciously, attempting to figure what she was all about.  “Alright, what do you want?

Celestia was slightly taken aback.  “What do you mean?”

“No one just wants to help.  What do you want out of this?  You’re going to offer to help get me home, and then conveniently make a few demands, yes?  So what do you want?  Weapons?  Tech?  I imagine you’ve already seized the ship and all my shit.  So what else do you want from me?”

The direction he was taking the conversation was disturbing Celestia.  He had severe trust issues, and whether that was due to his nature as a species or it was an acquired behavior was impossible to tell.  It seemed that the more she spoke to him, the more questions she accrued.  “Why is that so difficult for you to believe?”

He didn’t have an answer; in fact, Celestia’s challenge seemed to have stopped him in his tracks, confusing him on a primal level.  Celestia noticed his confusion and took note of it with interest.

Rather than answer Celestia, he stood up and went over to a cot that one of the guards brought in before his outburst.  The cot was too small for him, but it was the best they could find on such short notice.  He picked up the cluster of silver necklaces that rested on top of the green canvass.  Shane stared at the collection of silver tags, with defeated look in his eyes.  “I shouldn’t be here.  I shouldn’t even be alive.”  He paused and withdrew slightly.  “You know what the fucked up, ironic truth is?” It was obviously a rhetorical question, so Celestia waited silently for him to continue.  “It was my job to keep them safe.”

“You feel guilty for having survived?” She had anticipated this as a possibility.  Although, before today, she wasn’t even sure he experienced emotions the way ponies did.  A subtle nod was his only reply.  “Was this incident caused by some fault of yours?”  Celestia was trying to be gentle with her words, but she needed to know.  

He locked her bright pink eyes with his dull marble blue ones.  “No.”

“Then know that there was nothing you could have done.  Nopony could have expected to survive that, it is foolish to think otherwise.  I doubt the knowledge will bring you any happiness, but if what you say is true then I hope you understand that this outcome was unavoidable.  It was a tragic accident, but it was an accident you could do nothing to prevent.”  

He put on the same expressionless mask she knew concealed any emotion he might be feeling.  “Mourn their loss, honor their memories, but do not fault yourself for their deaths.  It is a terrible trap to fall into, one that all too often ensnares those burdened with the sorrows of survival.”

He was quiet for a small span as he studied Celestia, once again reforming his concept of the Princess.  “Who did you lose?”

After a brief instant of surprise Celestia gave him a sad smile.  She wondered if she had really been so obvious with her speech, or if this creature was also painfully familiar with the heartaches of loss.  “I’ve had the misfortune of outliving many friends.” Her voice remained calm, but she felt sad nostalgia.  Yet she resisted the urge to reminisce on things lost.  She found long ago that living the past was a terrible habit to fall into, one not easily broken.  

“I’m sorry.” He said, surprising Celestia slightly.  Sympathy was a new trick for him.  

“The curse of longevity, I’m afraid,” she said, smiling sadly.  After a moment’s indecision, his own lips cracked into a small shadow of a smile.  

She could tell he yearned to press her for an explanation but, to his credit, he held his tongue.  Celestia was happy to have finally established a dialogue with the creature.  Even if the topic was rather grim, at least she had her hoof in the door, metaphorically speaking.  

Although now that she was openly conversing, she found she couldn’t really think of anything to say.  And so the silence grew.  He didn’t seem to mind the quiet.  He was obviously lost in his own thoughts.  

“What happens now?”  He finally elected to breach the stillness.

Celestia took a deep breath before answering.  “Well, that depends a great deal upon you.”

“I hate to disagree with you, but I don’t seem to be in the best of bargaining positions to begin calling shots.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s your move, Princess.

“And therein, lies our problem,” she began to slowly pace back and forth along the barrier’s cracked surface.  His head swiveled on his shoulders, following her movements with practiced precision.  “I’m afraid I can’t ‘make a move’ without knowing for certain that you are, in no way, a threat to any of my subjects.”

but you think that I am,” he said, in what Celestia would have sworn was pleased tone.

Celestia chose her words with care, “I do not believe that is your intent.  However, you must understand that your mere presence here, if not managed delicately, could prove disastrous.  Ideally, I would like to move you out of the dungeon and placed under our protective care.”

“Implying I’m the one that needs protecting.” he said with an amused grin.  “You seem to be placing an unusual amount of faith in my continued...pacific...attitude.  How do you know you can trust me on my word alone?”

“Can’t I?” she posed with a wry smile.  

“Fraid’ I can’t answer that for you.  Whom you decide to trust is a choice for you alone to make.”

“But that choice will affect us both.”

 “True, but at the end of the day, you’re the one with the guards and the guns, which means you call the shots.”

“We can work together to try and get you home, Major.  I would like to help you, but you’re going to have to meet me half way.  This is not my decision alone.  This is a bridge we both must cross.  Your commitment to duty is admirable, but you must understand that, as the only surviving member of your species, the responsibility of action falls to you.”

He was silent for a long moment.  Celestia soon feared he wasn’t going to answer.  But he relented and said, “Alright, Princess.  This is what I can do.”  He mustered as diplomatic a voice as he could.  “In hopes of furthering mutually beneficial goals, I will hereby temporarily cease all unprovoked hostile actions on behalf of myself, and these United States Marine Corps, with the Sovereign State of….”

Equestria.”

“…Equestria, until an official agreement can be reached on an armistice.”

“Wonderful.”  Celestia beamed.  She neglected to point out that they were never technically at war, and that he was technically more of a refugee than a foreign diplomat.  But it was an enormous leap in progress.  “And you will agree to be placed under our protective care?”  She wondered if she was pressing her luck.  

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really.”

“Then I guess I do,” he deadpanned, his face looking like he’d bitten something unpleasant.  

Celestia’s smile widened.  It was less than she hoped for, but more than she expected.  She was however disappointed Luna had missed out on the historic moment.

“So…Seeing as we’ve reached the political equivalent of ‘I’ll stop if you stop’ what happens now?”  He asked, sounding very cynical about the arrangement.

“Now, it is very late.  I have matters that must be attended to.  Rest, Major Doran.  You have had a busy day, and tomorrow will certainly be busier still.  We shall do our best to accommodate your needs.  I will leave you in peace for a few hours.  Try and sleep, if you can.”  Celestia turned toward the door.  She tapped on it with her forehoof, and the mechanisms that held it shut audibly moved out of place as it was opened from the outside.  She looked back over her shoulder.  “Oh… and, Shane?”

He lifted his head to meet her gaze but didn’t respond.

Celestia reached back with her rear leg and tapped the barrier with her golden shod hoof.  With that final hit, the cracks in the transparent wall finally won over and the wall shattered in a brilliant display of golden sparks, which fell to the floor and dissipated seemingly into thin air.  “Welcome to Equestria.”

~

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC IS OWNED BY HASBRO. ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS.

NO PROFIT WAS MADE IN THE CREATION/DISTRIBUTION

COMMENTS

Yup, I’m still alive. I can’t apologize enough for the HUGE delays between updates. But I’m doing my best to fit pony into my schedule. But I can only budget like a few sentences a day, so it takes awhile to finish. Again I’m very sorry. I’ll try to get more frequent, but Real life’s a bitch, amirite?

Anywho...

I was pretty torn about this chapter. I REALLY wanted Shane to get out of the dungeon, but If I did make it longer it was going to be A LOT longer. And take A LOT longer to get out. I made the call...(jk, Cesco and Bolt made the call) and stopped here.

I can promise Part VI is going to be much more exciting. I’m quite enjoying writing it.

DEDS

Thanks again to CESCO for all my edit work, He is a grammar machine. I’m amazed he hasn’t completely given up on me yet.

Also thanks to my thread on Ponychan.

You guys are great.

For those of you that live under a rock, be sure to check out

EVERFREE RADIO

http://everfreeradio.com/

They consistently deliver amazing guests like

Michell Creber- (Applebloom/Sweetie Belle)

Nicole Oliver- (Cheerilee/ PRINCESS CELESTIA)

Along with some huge names from the fandom like;

AJ Talon, Penstroke, ect.

But anyway...enought plugging ...for now.

[email protected] 

Any comments, questions, hate mail, are welcome.

Shoot me an email. I do my best to answer most of the questions, or concerns, in the comments section.

So don’t forget to rate, comment all that great stuff that strokes my bloated ego.


ARTCLE 2         

 Part VI

 

By: Muppetz (!Gsih3Wfnlk)

~~~~~

Fluttershy gave a small squeak as Luna’s magic lifted her of the ground. The little pegasus was swiftly swept through the door and out the cell. The dungeon corridor was lit only by the occasional torch on the wall. Luna had long since raised the moon, the light from which now cast slender beams of cool silver light onto the floor through small openings high on the outer wall. It took her eyes only a fraction of a second to adjust to the dark, and she soon spotted the guard commander. Luna’s temper flared slightly when she saw he was standing next to Twilight Sparkle along with another three of the elements of harmony.

Luna quickly turned and shut the door behind her, no longer able to risk the creature getting out of his cell. She looked expectantly at the commander before setting Fluttershy down in front of him implicatively. “Forgive me if I am mistaken, Commander. But I could have sworn you were ordered to allow no one into this building. Was I unclear in my direction?”

“Your instructions were beyond question, your majesty. The Elements are here by my request.” He responded, as he stood to his full height, steeling himself in preparation for the princess’ wrath.

“I do hope you have a good justification for disobeying your one order.”

“I went to fetch the Element of Kindness when it became obvious her majesties were unable to reason with the creature. I have read the dossiers on the Elements of Harmony, and I thought Miss Fluttershy’s experience with wild animals would enable her to possibly advise us on a more pertinent course of action. The other girls refused to allow Fluttershy to come alone, and without time to argue I brought the lot of them. I take full responsibility, your highness.”

Fluttershy stepped forward and faced the taller blue alicorn. “Your Highness, it’s not his-”

Aegis quickly turned and shot Fluttershy a hard stare, with a clear ‘stop talking’ overtone.

Fluttershy ducked into her own mane. Uncomfortable with the fact the Commander was taking the entire blame for her. It was true he came to her for advice, but what he neglected to tell the princess, was that it was she who had insisted on needing to be there to actually help. With the other girls backing her up, the Commander had little choice other than to allow them to come along.

“My actions were my own, Majesty,” he reiterated.

Luna considered him for a moment. He didn’t shirk her gaze. He stood fast, awaiting his punishment. “I see. Well, Commander, I suppose thanks are in order.” She finally said.

His puzzlement was blatantly obvious. “High… Highness?”

“I am not happy that you defied my orders, but I did not appoint you to this position so that you could mindlessly agree with me. You made a quick decision and it saved us a bit of trouble.”

He blinked a few times, realizing he, in fact, was not about to be chewed out. “Th… Thank you, Princess.”

“Don’t let it happen again.” Luna shifted her attention to Fluttershy, who was still standing between them shuffling her hooves awkwardly. “Are you alright?”

“Oh…yes, your Highness. I’m fine,” she nodded quickly, “but…um…if you don’t mind, Princess, I was wondering, if it’s ok with you, if maybe I could go back in and take a look at him? He seemed to be awfully hurt, and if you don’t get something on those cuts they might get infected.” Fluttershy began to shift around Luna who blocked her path with a long blue wing.

“I appreciate your desire to help, my dear, but it seems Celestia was right. Until he agrees to calm down I don’t want any of you near this cell.”

Fluttershy hated it. There was an animal in pain not ten yards away, yet there was nothing she could do to help. It seemed profoundly wrong. He didn’t seem dangerous to her, he was just hurt and scared and probably needed a hug. However Fluttershy didn’t dare disagree with Luna. She merely ducked her head and backpedalled until she was safely behind Applejack, who gave her a comforting nuzzle.

Luna continued to converse with the Commander about further containment of the creature, Twilight offered her input as well, along with the occasional hotheaded remark from Rainbow Dash. The conversation ranged from control issues, to public concealment, to its strange reactions to magic.  Fluttershy was mostly content to sit behind Applejack, who provided a modicum of concealment from all the scary looking soldier ponies.

All conversations halted suddenly when a few knocks were heard coming from the cell door.

“Open it!” Aegis ordered, as several ranks of guards formed around the door. Two guards hurried to undo the various locks and enchantments that held it shut.

The heavy door slid inward and Celestia strutted out looking highly pleased with herself. That is until she noticed the cluster of fillies. Her smirk faded and she inspected the group with a tired look.

“Will somepony please explain to me why the girls are squarely in the one building I forbade them from going near?”  For the next few minutes Luna quickly summarized the situation to her sister, herself, downplaying a few of the more incriminating aspects. “So how did it go in there? How did he react to the stare? Did he recover?”

“Yes, he’s fine.” She waved a hoof dismissively. “I think we're actually beginning to make some progress with him. He even answered some of my questions!” She was a bit too excited at the accomplishment.

“You got him talking,” Luna said, disbelieving, “and I missed it?! What did he say?”

“Not much,” she admitted. “He still doesn’t seem very keen on conversation, not that I can really blame him. He’s had a rough day.”

“Did he tell you anything useful?”

“A bit. They call themselves, ‘Human’.” Luna trotted toward the door. “Ooh I have so many questions to ask him!” She pranced slightly when she reached the cell door and began magically undoing locks.

Celestia stepped forward and placed a hoof on Luna’s shoulder. “Not now, Luna.”

Luna’s eyes shot back and forth between Celestia and the door. “But… but... He’s finally talking! There’s so much we can learn.” She objected fervently.

And he will be there in the morning. It’s already late. I promised we’d leave him alone for the night.”

Luna slid back the rectangular slide on the door and peered inside. He was sitting on the cot, holding the sleeve of his camouflaged blouse against the split skin on his forehead. “See? Wide awake. He doesn’t even look tired. In fact, he looks like he could really use somepony to talk to.”

“No, Luna. I’m still not sure he’s entirely stable. He’s promised to behave, but I’m not foolish enough to trust him on his word alone.”

“I can hear you!” he shouted from inside the cell. Celestia blushed slightly and slid the tiny window closed.

Rainbow Dash landed right next to the cell with a small thud. “Was that him?! Is that what he sounds like? Will we get to see him, Princess?”

“Yes, yes, yes. Everypony will get to meet him, just… not tonight,” she assured. “He has a lot to reconcile with.” The girls all still let out a disappointed 'aw', and Luna's disappointment showed plainly across her face.

“Come on now. It’s late. The Human will keep overnight. Everyone go get some sleep. I’ll make introductions tomorrow.” She said, sounding extremely maternal.

The girls hung their heads in discontent but slowly marched down the hall toward the door that led to the courtyard. They passed several sets of armored guards on patrol, their steel shod hooves echoed off the stone walls. The sound was hypnotic, as they each took their steps in perfect unison. It was a rhythmic pattern that reminded Fluttershy very much of being inside a giant clock. Although she would have much preferred the peace and quiet of her cottage.

The girls all spilled out onto the courtyard outside the large black monolith that was the dungeon. The building seemed dangerously out of place amongst the chiefly white and gold castle. The entire structure had an eerie presence about it. Tall and imposing, it seemed to relish in the dark of the night, as if blackness were its natural color; Fluttershy was eager to leave its presence.

Rainbow Dash immediately shot off the ground and into the night sky. She had often waxed on about the differences in day and night flight. Dash insisted that night air always cut cleaner than the warmer day air. As Fluttershy was the only other pegasus of the group, she often caught the brunt of Rainbow’s rambling. She didn’t mind though, she was always happy to listen.

Rainbow kept circling the group, executing a few flips or twists, but always remaining close enough to participate on the conversation.

They began the walk across the darkened castle grounds, following the flameless lanterns set up strategically throughout the castle. It was enough light for them to make out their path but not enough that it overpowered Luna’s stars. A problem one encountered in the city side of Canterlot.

Applejack was the first to break the silence. “So did ya get ta see it up close, Shy?”

“Oh.. um.. yes.” She started, sounding very unsure of herself.

Rainbow Dash alighted along the group, “You know she did. Fluttershy put that thing in his place!”

Fluttershy blushed, uncomfortable with Rainbow’s attempted praise. She didn’t feel good about what she had done. He was just afraid. She didn’t want to use the stare on him, but he was almost through that wall. Without any time to spare it sort of just happened. She also hadn’t expected it to be quite so potent, animals rarely gave her any trouble, and the few times she was actually forced to use The Stare were never that effective. She couldn’t get the image of his terror stricken face out of her head. It was all she could do not to go back and apologize, but she knew she wouldn’t be allowed near him again.

She had no choice but to wait for the morning. Before long the girls had climbed the stairs to their rooms, near the lounge that they had made their unofficial headquarters.

Fluttershy’s room was located directly next to Rarity, and across the hall from Rainbow Dash. She noticed Pinkie Pie’s door was already shut. No light came from the small crack under the door. “It is pretty late. She must have already gone to bed,” she thought, the prospect appealing to Fluttershy, whose own eyelids were beginning to feel heavy. She closed the door behind her and curled up on the lush four poster bed. It was a bit extravagant decorum for Fluttershy’s taste, but very soft and warm. She closed her eyelids, the afterimage of two frightened blue eyes staring back at her the last thing she thought of before drifting off to sleep.

~~~~~

No! It has to be PERFECT.”  Pinkie Pie threw out another batch of batter. It was creamy and smooth and butter yellow, but she had used just a touch too much flour, throwing off her master recipe. It had to be followed to the letter, no deviation was allowed from the correct path. This was arguably one of the most crucial confectionary comestibles her culinary capabilities had ever crafted.

Her eyelids were drooping; she had been running on sugar and willpower for almost two days. She couldn’t quit now, she was so close!

The palace kitchens were very impressive. Everything was new and shiny. Well…everything WAS new and shiny, before Pinkie settled in. Now most of the kitchen’s surfaces were covered in flour or batter.

She didn’t have time to worry about that now. She set a clean bowl on the counter-top and began to measure out appropriate amounts of flour, baking soda, and sugar. She struggled to suppress a yawn, as she reached down and picked up a kitchen knife, the handle firmly in her teeth. She scraped the blunt edge of the blade across the top of the measuring cup, shaving off a bit of flour and ensuring it was indeed one perfect cup. She dumped the contents of the cup into a bowl and repeated the meticulous process for the appropriate amounts of sugar, baking soda, milk, and salt. She even bothered to get out a ruler and scale for the butter.

Her eyelids began to droop as she reached for an egg. She picked up the delicate oval in her teeth and gently cracked it into the bowl, careful not to include any bits of shell.

Her eyes fell shut for a moment. “No!” She quickly jerked herself awake. “Can’t sleep yet.” She suppressed another yawn and picked up the eggbeater and slid the sliver ends of the device into the mixture. She flicked the switch… nothing. She toggled it back and forth a few more times, but the device remained silent. She stifled yet another deep yawn. She lazily followed the cord from the device to the wall. The plug had come out of the outlet. She picked up the rubber cord in her teeth and pushed it back into the socket.  The device sprung to life, the two submerged beaters began to twirl, making the entire device jump around wildly. The rouge machine was sending little globs of batter everywhere, splattering the already filthy kitchen.

Jerked out of her sleepy daze, Pinkie Pie quickly turned and yanked the cord from the wall. The machine fell quiet with a small sputter. She chuckled slightly, as she wiped a blob of batter off her face. She made her way over to the bowl and pulled the whisks from the bowl. Disappointed she would have to, yet again, start ov- “WAIT!” 

She examined the mixture up close once more. The batter clung to the whisks ever so lightly. It was fluffy and smooth and not a single lump could be seen. It was…

Perfect,” Pinkie Pie completed her thoughts in a whisper of reverence.

This was it. This was what she needed! She continued to admire the mixture. Without wasting another moment she pranced over and grabbed a cupcake pan, placing a small paper cup in each of the metal pockets. She poured a predetermined amount into each of the depressions and placed them in the preheated oven.

Her weariness erased, she diligently watched the cupcakes through the tiny reinforced glass on the oven door, occasionally stealing a look at the countdown timer. She watched to clock slowly tick away the seconds. One by one they flitted by. Before long they would be ready, each tick bringing her closer.

She walked over to a window in the far wall. Out into the night she looked. The top of the onyx black building could be seen, only visible because of the small square of stars it blocked from the horizon.  “Soon.” 

~~~~~

Luna unfurled her long azure wings, stretching every feather. She arched her back like a cat. Not a particularly refined move, but the only ponies around were Aegis and her sister. She doubted they would mind.  “I still don’t like it,” the Commander began. “I think it’s too dangerous, to let loose.” “Who said we’re setting him loose? Either Luna or I will always be there to keep an eye on him. Besides you’re being far too suspicious. I do not believe he wishes to harm anypony.” Celestia assured.

“I have six guards in the infirmary that would disagree.” He retorted. “Yes, and he put them there believing that doing so would save the entirety of civilization. He was trying to keep us safe, and he was willing to die to do it.” She countered.

“It just doesn’t feel right.” He protested.

“If he wanted blood he would have taken it.” Luna chimed in. “He’s had plenty of opportunities. The nurse, Twilight Sparkle, countless guards, he could have easily killed all of them, yet he chose not to. These are not the actions of one who wishes for violence.”

“It could be a trick.” He said stubbornly.  Luna let out a laugh that had no indications of actual humor. “If he actually staged the crash, allowed ten of his kind to die, spent six days in a coma, spared the lives of our subjects, and feigned a suicide attempt, ALL just to set us up for a trap, then I say let him. He deserves it.”

With Luna’s point well made, Aegis sat in silence, unable to think up any more arguments.

“I understand your concern, Commander,” Celestia began, “You are correct in believing this is a dangerous creature, of that I have no doubt, he clearly has a talent for violence. But these are not reasons to keep him confined. He is not an animal, and continuing to keep him imprisoned based solely on the fact that he has the potential to harm somepony is cruel and barbaric. Everypony has the freedom to choose. So far he has chosen to protect us at his own expense. I have no reason to suspect that would change. There’s no reason we can’t be civil.”

Aegis sat in silence, an irritable frown upon his face. He tried to think of a time in which he actually won an argument against the two alicorns. None came to mind.

“Besides,” Luna spoke up with a grin, “he wouldn’t dare attempt any hostility with you here to protect us.” She moved in to nuzzle the Commander affectionately. Aegis quickly stiff-armed the night princess, who adopted a wounded countenance and trotted away before shuffling her wings and curling up on a large red dais.

Celestia chuckled lightly at her baby sisters antics.

Luna could tell Aegis was suppressing a smile. She knew he would never let one show out of turn. He was too well disciplined. Luna almost regretted appointing him as commander of the Royal Guard. The position seemed to drain a good portion of the frivolity he use to display. Unfortunately, he was very good at what he did, which made him a front runner for the position.

Alas, they all had their prices to pay. Such responsibility tended to turn a pony hard, that stoic nature that seemed prevalent among those accountable for the lives of others. She was grateful that his coldness had not yet turned to resentment or apathy, as it almost always did with ponies that have seen too much.

Celestia shuffled her wings and repositioned herself on the cushion. “You should get some rest, Commander.”

“I’m fine,” he argued. “I have to get back to the barracks. The large number of guards protecting the dungeon has left a significant dent in our city patrols. I need to reorganize the night watch, and set a new schedule for rounds.” He rubbed his temple with a hoof as he continued to recite a list of tasks that needed his attention.

“All of this can be delegated. You have competent officers, Commander. I suggest you make use of them lest they feel neglected. You need to sleep, overexerting yourself helps nopony, and we’ll certainly need you at your best tomorrow.”

“There’s just too much that needs doing.”

“Must I really order you to rest?”

Yes.” He countered stubbornly.

“Very well. Guard Commander, Aegis. By royal decree, you are hereby commanded by the Princess of Equestria, to go to sleep.” Celestia proclaimed with her natural air of authority.

Luna chimed, “Yeah, go to sleep. Also, take a vacation sometime, meet a nice mare, settle down, and have a foal before you get too old.” Luna swirled a hoof in the air as she dictated the Commander his future. “I mean let’s face it you’re not a colt anymore.” She smiled and lolled about on her dais.

After a moment of stoic impassivity on the Commander’s part, he eventually cracked a smile and even chuckled a bit. They shared a collective laugh, letting out a good deal of the tension the day had brought.

The Commander eventually stood, “It appears I have quite a bit of work ahead of me then. I’m going to have to go practice my small talk. I’m terrible at flirting.” He swung a foreleg across his chest and bowed, preparing to make his leave. Celestia nodded her head in return, acknowledging his gesture, before he turned and slipped out the door.

Luna let her eyes slide closed as she rested, enjoying the softness of the plush red cushion. She opened the one eye that was not obscured by a lock of blue hair. The white marble floor was polished to a mirror shine, and Luna stared into the reflection of the fireplace. Celestia’s taste in furnishing always struck Luna as a bit… flashy, but what was one to expect from the goddess of the sun?

Celestia too seemed lost in her own thoughts, caught in a comfortable stare. Luna begrudgingly picked herself up off of the large cushion and made her way over to Celestia, who snapped out of her trance once Luna began to move. Luna brought the tip of her muzzle to her sister’s, “Goodnight, Tia.”

“Going to sleep?” Celestia asked, sounding somewhat surprised.

“Yes. Hence the ‘goodnight’.” Luna answered with a smirk, “Why?”

Celestia shrugged her wings. “Ordinarily this time of night you’re up and about, and bothering me about sleeping the night away.”

“Hmmm, I could think of many words to describe recent events. Ordinary, is not one of them.” Celestia smiled, acknowledging Luna’s point.

Luna continued, “But otherwise you’d be correct. Unfortunately a rather alarming scroll popped into my chamber and ruined my sleep, something about an emergency with our special guest. It made it very difficult to get back to bed. So if you’ll excuse me…” She made her way to the door.

“Goodnight, Luna.”

“Goodnight, Celestia. Wake me in a few hours. In the mean time, I may suggest you take some of your own advice and get some rest yourself.”

Goodnight Luna.”  With one final laugh Luna disappeared out the door, into the dark of the hallway.

 ~~~~~

 “He’s not going for it.”

“Yes, I can see that.” Aegis said, somewhat irritated.  

“What should we do?” “Nothing we can do. Unless you wanna go in and hold him down while we jam food down his throat.”

The guard shrank back, hoping sincerely the Commander was joking.

Aegis continued to stare through the tiny hole. It had been sitting there for almost an hour. It was leaning forward elbows on its knees, resting its forehead on the palms of its hands. Aegis himself had gone in about forty five minutes ago. He brought in a small dish of hay. He moved in, stopping the middle of the cell. The entire time the alien eyed him from his sitting place on the cot. It was not a threatened or hostile gaze, which surprised Aegis. He simply looked tired, tired and defeated. Aegis set the plate down and looked at the creature. It looked back. Aegis knew this look. It was the look of a broken soul. Aegis found it dangerously similar to the look of malaise a wild tiger would get after being caged and set on display in the Zoo. A good portion of the area around his eye was dark purple. The eye itself was shut, but the swelling seemed to have gone down, and even the spit skin stopped bleeding. There were still several long rents along his arms where shattered glass had sliced his hide.

The human looked down at the plate. He let out a short puff of air from his nostrils and looked back up at Aegis with the ghost of a smile.

Aegis was unsure of how to act. As far as he knew he hadn’t done anything funny. Perhaps he had offended it somehow. He merely nodded at the creature. It nodded back, seemingly amused. He lifted his right arm and touched the tip of his hand to his lips and lowered it, palm out, before folding it and resting back on his knee.

Unsure what to make of the gesture the Commander finally turned and left, leaving the plate of food for the creature.

Since then it hadn’t made any sort of move for the food. Nor had he moved from that spot. The princesses would be here soon. He resigned himself to wait and left the tiny window on the cell to attend to his other duties.

 ~~~~~

Rarity woke early, as she always did. She stretched under the covers of her luxurious four poster bed. It took her a second to recall she was in Canterlot and not her boutique, and immediately the memories of the past few days came rushing back into her mind. For a moment she merely enjoyed the warmth of the covers. Her body yearned to stay in bed and nap, but she had to prepare herself for the day ahead.  She sat up and opened her eyes. The world was still dark. She pushed up the frilly eye mask she wore at night and sunlight assaulted her retinas. She squinted until her eyes adjusted.

She removed herself of the sheets and made her way to the attached bathroom. She began to take curlers out of her hair, leaving the wavy purple styled mane that she put so much love and attention into. She simply had to look her best, after all, today was the day Celestia promised to introduce them to the human. And she simply couldn’t have him thinking they were all disheveled slobs now could she? Of course not! First impressions were always the most crucial. She supposed she would have to at least try and get Rainbow Dash to brush her mane, not that she ever succeeded before in convincing the stubborn mare of the benefits of proper grooming. At least Applejack made the bare minimum step of brushing her mane and setting it in a pony-tail, even if her mane was always covered in that Stetson, which was only in style about half of the year.

Rarity had tried once to get a comb through Pinkie Pie’s hair. It disappeared into the tight bubblegum curls and was never seen again. Since then she had made no other attempts to tame pink pony’s mane.

She dipped the mascara brush into the tube and ran it along the length of her long delicate eyelashes. She fluttered her eyelids a few time experimentally before declaring her artwork satisfactory. She moved onto her favorite blue eye shadow. Careful not to get carried away, she stood back and admired herself in the mirror. “Perfect.” It was difficult not be impressed with herself. She had such a stylish mane, and such a sleek white coat. She was confident she would be turning stallion’s heads wherever she went.

The fashionista added a few extra frills to her hair, including one of her personal favorites; a diamond hair clip in the shape of her cutie mark.

Once Rarity was satisfied with her appearance, she stepped out into the hallway. Unsurprisingly she was the first one awake, but she noticed Pinkie Pie’s door was strangely ajar. She wandered over. “Pinkie? Darling, are you awake?” She received no response. She pushed her way into the room. It was almost an exact copy of her own room. Some furniture was slightly rearranged, but it was all the same furnishings. It was tidy and well kept… Too well kept, especially for Pinkie Pie. The bed was neatly made and looked as if it hadn’t been slept in for days. Pinkie Pie’s bags were neatly stacked in the corner. Rarity wandered around the room, feeling very much like a private investigator.

She looked on the bed and saw a small square of paper. Rarity’s horn glows a soft blue as she lifted the paper before her eyes. It was a short note, unmistakably Pinkie’s hoofwriting.

~I’ll see you guys down there.~

It wasn’t like Pinkie Pie to wake up early for anything. She was usually asleep until mid-afternoon, recovering from last night’s party. Rarity decided not to make a large deal of it. Pinkie Pie was hardly predictable. She would sometimes disappear for days and then pop out of a bowl of sponges announcing she had “won” the game of hide and seek. Rarity smiled as she recalled some of the pink mare’s exploits. She was a sweet girl, if not a bit…odd. Her heart was always in the right place.

Rarity left the room, and found Applejack standing in the hallway. As per usual, her long blonde hair was in its traditional ponytail. Rarity noticed the farm pony had her long strands of hair held together with bright red ribbon, tied off in a small bow, rather than the little red scrunchy she usually wore.

It was a slight change, but one that Rarity beamed at, it showed she was at least trying.

“Mornin’” AJ proclaimed happily, through a mouthful of something.

“Hello, Darling.” Rarity replied. Wandering over, and noticing a cart laden with breakfast stuffs she had missed the first time.

“Hungry?”

“Famished.” Rarity trotted up to the cart to examine the spread. It was rather impressive, the cart was piled with fresh fruits and warm pastries, freshly baked bread, and there was a tall pitcher of orange juice. The Princesses certainly knew how to treat their guests.

Rarity levitated a small strawberry to her mouth and nibbled on the red fruit.  Fluttershy’s door began to open. Fluttershy poked her head out and inspected the hallway carefully before noticing AJ and Rarity and happily trotting over.

“Hello, dear.” Rarity greeted. Before Fluttershy had a chance to respond. Twilight spilled out of her room, her hair was in a fluster. She clearly had gotten up in a hurry, “What time is it?!” she demanded of the group. “Am I late? I forgot to bring an alarm!”  “Whoa, there ponygirl.” Applejack said, smiling. “Yer right on time. I figure the Princess must intend tah toss us right on inta’ the thick a’ things cuz she had some chow left here for us. Eat up while ya gotta chance.”

Clearly relieved Twilight made her way over and began to eat with the others.  “What about Dash and Pinkie Pie?” Fluttershy asked in that annoying tiny print.  “Pinkie Pie wasn’t in her room when I went to check.” Rarity announced, earning a few confused looks from the collective group. “There was just this note on the bed saying she’d ‘meet us down there’.” Rarity explained.

“I don’t remember Pinkie Pie coming with us when we went to the dungeon. Do you guys?” They all shook their head. “Did anyone see her since then?” Again they all shook their heads. “How did she know we were going to go back down today? And why does she need to meet us down there? Why not go down with us?” Nopony had an answer.

“Ah think were forgetn’ who we’re talkin’ about here. It IS Pinkie Pie after all.” They couldn’t help but agree. “I reckon somepony oughta go wake up Dash though. I swear that pony’d sleep the entire day away if ya let her.” AJ mused disapprovingly.

A wisp of smoke blew up the hallway and wafted over to the group before condensing and materializing into a scroll with a sharp pop.  Twilight stepped forward and magically caught and opened the scroll. She read aloud. “I hope you’ve all had a chance to grab something to eat. I apologize, but I did not believe we had time for a formal breakfast. I would like to get started as soon as possible. Meet me in the lounge whenever your ready, I would like to go over a few things with you. Signed Princess Celestia.”  She set the note on the tray. “I guess we better get going then. AJ, will you grab Dash?” She stuffed a cinnamon croissant roll in her mouth before straightening her mane with a quick spell.

After a few seconds, AJ dragged a still sleeping Rainbow Dash out of her room by the tail. The sleeping pegasus occasionally flapped a wing in response to some unconscious reflex. Maybe she was dreaming. AJ poked her a few times, she shifted and groaned but then fell immediately back to sleep.

Twilight never did take to the idea of being late for anything. Horn glowing she made her way over to Dash. Twilight lowered her head and touched the tip of her horn to Rainbow’s flank. A spark arced off and delivered a small jolt into the cerulean pegasus. Rainbow shot up with a yelp, wide awake, but very confused. She glared around, breathing heavily.

“What the hay?!” Was all she had time to say before Twilight began to shove her down the hallway.

“C’mon,” She said while pushing the colorful pegasus across the marbled floor,

“We can’t get behind schedule, the Princess is counting on us.”

“What for, where are we going?!” The pegasus began to flap her wings, rising above Twilight’s pushing hooves.

“We’re meeting the Princess before we see the alien. So hurry up she’s already waiting for us!”

“Really?!” She exclaimed, suddenly very excited, “We get to go see it? Let’s go!” With that she shot down the hallway and down the stairs, leaving the group in a cloud of dust.

Twilight tapped a hoof for a moment, waiting. Rainbow Dash slowly flapped back up the stairs, and hovered awkwardly at the end of the hallway. She rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Where are we meeting her again?”

Twilight shook her head, and the group proceeded down the stairs on their way to the lounge.  

~~~~~  

“Have I missed anything exciting?” Luna queried of one of the Royal Guards standing watch outside the cell.

“No Ma’am. He hasn’t said a word since you left.”

“Did somepony try talking to him?”

“The Guard Commander, went inside early this morning, but as far as far as I am aware no words were exchanged.”

“I see.” Luna was already making plans to question the stallion upon their next meeting. Speaking of which. “Where is the Commander now?” She asked the young lieutenant.

“He left to attend other pressing duties. He assured me he would be returning shortly.”

“Consider him returned.” Aegis trotted up to the group, slightly out of breath.

“Wonderful, you’re just in time.” Luna perked up at the guard commander.

“Celestia will be bringing the Elements of Harmony down shortly. In the mean time I feel it would be polite to… warn him of the meeting.”

“Very well, Your Majesty.”

Luna regarded him with suspicious amusement for a moment. “No arguments?”

“Would it do any good?” he asked, wearily.

She smiled, “Probably not.”

“Then I shall save my breath. I clearly cannot dissuade you two. I am left with no choice other than to trust you know what you are doing… or are capable of diffusing the situation, should I be proven wrong.”

“You won’t. Your trust is well placed Commander, I assure you.” There was a slight pause. Luna waited for the Commander to respond, but if he had some witty remark or cynical anecdote ready, he didn’t share it. “So what is this I hear about you going inside?”

Aegis stiffened, “Yes. I went in to offer him something to eat.”

“What?!” Luna said suddenly alarmed, “Did he ask for food?! What did you give him?!”

The Commander backpedaled a few steps, surprised and confused by the outburst.  “It was just a bit of hay, but he didn’t even touch it. That’s all,” he assured.

Luna relaxed. Not that she thought he would actually feed the creature… well another creature. Apparently nopony had told the Commander about its presumed dietary habits.

“I don’t think he eats hay, Commander.” Luna corrected.

“Well then what does he eat?”

Meat.” She said bluntly.

“We don’t have any meat. What are we going to feed this thing?” He let the question hang in the air a moment. Luna tapped her chin with a hoof in thought.

“Do you have any reservists you aren’t using? You know, maybe some ponies you don’t really ‘need’?”

The color in his face drained. His jaw hung slightly open.

“Oh come now, I was just joking!”

“That’s not funny.”

“Yes it was." She put her nose in the air, flippantly, "You clearly can not comprehend such advanced humor. And don’t worry we’ll think of something. I don’t believe it’s strictly carnivorous. The I.V. drips kept him alive while he was unconscious. We know what his body needs to survive. Unfortunately now that he’s awake…” Luna shrugged her wings. “We’ll think of something.” She assured him. “We always do.”  Luna trotted up to the door once again. She peered through the tiny window slide. He was sitting on the cot, staring at the wall. His expression could not be deciphered. He just sat there, apparently lost in an absentminded stare.

Luna backed away from the door and closed the slide as quietly as she could.  “Regardless, I need to go in and have a few words. So if you would,” she gestured toward the door.

He nodded and began the complex process of unsealing the door. Luna waited patiently for the gap to become large enough to accommodate her. She slid inside, shutting the door behind her.  

Shane looked up at the blue alicorn. He rested his head on his hands in a fashion that obscured most of his mouth. He didn’t get up, or bow, or greet the Princess in any form. His eyes were the only things that recognized her presence. His left eye was barely open, the skin surrounding it was purple, along with a long U shaped mark on his forehead.

“Good morning.” She offered sunnily. He didn’t respond. He blinked and continued to stare, as if the greeting were merely a formality that need not be addressed.

“Did you sleep?” She asked, growing uncomfortable with his silence.

He closed his eyes for a short second before shaking his head. At least it was an answer.

Luna mused on his sudden brooding, relatively calm, demeanor, she wondered at it. It was a radical change from yesterday, although she had no difficulty understanding why. His was a sad story. But there was something else to it. Seeing the fight sucked out of an admittedly fierce creature. It was like a pegasus robbed of their wings. Although this was no pegasus, and she certainly wasn’t planning on returning his wings… not yet, at least.

“How are you feeling?” she prodded with her questions, attempting to draw the human out.

He lifted his head and balled his fingers before resting his chin on a fist. “Like I got kicked in the head by a horse,” he deadpanned.

Luna smiled weakly. “Do you need anything?”

“Nothing you could give me,” he said, with a sense of finality. He surprised Luna when he flashed her a ghost of a smile and added, “but thanks anyway.”

Luna smiled back, taking it as a sign of progress.

“So what brings you to my cozy little… room? Did you come all the way down here to make small talk? Or did you just miss me?”

Luna was pleased to see he had not lost his sense of humor, unusual though it may be.

“I came with a warning, actually.” Luna sat on her haunches, noticing that she now had his attention. “Celestia and I are not the only ones who have an interest in you. There are several others who saw to your recovery.”

He listened without comment, but she could see the uneasiness behind his eyes.

“They would very much like to meet you.” The look on his face told Luna that he was not fond of the idea.

“What’s the catch?”

“Hmm?”

“I would assume normal introductions would not require a warning, which leads me to believe that this isn’t a normal introduction. So I would ask again… what’s the catch.”

“They’re completely harmless, I assure you. But they are… young, and all things the term implies. And very curious about you. I came here only to go over a few things prior, and yes, warn you that they might be a bit… overwhelming.”

He rubbed his temples with the palms of his hands. “Bring it on,” he droned.

“There are six of them, all girls. I’ll let them introduce themselves, if they so wish.”

“Great… teenage girls… that’ll help make the headache go away.” He said, sarcasm practically dripping from his teeth.

Luna fought the urge to giggle. She liked Twilight and her friends, but they did tend to give her a headache when they all started talking at once.

“Be nice,” she chided. “They aren’t exactly teenagers anymore. They’ve done a lot for you. And intentionally or not you have put them though a lot as well.”

“Don’t pull that, ‘you owe us’ bullshit. No one asked you to save me.” He said irritably.

“Well we did. And that’s another thing. Try to tone down the swearing.”

He actually cracked a smile and laughed at that.

Luna found herself chuckling lightly as well. Her eyes fell down to the plate resting on the floor. A small pile of hay still stacked upon it.

“I suppose this is a stupid question, but you don’t eat grass... do you?”

“No,” he said, still grinning slightly.

“What do you eat?” She asked already knowing the answer.  He cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Besides that,” she added.

“I’ll bet he liiikes... cuuuupcaaaaakes!” A new voice announced in a bubbly sing song voice.

Luna spun around to find Pinkie Pie standing proudly next to a tray of pastries. Luna’s jaw worked back and forth as she tried to give voice to her bewilderment. She looked back and forth between the pink earth pony and the locked cell door for several seconds.

Pinkie Pie took full advantage of the silence to prance forward. “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie! What’s your name? Pfft Silly, I ALREADY know your name. That’s not why I’m here. I’m here to give you’re your very own super special, ‘Welcome to Equestria,’ cupcake!” She finally took a moment to suck in a deep breath.

Shane looked back and forth from Luna to Pinkie Pie, textbook confusion dominating his appearance. He said nothing, but carefully studied Pinkie Pie as she gingerly lifted a cupcake out from its metal tray.

The pink pony started toward the human, and Luna watched with equal parts fascination and bewilderment, to see how he would react. They probably should have started him off with a more… sane pony. Then again, maybe it was best to get it out of the way now. It may make the rest seem a bit less overwhelming by comparison.  Pinkie Plopped herself down in front of where the human was sitting and proffered the sugary treat.

Shane leaned forward and inspected the pony. He very slowly reached a hand and carefully poked the young mare with a finger, as if to ensure she was actually real.  She giggled slightly and lifted the cake up to him. He shifted his attention to the desert. Sure enough, ‘Welcome to Equestria, Glad You’re Not Dead’ was scribbled out in thin white frosting atop the cake.

“Go on,” Pinkie Pie encouraged, pushing it along the floor towards him, “try it.”

“Umm… No, thank you. I’m uh… not hungry,” he refused as politely as he could.

“Don’t be silly, You haven’t eaten since you woke up,” she countered cheerfully.

“How do you know that?”

“Just try it. You’ll liiiiiike iiiiit.”

“No thaaaank yooouuu. Take a hint, kiiiid.”

“I made it just for you.” Her cheerfulness was starting to fade.

“I don’t want it.” He was growing irritated as well.

“Eat it.” Pinkie ordered in a flat tone, no more smile.

“No.”

Pinkie’s eyes narrowed and pushed her head forward threateningly.  He did the same, gaze narrow and challenging.

“Eat the cupcake.” She ordered one last time.

Shane drew in a deep breath and began a long exaggerated, “Nnnoooooooooooo-PTHH AHCK PFFT,” Which was the sound he made when Pinkie Pie stuffed the pastry into his mouth, before beaming an exuberant smile.

“Pinkie Pie!” Luna shouted, horrified.

Shane stood still choking slightly and backed against the wall, apparently just as shocked at the move as Luna was. He coughed through the mouth of cake. He made a move to spit it out, but stopped. He chewed once, twice. He looked at Pinkie Pie who had smile wide enough to split her head in two. He studied Pinkie Pie again wide eyes slowly narrowing, now suddenly fascinated by the pony.

What is this?” He said through a cheek full of cupcake.

“Cupcake!”

“...is this...real sugar?”

“Well, duh! You can’t have cupcakes without sugar!” she stated obviously.

“Jesus,” he breathed to himself. He looked around the room without really seeing it, focusing most of his sensory attention on his taste buds. “I haven’t had real sugar since I was seventeen.” He looked as if he might break into tears.

“You don’t have sugar where you come from?” Pinkie asked, mortified.

“We have it, it’s just fuckin’ expensive.” He swallowed, neck muscles moving slightly as the remaining cake disappeared down his gullet. He ran his tongue over his teeth a few times, looking very satisfied.

“Yay!” Pinkie Began bouncing around, excitedly. “He likes it!” Shane sat back down on his cot and Pinkie hopped up next to him. To Luna’s surprise he did not protest the proximity, although he did not seem overly happy about it.

Pinkie looked around, distastefully “Blegh, You been stuck in here for like two days?! Boooorrrriiiing.” She continued talking, about nothing in particular, mostly about things she would do to liven up the cell, which she declared wholly unfit for a party, although she was quite fond of the padded floor and walls.

“Omigosh! How ruuude!” she declared out of nowhere. She hopped off the cot and over to her cupcake tray. She took the tray in her teeth and walked them over to the Princess. “Ah’ frrgot ta offr yooo un too, Pincess,” she made out from between the tray in her teeth.

Luna chuckled softly, she wasn’t really hungry but she though it would be good for the human to see her have one as well. “Thank you, my dear. They look lovely.”  Pinkie trotted back to the cot. “Wan’ an’utha one?”

Shane looked cautiously back at Luna who smiled and gave him an encouraging nod. He deftly lifted a cake with two fingers. “Thank you?” he said, uncertainly.  Pinkie Pie hopped up back to her seat on the other side of the cot, and selected a cupcake for herself, which disappeared down her throat faster than any civilized meal should. Followed shortly by a very unladylike burp. Pinkie quickly clasped a hoof over her mouth initially embarrassed, but she soon began to giggle from behind her pink appendage.

Shane reached up and scratched the top of Pinkie’s head. She didn’t seem to mind. In fact she seemed to push back against his hand. She truly harbored no fear of the creature. The sight filled Luna’s heart with a strange warmth.  “Belt-fed little thing, isn’t she?” He posed the question toward Luna, as if Pinkie weren’t there at all.

“She is indeed.” Luna agreed, having a fairly good idea of what he meant by the strange term. Much to Pinkie’s apparent dissatisfaction, the human directed his attention back toward the cupcake in his right hand. He glanced at Luna, who was nibbling on her own cake. He bit off a large corner of the confection. A small smile spread across his face as he chewed.

“What’s funny?” Luna asked.

He shook his head and swallowed. “Nothing.” He twirled the cupcake around in his hands, before popping what was left into his mouth and chewing with a satisfied sigh.  Luna couldn’t help but smile as well. It was a small victory in a sea of losses. Although the day was far from over, they had overcome their first challenge. Luna folded her legs beneath her and rested on the padded floor. She flared her wings out and stretched.  She looked back up to find that Shane had stopped eating his cupcake to watch Luna. She suddenly felt very self conscious under his critical gaze. She folded her wings back against her side. Silence began to grow. The only real sound was Pinkie Pie, loudly devouring another cupcake.

“Do they work?”

“What?” Luna asked, already a fair idea of what he meant.

He nodded toward her back. “The wings, do they work?”

“Of course,” she answered slightly amused. “I take it you don’t have pegasus ponies where you’re from.”

He shook his head. “None with horns either.”

“You have earth ponies though, right?” Pinkie chimed in, through a mouthful of cake.

“If by ‘earth ponies’ you just mean normal ponies, then sure, but they aren’t anything like you. You don’t even look like them. Our ponies are just…you know, animals. They don’t talk or think, beyond pure instinct. You don’t even look like them. You guys are more… evolved, I guess. You're thinner, your heads are more rounded, smaller snouts, larger eyes. None of ours have wings, or horns… definitely none with both,” he directed at the princess.

“Interesting.” Luna contemplated his words.

“What are you, exactly.”

“What do you mean?”

“You and your sister are the only ones I’ve seen with both. Why?”

“It is the way we are. Celestia and I are called Alicorns, very few exist.”

“Alicorns,” he repeated rolling the word around in his mouth. “I guess ‘pegasus-unicorn’ was just too clunky for ordinary conversation then, huh?”

“For one who has never encountered either, you seem fairly familiar with the terms.” Luna recalled never having mentioned unicorns, which meant he had picked it up on his own, somewhere.

He took a deep breath, trying to find a way to successfully explain. “Unicorns and pegasuses-”

“Pegasi,” she corrected.

“Whatever, they don’t exist where I’m from, but the idea of them exists. If that makes sense. They were always just a fantastical bedtime story, they weren’t real.”

“Interesting,” Luna said absentmindedly, amused with the thought of being a bedtime story. “You had knowledge of us, prior to experience.”

“Not really knowledge, more like… conjecture. We didn’t really know of you, it just fictional amusement steeped in ancient mythology.”

“You have mythology about ponies?” Luna was curious about what manner of stories these humans were telling about her kind.

“Sort of. More like folklore and ancient superstition. 'Pegasus' was the name of a winged horse that served the gods, brought lightning, and defeated the chimera, all sorts of fun stuff.”

“You have Chimeras as well then?”

“No it’s just anoth- wait… YOU have chimeras?”

“A few, last time I checked,” she said trying to recall the last time she had seen one.

“What kind of fuckin’ fantasy land is this?!” he demanded, irritated. He slumped back against the wall and crossed his arms, muttering something about ‘imagination land bullshit’.

“These creatures are also fictional in your world?” Luna questioned.

“Yes, chimeras do not exist in my world.”

“Strange, you are aware of many of our native species, yet, as far as I am aware, no pony records speak of your kind, in song nor legend.”

“If you’re seeking logical answers from this mess, then I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment there, Princess.” He leaned up and looked over at the pink earth pony occupying the other side of his cot. Pinkie had remained quiet for the majority of the conversation. Her mouth was quite occupied devouring its way through the cupcakes which she seemed to have forgotten were for the human.

Pinkie realized she was being stared at. “What?” she asked through the cake in her mouth, “it’s good!”

Shane scooted a bit away from Pinkie Pie, onto the far edge of the cot.  

~~~~~

Twilight stopped behind Celestia, followed closely by her four friends. There was a larger number of guards present this time. Twilight wondered inwardly if the increase in security had something do with their visit.

Celestia turned and addressed the collective group, minus Pinkie Pie of course, who was still nowhere in sight. “Alright girls remember what I told you, be polite, try to keep questions light, ask them one at a time,” she put extra stress on that bit, “absolutely no touching, stay behind me at all times, try to avoid making sudden moves, introduce yourselves, be clear, and remember he is not familiar with our cultural niceties and can be a bit… abrasive, so try not to take offense it may just be a misunderstanding. Are we all clear?” She looked over the group.

All the girls nodded enthusiastically, impatient to get inside ad see the alien awake. Fluttershy pranced forward eagerly. Her willingness to enter a small room with an alien who had a history of violence confused Twilight at first, but the more she thought about it the more sense it made. Fluttershy only seemed… well shy around other ponies. The mare had walked up to a rampaging Manticore without blinking.

Fluttershy held the handle of a white box emblazoned with a red cross firmly in her teeth. Her smile could be seen even through the handle in her mouth. Celestia held a wing out to block the young pegasus’ path.

“Remember, my dear, ONLY if you ask his permission first. I hate to say it but I’m not so sure you left him with the greatest of impressions upon your last meeting.”

Fluttershy nodded and said something that sounded something like an affirmative but whatever she actually said was lost in the handle between her teeth.  Celestia moved to the door and motioned for the guards to take up their usual positions on either side.

The guard commander approached Twilight. He stood at her side and watched the guards form their ranks on either side. Without turning to face her he said in an undertone, “You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to.”

Twilight shot him an unusual look. “I’ll be fine. You worry too much.”

He seemed far less than pleased with her response. His face darkened. “Twilight, that thing could have killed you.”

“But it didn’t. It even apologized… sort of.  Everything that has happened so far has been a tragic misunderstanding. I have the power to fix it and I will.”

Aegis’ jaw clenched. He was clearly biting his tongue to prevent some glib remark from breaking free.

Muffled voices could be heard from the other side of the door, which drew everypony’s attention. It sounded vaguely like shouting, but the thick door made certainty impossible.

“Alright girls,” Celestia said, her voice a mixture of excitement and trepidation, “are you ready?”

With Fluttershy leading the pack with obvious enthusiasm, the girls all stacked up in front of the door and waited.

“I’m going to go in first. Luna should already have already… notified him of our visit today.” Celestia’s horn lit, bathing the room in a soft golden shadow, and the subtle clinking of tiny machines could be heard, working from their hiding places within the wall.

Twilight’s heart pumped inside her chest. She did her best to maintain the illusion of composure. She quickly stole a glance at the other girls. Fluttershy stood uncomfortably close behind Celestia, anxious to do what she did best. Applejack was doing a poor job of masking her discomfort with the whole situation. Rarity’s nose was in the air, busy as she was to look as dignified as possible. The studied inattention on Rainbow Dash’s part made Twilight feel slightly better. The mare was obviously putting on a brave face to reinforce her ‘tough-guy’ disposition, but the idea that somepony could be so aloof, considering the circumstances, helped relieve the tension. Plus the thought of studying the alien was far too enticing to pass up. It was a scientist’s dream. Twilight had no intention of letting such a didactic moment slip through her grasp.  Besides, the Princess would be there this time. Nothing would go wrong.

The heavy door slowly swung inward. The crack between the wall and door grew ever wider in a painfully deliberate pace. Twilight took a deep breath the cool dungeon air. As soon her lungs could were filled she held it for a moment, before parting her lips and allowing the breath to rejoin the atmosphere. Her heart still hammered as the door continued to open, now wide enough to accommodate Celestia. The snow white sun princess held up a wing to keep Fluttershy from slipping in behind her. Celestia poked her head inside the opening. Her slender white frame soon followed, disappearing completely inside the room. Twilight adjusted her saddlebags as she repeated the words to herself while taking the first steps toward the cell.

The Princess is here. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing. Will. Go. Wrong.”

~~~~~

“It does NOT!” The human argued vehemently.

“IT DOES!!!” Pinkie Pie shouted back, just as angrily.

The squabble between the two had been growing for several minutes. Originally Luna was content to see how the small debate would play out. At first it seemed to be nothing more than a fun topic of interest, but soon the dispute began to grow in intensity. Neither side was willing to yield ground the argument rapidly grew heated. At a point Luna was slightly shamed to admit she was afraid to insert herself between them lest the argument turn feral.

“Peppermints do NOT count as candy!” he reiterated.

“They TOTALLY do! Why shouldn’t they?”

The fact that neither party seemed able to provide sufficient evidence to back up their claims, soon led the debate to become simply a contest to see who could repeat their points louder. Luna feared they would soon be screaming at one another. For the moment she was merely glad neither had resorted to blows.

“Nobody goes, ‘hmm I have such a sweet tooth, I think I’ll grab a breath mint’, do you think breath mints are candy?he challenged the bubblegum pony.  Luna had to admit, she had never seen any ponies fight so avidly for something Luna considered so inane. She was unsure whether to be impressed at their passion or censorious of their inconsequentiality.

“Breath mints are obviously different!” she retorted.  

“Obviously how?! A mint is a mint! How is it any different?”

“Of course breath mints don’t count as candy. I mean, DUH. Everypony knows that. But a peppermint does! They’re called CANDY canes, after all.”

Shane immediately turned on Luna. “You have been too quiet. Who's right? Do peppermints count as candy or not?!”

Both Shane and Pinkie Pie stared intently at Luna, who felt extremely uncomfortable under their pressuring eyes.  “I’d, actually, prefer not to take sides.” She affirmed.

Shane threw up an accusatory finger. “Coward! Quit riding the fence. Now is the time to declare yourself!” he demanded.

The metallic sound if tiny machines clicking out of place broke the awkward silence that was pressing against Luna like a suffocating blanket. All heads turned to the door, ears straining to hear the distinct sound of clinking levers and bolts.

“They’re here. It’s time.” Luna announced with finality. And not a moment too soon, she thought, grateful for the change of subject.

Shane turned back around to Pinkie Pie. He pointed a lone finger down at the young girl. “This isn’t over,” he notified. He sat back down on his end of the cot, this time much further from Pinkie Pie’s side, which she seemed to have commandeered for herself.

“Are you ready?”

“What happens if I’m not?” he asked, sounding apprehensive.

“They come in anyway,” Luna admitted.

“I’m noticing a trend here,” he said sardonically.

The door suddenly began to inch inward. The heavy door was slow. Its leisurely pace was not making the anticipation any easier to bare. The gap between the door and frame was slowly becoming larger. Luna anxiously awaited the arrival of her sister and pupil. She was eager to how the human reacted to normal ponies. Shane seemed to tolerate Celestia and herself well enough, but tolerate seemed to be the extent of his feelings for the two. He didn’t seem overly fond of anypony so far. Needless to say he hadn’t had an exceedingly positive experience when it came to her species. She hoped he would at least receive them well enough. Luna and her sister were hardly good representatives of pony society. Luna was also highly interested in seeing if he would be able to form social bonds beyond the instinctual.

Celestia’s nose poked inside as she took in the scene of the room. She looked first at the human. Her face became highly confused when she beheld Pinkie Pie sitting on the opposite side of the cot. Celestia shot a questioning glance at her sister that bordered on alarm.

Luna shrugged her wings. Celestia merely looked tired as she pushed her way inside. She did not go and sit by her sister, however. Celestia instead, stood in front of the door, in preparation for the coming guests. The act reminded Luna very much of a crossing guard escorting little school children across the street.

She glanced back at the human who was busy eyeing Celestia with a poorly concealed uncertainty. Celestia watched him as well. This time her stare was much less warm. Celestia was giving the human a warning look, the kind her normally kindhearted sister would rarely adopt. Luna secretly wondered if her sister was attempting to send a message with her countenance. Perhaps she wanted to drive home the point that no iniquitous behavior would be tolerated around the young mares.

The first of the five popped inside the room with a bubbliness that was normally reserved for Pinkie Pie alone. One of the few elements the human had encountered before, and admittedly, the only other one that Luna was concerned about; Fluttershy. He did not seem to enjoy his last encounter with Fluttershy. She was apprehensive to see what manner of response seeing her again would evoke.

Fluttershy trotted inside carrying a bright white box with an emblazoned red cross on the front. The handle of the medical case was clutched firmly in her teeth, although her smile was evident despite the fact.  Luna shifted her attention back to the human who had been too busy matching Celestia’s stare to pay any real mind to the newest arrival.

“How come Pinkie Pie got in first?” Dash demanded as she stuck her head in second.

She saw his gaze flick fleetingly to the little pegasus. He did a double-take of Fluttershy, this time his whole head swiveling.

He immediately went stiff. He diverted his eyes and stared at the opposite wall. “What the hell? Why is she here?!” He threw up a finger in Fluttershy’s direction.

“Calm down she just wants to help.” Luna assured.

“You keep saying that. You guys have a pretty fucked idea of help.” He was still facing the other wall.

Fluttershy had stopped head in her tracks. The med kit still hung in her teeth, but her former bubbly demeanor had vanished. The young mare looked devastated. This was exactly what Luna feared. He must hate her for what she did.

Celestia stepped forward and spoke. “Shane, she’s only here to talk. She isn’t going to use the stare again. We don’t have to keep doing this. This ‘us versus you’ relationship must end. We’re all on the same team here. I admit, unfortunate mistakes have been made. But I can not change the past. And as difficult as it may be, you need to trust that we are trying our best to help you.”

“Forgive me, if I don’t share you optimistic outlook. But it seems like every time you have tried to help, I ended up bruised and in chains. You say we need trust and yet you bring your little… weapon with you. I’m not feelin’ the trust here, Princess. You want my trust? Earn it. Start by getting rid of the girl.”

Twilight made her way out from behind Celestia. The young mare haltingly worked her way out from behind Celestia and over to where the human sat. She stopped about halfway into the room. Celestia eyed her carefully. Luna wondered what the young mare was playing at.

“Shane?” Twilight said in a soft questioning voice.

He froze at the sound of her voice. He even dared to turn his head enough to peek at Twilight through the corner of his eye. Something about her must have grabbed his attention because he seemed to forget about Fluttershy entirely. He turned his entire head to see the purple pony. He opened his mouth slightly as if attempting to speak but he forced it shut an instant later. He seemed to catch a glimpse of Fluttershy in his peripheral, because his head snapped back to the opposing wall, looking very disturbed.

“We just wanted to meet you.” Twilight was speaking in as soothing as soothing a voice as she could, “We’re not going to hurt you,” she assured.

He let out a hot puff of air from his nose, as if the notion both amused and annoyed him.

Twilight either didn’t notice or was ignoring it because she continued unfazed. “I know it might be difficult for you to believe, but I promise Fluttershy was just trying to help. She isn’t going to use the stare again. Just let her stay.” Twilight stopped to see if he had had an answer. His brow furrowed but he made no indication answering. “Please?” Twilight added.

This time he turned back to face Twilight. An unidentifiable emotion in his eyes. It could have been longing, or fear, or anger, maybe all three. Luna wasn’t sure.

“She faces the corner. She will not move. She will not talk.” he said sternly.

“Don’t you think that’s a bit-“

“That’s the deal. Take it or leave it,” he interrupted, “This is as far as I bend.”

He left very little room to maneuver. Luna was uncomfortable with his demands. Maybe it was fair; after all, Fluttershy hadn’t exactly been delicate when they last met. Twilight looked back at Celestia for answers. The princess, however, offered no council. Instead Celestia simply watched the human, her own face inscrutable.

Realizing the situation was hers to rectify, Twilight turned back around, and faced the human. “We aren’t going to make Fluttershy face the wall,” she said, resolutely, “I understand you might not trust her but she was only trying to help you. If you would just giver her a chance-“

“It’s okay, Twilight,” came a tiny voice from behind, “I don’t mind. I understand.” Fluttershy picked up the case in her mouth once more, and although some residual tears clung to the corers of her eyes, she seemed happy that she was at least not being kicked out of the room. She had her hoof in the door, so to speak, and maybe from there she would be able to slowly gain his faith. It was a small step, but it was progress. She made her way to the far corner of the room and sat down, consigned to wait.

Luna took an extreme interest in his reaction to Twilight. He definitely remembered her. She could think of no other reason for him to act that way. She hated to admit she felt a pang of jealousy at the fact that Twilight had been able to win some ground against the human so easily. He allowed Fluttershy to stay just because Twilight said please? It had taken Luna hours of arguing and prodding just to get him to talk, much less win an argument. She made a mental note to keep track of the phenomenon.

Celestia stepped forward “Major, if I may make introductions. I believe you have already met Miss Fluttershy, and also apparently Pinkie Pie. The ones you haven’t met; Applejack,” Celestia nodded toward the orange earth pony, who tipped her hat slightly, “Rarity,” she motioned toward the white unicorn, “and Rainbow Dash.” Dash flared her wings and beamed proudly. “And this is Twilight Sparkle, whom I believe you have also… met.

“That’s one way to put it,” Shane commented quietly. He stared at the purple unicorn awkwardly for a moment. “I uh… I’m… sorry, about that, by the way.”

Twilight looked at him, appearing confused.

“You know… the whole…” he fumbled with his words for a moment before just slashing a thumb across his throat and clicked his tongue, “thing.”

Twilight was about to respond, but suddenly Rainbow Dash blitzed over and landed in the center of the room.

“Great that’s settled. Now, I have some questions for you.” Rainbow Dash came on a bit strong, but it certainly changed the pace quickly. When Rainbow wanted something, she was famously impatient for anything that impeded her obtaining it. She wanted answers and by Celestia, she was going to get them. “First of all; who taught you to speak Equestrian?” Dash was shouting a bit more than she normally did.

Everypony suddenly became very interested in his pending answer.

Luna herself was very curious about this as well, and awaited his reply with enthusiasm.

He slowly turned his head, not even acknowledging Dash’s question. He took a fleeting glance at Fluttershy who, true to her word was sitting in the corner. He continued to watch her for a moment, as if to make certain the dangerous end would remain pointed in a safe direction.

“Um…helloooo? I’m talking to you.” Dash reminded impatiently.  He returned his attention to the brash young mare in front of him. He inspected her for a moment looking confused, he cocked an eyebrow and looked to Luna. “I’m sorry, who is this again?” he said, sounding impatient and annoyed with the forthrightness of the rude cerulean pegasus.

My name, is Rainbow Dash,” she declared hotly, clearly not happy with being ignored.

He looked incredulously at the mare, eyebrow still cocked. “Of course it is.” He looked up at Celestia. “Subtlety is not an art you guys practice is it?” Celestia smiled slightly, but gave no response.

“Hey!” Dash shouted.

“What?!” Shane finally acknowledged.

“I asked you a question! How can you speak Equestrian?!”

“I’m not. YOU’RE speaking English and I was going to ask you the same thing.” His reply was terse and slightly angry. It also answered no questions.          

Twilight spoke up. “So is that the name of your home? You are English?”

He let out a sarcastic laugh, as he tilted his head to check and make sure Fluttershy was still facing the corner. He turned back to Twilight. “No. English is just the language. ‘America’ is the name of my home country. The United States.”

“Which is it?” Applejack finally spoke up.

“It’s both,” he said eyeing the newest speaker, “It’s the United States of America.”

United States,” twilight rolled the words around in her mouth for a bit, “so you are a nation made up of smaller bodies?”

“Sort of. We have fifty states, capable of operating independently, but all subservient to one governing body, which is itself made up of different branches.”

“So it’s like an oligarchy?”

Constitutional republic,” he corrected.

“You do not have a set leader?”

“We have a leader. Every four years we elect president to lead the country, when his four years are up, they step down and a new one is elected. It’s complicated.”

“Fascinating,” Twilight mused. “How many of you are there?”

How many?” The question seemed to confuse him.

“Yeah, like how many humans are there?”

He shrugged, “I don’t know…like seven or eight billion or so, give or take a few hundred million.”

“Is it true you humans eat ponies?” Dash interjected loudly.

Twilight chided, “Dash, I’m sure he doesn’t actually-”

“Yes,” he answered with a grin.

The room went deathly silent. All eyes, with the exception of Fluttershy’s, locked on the human who was clearly enjoying the reaction. Even Pinkie Pie looked a bit horrified. Dash went pale, as the color seemed to drain from her face.

“…re… really?” she stammered, suddenly feeling very delicious.

He chuckled lightly. “No, I’m just messing with you. There are some humans that eat horses, but not many.” He was practically reveling in their horror.

“Do you?”

He looked at Rainbow Dash, grin widening into an amused smile. The pegasus seemed to shrink under his eyes. “No.” He let the word wash over their ears. An audible sigh of relief could be heard. “Actually in most civilized circles eating horse meat is highly frowned upon. Humans and horses have had a codependent relationship for several hundred years. Humans have kept horses as helpers and companions for a long time. People got attached to them. The use of them as food is seen as taboo to say the least… so relax.”

“You kept them? Like… as pets?” Twilight sounded disturbed.

“Our ponies aren’t like you. They’re just animals. Basic instincts, no real intelligence, just animals.”

“I see… What about you?”

What about me?”

“Yeah, you know, What are you like.

“What’s your favorite color?” Pinkie added boisterously.

“Green,” he said absentmindedly answering Pinkie, “What do you want to know?”

“Everything,” she encouraged.

“How about you narrow it down a tad.”

“Do ya’ll have any family?” Applejack finally spoke.

He turned and noticed the orange mare. He smiled when he saw her, but it quickly started to fade. “None to speak of.”

Luna wondered at his evasive answer but did not press him on the subject.

“What does ‘U S Marines’ mean?” Twilight asked, noticing the bloodstained blouse, and remembering the letters stitched onto the front.

“That’s what I am. I’m a Marine.”

“I thought you were a human.”

“A Marine is a type of human. Our government selects the best humans they can find, then trains them to become Marines. Then they charge us with the protection of the country.”

“You’re like soldiers?”

Marines.” He corrected.

“What’s tha’ difference?” AJ asked.

“Some would argue none. But in reality it’s more subtle and complicated than I would be able to explain in a short conversation,” he deadpanned.

“Why do they call you Marines?”

“Because of our maritime heritage. But we have a bunch of names; leatherneck, jarhead, devil dog.” he recited.

“Those aren’t very nice names.”

“We aren’t a very nice bunch.”

“Yes, you’ve made that painfully clear.” Luna piped teasingly.

He grew a twisted grin, as if it were a compliment.

“What are the other humans like?” Twilight prodded.

“What do you mean?”

“You know... what are humans like? Explain them to me.”

“You want me to explain humanity? Do you know how long that would take?”  

“Do you have somewhere better to be?” Dash queried amusedly.

After a brief moment, he actually started to laugh. It was a kind of depraved mocking laugh, as if the grim truth amused him. “I guess not,” he answered in between chuckles. “What are humans like?” he repeated to himself. He shrugged, and glanced over to make sure Fluttershy hadn’t moved. “Humans are… different. No two are ever the same. If you’re looking for a nice neat answer then, I’m sorry but there isn’t one. There is a lot of evil in humanity, but there is also a lot of good. I’ve seen people all ends of the spectrum. Humans are impossible to label, and without the benefit of years of cultural subtleties I’m afraid anything I tell you is just going to be white noise.”

It wasn’t the answer she was expecting, but in retrospect, Twilight felt slightly silly for asking it. She doubted she would be able to explain all of ponydom in one sitting to a being with zero experience of it.

Twilight’s horn glowed softly and she produced a pad of paper from within her saddlebags. She needed to document everything and, whether he meant to or not, he had actually revealed a great deal about his species. They were capable of free will, they understood the concept of good and bad, and therefore possessed some moral center. She had to keep in mind that their ‘good and bad’ might not be the same as her ‘good and bad’; humans might have a different definition for morality than ponies.

Twilight suddenly noticed the deathly quiet in the room. She looked up from her notes and noticed Shane was eyeing her cautiously. She lowered the pad of paper, his eyes followed. She realized it wasn’t her he was staring at, but the floating quill and paper. It took her a moment to remember that his was not a magic using species, this must be the first time he has seen it up close.

The human stood up and walked, slowly over to Twilight. Twilight heard Celestia begin to move somewhere behind her. The human looked at the floating objects as one might a puzzle box that needed to be studied and deciphered, he stopped in front of the pad of the quill and paper. He leaned down and inspected them up close, but took care to not touch them.

“How are you doing that?” he asked Twilight, his eyes never leaving the quill.

“Magic.” Twilight stated simply.

He snorted. “No, seriously.” He waved a hand over and under the quill to make certain there were no strings holding it up.

“I am serious. It’s magic, just a simple manipulation spell.”

“There’s no such thing as magic,” he voiced absentmindedly. He scratched his chin, his fingernails dragging over the short stubble of whiskers. He reached out with his right hand, carefully bringing it closer to the floating quill. He extended his index finger and gingerly made contact with the quill. The aura of Twilight’s purple magic seemed to flicker and dim slightly. He retracted his finger and the aura brightened, becoming normal once again. He touched his finger back to the quill once again, pushing it free of the purple cloud of magic. The quill fell to the floor of the padded cell, leaving a small black ink dot where the nub fell.

The human nudged the now lifeless quill with the tip of his boot. It remained inanimate. He deftly reached down and plucked it from the floor. Everypony watching him carefully. He studied the quill up close, examining its every detail. Pinching the quill in two fingers he held it out, and released it. It once again fell to the floor.

Twilight lit her horn and channel her magic into the quill, once again wrapping it in the purple light, and lifting it up off the floor.

He watched carefully. “What is it?” he asked intrigued.

“It’s the physical manifestation of magical energies. I can direct them from myself into an object.”

“So it’s magnets?” he concluded.

“What? No. Magic is a complex discipline. It takes years of study and rigorous training. The scope of arcane energy is a precise avocation. Much more complicated than magnets.”

He nodded and straightened himself. “Magnets. Got it.” He went and sat back down next to Pinkie Pie.

“It’s not magnets!” Twilight declared, beginning to sound a bit offended.

Rainbow Dash began to chuckle, highly amused by Twilight’s frustration.

Luna stepped forward. “This actually reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Shoot,” he deadpanned, sounded less than trilled with all the questions.

“You seem to interfere with our spells. I don’t quite understand why. Sometimes they work perfectly fine, other times they have strange side effects, or don’t work at all. Would you have any idea what’s causing this?”

He shrugged. “My remote doesn’t work on my neighbor’s TV. Doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. My remote just wasn’t made to work on his TV. If I had to guess, I’d say your magic wasn’t made to work on me. But that’s just a guess. Magic doesn’t exist where I am from.”

“I see.”

Pinkie Pie was shuffling around on her side of the cot. She shifted herself around as if uncomfortable. A muffled clinking could barely be heard from inside a folded wool blanket. Pinkie Pie poked her nose into the folds of the cover. “Oooh, what are these?” She pulled out her head from under the blanket, several silver chains dangling from her mouth. They swung about a bit, jingling slightly, like a sad little wind chime.  Shane immediately snatched them from her mouth. “Don’t touch those!” he snapped, shooting her a harsh glare.

Pinkie shrank back some, not sure what she had done wrong. “I’m sorry,” she said in a very small voice. “Did I do something bad?”

“No, my dear,” Celestia assured in a calming voice. Celestia turned her word to the human. “Shane, she didn’t know.”

“Know what?” Pinkie prodded, clearly confused.

Shane set the bundle of chains and tags on his lap and began undoing the buttons of his outer multicam blouse. He shrugged it off his shoulders, and tugged on the cuffs, wincing as the fabric brushed against his skin as he pulled his arms out of the sleeves.

Once he was free of the garment he picked up the silver tags off his lap and placed them on top of the blouse. He folded the fabric over on itself several times, and tied the two sleeves together, sealing the tags inside the bundle of fabric. He placed the bundle on the floor at his feet and scooted it under the cot and out of sight.  He sat there brooding for a moment. Everypony seemed to be watching him, but he paid them little to no mind.

“You’re bleeding,” Celestia stated with concern.

At this, Fluttershy spun round looking deeply apprehensive.

He stirred from his gloomy trance, held out his arms and inspected himself. A few of the cuts along his forearms were slowly leaking blood. A few drops slowly worked their way across his hide, leaving a trail of crimson. “Yup,” he surmised, apparently not very surprised by the fact. He watched a bead of red, sluggishly blazing a trail down his skin, looking bored.

“You need to have those looked at,” Celestia pushed.

“I’m looking at them right now,” he said with a sly grin.

“By a doctor,” she added, annoyed.

“Why? You can’t fix it with magic?” challenged mockingly.

“We tried using magic to heal you. There were… side effects, and it almost killed you.”

“Wouldn’t that have been a shame,” he quipped sarcastically. He looked over at Fluttershy and frowned. “I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be facing the corner,” he said coldly.

Fluttershy bent down and picked up the medical kit in her teeth and looked at him imploringly.

He glanced at the kit and then back up to Fluttershy. “No,” he said, shooting her down before she could actually ask.

Luna finally spoke up. “Shane, she can help, why won’t you let her.”

“I don’t trust her,” he admitted, “she has evil eyes.”

“Just let her wrap your arms. It’ll only take a moment, then she can right back to staring at the corner.”

“No.” He folded his arms, and stuck up his nose, shutting her out.

Luna looked to Twilight. Twilight noticed Luna watching and gave her an inquisitive look. Luna nodded toward the human, then back to Twilight. Twilight seemed confused for a moment, but soon she got the message. Twilight gave the night princess one last uncertain glance. Luna nodded encouragingly.

Twilight stepped forward, Shane noticed her approaching and cocked an eyebrow at the purple filly. “Shane? You need to let Fluttershy help, she’s very gentle, I promise. If you don’t let somepony dress those cuts they’ll get infected. Please will you let Fluttershy help, pleeeaaasse?” Twilight was using her best puppy dog face.

The human appeared impassive, but Luna could tell inside he was considering allowing the little pegasus near.

“No.”

“Why not?” Twilight pushed, disappointed.

“I don’t like her,” he stated, as if she weren’t standing in the room.

“Will ya’ll quit bein’ so stubborn. The girl is tryin’ ta help you. If ya quit bein’ so darn suspicious, you’d see she’s just about the sweetest pony ya’ll could ever meet. Now just let her patch ya’ up or ya’ll are gonna keel over from loss-o blood,” Applejack scolded the human.

He stared at Applejack, apparently surprised by the sudden tongue lashing, but he said nothing.

“Everything will be fine,” Twilight promised. “Trust me.” Shane stared at Twilight for a moment, attempting to find any traces of deceit in the pony’s eyes. He flicked his eyes over to Fluttershy, who was still looking at him with an imploring gaze. His brow furrowed and he took a deep breath, staring off into the distance.

Right as Twilight began to fear he was never going to relent. He held his arms out in front of him, saying nothing, but allowing Fluttershy access to them.

Fluttershy beamed, like a foal on their birthday. She pranced over happily.

Shane stiffened as she approached but did not protest. Instead he busied himself staring into the top corer of the room clenching his jaw.

Fluttershy popped the two latches on the tin case and flipped open the lid. She picked out several sterile pads and a brown bottle of peroxide, along with several rolls of ace wrap. When the human was standing her head might only reach his torso. Even if she were to stand on her hind legs he would still be a few hands taller, but now that he was sitting she had easy access to his extended arms. She began by inspecting each cut closely.

The human jumped slightly when one of her hooves came into contact with his arm, but he said nothing. Fluttershy tried to be more gentle, as she finished examining the lacerations. She went back and removed the lid from the bottle of peroxide. “Um… this, might sting a little,” she warned.

“Just do it,” he sighed, impatiently.

Fluttershy took the bottle in her teeth and slowly tilted her head, allowing the foul smelling brown fluid to spill out over the various wounds.

His jaw tightened but otherwise did not react to the bubbling peroxide on his arms.

Once every wound had been adequately doused, Fluttershy took the first of several sterile gauze pads and placed it over the first laceration. She compressed it down on the cut, causing him to stiffen and his breath to catch.

“I’m really sorry,” Fluttershy was quick to apologize.

“Just hurry up,” he said through clenched teeth.

Fluttershy quickly grabbed another pad of gauze and placed it over another cut, repeating the process until all the wounds on his arms were covered. She grabbed the first roll of bandages and began wrapping, starting at the wrists and then unrolling the bandages around his arms. She reached his elbow before the first roll ran out. She quickly grabbed another and continued on his upper arms, making sure to leave enough room so that he would not tear open the bandages if he were to flex. She wrapped his other arm and stood back to inspect her handiwork. She insisted upon placing two butterfly bandages on the split skin on his forehead, before declaring herself finished.

“Um…Some of those should really be stitched, but that will do for now.”

He moved his arms, clearly not happy with the slightly restricted mobility, but the bandages held. He finished his inspection and nodded awkwardly at Fluttershy, apparently in thanks.

Celestia was wearing a contented smile. Things were improving. Every inch of ground was hard won, but won all the same. Progress with this human was slow, but steady. She doubted they would ever be able to break down his walls completely, but they had gained precious advancements today. It wouldn’t be easy. To gain his trust they were going to have to earn it, and after the events of the past two days, they had a lot to make up for. But Celestia was confident it could be done.

Shane let out a long jaw-stretching yawn.

“Tired?” she questioned.

He nodded. “I forgot sugar comes with a crash.” He chuckled nostalgically.

Celestia looked puzzled. She looked to Luna for an answer.

Luna smiled sheepishly. “Apparently aliens like sugar,” she shrugged “who knew?”

“And who gave him sugar?” Celestia asked, curious.

Pinkie Pie raised her hoof. “Oooh Pinkie Pie did! Wait. That’s me. I did! I made some cupcakes as a welcome to Equestria present!” She bounced happily recounting the story.

“Well that was very sweet of you.” Celestia praised, causing Pinkie Pie to beam. Celestia shifted her attention to Shane. “So, baked goods and meat? You have a strange diet. What else do humans eat?”

He shrugged again. “Fruits, vegetables, grains, pizza, pasta, popsicles, you name it, and there’s a good chance there’s a human that eats it.”

“Well, I’m afraid our pantry is a bit lacking in the meat department. But if you’d like, we would be honored if you would join us for dinner this evening,” she finished diplomatically.

He held out his bandaged arms to either side. “Eh, why not? It isn’t like I had something better planned.”

“Wonderful. It will also give you a chance to get out of this cell. We’ll have you moved to another room up in the castle as soon as I can make the arrangements.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“I’m not staying here?”

“Of course not. This is a jail cell. Why? Did you want to stay here?”

He shrugged yet again. “I’ve stayed in worse places than this. It’s dry, it’s warm, thick walls, natural choke point, flank security. It suits me just fine. Besides I figure I’m out of the way down here. And judging by the gross amounts of guards and secrecy, I take it my existence is still largely a secret. What happens when some random civvy sees me wandering the halls?”

“You’ve puzzled out the situation quite well,” she said amused.

“I didn’t make it this far in life on my good looks alone.”

Celestia chuckled. “Equestria is home to many a strange species. So long as you stay in the castle and out of the spotlight, I doubt there would be any serious problems. But you are correct, I’d like to keep you away from the general population for as long as possible, at least until I can address the issue publicly. But that does not mean have to remain cramped in a dungeon cell. This castle has been here a very long time. There are corridors and passages that have remained unused for years. We will have no trouble keeping you out of sight.”

He held up his hands to indicate his innocence in the scheme, “Alright. It’s your party. But if an angry mob kicks in the castle doors with torches and pitchforks, I’m blaming you,” he warned. He let out another expansive yawn.

“You are tired aren’t you?” Celestia noticed.

“I didn’t sleep,” he explained.

“Well then how about this; Luna and I have several things that require our attention. We’ll leave you to rest for a few hours, then come collect you when it’s time for dinner. Afterwards we can give you a tour of the castle,” she offered.

He grinned, “It’s a date,” he teased, earning a laugh from Luna and the girls.

Celestia chuckled as well. “Very well then. Come on girls, let the Major get some rest.”

The girls looked slightly disappointed, but did as they were told and began to file out of the cell.

Before Pinkie Pie exited she turned and waved goodbye, “Nighty night, don’t let the parasprites bite!” She stopped in her tracks right in front of the door, as if some great revelation had struck her. “Wait. It’s not nighttime! But I can’t say ‘day-ee day’ that wouldn’t make sense. How can you wish somepony a good night if it’s day? Well I suppose you could…” she continued to ramble to herself until Rainbow Dash poked her head back inside and grabbed the pony’s fluffy pink tail and began to doggedly drag the young mare out of the room. Pinkie Pie continued to ramble even as she was being towed away.

Eventually the only one that remained was Luna, who had remained seated as the others left.

She shifted uncomfortably for a second. “I’m sorry to bring down the room,” she began somberly, “but I need to know what you want done with… their remains.” Luna nodded towards the cot.

The slight amounts of happiness drained from his face. He looked downward at the cot he was sitting on for a moment. He bent down and snaked a hand underneath and pulled out the bundle that protected the tags of the crew.

He held the bundle in his hands and stared at it for a moment. “Can I see them?” he asked in a voice hardly above a whisper.

“Are you sure?” Luna posed, knowing that would not be an easy thing to see.

He nodded.

“Very well. We can go tomorrow, if you wish.”

He nodded again.

Luna stood and prepared to exit the room. She regarded him for a moment. “Rest well, Major.” Luna made her way toward the door. She stopped about halfway, turned, and added with uncertainty, “Try not to fall prey to the demons of the past. It is a lesson I have had to learn many times.”

He looked up from his bundle to Luna. She offered him a weak smile.  He did his best to return it, one corner of his mouth lifted pitifully, then fell back down into the permanent mask he seemed to wear. Luna turned and stepped out of the cell, the door sealed shut behind her, leaving the human alone in the permanent quiet that ruled inside the tiny cell. The padding on the walls and floor muffled any vibration causing an unearthly silence.

He slowly untied the sleeves and unfolded the bundle. The cluster of silver chains rested safely in the center, piled together. He deftly worked to untangle the lengths of silver. He read each tag as it passed through his hands, each tag bore a name, each name bore significance. Memories, good and bad, happy and sad, many were a strange combination of the four.

He laid the tags back down on the blouse, and once again, began to fold it up, sealing in the tags in the protective multicam fabric. He tied the sleeves together, ensuring the bundle would not fall apart.

He held it in his hands for a moment. He closed his eyes, and pressed the bundle to his forehead.

“…I’m sorry,” he breathed. “I’ll see you again, soon.”

He tucked the bundle under his cot and lay down upon the canvas. He rested his head upon the pillow, and closed his eyes, falling into fitful sleep.

~~~~~

POST GAME ANALYSIS

And there, you have it, The longest chapter to date. Although I must admit I had a great deal of fun writing it.

Everyone has Bolt to thank for the awesome new art, feat. Luna circa Part II

Thanks also to Thaylien and Chaos for filling in for Final Draft while he is on vacation.

Thanks, as always, to my thread and to all the great comments and all the people who follow this story. I love hearing from you guys.

Feel free to drop me an email or pop in on the thread. I DO read the comments and I love hearing what you guys think. [email protected]

Questions, comments, threats, ideas, and criticisms are all welcome.

As per usual…

ALL THE CHARACTERS/ SETTINGS IN MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC BELONG TO HASBRO. ALL REFERENCES BELONG TO THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS.

NO PROFIT WAS MADE IN THE CREATION/ DISTRIBUTION

CREATED DECEMBER OF 2011 BY MUPPETZ

well...you scrolled all the way to the bottom.

there really isn’t much down here. I mean the fic clearly ended waaaaaay up there ^

What did you possibly expect to find?

I’m not going to reveal some all important secret or something.

Kudos for being thorough, but it really isn’t necessary. You should probably head on back now.

...

...I’m serious...nothing interesting is going to happen. There isn’t anything down here. Like..seriously, nothing.

If your still reading this you clearly have stubbornness issues. Which is cool I guess, I can relate I’m just as stubborn as the next guy, but still. I’m telling you, nothing. is. down. here.

So just take my word for it and go ahead and close the tab.

Okay, now your starting to offend me. I told you there is nothing down here.

Is there no trust in this relationship?

I mean I WROTE this. I know what’s here....It’s nothing.

Still nothing.

see?


ARTICLE 2

Part VII

long chapter is loooooooong

By: Muppetz (!Gsih3Wfnlk)

~~~~~

Twilight had to crane her neck slightly to see through the tiny rectangular port hole on the large steel door. With one large violet eye, she peeked inside.

The human lay on his cot, but Twilight couldn't say for certain whether or not he was actually asleep. He was lying on his stomach.  His pillow had been knocked to the floor, his back rose and fell rhythmically, but he otherwise displayed no signs of consciousness.

Luna pushed her face up next to Twilight to get a view for herself. “Is he asleep?” she whispered curiously.

“I think so, it’s hard to tell.”  Twilight whispered back.

A few hours had passed since their last meeting with the human. After Luna shared some of the revelations she gleaned, Twilight scoured the libraries for any record of human kind. She combed the volumes, paging through everything from histories to mythologies, biographies to encyclopedias, yet she found no mention of the cryptic species.

This omission worried Twilight, especially since the Canterlot Royal Archives were among the most extensive in all of Equestria. If any record or allusion existed, it would be here. Despite her failures, Twilight clung to the possibility that somewhere some lore or legend would make mention of “humanity”.

“Well, there’s one way to find out,” Luna said, snapping Twilight back into the present.

Luna’s horn glowed as she unwound the enchantments that locked the door. The sonorous grinding that usually accompanied the deadbolts sliding out of place was noticeably absent; perhaps the princess was magically muffling the sound to avoid waking the human. Or perhaps she had merely neglected to bother using them the last time she sealed the door.

Twilight sincerely hoped it was the latter. For some reason sneaking up on this human while it slept seemed like a terrible idea.

The door sluggishly swung inward. Luna nudged it impatiently and slipped inside. Twilight followed close behind.

If the human was awake, his figure didn't betray it. His face was buried in the crook of his elbows, which were folded neatly under his head. The toes of his boots hung over the edge of his cot, which placed him over six feet tall. This, coupled with his almost two hundred pound frame and, admittedly, rather imposing presence in the room did nothing to instill confidence in their current reanimatory aspirations.

“Alright... how do we go about doing this?” Luna wondered in a hushed tone.

“Preferably... with a very long stick, and from a safe distance,” Twilight answered, perfectly serious.

“We don’t have one of those,” Luna replied. She stepped further into the room, bravely approaching the sleeping human. Twilight hesitated to get so close.

“Major?” Luna began rather quietly, he did not stir in the slightest. “Major,” Luna repeated a bit more loudly to no avail. She tentatively lifted a hoof and as gently as possible, nudged his shoulder. “Shane,” Luna repeated in a tone slightly louder than speaking. She nudged just enough to gently rock the human.

Quicker than Twilight could catch, his left arm swung out and slapped away Luna's hoof. He lazily swiveled his head to identify his antagonizer.

His head recoiled as if stung. He jerked around, eyes wide, and pressed against the far wall.  He balled up his fists defensively.

Luna immediately held up a wing to shield the young purple mare at her side and slowly backed away submissively.

He pressed against the far wall blinking like an owl for several seconds before recognition entered his countenance. His fists fell limply to the cot as the memory rushed back to him. Several choice swear words wafted into the air, while he ran a hand though his cropped mane.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you alright?” Luna asked cautiously.

“No,” he replied brusquely.

“What’s wrong?” she probed further.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his face with the palms of his hands. His arms slumped down to either side. “I’m still here,” he explained distastefully while staring angrily at the ceiling.  

“Ah, I’ll try not to take that personally,” Luna said amused.

“Don’t try too hard,” he retorted disdainfully.  

Luna chuckled at his delightfully caustic mannerisms. Twilight on the other hoof found his casual cruelty all too fascinating. She figured that most obvious explanation was it was a defense mechanism of sorts, but she couldn’t say for certain. She secretly wished for another human to compare his behaviors against, but for the moment, she decided one was more than enough to handle.

“If you’re still feeling up to it, dinner is waiting.”

It took him a moment to recall his agreement to dine with the alicorns. He ran his hands through his cropped mane once more, then snaked an arm under the cot, producing his multicam blouse which was still tied in a neat bundle. He fingered loose the knotted sleeves, grabbed a fistful of the chains, and deposited them in the large pocket near his right knee.

He sat for a moment, pensively staring at the floor. His reverie did not last long however and soon he pursed his lips and pulled on the blouse, carefully sliding his bandaged arms through the sleeves, then stood and began buttoning the blouse.

He tried brushing a few wrinkles out with little success and eventually gave up. He eyed the ponies. “I’m assuming you two are my escorts then?”

Luna and Twilight nodded happily.

“So how does this work?” he asked, genuinely confused.

“Well, usually it entails you following us to a room other than a prison cell, where we proceed to eat food.”

“Hmm. What are the odds they’ll be serving steak?”

“Slim to none.”

“Figures.” He motioned toward the door. “Lead the way.”

Luna beamed a happy smile, and motioned to Twilight, who slipped back out the door and into the dark hallway. She nodded encouragingly at Shane who remained hesitantly in his cell.

His first few steps out were halting and uncertain. He rolled his shoulders and took a deep breath as he exited.

The guards eyed him suspiciously; he hadn’t exactly established a stellar reputation with them. Several armored stallions were prepared to shepherd them to the castle.

Their commander sternly approached Twilight and produced a set of gleaming silver shackles.

Shane looked down at the hoof cuffs and then back up at Aegis with an unseemly grin, “Presumptuous, aren’t we?”

Aegis was not as amused.

Luna trotted up, “Those won’t be necessary, Commander.”

Shane turned to Luna still smirking, “You’re supposed to buy me dinner before you bust out the hand-cuffs.”

“Very cute,” Luna chided sarcastically.

Twilight suppressed a grin.

“Highness?” Aegis questioned.

Luna looked over at the commander reassuringly, “Don’t worry, Commander. He isn’t going to cause any trouble. Are you?” she directed the last part toward Shane.

“Don’t give me a reason to,” he retorted.

Aegis did not appreciate the response. Twilight did her best to give him a confident smile, but that only served to deepen his frown.

“Let’s go, Celestia is waiting on us.” Luna prodded, taking the initiative to lead the group.

Shane took one last look at Aegis, sporting a strange grin. “Sorry, chief. If it makes you feel better I wouldn’t trust me either. Better luck next time.”

Aegis cocked an eyebrow at the human, clearly not a fan of the term ‘chief’.

The human turned and followed Luna down the hallway. Twilight had to trot for a few seconds to catch up to the pair. Several guards had already taken up their positions around the group. With Luna leading the way, Twilight found a spot walking next to the human.

He looked down to the smiling purple filly, seemingly puzzled by her proximity but he did not otherwise protest, choosing instead to absorb the details of his surroundings. He routinely glanced over his shoulder at the guards bringing up the rear. It struck Twilight as a tad paranoid, but she imagined that if she were in his position she might be a bit on edge as well.

One final turn led to a long hallway ending in a set of large ominous black doors. Luna’s horn flashed and the doors swung open, ushering in a torrent of dusky orange sunlight.

~~~~~

Everything was prepared. They appropriated one of the smaller dining rooms; the main banquet hall was far too large, had too many windows, and was much too conspicuous.

Celestia obviously could not have servants running to and fro during the meal, so she had prepared everything needed in advance. Every course was on the table. She made certain to have a wide variety of foods present, to allow the human to choose for himself what to eat. Upon Pinkie Pie’s encouragement, Celestia also arranged to present an impressive array of baked goods. That is... if Pinkie didn’t burn her way through them first.

Twilight and Luna left to fetch the human almost half an hour ago. Celestia was tempted to worry about the two, but she reminded herself that they could not risk an attempt to teleport the human. And the walk from the dungeons to the room would take time, especially if they detoured through side passages to avoid the general public. Most ponies would not likely be wandering the castle this time of day, it was late, and most had already gone home to be with their families. But some were sure to still be lingering about.

The other five ponies busily entertained themselves. Pinkie Pie was devouring any edible matter within arm’s reach. Fluttershy sat politely listening to Rarity gab about some noteworthy pony she had encountered. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were busy doing what they always did; arguing.

Celestia enjoyed watching the group; they never failed to make her smile. Ode to the antics of the young. Celestia’s horn began to glitter with a gold aura and a small porcelain kettle followed suit as it lifted into the air and tilted. A small stream of tea shot from the spout, collecting in a delicate teacup.  

Celestia sipped at the concoction demurely, awaiting the return of her sister.

~~~~~

“This is the most architecturally irresponsible structure I have ever seen in my life,” Shane complained to Luna as they made their way through the castle. “You walk like...  twenty clicks in ANY direction, and you’ll hit perfectly flat stable ground, but noooo, you pick the side of a friggin’ cliff.” He cautiously peeked over the edge of a banister and looked down the long drop to the valley below.

“Shane... are you afraid of heights?” Twilight taunted playfully.

“No, I’m afraid of precariously perched castles crashing down around my head and burying me alive.”

Luna chuckled, “This castle has been here for well over a thousand years. It isn’t about to collapse, I promise.”

“Oh, great. So the castle is teetering on a cliff AND ancient. That’s terrific. I feel much better.” He laid the sarcasm so thick it could be cut with a butter knife.

“Come on, we need to get moving. We’re late enough already,” Luna urged.

With one last look off the edge of the balcony Shane and Twilight retook their places in the formation and continued to follow the midnight blue alicorn, deeper into the castle.

Twilight knew the passages and corridors could seem monotonous and confusing to some; she had spent a great deal of her younger years in the castle and even she still became confused at times.

She looked at the human. He did not seem overly concerned, but he continued ritually swiveling his head back and forth, occasionally craning his neck to check on the guards at his back.

It took him a while, but he finally seemed to accept Twilight’s company. He even sporadically leaned down to ask her something; mostly questions about the castle or some statue or piece of art adorning the halls.  Twilight answered as best she could, but not every statue or figurine held some significance to pony culture. Twilight exlpained that most were merely decorative.

They walked down another abandoned corridor where sets of oak doors occasionally interrupted the monotonous polished marble.

As Luna passed another unassuming set of doors, their handles glowed a soft pink and opened from the other side through some incredible stroke of bad luck. The sheer improbability that the unseen spell-caster would come through those doors right at that moment boggled Twilight's mind.

The human stopped in his tracks. Guards already moved to subdue either the intruder or the human should it prove necessary. Luna spun around in shock, like a filly that had been caught pilfering cookies.

A smallish dark pink unicorn trotted casually out into the hallway, nose buried deep in a yellow folder full of legal documents. The mare was clearly oblivious to all the  anxious eyes following her.

She collided face first into the humans side, knocking her back on her haunches, and sending papers scattering everywhere. She landed on her rump, dazed by the sudden impact. She fumbled to adjust the set of small framed glasses resting on her little pink nose, and began to stammer out an apology, before looking up at the bruised and bloody human, towering over her. She paled to a ghostly level, her irises shrinking to pinprick size.

Given his history, Shane took to the intrusion rather well. Twilight figured he didn’t consider the tiny mare a threat, or maybe he just wasn’t in attack mode at the moment.

He regarded the petrified mare at his feet for several seconds. Finally he knelt down and sat on his heels, balancing on his toes. “Boo.”

The poor pink filly’s face drained of any last vestiges of color, and without even a second thought she spun around and bolted away at a full gallop, leaving every wafting scrap of paper behind.

“Really?” Twilight panned, despite Shane’s obvious delight.

“Lighten up. I’m having fun,” he defended, still chuckling.

“You have a strange concept of fun,” Luna said in a chiding voice as she approached.

One of the guards stepped forward. “Should we go after her, ma’am?”

“No. I doubt one pony is capable of inciting mass panic. However, try and find out who she was and at least make sure she’s alright, and that she isn’t hiding in a closet suffering a heart attack.” She shot a disapproving glare at Shane.

“Don’t give me that look. It was funny and you know it. Thank me later.”

Luna found his justificatory logic unsatisfying. She shook her head, not willing to get into another argument about it. “Come on, we need to keep moving.” Luna turned and retook her place at the forefront of the procession. They approached a long flight of stairs followed by a few more hallways.

“How does she know where she’s going? Everything looks the same,” he said to Twilight in a hushed tone.

“It’s confusing at first. You get used to it.”

“Is that so?” he said in a flat voice.

“Mmm hmm. I grew up here, you know,” she offered, hoping maybe that if she offered some insight into her own life, he might open up as well.

“Lucky you,” he quipped distractedly, once again quashing Twilight’s hopes; apparently it would take more than idle banter to break him out of his cynical shell.

The hallway lead to a larger central passageway where all the corridors intersected. Luna held up a hoof, halting the group. She craned her head around the corner, looking both ways for any potential witnesses. She beckoned with another wave of the hoof and proceed to walk down the hallway, albeit at a brisker pace.

Twilight rounded the corner, stepping out onto vibrant red carpet, which accented white and gold marble. The hallway was vacant, save two ponies walking in the opposite direction. They were a fair clip away and didn’t bother turning around to identify the hoof falls of the group.

The procession walked down the exposed passageway for a few hundred feet before ducking into another, short hallway. This one leading to a set of doors marked with gold placards.

Before proceeding through the doors, Luna turned and addressed the guards. Four were to accompany them inside, the rest were to stand outside and try to look inconspicuous. How exactly eight armored guards were supposed to accomplish this, Twilight had no idea, but they sounded their compliance with zeal nonetheless.

Then Luna turned on Shane. “Do we remember the rules?” she asked patronizingly.

He gave Luna a flat, angry stare.

“Splendid,” she said beaming. “Let’s go then.” Luna closed the remaining gap between the doors. She placed one gilded hoof on the doors and gave a light push, and they glided open.

~~~~~

“Are you making this up?” Applejack inquired incredulously.

“No it’s totally true. Pegasi can be either left or right winged,” Dash explained again.

“That don’t make a lick a sense. If they’re always flappin in sync how can one be dominant? If ya favored one wing over tha other wouldn’t ya tend ta... tilt?”

“It’s not like the dominant wing is more powerful or something. It’s just kinda like... they’ll tend to use their right or left wing more, or they’ll bank left more than right. It’s a bit more subtle than being right or left hooved, but it’s still totally true.”

“Fluttershy, is she making this up?”

“Oh... um... well... no, she is right. We went over it in flight school. I never really favored one wing over the other, but I have heard that some pegasi do.”

Celestia polished off a second cup of tea. Luna would arrive any moment. Celestia sat demurely at the table, patiently waiting and watching. She defined composure. Still, she would be lying if she said she wasn’t a bit nervous. This was possibly their last chance to repair the damage done the past few days.

For countless sleepless nights Celestia and her sister had slaved to ensure the continued prosperity of the ponies they loved so much. So much work, so much care and so much love went into the vision that was Equestria. They had done well too; Equestria had flourished under their vigil. It was not perfect, nothing ever is, but it was likely as close to perfection as they could get.

But this human jeopardized everything. Granted it was through no fault of his own, but still, he threatened all they had worked for. Regardless of his intentions, his very presence could easily destabilize the entire nation.

The easy solution would have been to simply let him die so that this whole situation could be neatly swept under the rug. But she found such an avenue repugnant and rejected it entirely. No, their decision had already been made, and there was no going back on it now.

The road ahead was foggy. Even she could not predict what the future held, but what was clear, is that none of the paths ahead would be easy. Although, she had to admit it was becoming increasingly difficult to previse a happy ending from this mess. If any such hope existed, it depended heavily on this human’s full cooperation. Which is partially why this dinner was so important. They needed him on their side.

Celestia's ears perked as she heard the inconspicuous sound of armored hooves outside the door. Each of the girls also fell quiet as they glued their eyes to the door on the far end of the room.  

“Remember girls,” Celestia began, “we need him to like us, so be polite.”

The door swung open, and from the dimly lit passage strode a very proud looking Luna. The two guards at her sides took up stations on either side of the door. Luna made her way into the room and Shane followed her inside hesitantly. He took the time to eye the door frame before stepping through and examining the room.

He scanned over the collection of ponies until he spied Fluttershy. He stared at the pegasus for a brief second, before turning around and walking back out the door.

“Hey!” Twilight shouted before clamping his shirt tail in her teeth. Her hooves found no grip on the smooth floor, and she was dragged out into the hallway. The door closed behind the two with a soft click.

Okay, not the best start,” Celestia panned to herself.

Luna sat down at the table next to her sister before losing her smug smile and looking about curiously, “Where’d he go?”

Celestia nodded subtley toward Fluttershy, and comprehension filled Luna’s eyes. Celestia wondered if it were even possible for the yellow pegasus to sink into her own mane any further. The poor girl had clearly caught the message, and the look on her face made Celestia’s heart ache.

Should... Should I leave?” Fluttershy squeaked out, clearly holding back tears.

“No, my dear,” Celestia replied as calmly and assuringly as she could, “I want you to stay here. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“She kinda di-”

Applejack stuffed a hoof in Rainbow Dash’s mouth.

“He’ll come around, I promise. It’s just going to take some time. I imagine he isn’t in a very happy place right now. We just need to be patient.”

Fluttershy appeared unconvinced, but she had not yet broken into tears. Celestia took that as a good sign.

~~~

Twilight clamped the tails of his blouse tightly between her teeth, and she was not about to let him go. He had no trouble dragging her plot along. His rubber-soled boots gave him better traction on the polished marble.

He made it almost halfway down the hallway before the guards massed and blocked his path.  Their expressions made it clear he would not leave so easily.

He stopped, trapped between the guards and double doors leading back to Fluttershy. Twilight released his shirt.

Once Twilight had caught her breath she began, “Alright look, we can’t do this every time you and Fluttershy are in the same room.”

“I agree. I propose we never be in the same room.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Twilight said annoyed. “Fluttershy is the kindest pony in Equestria! Why won’t you give her a chance?” Twilight pleaded.

He didn’t say anything, staring at the wall with his arms crossed, his bottom jaw jutting out like a pouting child.

“I mean she bandaged your arms for you didn’t she?”

“Oh yeah, ‘Here are some band-aids, hope this makes up for that mind rape from earlier,’” he mocked.

Twilight circled around to his front to force him to meet her gaze. Unfortunately he stood much taller than her. It was difficult to grab someone’s eyes when yours only reached their stomach. She looked up at the human, who was indignantly staring above the purple mare. “Shane,” Twilight tried. He still refused to look at her. “Shane!” Twilight said a little more forcefully.

His eyes flicked down to her.

She furrowed her brow and pointed a hoof down at the floor.

He looked down and cocked his head with a ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ look.

Twilight deepened her scowl and pointed aggressively at the floor.

He rolled his eyes and sighed, annoyed. He lowered himself to Twilight’s level, and sat on his heels.

Twilight's frustration relented and she spoke in a hushed tone, “Look, I don’t care whether you believe me or not, but that pony in there wants nothing more than to help you.”

“I’m not entirely sure how much more of your ‘help’ I can take.” He intuitively responded in a discrete tone.

“She did that to protect you, whether you want to believe it or not. If she hadn’t stopped you, the princess would have put you down, and even if she didn’t the guards would have. With the way you were acting, I say you got a very lucky draw.”

He chewed on the inside of his cheek, looking away. Twilight was right and he knew it.

Twilight was on a roll. “I understand your trepidation, I do. What she did was wrong. But at the time it was the lesser of two evils. She did what she thought was best at the time just as you would have. She isn’t going to use the stare again, I promise. She hated having to use it in the first place. Now I’m not asking you to kiss and make up, just... stop being so horrible to her. She already feels terrible and all she wants is your forgiveness. If you aren’t ready to give that yet, fine. But at least try.

He fidgeted apprehensively. “Fine,” he eventually let out, sounding none too happy about it. “But I don’t want her looking at me,” he stipulated, “that’s how she gets you.”

Twilight smiled proudly, but he elected not to return the gesture. “Thank you, now come on.” Twilight led Shane back into the room. This time no one was dragged.

“Is everything alright?” Luna asked tentatively.

Twilight looked back to Shane.

“As alright as it’s going to get,” he sighed.

Luna beamed, once again mesmerized by Twilight’s lecturing power.

Celestia smiled as well. “Have a seat, Major.” She indicated the chair directly to her right.

Shane appeared apprehensive but walked over to the snow white alicorn. He sat  down.

“Please, help yourself,” Celestia encouraged.

Twilight sat in the seat on his other side. She beheld the veritable feast the Princesses had arranged, and her stomach grumbled hungrily. However starved she felt, she was unsure if she should begin eating. She was wholly unfamiliar with human dining customs.

Everypony else shared her uncertainty, so the entire party stared at the human to see what he’d do. Unfortunately he seemed to be doing the same. Both sides waited for the other to make the first move in an awkward stalemate.

The human looked down at the selection of food. An ornate salad with a raspberry dressing was the foremost dish. There was an identical salad at every place at the table.

The human gingerly picked out a bright red cherry tomato. Everypony watched him intently, but instead of eating the tiny fruit, as they all expected, he carefully placed the tomato squarely on a nearby silver spoon. He finally looked around the room at all the curious mares.

He tried to seem as nonchalant as possible when he pounded a fist on the opposite side of the spoon, catapulting the small tomato in a high arc above the table.

Everypony’s eyes tracked the small fruit through the air. Shane quickly made use of the distraction to switch plates with the purple mare next to him.

How sneaky,” Celestia thought, amused as she pretended not to notice.

The tomato collided with the wall with a pathetic little splat, and fell to the floor. Everyone turned back to the human who was grinning victoriously.

“Um... what was that for?” Dash dared to ask, confused.

He shrugged, still grinning. “Icebreaker?”

Celestia chuckled.

Shane inspected his tiny collection of silverware: all spoons. He picked one up and dipped it in his salad bowl. Lifting it, almost every piece of lettuce fell off and back into the bowl. “I think a fork might be slightly better suited for this particular meal.”

“I’m trying to avoid giving you pointy things,” Celestia teased.

He grinned devilishly, “Good. You’re learning.” He abandoned his spoon and picked up a leaf with his fingers and placed it in his mouth. He chewed it for a bit before swallowing, “Alright, that’s pretty good.”

The group breathed a collective sigh of relief as they too began helping themselves to their food.

“So Major,” Rarity finally spoke, “if I may ask; who designed your...  uh... ensemble?” she spoke with a subtle overtone of disapproval.

The human snorted and looked down at himself. “I don’t know... the DoD?”

“Ah... I see.” She sounded disappointed.

He laughed again. “Aw, she doesn’t like my cammies.” he joked.

“No no no,” she rushed to amend, “they’re... lovely. It’s just they are a bit... unusual. Is that a common dress among humans?”

“Among my kinds of humans, yeah. It’s a military uniform.”

“Military huh?” Dash interjected. “You ever go to war?”

“Dash,” Twilight scolded.

“Twice,” the human responded casually.

“You ever kill anypony?”

“DASH!” Twilight sounded horrified.

The human still didn’t look offended; the question seemed to amuse him.

“I’m just making conversation,” Dash defended.

“We ran into a bit of a snag on the way up,” Luna started, eager to change the subject.

Celestia turned to her sister, alarmed. “How bad?”

“A young mare I didn’t recognize bumped into us. The Major was kind enough to send her running in terror before we could get a chance to talk to her.” She cast an angry glance at Shane. He was busy snickering through a mouthful of salad.

“It was pretty funny though,” he defended between bites.  

“Is it going to be a problem?” Celestia asked, ignoring him.

“I don’t think so. The testimony of one pony is hardly enough to incite panic, but it’s something to keep an eye on just in case.”

“I feel obligated to point out that you wouldn’t have to keep your eyes on anything had you simply let my ass die,” Shane panned. He sniffed the clear liquid in the glass in front of him, took a tentative sip, and identified it as water. He took a few more sips.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Celestia mock-apologized.

“Why did you do it?” he asked in a serious tone.

“Do what?”

“Save me.”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she said teasingly while dipping a small biscuit in her tea.

“I just don’t see what you get out of this.”

“Answers, Major. We get answers, and a dead man gives us none. You are simply going to have to trust that we do not harbor any malicious intent.”

“What if I don’t?”

“Then we will sit here, at an impasse, until one of us turns to dust. Are all humans so incredulous?”

“It’s come to be my understanding, that if something sounds too good to be true, it is. I’m still trying to figure out why I’m not on a table being dissected.”

“You seem awfully keen about this dissection thing,” Luna noted.

“To be perfectly honest, had you landed on my planet, they would have chopped your ass up faster than you could say ‘Take me to your leader’.” Luna’s expression must have given him pause because he added, “... nothing personal, but when humans want answers, they tend to ask pretty hard.”

“Humans sound barbaric,” Rarity declared, as if one weren’t sitting across the table.

Shane smiled cheekily, “Oh I don’t know about that, barbaric is such an... opprobrious word. I prefer to think of it as... aggressive curiosity. Besides, barbarism is relative.”

“There is something I still don’t understand,” Twilight breached the growing silence. “How exactly did you come to learn Equestrian?”

The human finished chewing. “I didn’t. I’m speaking English. Apparently it’s the same, or at least similar enough, as whatever you’re speaking.”

“Does that not seem odd to you though?”

“Kid, I just crash landed in a parallel dimension of talking magic ponies. Nothing seems odd to me at this point.”

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she struggled.

He shrugged, “Get used to it. I have the distinct feeling that ‘sense’ is quickly becoming an infrequent occurrence. ”

The answer, or lack thereof, was highly unsatisfying.

Shane looked around the room. “So, I have a question.” Everypony looked up curiously. “What is the annual budget in Equestria for hair dye? It’s gotta be outrageous. Especially for Rainbow Sprinkles over there,” he pointed at Dash.

“It’s Dash! And I don’t dye my mane!” she defended, offended not only at the accusation but also that the human hadn’t remembered her name.

Applejack chuckled soundly.  

“It actually grows in all... rainbow-ey?” He sounded skeptical.

 “Yeah!” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “You can’t fake awesomeness on this scale.” She brushed a hoof through her prismatic mane, and struck a pose. “I mean I AM the fastest, most talented, and all around awesome-est pony that ever existed. So naturally my mane would have to reflect that.”

Shane cocked an eyebrow.

Applejack chuckled louder, “Don’t ya’ll worry none. She get’s to be a might bit less irksome once ya get ta know her.”

Dash shot AJ a venomous look.

“... can’t wait,” Shane replied sarcastically. He popped the last bite of salad into his mouth. Something flicked across the corner of his eye and grabbed his attention: Celestia’s incorporeal mane. He watched Celestia’s wavy hair for several minutes. The ethereal mane blew towards him in some nonexistent breeze.

Without asking permission, he brazenly reached up and swished a hand through the vaporous coiffure. It reacted like a mane underwater. His hand did not pass through the gossamer threads, instead they flowed around it, apparently unlettered in the laws of gravity.

Celestia noticed the human. Twilight feared the princess would be angry with him for daring to touch the royal hairdo, but she wasn’t. In fact, it amused her greatly. She smiled like somepony watching a kitten play with a strand of yarn.

“Why does it do that?” he finally asked.

“The wavy thing?”

“Yeah.” By this point he had graduated from hand swooshing to full on arm flailing, attempting to impose some manner of reason upon the magical filaments.

“I like the wavy thing,” Celestia justified with a hint of witticism.

He finally managed to seize a lock of her billowing mane. He inspected the captured strands up close, seeing that her flowing locks indeed comprised of individual hairs. The slender and delicate gossamer strands blended when clumped together.

Celestia winced as he plucked out a strand of hair. Her guards immediately moved in to detain the human. They halted when Celestia held up a hoof and gestured them back to their posts.

Shane was oblivious, fascinated by the stolen strand. He held one end aloft to see if it would wave all on its own.  He swished it a bit, attempting to jumpstart it to life. The stubborn strand, however, showed no sign of life. Highly dissatisfied, he discarded the long pink thread.

He leaned forward, turning toward Luna. “Why isn’t yours all wavy?”

Luna smiled and shook her silvery blue mane. The roots of the slender blue locks slowly changed, transforming before their eyes into the astral blue cloud that she often wore during special occasions. Soon her mane became a billowing, glittering representation of the night sky.

Shane’s jaw hung open. He even let out a soft “ooooh,” clearly amazed by the ethereal display. He wasn’t alone, the girls were also enraptured by the show; even Pinkie Pie had ceased devouring her hoard of various deserts.

Luna stuck her chin in the air haughtily, proud of the attention.

“Show-off,” Celestia teased under her breath.

“Green is an ugly color on you, dearest sister.” Shane found her response immensely entertaining.

Twilight hid a smile behind a purple hoof, unsure if she should openly show her mirth, after all, it was at the expense of a Princess.

Celestia however cracked a smile and laughed along, absolving the rest of the room to join in.

Luna stood, prompting the girls to do the same.

Shane continued to sit, looking around rapidly, realizing he had missed something.

Luna strode toward the door. She paused at the window for a moment, examining the sky as if searching for rainclouds. “If you will all excuse me for a brief moment. I must attend to my night.”

She finally exited through the door, leaving them behind. The girls retook their seats.

“... She’s attending who?” Shane asked, befuddled.

“OH yeah!” Pinkie Pie burst, before anypony could answer him. “I almost forgot to ask you. What does your cutie mark mean?”

The room turned to him, fascinated to hear how the human had earned his cutie mark, and also possibly learn his special talent.

“My what?”

“Your cutie mark!” Pinkie reasserted.

“What the hell is a cutie mark?” He was genuinely puzzled.

Now the girls were confused. Sure, there were species that did not share in the cutie mark heritage that ponies enjoyed. But he had a cutie mark. They had seen it. How could he not know of his own mark?

“You know... your cutie mark,” Rainbow tried to assist but she was struggling to find the right words to explain it.

“Duh, silly, your cutie mark! See?” Pinkie hopped her front hooves down onto the floor while leaving her rear hoofs up on the seat. The position left her rear sticking in the air. She pointed a hoof back to her flank at a trio of balloons. “This one is mine,” she stated obviously, before hopping back up onto her seat. “We saw yours while you were sleeping. It was totally in the wrong spot. It matches the picture on your shirt.” She gasped. “Is your talent bird watching?!”

He looked down at his blouse and the EGA stitched onto the left breast pocket. A  glimmer of uncertain comprehension entered his eye. He pointed to his shoulder, directly in the center of the deltoid. “This?”

They nodded.

He chuckled, shrugging off the cammie blouse. His formerly clean bandages had several fresh crimson bloodstains, immediately setting off Fluttershy’s warning bells.

He gingerly peeled back the top layer of bandaging, revealing the dark blue mark. It was almost black. It depicted an eagle spreading its wings over a globe, superimposed over a slanted anchor. The eagle clutched a fluttering banner in its jaws. On it was written; SEMPER FIDELIS, in bold lettering. “That?” he pointed.

They nodded an affirmation.

He laughed at their ignorance. “It’s a tattoo.”

“Is that what humans call cutie marks?”

“Why do you keep saying that? No, taaatttooooo. The fuck is a cutie mark?”

“A cutie mark is the picture that appears on the flank of little fillies and colts when they discover their special talent,” Twilight tried to explain.

“They just appear?” he sounded skeptical.

“Mmm hmmm,” the group assured.

“How?”

“Magic,” Twilight disclosed simply.

He rolled his eyes. “Why do I get the feeling that is going to be the answer to anything you don’t feel like explaining?”

“So what does it meeeaaann?!” Pinkie Pie persisted.

He seemed confused by the question, “It’s just a tattoo, it the Eagle Globe and Anchor, it’s the Marine Corps symbol. It didn’t appear. I had to pay to get this done.”

“You... paid for your cutie mark?” Dash asked.

“It’s not a cutie mark! Stop calling it that! It’s a tattoo. I paid some guy to do this. They use a machine that shoots a needle into your skin and leaves a tiny bit of ink.”

The girls looked horrified; why anypony would willingly undergo such an awful sounding procedure was beyond them.

“That’s appalling! Why would you ever pay for such a beastly thing?!” Rarity demanded.

He snickered while struggling back into his blouse. His arms apparently giving him some trouble. “Because moto tattoos seem like such a great idea right after boot.”

The explanation did nothing to clarify the situation.

“Doesn’t it hurt?” Twilight asked.

“Pfff. If you’re a total pussy.”

Again Twilight was amazed by the archaic behaviors of this... advanced species. She silently wondered how they managed to advance so far if they were all busy mutilating themselves for show.

She shook her head, berating herself for allowing her thoughts to become so close minded. This one human was no more a representative of his species than she was of hers. Besides, who was she to question another culture? She of all ponies should know better. It was exactly that obstinate view that led to conflict in the first place. She was reminded, somewhat painfully of her first encounter with Zecora.

The sun finally sank behind the edge of the world, plunging the land into abject darkness. The brief moment where neither the sun nor the moon graced the sky. It was not to last, however. The soft silvery glow of the crescent moon peaked over the horizon, bathing the valley in its ghostly shine.

The rise of the moon seemed a bit more abrupt than Celestia recalled. She secretly wondered if Luna rushed the job. She made a note to confront the younger Princess about it later.

With the discussion of the human’s perverse cutie mark behind them the group delved into more tame conversations, mostly Dash questioning his diet.

“So none of you have ever had meat?” he queried.

They shook their heads, looking a bit ill at the prospect, namely Fluttershy.

“But... then, how can you have any pudding?!”

They all stared at him confused, while he grinned like an eel.

“... No? ... Nothing?” he folded his arms and slouched a bit, “... gay. None of you are going to understand my hilariously witty jokes and references.”

“Did ponies eat meat where you come from?” Twilight asked, getting back on track.

“No, well... not really. I mean, they aren’t supposed to.”

“So they aren’t suppose to... but they do anyway?”

“Not necessarily. As far as I know horses eat hay and oats, that’s it. But, I mean I’m sure it happens. Some horses are bred to be able to digest meat, like in high altitude places where grass is scarce. So yes and no. They naturally eat plants, but there are always exceptions. Like, this one time I saw a horse pick a bird off the ground and just ate it. Like...  no shit. It just...  ate the thing, alive. It was brutal.”

Fluttershy was about to be sick. She had absolutely nothing against carnivores. It was the natural order of the world that everything ate everything else.  But this was wholly aberrant. She had to forcibly remind herself that the human ponies were not normal ponies. They couldn’t be held responsible for their actions. But ... still. The thought made her stomach twist.

Luna chose then to stride back into the room, laden with her saddlebags and a devilish look in her eye. Celestia could have sworn she heard the bags clinking slightly, warranting an explanation.

Luna strode up and took her place at the table next to her sister. Looking very proud of herself. She pulled forth two sleek, burgundy bottles.

Celestia identified them as fairly rare vintages of Equestrian icewine.

“Booze!” the human cried ecstatically, practically bouncing in his chair.  

“Absolutely not!” Celestia insisted, maternally.

“Come on, Celestia,” Luna started to argue. “I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.”

“Even if I thought giving HIM alcohol was in ANY way a good idea, I would still say no.” By this point Shane looked somewhat heartbroken. “He JUST woke from a coma, and with all the blood he’s lost I must admit I’m surprised he’s walking at all. Another time perhaps, but not now.”

Luna was a bit disappointed, but she had to admit Celestia had a point. Although the more sinister part of her really wanted to see how it would behave with alcohol in its system.

“But I neeeed it!” he said attempting a swipe at the closest bottle.

Celestia managed to levitate it out of reach. “No you don’t.”

“Alcohol is good for humans!” he plied desperately, “It’s a vital part of the Marine Corps food pyramid.”

She wasn’t sure if he was teasing or not. “Your liver disagrees, Major.”

“How do you know what my liver likes? It’s MY liver.”

“I spent almost a week putting you back together. I know more about you than you do.” She fixed him with an authoritative stare. “No drinking.”

Shane slumped back down in his chair, looking thoroughly depressed. “Figures,” he deadpanned, “Right when I was considering starting to like you.”

Celestia ignored him. On the plus side, Luna had inadvertently stumbled upon yet another carrot that could be used on the human in lieu of the stick. Although ‘alcohol and sugar’ was hardly an arsenal of incentives, it was still more than the ‘nothing’ she had earlier this morning.

Pinkie trotted over with a large tray of cakes and pastries balanced inexplicably on her back. “Aw don’t be sad. Nopony is gonna be all grouch-erific while Pinkie Pie is around!” She twisted and arched her back, lifting to tray to offer the dessert.

He seemed to struggle for a moment. On one hoof, she knew the sugary treats were an veritable weak spot for him, but on the other, eating colorful pastries would directly conflict with the ‘angry human’ persona he had been so avidly clinging to. It is, in fact, rather difficult to look scary and mean whilst eating a cookie.

The battle was rather short lived, however. It was probably over before it began. He un-slouched a bit and selected a few baked goods for himself, doing his best not to smile while doing so. Although apparently that proved a bit too much as he cautiously took a bite of what looked like a brownie. His frown quickly melted away and sat chewing contentedly.

“Do you like it?” He nodded, making Pinkie beam enthusiastically

She began to bob up and down excitedly and began pushing ever increasing amounts of various desserts on the human. Of which he seemed all too accepting.

Twilight had to suppress the urge to tell Pinkie Pie to stop feeding the human junk food, hoping he possessed the capacity for self restraint before he made himself sick on the stuff.

“Poor thing, I can’t imagine living somewhere there’s no sugar!” Pinkie Pie pitied as she consumed several treats herself.

“We have sugar. It’s just expensive. I mean... why pay fifty times as much for real sugar when that synthetic kind ‘tastes the same’” he finished using air quotes which Twilight took to imply the synthetic sugar he spoke of did not, in fact, taste the same at all.

“Fake sugar?!” Pinkie questioned, horrified, “How do you fake sugar.”

He shrugged and did his best to describe the procedure required to chemically synthesize sugar. It was clear from the description he didn’t understand the process himself. A point which he made very clear by replacing many descriptive words with swears.

Luna was all too fascinated by the brief insight into human society. Whether he intended to or not, he had once again revealed quite a bit about his species and culture than was directly stated. His tiny story revealed they were apparently able to chemically ‘replicate’ various materials, including foods and possessed the technologies capable of creating and globally distributing them. He mentioned expenses and monetary value meaning they shared a similar understanding of economics. He implied that they had the option to choose which product to buy indicating the presence of free market.

As much as they were learning about the human, Celestia couldn’t help but notice he seemed rather uninterested in asking any serious questions about the universe in which he was now stranded. Celestia asked him about his apparent lack of curiosity.

He shrugged. “I picked up the important stuff.”

Celestia cocked an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve only been conscious for... what... a day and a half? And most of that has been spent in a cell. What could you have possibly learned of Equestria?”

“Quite a lot. You just have to pay attention.”

“Do share,” Celestia encouraged.

He inhaled deeply, ensuring he would have plenty of breath for a long tirade. “Alright, I suppose this had to happen sooner or later.” He cleared his throat. “You... ponies ... for the most part are actually fairly similar to humans. You eat, sleep, talk, feel, etcetera. You are clearly capable of harnessing modern technologies like electronics and complex machines but you seem to...  underutilize them for reasons I am still somewhat unclear on but which is probably attributed to ‘magic’,” he used his air quotes again, “An excellent example; you have relatively advanced electric power grids, and have a rather successful array of hydroelectric facilities and yet you-”

“Strange,” Luna interrupted, “I don’t recall mentioning our power grid.” Her tone slightly accusatory.

“We could see it from orbit. Scanners lit you up like a Christmas tree,” he panned, annoyed at having been interrupted, “Casual observation can speak volumes if you know how to look.”

“What exactly are you observing?” Luna prodded, somewhat patronizingly.

“Everything from the food on this table to color of the carpeting is telling me something about you. The cell itself, for example? The door was steel, not iron or bronze, steel. So let’s add metallurgy to your book of tricks. Consequently it’s safe to say you have some economic milieu in mining. The rivets that held it together looked like they were machined standard. Which tells me that you apparently have a factory somewhere that mass produces these rivets and therefore have the skilled laborers and machinery capable of doing so.

The equipment in the hospital room had several highly advanced electrical devices. Although since then I haven’t seen much in the ways of technology. But, again, I wasn’t accounting for...  ‘magic’,”  air quotes again, “so I’ll have to hammer that out later.

You left my sidearm in the room with me so you’re either overly trusting, to a dangerous degree, or you were merely ignorant of its purpose. Plus the fact that your boys are still rocking plate armor tells me you guys aren’t exactly leading the way in wartime technologies.”

As fascinating as this all was Luna found herself growing irritated by this human’s belittling critique.

“All leading me to the conclusion you all are apparently a rather...  peaceful lot, possibly to a fault.”

Peace a fault now?” Rarity challenged.

“In and of itself? No. But when it errs on the edge of stupidity, yes.” he countered with a notable amount of bite in his voice. “This whole situation is a testament to that. Your failure to do what was necessary could have cost you a lot of lives.”

“But it didn’t,” Luna said with a small smile.

“For all you knew I was going to wake up and go on a killing spree.”

“And you didn’t,” Luna pointed.

“That’s not the point,” he said irritated. “You couldn’t have known that. You had no idea what could have happened.”

He was beginning to sound irritatingly similar to Aegis.

“What woulda happened is you would’ve gotten your flank stomped into the ground,” Dash claimed hotly.

Luna interjected right as the human was about to make what was sure to be an equally heated offset. “It is usually at this point in the argument I would point out that we could spend an eternity fretting over what could have been. Dwelling in the past is a fruitless endeavor, Major. I would suggest you take leave of your own head for a moment, and instead try to focus your attention on what has happened. Relax knowing that we are all here, very much alive enough to have this lovely discussion. But if it puts your mind at ease then know this; we had no reason to suspect you would be hostile, nor did we wish to convey the wrong... diplomatic message by chaining you up like an animal.” He grumbled slightly but did not otherwise interrupt. “Our hopes rested mainly on the fact that a species possessing such advanced technologies would be intelligent enough to see the folly in attacking the ponies that saved his life.”

“... ‘saved’,” he repeated to himself bitterly.

“And in a sense we were right. Granted, you were a bit... stubborn in coming to terms with it.” Luna finished.

Celestia sat silently, deeply contemplative. It was several moments before she spoke again. “Major, I appreciate your concern for our safety but I assure you we are more capable then I think you give us credit for.”

He snorted, dismissively. Celestia couldn’t tell if it was out of irritation or amusement. He had an unusual habit of doing things without facially expressing the emotion that would normally accompany the action. It made deciphering his mood exceedingly difficult. “... try and stop me when I’m not playing nice and see what happens,” he groused to himself, defensively.

“... how was that ‘playing nice’?” Twilight questioned dubiously.

“You’re alive aren’t you?” he answered wryly.

“Point taken,” Twilight noted, eliciting a slightly proud grin from the human.

“You are a strange species,” Luna summed up.

“You know nothing of my species,” he pointed rather grimly.

“Well until you decide to start actually talking to us, you’ll have to excuse the sweeping generalizations.”

“Given my situation, I’d say I’ve been inordinately vocal.”

“You speak readily enough, yes, but you do not say anything,” Celestia curtailed.

He shook his head slightly as if the princess’ Delphic phrasing were a fly buzzing about his head. “What?”

“When you reply to our questions you are cryptic, vague, you dance around the point or make cynical elusory digressions.”

“You tend to ask for answers I can’t give,”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“... both.” He crossed his arms resolutely.

Celestia let out an exasperated sigh. “Major, we can not afford to continue playing this game. I take no joy in this, but sooner or later you will have to come to face the facts. You are alone now, Major. You are stranded here, whether you like it or not.”

“I like how she says it like I don’t already fucking know that,” he murmured angrily to nopony in particular.

“I know, you know it,” she established, “what I fail to understand is your lack of action on the matter. Your commitment to duty is impressive, commendable even. But you need to accept that things have changed. I’m sure you can appreciate that. This clearly isn’t something your government accounted for when giving you orders. You have to realize that continuing on with this stubborn selfish act does nothing but make our situation go from bad to worse!”

“What do you want me to do?!” he cried, slashing a hand through the air. “You want me to just...  spill my guts and start rattling off government secrets? You want me to show you the mysteries of time and space? Well here’s a news-flash for you, princess; I DON’T KNOW THEM!”

Celestia hoped she hadn’t pushed too far. The human seemed dangerously close to losing control.

I don’t know how I got here, and I don’t know how to get back! But let me tell you what I do know. You’re right, there is no... general order for this, but I have a pretty good idea what they’d tell me to do.” He let that hang ominously in the air for a moment.

“What, exactly would that be?” she eventually dared ask.

He stared at her coldly for a few seconds. “To put a bullet in my head and deprive the enemy of valuable intelligence,” he explained with frigid ease. “Despite my slightly differing agenda in doing so...  we both know how it ended last time I tried that.” He cast a slightly angry glance at Luna.

“But we aren’t your enemy, Major,” Celestia assured sternly.

“You really think they give a fuck?!” he choked out with a humorless laugh.

“Every minute I’m alive is a liability. I know things, lady, scary things. Things that should not be made public, and as far as they’re concerned, I’m better off dead than risk being slowly tortured until I crack and start hemorrhaging information.”

Celestia mentally reeled, horrified that he thought she would ever consider doing anything so horrible. “We would never-

“Save it. I don’t think you would. That’s not my biggest concern right now. The fact still remains that I have to fix this. I had my job and I failed. My new job is to set this right, and I. Will. Not. Fail. This one.”

“So let’s say you actually manage to do that. What then? What is your long term plan here, and where does it leave us?”

He took a shallow breath, “I don’t know yet. That depends a great deal on how cooperative you guys want to be. I still have a job to do and now it seems I am the only one left alive to do it. If you stay out of the way and let me finish what needs to be done then we will all get along just splendidly.

“I get the irritating feeling that this plan may prove counter productive to our own interests,” Luna voiced her obvious concerns.

“Your interests are not my priority,” he came off somewhat irritated, “but provided no one does anything stupid, you have nothing to fear from me. I have no desire to see any innocent ... ponies harmed. I can appreciate that this is a delicate situation for you as well, and I am willing to... amend some protocols to account for that. But you have to understand that I have responsibility to my men and my Corps, and ultimately my allegiance lies with them. I just want our shit squared away so I can go.”

Celestia wasn’t entirely satisfied with the deal he was proposing. Ideally she would have liked to get his full cooperation. Although hoping he would immediately hop on board with her was a fool’s wish, and in truth she would have been slightly disappointed if he had.

“I can understand your concerns, Major. And I would never ask you to betray your kind. But if this is going to work, I’ll need your help. I may have to ask certain things of you, and I need you to trust me to make these calls. I am sure at times it will seem very strange to you, but you are in my world now. If you can agree to defer to my experience then we will be able to expedite this... exchange considerably.”

He stared at Celestia for a few moments, mentally examining the words for any potential traps. “I’ll do what I can. But I don’t answer to you. So long as your needs don’t conflict with my own then I am perfectly content with you taking the lead on this.”

Celestia smiled. It wasn’t much, but it was more than she had any right to hope for.

Luna piped up cheerily, “Marvelous! Now that we’re all such good friends, perhaps we could have desert?” she looked over at Shane’s monopoly of baked goods, “well... the rest of us at least.”

Pinkie Pie tittered, lightening the mood of the room considerably. It was a welcome change. Their conversations with the human usually fluctuated temperaments wildly, and it was good to be back on a semi civilized track.

The human sat back in his chair and idly ran his hands over the top of his cropped mane. He pressed a hand on his chin and twisted his neck over his shoulder producing a series of rapid pops as he cracked the vertebrae in his neck. The sound of cracking bones made Twilight’s spine shiver horridly. Her teeth seemed to itch, and the whole ordeal left her feeling sullied. She was barely aware of his hands trading places, apparently beginning to repeat the ritual in opposite.

“Please,” she started hoping to catch him. She did. And he shot her a curious glance. “Please don’t do that,” she begged, trying to remain sounding as pleasant as possible.

He cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Sorry. I just... hate that sound,” she explained hoping he would understand.

He shot a puff of amused air from his nostrils. He smirked slightly and held up his hands innocently and placed them gently on the table in front of him.

A streak of discolored skin on the back of his left hand caught Twilight’s attention. The scar was a sharp oval, perhaps an inch or so long. The healed tissue was depressed slightly. Several small dots lined the edges of the scar, where stitches had once held the incision closed. Twilight mentally weighed her options before venturing enough to ask what happened.

He looked down at the back of the hand Twilight indicated. He ran a finger over the scar. “Steak knife,” he breathed already clearly reminiscing on the incident.

Celestia was suddenly feeling very confident about her decision to remove the knives form the table preemptively.

“Knife would be the direct cause, but I was hoping for more of an explanation,” Twilight poked.

He smiled nostalgically. “Steak knife is all the explanation you’re going to get,” he asserted.

A bit disappointed Twilight was eager to pull him out a bit more. “What about those?” she indicated two smaller oval shaped scars on the knuckles of his first two fingers.

His smile widened, revealing a few of his carnivorous front teeth. “I got into a fistfight with a dumpster.”

The answer was so comically unexpected, Celestia couldn’t resist letting out a peal of laughter. Her laugh was like the sound of soft morning bells.  She wasn’t the only one either. Fluttershy and Rarity seemed to be the only ones able to contain their merriment behind a hoof.

“Are you being serious?” Luna was able to ask as soon as she had caught her breath. Infinitely amused by the though of the human exchanging blows with a treacherous waste receptacle.

“Unfortunately,” he said, smiling good naturedly.

“Well that there sounds like quite ah story,” Applejack encouraged, hoping for a few further details.

“Oh it is,” he assured the orange farm pony, “Unfortunately it’s not one I’ll be sharing any time soon.”

“Awww,” Pinkie deflated slightly.  

Celestia was happy to see the group finally relaxing some, even though the topic of discussion was a bit macabre. He certainly had enough scars to keep the girls occupied for more than a few minutes.

“What’s that one from?” Dash asked eagerly from across the table.

“Which?”

Dash pointed to the same scar Twilight had noticed while he was unconscious in the hospital. A thin jagged line that ran parallel to the bottom of his right eyebrow.

He sighed deeply. “I tried to do a handstand on a grocery cart.”

“I take it you didn’t make it?” Twilight said slightly teasingly.

“No I made it. Perfect handstand... It was the dismount that got me.”

Twilight chuckled slightly. He wasn’t so bad when he wasn’t in that angry funk he had been dwelling in lately.

They asked about another on his ear, which he blamed on an accident involving something called a ‘car’.

“You got a lotta scars,” Pinkie summed up in between bites of cake.

He held his hand out in front of him and flexed his fingers, examining the appendages, “Dad would always say I came by em’ honestly,” he said wistfully.

Twilights ears perked immediately, seizing the piece of information with interest. ‘Did he just share something personal?’ she thought excitedly, holding as still as possible as if a sudden move would scare him away.

However he already seemed to be withdrawing into himself, as if self conscious of the little insight. Twilight even attempted to get him to expand on the subject, but it seemed he had revealed all he was willing to for the time being. She inwardly sighed, resigning herself to the long tedious road of relationship building.

The night progressed as normally as it could given the fact that they were dining with a trans-dimensional creature. They made idle conversation, mostly just the girls asking the human any series of small questions about his home and more notably the other species that inhabited it, and subsequently which of those species he considered food.

The human occasionally took a swipe at the bottles of wine, but other than that stayed relatively well in check. He answered the girl’s questions as they asked, so long as they kept the subject light. Anything too personal seemed to irritate him, so they were once again forced to abandon the line of interrogation. Dash very boldly prodded him with questions of his military exploits, to which he consistently responded with well rehearsed vague phrases to make it seem like he had given an answer when in fact he had merely entertained her with buzzwords. It was a tactic Celestia had resorted to several times when dealing with the multitude of ministers and advisors. It was a useful scheme, but all it ever seemed to do was buy some time, it never made the questions go away.

Celestia tuned back in to the conversation. Luna was busy trying to explain to the human why Equestria did not have any queen or king. Celestia was slightly bemused by the question. For all their similarities, it was the little cultural inconsistencies that fascinated Celestia.

The night wore on much more rapidly than Twilight usually remembered. She mentally berated herself for not bringing an ample supply of quills and scrolls. Twilight had learned enough about the human from the dinner to fill an encyclopedia. She took a moment to fantasize about the prospect. The more she thought the more certain she was that she planned to write a book about this human. It was the case study that every scientist, scholar, and philosopher would kill for. She began mentally arranging chapters by context, and relevance.

She snapped herself out of the daydream. He would most likely not even entertain the idea of letting her pump him for information so she could write a book. And the princess would almost certainly not allow her to publish it, secretive as this whole fiasco was... Still the idea was fun to imagine.

Twilight suppressed a yawn, realizing just how late it really was. The other girls looked tired as well, with the exception of Pinkie Pie. The pink mare appeared to have finally consumed her fill of sweets. Although she was still quite energetically participating in the conversation, wired as she was on all the sugar.

The human was apparently getting tired as well. If his expressions were anything to judge by, she sometimes had trouble identifying his mood. The differences in facial features weren’t even all that great, but the absence of normal pony ears and a tail made it surprisingly difficult. His usually stoic expression did nothing to help.

He shifted one of his arms on the table and something caught Twilight’s eye. There was a small smear of crimson where his arm had been resting. She reached for one of his arms, aggravated he had not allowed any further medical attention to his arms despite the princess’ council.

He must have seen Twilight reaching towards him because he jerked away, shooting Twilight an alarmed/angry look. She mentally reminded herself she probably should have asked permission. She wasn’t used to dealing with such jumpy creatures.

“Let me see.” Twilight demanded, sounding slightly maternal.

The human looked down at the dark red stain on the white tablecloth. He reeled his arms close to him. “No,”

“You’re still bleeding!” she sounded irritated, as if she had caught him doing something wrong.

Fluttershy had begun moving as soon as the words left Twilight’s lips. She lifted herself into the air and began hovering over the table toward them to have a look for herself.

Shane caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. He beheld the yellow pegasus approaching and the colors drained from his face, his eyes paniced. He stood, knocking the chair to the ground, somehow snagging the tablecloth and sending a drinking glass shattering to the floor. He began backpedaling away from the table and the advancing pegasus.

Fluttershy stopped about halfway across the table upon seeing the reaction she stirred in the human. Her heart ached. Seeing the horror she induced in the creature made her feel like a monster.

“Whoa, easy,” Twilight approached very slowly, trying to quiet the panicking human, “Its okay. Calm down. She isn’t going to hurt you, remember?”

His eyes uncertainly flicked to Twilight before shooting back to the pegasus.

Celestia joined Twilight, offering soothing words. She waved Fluttershy back with a hoof, which seemed to calm the human down slightly. Although she doubted he would ever confess it, he was clearly terrified of the little pegasus.

Fluttershy backed away to a safer distance, tears already beginning to spill.

Shane was still watching her, stuck in a defensive stance. He didn’t seem to be responding to any of the counseling Celestia or Twilight offered. He continued to watch the winged yellow mare, strangely enough because he usually strove to avoid eye contact with Fluttershy at all costs.

“Major?” Celestia asked, cautiously placing a hoof on his shoulder.

He started, apparently surprised by the contact. He looked at Celestia blinking a few times apparently snapping out of his frightened little stupor. He shrugged off Celestia’s hoof, and she removed it without complaint. He looked over at Twilight who was eyeing him with concern.

He looked down at the small mess he had made escaping the approaching pegasus. Twilight could have sworn she saw guilt cross his face as he beheld the sight. As if he had been caught doing something embarrassing. Maybe he was self-conscious of his own overreaction. It seemed logical, given his obvious stern character; she doubted he would be easy for him to admit the timid yellow pegasus frightened him.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was just... just...” Fluttershy was barely holding back a waterfall of tears. One of which spilled down her cheek preemptively. Rarity draped a foreleg over her shoulders dabbing a napkin at her cheek, doing her best to comfort the mare.

“It’s perfectly alright, darling. You haven’t done anything wrong,” she soothed,

“I’m sure you just startled him,” she made a note to shoot the human a slightly angry glare.

The corner of his lip curled back slightly, in apparent disgust of the tearful display of his nemesis.

“See? Just a misunderstanding,” Luna explained, hoping to diffuse the situation a little. “Please, come sit down like a civilized pony.”

He looked over at the moon princess and cocked an eyebrow at her.

“... human, whatever,” she corrected. “Stop being so paranoid, if we wished to harm you we would have done it already. We just want to take a look at your arms and see how the bandages are holding. Nothing more.”

He didn’t move, he just continued to stand there casting uncertain looks at the group.

Luna sighed, and levitated one of the bottles of wine. She gasped slightly, “Look what I’ve got!” The bottle bobbled suggestively in front of her. She noticed she suddenly had his full attention. She magically removed the cork with a resounding pop.

“Luna,” Celestia warned.

Luna ignored her. “You want it?” She sounded suspiciously like somepony trying to train a puppy. “You gotta come geeet iiiit.” She tempted in a melodic tune.

Shane’s eyes narrowed angrily.  

Celestia closed her own eyes and rubbed a temple with a golden shod hoof. “Luna you can’t seriously expecting him to come running just because you dangled a treat in front of his face.” She turned back toward Shane, hoping to apologize for her sister’s rude behavior. “I mean he isn’t a d... ”

He was gone.

Celestia stared blankly at the empty space of floor that was previously occupied by the human. Celestia immediately swiveled her head back to Luna.

There he was, standing directly next to the beaming blue princess, his outer blouse lay discarded on the floor. The neck of the burgundy bottle of icewine was firmly clutched in his right fist, gulping the sweet alcohol. His left arm was stretched out in front of Luna, allowing her access to the limb as she began magically unwrap his bandages.

Celestia watched, too stunned to speak for a moment. A small part of her was wondering how he had managed to get out of his blouse and over there so quickly. “You’ve got to be kidding me...” was all she could think to say.

Shane looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He stopped drinking only long enough to say, “Don’t judge me,” before wrapping his lips back around the bottleneck, apparently doing his best to suck down the entire bottle in one go.

Celestia was trying desperately to suppress the headache that was growing behind her eyes.

“Wow... Look at him go,” Dash chuckled.

“Should we stop him?” Twilight whispered to Celestia.

Celestia knew they should but she found herself wholly unmotivated to do so. There was also that old dictum, something about taking away a dog’s bone and how it was usually a bad idea.

He finally stopped drinking; almost a fourth of the dessert wine was gone. He licked his teeth, looking highly content despite heavily watering eyes.

“Are you happy now?” Luna asked, with a soft smile.

“I’m more of a white wine kinda guy.” He shrugged and took another quick swig and clicked his tongue, “Not bad though.”

Luna finished unwrapping his arm, discarding the sullied bandaging. Several of the lacerations on his arms looked as though they had reopened multiple times. Fluttershy was right, they needed stitching. Since magical healing was too risky to attempt, they were most likely going to have to literally sew his skin back together. A slightly primitive procedure, but effective nonetheless. If they did nothing they would merely continue to tear open.

Luna tentatively pulled on the edge of a cut. A small trickle of blood began to fill the fleshy slash.

Luna removed the bandages on his other arm. His right arm wasn’t as bad as his left, but still required more than bandages to properly close the wounds.

Applejack whistled upon seeing the numerous gashes. “How in Equestria did ya manage ta do all that again?”

“I fell down,” he said simply.

“He jumped through a window,” Twilight explained, shooting him an annoyed look. To which he returned a toothy grin.

“That seems a tad... extreme, does it not?” Rarity chimed in.

“No. Go big or go home,” he offered as explanation.

“I thought’cha wanted ta git home.”

“It’s just an expressio- OW!” He jerked his arm away from Luna.

“Oh hush. I barely touched it,” She defended. He merely shook his head and took another healthy gulp of the bottle with his free arm. “These are going to need proper attention soon,” Luna continued, “I shall arrange one of our physicians to dress them tomorrow morning. They keep tearing open, and I won’t have you leaking all over my castle.”

“I hate doctors,” he sneered.

“Is there anything you don’t hate?”

“... no.”

Celestia was glad to see he was under control, but she couldn’t help but be slightly aggravated. Here she had been doing everything in her power to maintain as professionally political a relationship as possible with the human, which in turn achieved nothing. Then all Luna had to do was dangle a bottle of alcohol in front of him and she had him wrapped around her hoof. He was even willingly allowing Luna to touch him. If anypony else had tried that he would have most likely taken a swing at them. Some small part of her merely blamed the fact that Luna tended to grease the wheels of compliance with treats.

Celestia began to wonder if she had been taking the wrong approach all along. Perhaps Luna was right. Celestia had been treating him too much like a foreign dignitary. He was no diplomat, his lack of social graces made that painfully obvious. But Luna seemed to be treating him more like a pet. “No,” Celestia corrected herself, Luna was treating him as a familiar. She was not coddling him, as Celestia was. At first Celestia had pegged Luna’s behavior as belittling to the severity of the situation, which it may have been, but in doing so she was also calming the group down. She acted as though this were all a fun game. He was not a politician, he was a soldier, and probably more accustomed to the less formal avenues that Luna was succeeding with. Celestia made a note to rethink her strategies with him.

Luna was finishing up wrapping the human’s shredded arms when was a knock at the door, ceasing all conversation and jolting everypony’s attention. Celestia had been painfully clear she wasn’t to be disturbed. The shiny brass door knob slowly turned, as the intruder opened the door from the other side.

Celestia suppressed a sense of panic. She briefly considered stuffing Shane under the table, but she seriously doubted he would take that well.

The armored head of the guard commander poked through. Celestia let out the breath she had inadvertently been holding. She also gave the Commander a glare for scaring her in such a fashion.

“Highness, I... ” he paused and took a moment to look befuddled by what was surely a strange scene. Luna was bandaging a human who appeared to be doing his best to try and drown himself on land.

“Who’s that?” Shane leaned down and asked Luna in what must have been an attempt at a hushed tone.

“That’s Aegis. You’ve already met him several times.”

“Oh... they all look the same to me,” Shane, half saluted him with the bottle,

“Hey, buddy.”

Aegis was unamused, but otherwise did not respond, and instead continued, “...  I apologize but I feel it’s my duty to inform you, that morning should be arriving shortly. If I may be as bold as to suggest that her majesties conclude any business with our guest. Some ponies may decide to return to the castle early, and it would behoove us to keep it away from any unwanted eyes.”

“Ha! ‘Behoove’... get it? ‘Be-Hoof”? It’s funny because you’re horses,” Shane chuckled as he sipped from the half-empty bottle.

“Ponies.” Luna corrected automatically.

“Whatever.

Aegis was covering his amusement with a scowl of irritation, “Is he drunk?”

Shane snorted. “You’re adorable,” he laughed cynically, “bring me like... six more of these then we’ll talk.” he peered at the bottle a bit disappointedly.

Something Luna found incredibly interesting was his behavior around Aegis, or the guards. He never seemed particularly concerned around them. Short of Celestia or herself, they probably posed the biggest danger to him and yet he acted as if they were no threat at all. He was much more ill at ease in a room of young fillies than surrounded by an escort of hulking armored guards.

Luna wondered at the phenomenon. She supposed it made some sense. If he was a human warrior it seemed sensible that the guards would be the ones he identified most with. At least they were an enemy he could understand. He knew where he stood with them and he accepted it. There were no back alley politics or hidden agendas, amongst them. Or at least, not as far as he was concerned.

“Thank you, Commander. That will be all.” Celestia ordered.

Aegis bowed his head and retreated back through the door.

Celestia returned her attention to the group. “He’s right, girls. You should get some rest. Morning will be here soon and you need your sleep. Tomorrow you may do as you wish. Luna, the Major, and I have some business to attend after the sun sets.”

“Can we come?” Pinkie Pie asked excitedly. The group eagerly awaited her response.

Celestia was silent for a very brief moment. She glanced at the human who had lost any of his former happiness, “I’m not sure that would be wise, girls.”

“Pleeeeeeaaaaaassseee?”

Celestia sighed deeply. The girls did know what they were asking for. It was not going to be a fun errand, and the girls had been through enough lately. She supposed she could allow them to come, they'd certainly earned the right and she never intended to keep them in that dark about anything, but at the same time she couldn’t help but feel this was something that would be better handled in relative privacy. The human did not seem particularly emotional, but it was undoubtedly going to be difficult for him. She doubted a crowd would make it any easier. She looked over at him, hoping to gauge his reaction to the idea.

His face was just as expressionless as ever. His emotions hidden perfectly behind his mask of stern indifference. He offered no council other than to take another long drink from the bottle.

“Major?” she started after it became clear he was not going to answer her on his own.

He inclined his head slightly, “... It’s fine.” he answered, hardly above a whisper.

Celestia inspected him for a moment. She wondered if she had inadvertently maneuvered him into a corner.

“Yay!” Pinkie chirped, clopping her hooves together softly.

Celestia was not pleased with this turn of events. “Luna? Why don’t you take the Major for a quick tour before morning comes? I’ll join you after I see the girls off.”

Luna looked at Celestia suspiciously for a moment before picking up on what Celestia was playing at. She wanted to speak with the girls alone without implicating the human.

Luna nodded, “That seems a lovely idea. Come along, Major Doran. It would be an honor to show you my home.” Luna stood prompting Shane to do the same. He stopped and looked longingly at the bottle of wine he was leaving behind. He shot Luan a questioning look. “... you can bring the bottle,” she deadpanned, slightly amused.

He smiled and scooped up the half empty bottle of dessert wine. He made sure to follow Luna around the Fluttershy-less side of the table.

“Goodnight girls.” Luna chimed before two of the four guards opened the door for her.

The girls all stood for the departure of the Princess, and offered their farewells and goodnights to Luna and the departing human.

Luna returned them in kind and passed through the doorway.

Shane did not reply as formally, his only goodbye was, “Ladies.” and offering a backward wave as he followed Luna out the door, two guards following close behind.

Twilight scanned about the table at all her friends, each looking slightly more apprehensive than the last. They weren’t stupid, they knew something was amiss. Something was bothering Celestia and she wanted the human out of the way before she discussed it.

Rarity was the first to break the silence, “Princess, I do hope I am not overstepping my boundaries, but is there something you aren’t telling us?”

Celestia shifted to a slightly more comfortable position in her seat and refolded her wings before taking a deep breath and choosing her words. “It was never my intention to keep information from you. You seek answers and you are certainly within your rights to do so. I hesitate only because I am uncertain the answers are mine to give.”

“I apologize, your Highness, but I am afraid I don’t understand.”

Celestia sighed once more. She looked downward at the half finished dish in front of her before raising her head and speaking in a slightly dry tone. “With all the excitement it’s rather easy to forget, but Major Doran did not come here alone. Ten of his kind were killed in the crash, and he has requested to view them for himself. I assume he wishes to say his final goodbyes or gain some closure. We have offered to deal with the remains as he sees fit, but he has been rather insistent on personally attending the matter.”

Twilight felt a lead weight hit her stomach as she realized what they had invited themselves to. No wonder the Princess had been hesitant to allow them along.

“What should we do, Princess?” Twilight asked dreadfully.

“I am unfamiliar with human death rituals, if they even have any. I assumed he would have liked a measure of privacy, but I’m afraid you have already committed yourselves. He has said he would permit your attendance. For all we know he is honoring us by allowing us to take part, backing out now may offend him. My advice would be to attend, be respectful, and stay as quiet as possible unless he instructs you to do otherwise.”

The group contemplated their new predicament, but it seemed the princess was right, they couldn’t very well excuse themselves now.

Pinkie Pie took a more optimistic view on the situation. She was adamant that this was the best thing they could do. After all nopony should have to do something so sad all alone. “Friends shouldn’t let friends go through that without friends,” she had stated simply.

While her intentions were well placed, Twilight had the distinct feeling Shane was not the kind to appreciate any of the touchy feely ministrations the group may offer. And while they were not at present active enemies, she very much doubted he considered them his friends. One thing she knew for certain, they were in for another difficult day.

~~~~~

Celestia trotted briskly along the marbled hallway leading up to Luna’s tower-top suite. After seeing the girls to their rooms and bidding them goodnight she set off after Luna. It only took a second for Celestia to locate her sister with a quick magical ping.

It seemed the tour had concluded in Luna’s quarters. Celestia chuckled inwardly at the thought of little Luna eager to show her new friend her room. Celestia had to remind herself that Luna was older than almost every other pony currently living, but part of Celestia would always think of Luna as her baby sister.

The escort of royal guards stood outside Luna’s chamber door, mixed in with the usual cadre of night sentinels that traditionally protected the lunar princess. The groups had a somewhat... sordid past, and usually tended to avoid one another. Luckily they seemed to be blending fairly well. They were, after all, very well trained, and far too well disciplined to allow their differences to impede duty.

The armored stallions all parted, cleaving a clear path for the princess to the door. Celestia didn’t bother knocking. A small swish of he horn with a soft glow and the dark wood stained doors swung inward on heavy polished hinges, revealing the bedchambers of the night princess.

Celestia strode inside, glancing over the room and finding her sister sitting at a little table opposite the human. Luna was sitting proudly over the small table on which rested a crystal chess set; Luna had apparently somehow talked the human into playing.

The human himself sat on the other end he briefly flicked his attention to Celestia before returning his focus to the game. By the look on his face, he was taking his next move very seriously. He shifted around slightly, observing the board from different angles.

“Behold, dear sister. I have taught the human to play a civilized game.”

If Celestia could recall, the younger princess’ style of chess-play could be called anything but civil. ‘Vindictive’ would have been a slightly more appropriate description.  As far as Celestia could recall, Luna had yet to lose a game.

Luna sighed impatiently. “Anytime now, Major.”

“Shut up, I’m thinking” he muttered without breaking concentration.

Celestia sympathized with the human. She had long since refused to ever play the wretched game with her sister again. Luna cheated, and Celestia knew so, even if she couldn’t prove it. She waited patiently to see if the human would fare any better against the board game depravities of her baby sister.

He rested his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands, forming a little pyramid with his fingers. He reached out and deftly scooted his only remaining bishop a few diagonal squares. He looked to Luna who was still wearing a hungry smile, as if the move was the very thing she needed to assure her victory.

Without skipping a beat Luna issued her counter move, and from the muttered swearing of the Major, Celestia gathered he wasn’t exactly in a commanding lead. Although, to his credit, he had managed to take far more of Luna’s pieces than Celestia normally did. That said, it was still a paltry sum in comparison to the number Luna had stacked up.

The human carefully placed another piece.

Luna inched a rook into place, “Checkmate!” she preened.

He pushed the board away distastefully, causing a few pieces to wobble and fall, while Luna merely beamed triumphantly.

“Do not feel too bad, Major,” she leaned down toward his head and said in a slightly hushed tone, “she cheats.” 

“I figured that out about twenty moves ago.” he panned.

“Slander and lies.” Luna defended.

         

They spoke for a few moments about the plans for the next day. Due to obvious reasons, they decided that it would be wisest to plan most of their activities in the relative quiet of the night. Daytime was simply to risky due to the heightened levels of activity. Celestia understood the necessity but wished it could have been otherwise, for it meant she was only going to lose more of her precious allotted sleep time.

Luna tentatively re-approached the topic of his crew and what he wished done with them.

“I don’t know yet,” he admitted, “I don’t recall reading any excerpts on how to handle this particular scenario in the casualty procedure manual. Ideally speaking it would be my duty to get them all home, so we can lay them to rest on American soil. You know...  No man left behind.” He became somewhat somber. “But then I wake up and remember... I’m probably never going to see my home again.”

“Do not abandon hope so readily. We will try, Major. We still might be able to get you back.” Celestia attempted to assure.

“Right, and I have the word ‘Naïve’ tattooed on my ass.”

“No you don’t,” Luna pointed out confused.

Shane rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger, “Wow, you should not know that.”

Celestia chuckled softly, “You found a way to get here, Major. We’ll find a way back. There has to be one.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, and there really doesn’t. Any of the physical laws we relied on, the laws we based our technology on, might not apply here. And let’s not forget that even if you could rebuild the fucked-to-death pile of burning scrap metal that used to be a ship, and get it working...  I still wouldn’t know how to drive it home.” He sank into a contemplative silence.

Celestia considered him for a moment. He seemed to already be resigning himself to his fate. “You are simply going to quit then?” She challenged.

“No,” he rejected quietly, “never quit. But I also won’t waste my time fueling delusion.”

“I prefer to think of it as hope.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” he dismissed, “I have this mess to police up before I can even think about that. I’ll square away here, then leave... one way or another.”

She and Luna exchanged an uneasy looks. Disturbed by the finality with which he spoke.

He stood, taking them both by surprise. “If you don’t mind I would very much like to be returned to my cell,” he said coldly, bringing the conversation to an abrupt close. “Will one of you be escorting me? Or should I find my own way back?”

Celestia stood, “I suppose we’ll have to convince you to find a real room soon.” The princess exited the room, Shane following without another word.

~~~~

Luna sat curled on the center of her lush bed, awaiting the return of her elder sister.

Celestia’s return was prompt to say the least. With her errand complete, the snow white alicorn slipped inside Luna’s chamber door. The second she was alone with her sister Celestia visibly deflated. Her shoulders sagged and she slumped down on a large sunken dais.

“You should sleep,” Luna noted quietly.

“There is too much to be done,” she mumbled. “I must raise the sun soon, and the courts will start to notice I keep disappearing without explanation.”

Luna watched her elder sister with concern, “You have remained awake for... what, three days? Go and raise your sun, but then come and rest, if only for a few hours. I shall handle your nobles. They must learn that you are a princess, and not some terrier to be summoned at their whim.”

Celestia chuckled, “They mean well, Luna. They only wish to ensure that they each receive the attention they deserve. After all, a ruler who ignores the need of her subjects is not a ruler.”

“You give too much of yourself, sister,” Luna warned, “You only provide Equestria a disservice by running yourself ragged.”

“I know my limits,” Celestia defended.

“Do you?”

Celestia shot her sister an annoyed look, “You seem to forget, baby sister, that I ruled Equestria alone for the better part of one thousand years.”

Luna recoiled slightly, “Well you aren’t alone anymore. To continue to act as if you were is foolish. But you are not without your point. I will hold court in your stead, this morning, while you rest. I shall allow you to take over around noon. Then I might even sleep myself a bit, or perhaps I should take the human for a walk. I’m sure he’ll be cagey after spending the day in his cell,” Luna tapped her chin with a hoof, “we should really toss in something for him to play with. Or maybe put in some rocks for him to climb on.”

Celestia chuckled, fairly certain Luna was kidding, “You are certain you wouldn’t mind filling in for me a bit?” Celestia asked.

“Of course not,” Luna lifted her chin haughtily.

“Very well then. It seems the matter has already been decided. If you do let the human out of his cage, I would advise you to use caution should you decide to try and slip a leash on him.” She added teasingly.

Luna’s ears perked up slightly and her one eyebrow lifted toward Celestia at the thought.

“Luna, don’t you dare.” Celestia warned, recognizing the prankish look in Luna’s eyes. She was worried Luna might actually attempt to do it just to spite her.

“I was only joking,” Luna defended with a light laugh.

They shared a small laugh but the merriment was halfhearted and subdued.

Luna became somewhat serious. She mindlessly kneaded the sheets with shoeless blue hoof, “I am troubled, sister.”

It was slightly unlike Luna to be so forward with her emotions. Not that she was ever introverted, it was just unusual for her to be so direct.

“Wanna talk about it?” Celestia offered, casually.

Luna inhaled, “I fear we may have dug ourselves into a hole from which we can not climb out. I keep attempting to imagine a scenario in which this ends happily for everypony. But... try as I might, I can not.”

Celestia had shared similar thoughts.

Luna continued, “We barely contained the situation, Celestia, barely. Eventually we will have to go public. And when we do...?” Luna shook her head. “Do you realize what this could do to Equestria? To the world? Celestia... this could spark a war.”

“I know, Luna. I know. We will find a way to solve this. We are not without options.”

“The political backlash alone could be catastrophic,” Luna went on, “Ponies will start panicking.”

“They might not,” Celestia countered.

“Celestia, please. That you are not alone in this universe is hardly idle news. And to be honest, I do not believe it is something the average pony is ready to hear.”

“Luna, calm yourself. You worry about events that may never come to pass. We have a plan. Provided the human plays his part, we can still win this game. Do not give in to such dreadful thoughts.”

“Then I suppose the question becomes; will the beast cooperate?”

“It will take time, but he will eventually come around. He is merely being cautious of us. I would probably too, were I in his position. He doesn’t seem to know what to make of us, yet. One thing he does know, is that we are his best and only ticket home. And, for now, that has bought us his trust, fleeting as it is.”

“And what if we can’t send him home. He won’t stop, you know.” Celestia stopped and stared at Luna, “He’ll try again.”

Celestia sighed, deflating some, “I know.” The thought had been playing in the back of Celestia’s mind as well. She had been doing her best to avoid thinking about it.

“... well?” Luna prodded. “What are you going to do?”

We will stop him, of course.” Celestia said immediately.

Luna was silent for a long painful moment, “Should we?”

Celestia froze, locking eyes with her midnight blue sibling, “Do you really think otherwise?”

“I don’t know,” Luna admitted, somewhat uncertainly, “is it really our choice to make, Celestia? The more I think about it the more I believe he is right; the odds of us being able to send him home are astronomic, to say the least. Can we really force him to stay? Can we force him to live?

Celestia mulled over Luna’s argument, wondering at her slightly reversed position on this human’s life. Perhaps she had changed her views after seeing he was a being with a personality and emotions, blunt though they may be. She hated contemporary issues.

Luna continued, apparently anticipating Celestia’s train of thought, “Yes, I stopped him the first time, and justly so, he was not in his right mind, but if he makes a conscious informed decision... ” Luna trailed off.

For all her years, there were still some matters that never seemed to resolve themselves easily. Celestia did not have all the answers, and she would be the first to admit it.

“Even if we did make him stay, would you be able to live a life of abject solitude? How much loss can one take? He has already lost his friends, and for all we know he has left behind a family; a mother, a father, a mate, maybe even foals! Could you really live knowing you could never see them again? Would you want to?”

That gave Celestia some pause. She had never considered him to be the fatherly type, “I don’t know, Luna,” Celestia said, deflating. She was exhausted as it was and had little desire to reflect on such weighty issues. “Maybe you’re right, but none of this need be decided now. We still have time. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a way to send him back and everypony will be happy. Until then we have yet to get it straight from the human’s mouth. We don’t know for certain that he’s planning anything so drastic. He might just be venting. Either way he isn’t going to attempt anything soon. Of that I am certain. He might be brusque but he isn’t a fool. We have no choice but to wait and see.”

~~~~~

“Is toothpaste candy!?” the human demanded.

“You can’t keep using oral hygiene products as examples! Those are different! You don’t eat toothpaste!” Pinkie defended ferociously.

“You don’t eat bubblegum either, but that’s candy.”

“It’s different!!!”

Twilight plastered her ears against her head attempting to drown out the argument that had been growing steadily for the past ten minutes or so, and from the sound of it had been the subject of some controversy between the two for some time. When peppermint became such a hot button issue, Twilight had no idea, but the two seemed to never tire of debating its confectionary legitimacy.

The sun had just set, clearing the way for their little excursion. The remains of the other humans were sent to a private government research lab not terribly far from the castle. Unfortunately that still meant wandering into the open where any who cared to look out their window might catch a glimpse of the group. Still, not many went out after dark, a few with a penchant for the night, but they tended to stay on the more lively side of Canterlot where the younger ponies would frequent bars and nightclubs, the existence of which seemed to amuse the human to no end.

The path to the facility was a short one, however, and well out of the way of the night-life side of the city. The area was mostly offices and small businesses, all of which would be closed at this hour. If they moved briskly they would safe from any unwanted attention before anypony knew they were there.

“It’s common knowledge!”

YOU’RE common knowledge!!!”

“OMYGOSH! Enough already!” Dash exclaimed, “You two have been arguing this stupid point for like... ever. Everypony knows peppermints aren’t candy.”

“HA!” Shane shouted victoriously at Pinkie Pie.

“What?” Applejack chimed in, suddenly interested. “A’ course peppermints r’ candy.”

“They are not!” Rainbow objected, vehemently. She landed in front of the farm pony in an offensive stance, to which AJ responded in kind, matching her like an angry mirror.

“They are so! Why else would they sell em’ at candy stores.” Applejack pointed.

“Yeah!” Pinkie Pie agreed enthusiastically.

“I can’t believe you are all arguing like a bunch of ruffians over something so obviously unimportant,” Rarity chided, “Besides, a mint is obviously merely a means through which ponies cleanse the pallet, after dining,” she added with a slightly arrogant huff.

“... that counts toward my side,” Shane announced, pointing a finger at Rarity.

“I am not on anypony’s side,” Rarity rejected. “But if I were to take a stance on this pointless squabble, I would say that while peppermint may not be a candy per se. It is perfectly acceptable for it to be enjoyed as such. The sweet is in the eye of the beholder.”

“... still counts toward my side.”

Technically ‘peppermint’ is just the hybrid byproduct of spearmint and water mint plants. Its naturally high levels of menthyl acetate, activates cold-sensitive receptors in the skin and mucosal tissues. Due to that high menthol content, it quickly came to be used from everything to culinary flavorings to soap to pesticides and even medicine.” Twilight reported, proudly flexing her pointless-knowledge-muscles.

The group ceased walking for a moment, all pausing to affix Twilight with a speechless stare.

“What,” Twilight asked lowering her ears at the sudden attention, “it was in the encyclopedia.”

“You read the encyclopedia?” the human asked in disbelief.

“Well not all at once, but I’ll occasionally pick it up if I want something light to pass the time.”

“... light?” he repeated again, still a slightly suspicious look in his eye. He turned to the rest of the group. Rainbow was facehoofing as if Twilight were embarrassing the whole group with her rampant nerdiness.

Applejack was chuckling softly. “You’ll get used to it, sugarcube. Books r’ kinda her thing.”

Shane shook his head, as if to shake off the whole scenario, “Alright then,” he sighed and continued walking, “... and don’t call me sugarcube.”

“Sure thing, honey-do,” Applejack teased.

“Sugarcube was fine,” he rectified, annoyed.

Celestia watched amusedly from a few feet behind the group. The darkened passages of the castle seemed a strange photo negative of their daytime counterparts. They were of course the same hallways and corridors, but in the cool veil of night they seemed to take on different personalities entirely. They were same, yet not. It was one of the brilliantly inexplicable truths of the divide, one of the beautiful mysteries of her art. She loved it. Day and night; balance in its most prominent form. She loved the emotion that eschewed linguistic precincts in favor of more primal sonorous chords that could never be truly understood.

She snapped back to reality, fearing she would lose herself in such cosmic thoughts. She mentally berated herself for allowing for such whimsicality when important matters demanded her full attention. Especially now.

Celestia had, by some miracle, managed to convince the bulk of their armored escorts to remain at the castle. She did not want a parade or soldiers marching through the city, even if the area would be mostly deserted. The less conspicuous their party, the better.

They decided to forgo front door, choosing instead to duck through the library to a much more subtle exit. They quickly reached the vast library, passing through aisles of shelving layered with row upon row of ancient tomes. The human stretched out an arm and brushed his fingers against the cool bindings of the books as they walked. Something about the action struck Celestia as slightly childlike giving the human a strange newfound sense of innocence. He promptly ruined the moment by making a few fairly derogatory remarks about ponies being able to read. It was probably his attempt at a joke, he did have a somewhat... depraved sense of humor after all, so Celestia let it slide without comment. Twilight didn’t seem to take the remark as well, shooting him an angry glare, which satirically seemed to do nothing but further amuse him.

They cautiously pushed through a set of unremarkable double doors, leading to the eastern courtyard. They dropped down a small flight of curved marble steps, which looked a pale blue in the shimmer of the moonlight.

The sudden change of atmosphere seemed to slap the casualness right out of the human, who suddenly became very tense, stepping out into the cool dark courtyard air. Celestia recalled that ever since his brief failed escape, it was the first time he had actually been outside in the open. His eyes immediately began eagerly scouring his surroundings.

They were led by the two sentinels down the short marbled stairway leading away from the library. A stone pathway cut across the courtyard. The courtyard was a large open expanse of grass, bisected with thin stone lanes leading various places.

The path they were on led them across the stretch of land and into the sprawling eastern gardens. Through which they could make their trek though Canterlot with much more subtlety.

The human was still scanning the horizon in little sectors, again and again. He even bothered to occasionally walk backwards, which was rather impressive given he only had two legs to balance himself on.

Rainbow Dash, apparently bored with walking, began to lazily flap her cyan wings. She slowly gained altitude as she circled the group occasionally executing a little flip or spin.

Celestia returned her attention to the earthbound group and noticed the human studiously tracking Rainbow Dash across the night sky with a small smile. Rainbow Dash certainly did not want for talent. She was indeed amusing to watch. Celestia had to imagine this would be doubly true for the human. If the ponies he was used to could neither talk nor fly, seeing them do both must prove a strange sight indeed.

Passing through the lavishly attended east garden took only a few short moments, as it was considerably smaller than its counterpart on the west side of the palace grounds, but the short walk seemed to wash away much of the sorrow that the little yellow pegasus had been visibly sulking in. She straightened up and hovered gently off the ground flitting from place to place, admiring nature in all its moonlight splendor. She occasionally would pass a little too close to the human who, without fail, would slowly inch away, shying to whichever side of the formation she was not currently occupying.

They finally reached the eastern gates. They were open, as they always were, so the ponies of Canterlot could have free access to the royal gardens. She knew many of the local business ponies enjoyed taking their lunch in the relative solitude the expanse of greenery offered from the hustle of the city.

They passed under the golden arch of the gateway. The shift from flowers and grass to stone and marble was a sudden one, and seemed to do nothing but further agitate the human, who now had a full circle of streets, alleys, windows, and rooftops, to worry about. What exactly he was expecting to happen, Celestia had no idea, but he seemed to be growing more apprehensive as the group progressed.

Fluttershy had rejoined the formation when they exited the gardens, prompting Shane to casually retreat behind Twilight and Applejack for the relative protection they might offer from the little pegasus.

Celestia moved closer, “Relax, Major. You seem tense.” It was a drastic understatement but she felt it better to downplay the situation.

His hand was resting on the side of his thigh as he walked, “I want my sidearm back,” he started simply, as his eyes continued to scan rooftops and alleyways.

Celestia repressed the urge to roll her eyes, “No,” she replied adamantly. “You running around with a weapon is the last thing we need.”

“Let me re-phrase,” he started with a warm smile, but suddenly became very serious when he continued, “Give me my gun back.” He stared directly into Celestia’s bright violaceous eyes, his own blue irises seeming dull and muted by comparison, but still filled with cold fire that served to accentuate the sincerity of his demand.

Celestia returned his stare without missing a step, “No,” she repeated softly, her tone indicating she had no intention of reversing her position. “I understand you are probably still a little wary of us but I can not afford to let you walk around with one of those things, blasting somepony every time you get excited.” He snorted distastefully, clearly not thinking much of Celestia at the moment. “You are just going to have to trust that you are in no danger, and even if you were, we are more than capable of protecting you.”

He laughed bitterly, “You think I’m fuckin’ retarded don’t you?”

It was a rhetorical question so Celestia didn’t even bother answering, worrying instead about the growing volume of his voice echoing off the buildings.

“You people are the biggest load of fucking hypocrites I have ever encountered in my life.”

“Lower your voice, Major,” Luna piped up as she trotted over to where he and her sister were walking, “Somepony might hear you and the last thing we need right now is more attention.”

“Oh I’m sorry. Am I placing you in a compromising position?” he answered with mock penitence, also not lowering his voice at all. “That must be very difficult for you. I mean, were I in your little horseshoes and I found myself responsible for some godless predator from another world, I can see how I wouldn’t want him making a big scene for all my innocent ponies to come see. It could make for a pretty nasty situation. After all, we couldn’t have him blowing the lid off this lovely little veil of ignorance I’ve woven for them.”

Celestia really didn’t like where he was taking this.

“I’m just sayin’ I can see how such a scenario would be uncomfortable for me, personally. Especially if he decided to go and start making demands in aforementioned precarious position. Denying him said demands in such a situation might not be the most prudent move.” He let his implied threat hang in the air for a few moments. He stopped walking, bringing the group to a halt. “I think if such a setting were to come to pass one might find it interesting how the balance of power... shifts.” He finished with an evil smile.

There were lead weights in her stomach. Celestia hated to admit but she should have seen this coming. She was supremely confident that, if he felt it necessary, he would have no trouble blowing the whistle on this whole operation, even if it meant dragging himself down with it. With the lessened number of guards and the sensitive environment, he was in the perfect position to start trouble. Ultimately she had little room to maneuver, he was giving them a pretty clear cut, ‘give me what I want or I bring this whole thing down around our heads’. At the same time she refused to return him his weapon. She was stuck.  

There was a tacit thickness in the silence that carried the weight of his threats. He looked at Celestia and pursed his lips and rested his stretched his arms behind his back,

“... yup.” He nodded as if agreeing with himself, “Good thing that’s not happening, huh?” he grinned evilly, backing down.

Celestia let out her pent up breath, shooting him an extremely annoyed look even as a wave of relief washed over her. “Do you enjoy antagonizing me, Major?” Celestia rubbed the side of her temple with a hoof.

“Yes,” he admitted, “but I have my reasons. He leaned in closer so Celestia would have no trouble hearing him, “I’d like to point out that during my stay here I could have, at any point, really ruined your day had I chosen to. But I didn’t. You say I need to trust you? I’ve put up my end, Princess. Where is yours?” He let the question hang accusingly for a moment. “You demand my trust yet you offer none of your own. You say we’re on the same team yet I am routinely chained to the wall in a locked cell and placed under guard. You want me to trust you with my life when you won’t trust me with a fork? I’ve let you get away with shit other people would have died for. I have well exceeded the amount of trust any smart man would have placed in you.”

“What possible reason could you have to mistrust us?” Luna asked, slightly hurt, “We’ve done nothing but try to help you.”

“Yeah, you mentioned that. But that’s kinda my point. YOU told me that. Try to take a look from my position, if you can. Wake up after the fact and be told that everyone else is dead. Be told the ponies are your friends, and be told the only way your getting home is to cooperate. For all I really know; you fed them all the same bullshit story you're feeding me, about how they were the ‘only survivor’ and they should give up all their secrets with the very noble and promising dream of going home, then shot them in the back of the head and woke up the next guy.”

“Do you really think that?” Luna questioned, in a tone that Celestia had difficulty identifying.

He scrutinized the alicorn, as if reviewing all he knew of her and her species. Luna was probably the closest to him as far as size, but when she was on all fours, he still had to look down to make eye contact with her.  “... No,” he admitted after a brief moment, “to be perfectly honest, I don’t think you guys have the balls to pull off something so devious.” Celestia was unsure if she should be complimented or not. “... but I’m keeping it within the realm of possibilities.”

Luna was disturbed that his mind had led him to such horrific scenarios, yet at the same time slightly amused by his imagination, grim though it may be. “So if you think we might be leading you to your death, why are you still here?” She chuckled humorlessly, “How do you know we aren’t leading you to the torture chamber?”

“I guess we’re gonna find out, aren’t we?” He returned her confused stare with a playful pat on the cheek, “S’go,” he turned and continued to walk, apparently eager to get to his possible demise.

The lunar princess was busy reeling at the gross amounts of his duplicity in the contact. But more concerned was she that he actually brought up a fairly good point. He was right; they had been unfairly leveling the playing field in their favor.

Luna trotted a bit faster, “We are not without reason, Major.” Luna attempted to mediate once she caught up with the human, “You are correct. We have been unfair to you thus far, and for that I apologize. You have to understand we acted only out of concern for the safety of our own subjects. You ask us to look at this from your perspective, I ask you to do the same. Whether it is intentional or not, you are a threat to us and our very way of life.”

“I understand,” he relented. “My treatment at your... hooves is not what irritates me.” Luna’s ears perked curiously, “What bothers me, is that you do so while preaching to me the importance of mutual trust, when you clearly have no intention of practicing it.” He continued walking as he spoke, fingers still drumming on the empty space on his thigh that was previously occupied by a holster. “Truthfully, you are being much more forgiving in this situation than I would.” Luna had assumed as much. “But let’s not pretend this is something it’s not. I know the score, princess. So spare me the campfire conviviality and save the PR for the crowd, I’m not buying it.”

“I am not trying to sell you anything, Major,” Luna said amusedly, “I am merely doing the best I can despite the circumstances.”

“That’s all anyone ever really can do,” he summed up neatly. “But I still want my gun back.”

“We’ll talk about that later.”

“That’s just politician speak for ‘fuck off’.” he complained.

“For what possible reason could you need a gun?” she asked. “I can’t have you going around killing ponies.”

“I don’t need the gun to kill you, you know,” he pointed out. “If anything you should want me to have the gun. At least that way you know you’d die relatively quick and painless.”

Luna sighed blew an azure lock of glittering mane away from her eye. “You are not strengthening my resolve to re-arm you, Major.”

“Just making sure you have an informed opinion.” He teased.

Celestia strode abreast of the two, “I feel it necessary to point out, Major, none of us are carrying weapons,” she noted, joining in on the conversation.

You’re a seven foot tall magical pony and have a large spike growing the front of your face. Oh and also you can apparently fly. But I don’t want the gun because I plan on using it.” he retorted.

“Why want it then?” Celestia posed.

“It’s a comfort thing,” he relented, with a sigh. “How would you feel without your fancy hat or giant necklace?”

“Quite relieved, I should imagine.” Celestia chuckled, rolling her shoulders slightly, adjusting her royal regalia.

“Well I feel naked without it,” he paused and eyeballed the two princesses, “not that you people would understand the feeling.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Luna perked at the defamatory remark.

“Oh nothing,” he dismissed inconsequentially, “... I just guess modesty isn’t a trans-dimensional concept.”

“Ha! The human speaks of moralities as if he were some pillar of ethical righteousness. Hypocrisy indeed.” Luna retorted smartly.

“At least I’m wearing pants.”

Luna rolled her eyes and continued walking hoping to reach the building rather soon. The night was still young, but even so, Luna felt that the less time they spent in the open, the better.

“Are we there yet?” Dash complained circling lazily around the group.

“Close,” Celestia answered for her, “A few more blocks.” Celestia herself would admit she was eager to get off the streets. She couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of eyes upon them, despite the clearly vacant streets. Flashes of movement in darkened alleyways always seemed to her playing tricks on her, for when she turned to see they appeared quite empty. They could even hear the echoing of far off voices, bouncing through the streets. Most likely just a few ponies out on a stroll, enjoying each others company in the cool night air. Still the voices steeled her resolve to get out of the open as soon as possible.

The rows of office buildings and small businesses came to a rather sudden halt, revealing a large very plain looking building. If anypony had their guess it would have most likely resembled a large warehouse. It certainly looked nothing like a government facility. Apart from the lone guard standing watch outside the small metal door, one might not find anything unusual about the structure at all. It seemed more likely that it were full of plain shipping boxes than highly volatile government secrets. Then again that was kind of the idea. The best place to hide was often right in plain sight.

They crossed the small open lot to the front of the building. The two alicorns were impossible to misidentify, but still, the door remained firmly sealed until ponies on the other side were forewarned of their arrival.

As if by some unseen command, the guard bowed and removed himself from the princess’ path.

Celestia nodded her appreciation to the guard and strode up to the door, touching her glowing horn to cold steel. A sharp click could be heard as the door unlocked. The guard took the initiative of taking the knob in his teeth, and with some apparent strain pulled the door open for the princesses.

The now open passageway revealed merely a small, dimly lit stretch of hallway. It was an ominous scene. The hallway was dark, aside from a soft beam of light every dozen feet or so. The end of the hallway was a brightly lit white room.

Celestia looked back at the human to see if he was indeed still willing to follow through with the plan. “Major?” she asked, getting his attention.

“Ladies first,” Shane gestured at the door with spurious chivalry.

Celestia nodded, understanding his trepidation. She was the first to step inside, leaving the cool night behind.

~~~~~

Twilight didn’t like it in here. The air tasted wrong. It felt sterile, and dry. There was something horribly efficient about this place. Her hooves clicked softly upon the floor, but there was no audible echo that one might normally expect from a long hallway. It was as if any lingering sound were being absorbed into the walls themselves.

She quickened her pace, eager to free herself from the oppressive hallway. She found her place next to the human, who was just as eagerly following the princesses.

They emerged into what looked to be a small lobby. The walls were painted plain white. A few chairs were placed irregularly along the walls, giving it the feeling of a waiting room. There was a small desk, at which a receptionist would monitor the attendance of ponies that came and went. The desk was currently unattended, however, the receptionist had certainly gone home by now.

The princesses made their way through a second hallway, this one feeling much less oppressive. There were several doors lining the walls, most adorned with nothing more than a tiny gold circle inscribed with a number. They passed each one, paying them little mind. The rest of the building was just as immaculately clean as the front lobby. The walls all looked as if they had been painted just that morning.

The hallway led to a metal staircase, leading down several stories.

Shane stopped and peeked over the metal railing. Twilight appeared at his side to see for herself. The staircase reached down well into the bowels of the earth.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Shane mumbled to Twilight. She was unsure what to make of the quote, but apparently he did not expect a response, because he nudged her with an elbow before righting himself, “It’s not gettin’ any closer. Come on.”

Twilight’s mind began to wander during the descent down countless flights. The one thing she did notice is that the air seemed to be growing significantly colder, almost to an uncomfortable level. Soon Twilight thought she was able to see her own breath if she caught it in the right light.

They never reached the bottom. The princesses ushered them off the stairs through another set of doors. Twilight wondered how exactly the two alicorns knew where they were going, none of these floors or door were marked, or at least not in any way Twilight could recognize.

The doors led them into lab. White tile covered the floor, and the lower half of the ceiling. Several metal tables filled the room, all covered with an array of science-tastic appliances. It was freezing. Twilight found herself wishing she had brought a scarf.

The back wall of the room was adorned with a glass pane, through which could be seen several racks of white chemical filtration suits. The door leading to the room was painted up in vibrant black and yellow stripes.

A flash of movement in the window caught Twilight’s attention. One of the chemical suits was moving. It took her a split second to realize there was a pony inside. Twilight couldn’t get any decent look at her face. The suit covered her entire head, except for the clear visor across her eyes. She was a unicorn, Twilight could tell that much, and her eyes were a hard, crystalline purple.

Celestia moved to the window and tapped lightly on the glass.  

That seemed to catch the pony’s attention. She turned and beheld the newly arrived group. She looked frantically at a clock that adorned the wall. Apparently she had lost track of the time.  She moved quickly into a small chemical shower that sprayed the outside of her suit in smoky disinfectant gas.

 Once the suit no longer harbored any unwanted germs, she made her way over to her side of the sealed, striped door.

A small hiss sounded as she opened the door to greet the princess and her guests.

The still fully suited pony stepped through the door, bowing to the Princesses. She righted herself, the headpiece of the suit glowed a shimmering purple, and lifting itself off the pony’s head.

She was a pale coated unicorn, with a long purple mane that flowed back around her head, streaks of soft grey shot through her locks. Twilight wondered at them, she still appeared quite young. Her horn appeared to have been filed to a point, a trend Twilight never fully understood.

“Hello, Ms. Haze.” Celestia offered warmly.

“Princess,” she bowed again, “I apologize. I misjudged the time. I did not expect you so soon.”

Celestia waved a hoof dismissively, “If anything I should be apologizing to you. Thank you again for staying so late. I’m sure you would rather be elsewhere.”

“Not at all, I would most likely be here anyway. This is quite exciting.” The young mare spoke with a slight accent. Twilight couldn’t place a hoof on it exactly, but she did not sound like she had been born in Equestria.

Celestia turned, “I’d like to introduce Ms. Amethyst Haze. She’s been spearheading our medical operations here for the past few weeks.”

Twilight’s ears perked at the name.

“Hi!” Pinkie Pie waved enthusiastically.

The pale pony nodded at the group, noticing the human for the first time. Her eyebrow cocked, “So it’s true then?” She moved toward the human, who eyed her cautiously, unsure what to make of this new pony, “You survived,” her voice was both amazed and detached. She took a step toward him in a slightly familiar way.

He took a step back, indicating that he was perfectly comfortable with their current distance.

She withdrew a bit, “Forgive me. The last time I saw you, you were... less whole,” she spoke with a hint of unpleasant nostalgia. “I am glad you survived. We haven’t received any updates down here for the past few days. I assumed you were dead.”

“I’m sorry for not sending word, but he has... kept us rather busy,” Celestia explained.

“I can imagine. It’s strange to see one up and moving,” she noted to Celestia absent mindedly, “I thought they would be slightly more awkward, having only the two legs, but they seem quite well balanced.”

“Ms. Haze, I do not mean to be rude, but we have a very limited amount of time. I believe you know why he is here.” Luna interjected.

She became slightly somber, looking at the human, who was busy displaying as little emotion as possible. He had his mask back on. “Yes,” she nodded sadly, “Of course. Please follow me.” Her words directed at Shane. She moved to the door she had come through, pushing it open with a bit of magic.

He followed at a few paces, Twilight went in directly behind him. Celestia and Luna were next, followed by the rest of the girls. The room was apparently just a staging area. There were several racks of chemical filtration suits, and two adjoining chemical showers.

On the last wall was a door, silver and decorated with countless flashy biohazard stickers and emergency procedure directions.

Amethyst Haze turned and began to speak, “They are in there. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to step under one of these nozzles. The spray should kill any germs you may have brought in with-”

*PPSSSSSSSSSSSSS*

The sound cut off Amethyst’s speech, drawing everypony’s attention. The human had completely ignored Amethyst and her spray, choosing instead to pop the hatch on the door himself.

“No!” she shouted, alarmed, “You can’t do that! Don’t go in there.” She was moving through the group very ready to detain the human herself before Luna held a wing to block her path, causing her to swear softly to herself. It was too late anyway. He was already moving through the door.

The rest of the girls seemed slightly stunned, unsure of what to do. Pinkie Pie had somehow managed to squeeze into a filtration suit when nopony was looking, pink tufts of mane poofed out from under the edges of the head cover.

Celestia moved inside after the human. She had little concern for germs, painfully immortal as she was, sickness often did nothing but prove to be horrible inconveniences.

The room was darker than the last and freezing cold, their breath producing swirling little clouds. The far wall as covered in what looked like several square refrigerator doors. This room was entirely white tile, even the ceiling, except for the occasional fluorescent light.

There was a single row of stainless steel tables. On each one was a long sheet of white plastic, covering something that greatly resembled the shape of motionless humans.

There were ten, each roughly similar in size. Celestia had seen them before, secretly hoping she wouldn’t have to again.

Shane was stopped dead in his tracks, a few paces into the room. His arms hung limply at his side, as he beheld the scene.

Celestia’s heart wrenched with shared sympathy.

He ran his hands through his cropped mane a few times before he laced his fingers behind his neck, apparently unsure what to do with them as he processed what his eyes were telling him.

“Jesus,” he breathed. He shook his head slowly, seeming suddenly annoyed. “You fuckin’ assholes,” he chastised the room of dead men.

Amethyst Haze finally came through the doors after them, followed closely by Twilight, Rarity, Rainbow Dash and the rest, all reeking of disinfectant.

They all stopped upon seeing the human, becoming very quiet and unassuming.

If he noticed the new arrivals, he showed no sign of it. He took a few halting steps toward the tables.

He came to the first. It was a fair bit larger than the others. With a deliberately slow movement he peeled back the white plastic covering the head. The dead human was the sickly grey pale color of death. The bulky dead man had jet black hair. Shane stared at him coldly for a few moments, before covering his face back up and moving to the next body. The next human was tall and had no hair on his head at all. He appeared much older than Shane, but Celestia could only speculate. Shane left this human’s head uncovered as he moved to the next, a man with a mane that was almost completely grey.

Shane moved down the line, taking less and less time identifying each one.

One in particular seemed to catch his attention though. It was a slightly more slender human. He was taller, sort of lanky. Shane swallowed hard and knelt down by the table. He looked over at the ponies all watching him carefully, before returning his attention to the corpse.

“I guess you win,” he said to the dead man. The words choked out barely above a whisper. Celestia had to strain to hear. Even as she did she felt slightly guilty. She felt like she was eavesdropping on private conversation. The human looked as if he suddenly remembered something important. He began frantically tapping all his pockets, searching for something. He stood, shuffling over to Celestia apprehensively.

His mouth looked like it was trying to form words, as if suddenly unsure how to communicate. He cleared his throat awkwardly, “... I need to borrow like fifty bucks,” he muttered, self-consciously.

Celestia took a moment to process the bizarre request, “What?”

He hung his head, embarrassed, “It’s from... before...” he attempted to explain clearly having a hard time of it, “I lost because he was right and... I never paid him. I can’t...”

“It’s alright, Major. I understand.” she lied, but she did not wish to see him suffer through the touchy explanation.

Rarity stepped forward, producing a shiny gold bit, “I’m afraid I’ve lost my human-equestrian exchange rate card.” she teased slightly.

The human gave her a sad half grin, as she levitated the bit into his hand. He turned the piece over on his palm, “Is this gold?” he asked flatly.

“Yes. Is it enough?”

He snorted as if the question were absurd. “... Yeah. It’s enough.” He stared at the gold coin intently, like it might vanish.

He turned and walked back to where his friend lay, exactly where he had left him.

Shane grabbed the man’s stiff arm, pressing the gold bit into his palm and closing the cold dead fingers around the yellow coin.

“There. Now you can rot in hell knowing I don’t owe you shit.”

Celestia decided that human friendship was a strange and complicated thing.

Shane placed a hand on the dead man’s forehead. He stood up and replaced the plastic covering over the body.

He continued down the line, identifying the remains of each of his fallen crewmates. Many were difficult to see, one in particular made Rarity step out of the room, he didn’t seem to care.

He reached the end of the row, stopping as if he had been stung. Celestia’s gut wrenched as she noticed what escaped her attention before.

There was an eleventh table. The stainless steel alter was barren. She felt like hiding. It was probably the worst possible way to add insult to injury, at the worst imaginable time. She prayed that he did not assume they had done it intentionally.

He took grave steps toward the table meant for him, placing a hand on the icy metal surface.

Celestia shot Amethyst Haze a pained questioning look.

Amethyst tucked her ears back, “We were told to expect eleven,” she offered quietly as explanation.

The human did not appear outwardly offended. He just seemed fascinated by the empty table. He turned and sat on it, swiveling on his rear until he lay lengthwise upon the cold steel rectangle. He checked on the corpse to his right, doing his best to imitate the same position the others were in, and stared at the ceiling.

He lay there for several moments, only the white cloud of icy vapor from his breath betraying life.

Celestia exchanged uneasy looks with her sister. The charade did not seem very healthy. Luna took the first few hesitant steps toward Shane who was too busy playing dead to really acknowledge her.

She came to his side, he continued to ignore her, apparently committed to the act. Luna nudged him on the shoulder with her muzzle. He swiveled his head to look at the alicorn. She offered him sad concerned smile.

He swallowed and nodded, “Yeah.” he said quietly without prompting. He sat up and turned, hopping off the table.

He took a deep breath and looked back at the man he left uncovered; the older bald human. He turned to the end of the room and made his way over to a countertop, which included several drawers. He popped open several, examining their contents as if searching for something.

“What are you doing?” Luna asked, carefully.

He stopped, and looked at the assembled ponies, before continuing to scour the contents of various drawers, “Everyone leave,” he ordered coldly.

“What?”

“Get out.” He answered, but not cruelly.

“Like... leave the room?” Twilight asked confused. “Why?”

He sighed, annoyed as he apparently found what he was looking for, “Stay if you want,” he offered as he pulled a silver scalpel from the drawer, “But it’s for your own sake that I strongly advise you to step out for this.” He walked over to the balding man that remained uncovered.

Celestia’s gut tightened and she turned and nodded to the group. Amethyst Haze began to usher the mares out of the room, looking none too happy about whatever Shane was planning.

Luna followed the group out as well.

Celestia stayed, earning a cocked eyebrow from Shane, “Your choice,” he muttered.

He placed the scalpel on the table next to the bald man. He hooked an arm under the corpse and flipped him over onto his stomach. He took a deep breath in through his nose and out his mouth.

He plucked the scalpel off the table and pressed the blade against the base of the bald man’s skull.

The polished silver razor cut through the dead man’s flesh with terrible ease. The corpse offered no sign of care.

Shane stopped cutting once he reached the back of the neck. The long score didn’t bleed. The corpse was too long dead.

Shane pulled on the edges of the incision before closing his eyes and taking another deep breath, mentally preparing himself. He stuck his thumb and index finger into the incision, probing for something Celestia did not know.

She was doing her best not to gag at the squelching sounds. In hindsight she was rather glad he told the girls to leave.

A muted snap came from the neck of the dead man, similar to that of a twig breaking, and Shane pulled out a small black square, no bigger than a shirt button, thickly covered in gore.

Celestia did not ask what the implanted square was. She was not entirely sure she wanted to know.

Shane dropped the scalpel, letting it fall to the steel table with a small clatter. He lifted the small black chip up to the light, holding as one might a robin’s egg; reverently, but firmly enough to ensure he would not drop it. He stared at it, uneasy determination in his eyes.

He walked quickly over to a small basin in the countertop. He turned a nozzle and water began to flow from the faucet. He rinsed the black square free of blood and tucked in his pocket, making sure to scrub his hands thoroughly, before flicking his wrists in an attempt to dry them. He eventually settled on wiping them on his trousers. He made sure to cover the man back up with his plastic sheet. Before making for the door next to which stood Celestia.

He paused by the white alicorn, took one brief look over his shoulder, then straightened himself, “Burn em.”

He pushed through the door and exited the room without a backward glance.

~~~~~

=POST=

All your OC are belong to me now.

Yes Miss Milonaitytė, I am talking to you.

You remember when I said I had spies everywhere?

(That includes Lithuania)

Alright guys, Sorry about my tiny leave of absence. (Like 4 months.)

But I’m afraid I get kinda busy at times and often have to put leisure activities on hold.

Also I’m sorry to say that I have a bit of more bad news.

I will be going on active duty training soon.

I ship out in about a week.

Now don’t freak out. I’m not abandoning the story. But I will be on base for about 3 months and access to technology will be virtually nonexistent. So you’ll have to chew on this for a bit. I’m hoping to also get part 8 finished and out to you before I leave, but I can’t make promises as I’m pretty busy getting my affairs in order. If you really HAVE to tell me something while I’m gone, I’ll have some limited contact with Bolt. Email him [email protected] and he’ll be able to send me a letter. Yes a letter. As in physical paper envelope and everything. So don’t expect a speedy response. Also don’t bug him if I never respond. I won’t always have time to write you guys letters. Sorry but once I get on base I’m all srs bsns.

I will miss you guys. But I’ll be back before you know it, deadlier than ever. And hopefully with some fun stories. Or a picture of Pinkie Pie on a tank, we’ll see.

Anyway depressing shit aside. Let’s get to the story.

This was again a very fun chapter to write. Mostly because something actually happens. I’ve been itching to write something a bit more eventful. But I have a habit of stretching things out with unnecessary details. Final Draft (my editor) always does a great job of keeping me on a leash. Usually the chapters I send him are about 50 pages longer than the ones you guys read, because of all the fat he burns out. you guys get a much more lean slice of meat.

I’d like to take a bit of this time to answer some of the most common emails I get.

~~~

~“How often do you post chapters? When will the next one be ready?”~

- I do not have a set schedule for the release of chapters. Sorry but my schedule is dictated to me. I have little say in it. I work on the chapters whenever I have some free time but that’s few and far between.

~“How far into the future is this set?”~

- I have yet to pick an actual date for my fic. It is set in the near future. No more than 50 years. No less than 20. But idk. This is just my headcanon for my own story. You can pretend it’s whatever you want.

~“Are you working with KKat on a side story?”~

- I hate to break it to you guys but I haven't heard anything from Kkat in awhile.

She mentioned maybe wanting to write a side story of A2.

Haven't really heard from her since.

I know (...she's?) super busy, She probably just lost interest. Which is cool.

I barely have time to handle my own stuff much less write with other authors.

Regardless there will always be a spot for her here if she ever has time, I'd love to get the chance to work with her.

Also I apologize to anyone who emailed me a question and did not receive and answer. That usually means that your question is something I am going to cover in later chapters.

...and to whoever keeps sending me emails in russian or whatever.....I STILL don’t speak Russian. Please stop emailing me in Russian.

But apart from all that I love hearing from you guys. You can usually catch me in the chatbox for a few days after the chapter hits the water.

Also I have a skype now. I’m still figuring out how it works. I am not the most tech savvy guy in the world. Yeah. The guy who struggles to understand Skype is defending your freedom. Don’t you feel safe?

Anyway It’s Muppetz540 if you wanna hit me up. But I’m usually AFK, and also I can get kinda chatty so consider yousrself warned.

I’m also on Fimfiction somewhere for those of you who don’t feel like searching EqD for A2 updates. It’s somewhat easier to use

Or just regular old emails are welcome. [email protected] 

I do my best to answer all of them

Well I think that’s everything.

If I remember anything I forgot I’ll come back and add it later.

So let’s get on with the legalities.

~~~

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC IS OWNED BY HASBRO

ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS

NO PROFIT WAS MADE IN THE CREATION / DISTRIBUTION

I DO NOT REPRESENT THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS OR DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

~~~

That’s almost all folks.

I’ll say my final thanks to my Ponychan thread. They make me smile...or cower in fear depending on what kind of mood they’re in.

Final Draft for all the work he does to keep this fic readable.

And Thaylien for filling in and being awesome

Go support his podcast!

http://everfreeradio.com/

They always have awesome stuff to do.

Also Bolt, who is the sole creator of all my fanart so far.

http://akshooter.deviantart.com/gallery/

Go tell him he’s awesome.

And thanks to Dova for being a good sport when I totally stole her OC character and wrote her into my fic. I sometimes sneak some of my favorite people’s OCs in there. It’s usually very subtle. See if you can spot them.

nothing else


ARTICLE 2

Part VIII

By: Muppetz

~~~~~

Twilight was being rushed out by a very unhappy Amethyst Haze. Twilight understood her frustration; she hated it when somepony interfered with her studies, namely Spike, but it seemed to be more than that. Maybe the alien with a razor knife loose in her lab may have had something to do with it. Who knows for sure?

The group retreated out through the changing room and into the main laboratory. Most of the girls took to awkwardly standing around, shuffling here or there aimlessly. This wasn’t how they expected this to go. Granted, none of them knew what to expect in the first place.

Twilight trotted over to Amethyst Haze, who was busy staring apprehensively at the half open door leading back to the morgue.

“Excuse me,” Twilight began slowly, quite certain she was about to make a fool of herself, “but you aren’t... the Amethyst Haze are you?”

Twilight winced, fully expecting the pale unicorn to burst into laughter at the question. No laughter came.

Twilight cracked open an eye only to find Amethyst wearing an amused smile. “Impressive,” she replied in her strange accent, “I did not believe any remnants of my story still remained.”

Twilight’s jaw hung open slightly, “You're her, aren't you?” she breathed. “That can’t be possible, that would mean you would be... over two hundred years old!”

“Many strange things wander this land, no?” Amethyst smiled.

“Welcome to the club,” Luna remarked, “You wouldn’t believe how difficult she was to track down.” Luna mused, shifting her words to Twilight. “I must admit I did not expect to actually find anypony, but as the situation with the human grew desperate, we were forced to resort to more... unconventional avenues.”

“Like chasing old pony tales?” Amethyst teased.

“It wouldn’t be the first time an old pony tale turned out to be true.” Luna winked furtively at Twilight.

“I must admit that I sometimes close my eyes and feel as though I am still trapped in my wooded prison. I am in your debt, highness.”

“After all you’ve done, Ms. Haze, consider that debt paid in full, with interest.”

A small shuffling caught their attention. Pinkie Pie was curiously riffling through some folders she found on one of the tabletops.

The door to the morgue was pushed open and from strode a grim faced Major Doran, followed by very disturbed looking Celestia. Oddly enough, her snow white coat seemed just a bit paler than usual.

Shane once again chose to forgo the chemical showers, instead throwing open the door to the lab and taking long strides toward the exit. “We’re done here,” he curtailed with a small circular swish of the finger. “Let’s go.” His voice was grave, and he was clearly in a hurry to leave.

“Ooh what are these?” Pinkie asked excitedly spilling folder full of tiny square photographs. What were you taking pictur-”

Pinkie stopped mid sentence, her pink face suddenly flushed with a sickly green. She cupped a hoof over her mouth and staggered away from the table clearly disturbed by whatever was in the file.

“Autopsy photos,” Amethyst explained.

Shane froze immediately upon hearing the words leave Amethyst’s mouth. He shut his eyes for a moment with an irritated sigh.

He stalked over to the pile of papers and photos, which Pinkie Pie was studiously avoiding the sight of. He swished a hand across the pile, spreading the photos in a wide arc along the table.

He studied them for a few moments with detached curiosity.

Amethyst Haze joined him somewhat guiltily. “I apologize. I was merely trying to be thorough.”

“It’s ok,” he barely whispered, taking a deep breath, “You get a good look?” he asked pointing at the photos.

“Um… yes. I’ve studied them several times. Why?” she played along, confused.

“Good. They’re coming with me.” He began scooping up the photos, any nearby documents. He jammed them all back into a folder. He tucked the folder under one arm and began collecting any piece of paper within reach with the other.  

“Hey! No, no, no! Wait! What are you doing?!”

“I can’t let you keep this stuff,” he said, still grabbing folders and files, paying little attention to whatever lay inside them.

“This is all my research! You can’t just take it!” she asserted.

“Major, surely there must be something we could work out?” Luna intervened hopefully.

“This is non-negotiable. I apologize for any inconvenience, but this research was conducted without the permission of the U.S. government, and I will be confiscating it. End of story. If you would like to plead your case, feel free to contact the Department of Defense’s Division of Extra-Universal Affairs, but I’ll warn you, their response time is spotty at best, mainly due to the fact that it doesn’t exist and I made it up just now.”

He had already massed a hefty stack of papers and folders, while Amethyst Haze stared daggers into him.

Twilight sympathized with the pale mare. She had once lost weeks worth of research when Spike came down with the hiccups. The loss almost brought her to tears. But at least that was an accident; Amethyst’s work was being forcibly taken from her.

“Is there any more?” he asked, nearly buckling under the bundle as it was.

“No,” she replied automatically.

He fixed her with a flat calculating stare for several seconds.

She sighed and cursed lightly under her breath. Her horn lit with her trademark purple haze, opening a drawer across the room. Another hefty stack of files floated their way over to the human’s already teetering tower of papers.

“Alright then,” he voiced cheerily, which sounded highly unusual for him. “Now all relevant materials have been collected and remanded into my custody, yes?” he directed toward Amethyst.

“Yes,” she growled through her teeth.

“Excellent… Unfortunately, I’m afraid I am not able to provide sufficient care for said materials at present.” He stopped and took in a full circle view of the room. “This facility appears sufficiently secure.” He returned his attention to Amethyst who was eyeing him curiously, wondering what he was playing at. “As these materials may contain some items of value to both myself and foreign parties I have decided to forgo destroying them, in favor of relegating them into your care. Is this agreeable to you?”

“… yes,” Amethyst said with a slowly growing grin as she realized what he was doing.

“Are you willing to accept responsibility of said materials on behalf of the United States Government until such a time at which an official is able to properly relieve you of them?”

“I am,”

“Terrific!” He plopped the enormous stack of papers back down on the steel table. “Thank you for your cooperation, Miss Haze. We look forward to working with you in the future.” He flashed an amiable smile, which she returned.

Shane turned to Celestia and Luna who were both grinning at the human’s rather practiced use of loopholes. “We good to go? Super. Let’s move.” He ordered without waiting for any answers before making a heading for the exit.

Luna shot a puff of air out of her nostrils and shook her head, amused. “Humans,” she summed up as if the word explained all the strangeness of the event.

~~~~~

Celestia cracked the door open and peeked an eye out. It should be here by now, she thought to herself. She sent the summons almost ten minutes ago.

Celestia closed the door, resigning herself to wait. It shouldn’t be too much longer. She went back to the group who were all seated in the long dim hallway they had first entered.

Shane was sitting next to Twilight on the floor, leaning against the wall looking  disinterested. He leaned his head against the concrete wall as he drummed his fingers on his knees.

Celestia sat next to him. He didn’t seem to mind. “You okay?” she asked familiarly.

“Yeah,” he answered after a deep sigh. He scratched at his chin, awkwardly, before quietly adding, “Thank you.” Celestia looked at him, curiously lifting an eyebrow. “… you know… for doing all this,” he explained.

Celestia smiled sadly, “You’re welcome. I wish I could say I was happy to do so.”

“You could’ve said no.”

“Why would I have done that?”

“I would have,” he admitted with a shrug.

Celestia chuckled, “I am not you.” That earned Celestia a twisted smile. “I suppose I should thank you as well.”

“What for?”

“Saving Amethyst’s research. I may be mistaken but I think you may have been bending some of your rules to do so.”

He shrugged, “Probably, but once again, procedure manuals tended to make rules specific to my physical universe. But I’m not in my universe anymore. So I’m kinda making it up as I go. Destroying it would have been the safer option, but… why bother? It’s not like you couldn’t just start over. I could’ve destroyed it for the sake of a technicality, but contrary to popular belief I am rarely a dick just for no reason.”

“Could have fooled me,” Luna teased from down the hall.

“Ouch,” he sighed in mock offense. “Besides, I wasn’t about to go carrying all that shit up those stairs.”

Celestia chuckled. “Still, thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

A noticeable rapping came from the exit door, as the guard outside signaled the Princesses their carriage had arrived. Celestia stood, prodding Shane with a hoof to get him up, which he did with a groan.

“Where is this place, again?” Shane asked.

“A few miles outside the city,” Luna explained as we appropriated the Wonderbolts' old hangar. It was large enough to store the wreckage and well away from prying eyes.”

“What’s a wonderbolt?” he asked confused.

“WHAT!?” Dash jolted from the rear of the group. “You’ve never heard of the Wonderbolts!?”

“Here we go,” Applejack groaned,

“I’m not from around here,” he reminded patronizingly.

“They’re only the greatest team of flyers ever to exist EVER!!”

“Okaaay. Keep your panties on. Jesus.”

Luna pushed open the door, the formerly empty streets now occupied by the princess’ royal carriage, complete with team of pegasus stallions.

“Come along everypony. If we hurry we should be able to make it back before sunrise.”

“How is this discrete?” He asked dubiously, as they began to file out of the building toward the carriage. “Won’t people notice if they see us parading down the street in an oversized cliché?”

“We aren’t going to use the streets.”

“Then how are we getting there?”

The corners of Luna’s mouth lifted

~~~~~

“Breath, Shane.” Twilight suggested comfortingly.

The human was curled into as tight a ball as he could possibly muster in the back of Celestia’s Sky carriage of awesomness trying desperately not to be sick. He clearly had never flown in a carriage before. It was funny, in a rather mean way. Twilight had to actively try not to giggle at the scene. His eyes were shut tight, and he hugged a bunch of Celestia’s billowing tail to his chest as a drowning colt might cling to a life preserver.

“You can open your eyes if you like, Major. The view is lovely,” Celestia tried.

He violently shook his head; unwilling to move.

“It’s perfectly safe, I promise.”

“It’s a floating platform with no walls or seatbelts. It’s absolutely NOT safe, it’s a deathtrap and I want off!”

“Don’t be such a baby,” Luna teased. “We’re almost there. You act like you’ve never flown before.”

“I have flown before. In planes and helicopters; things that are SUPPOSE to fly. This is a CARRIAGE. It was NEVER meant to leave the ground!”

“That may be true where you come from, Major, but we do things differently here,” Luna explained.

“Well ‘here’ sucks!” he shouted back, still clutching to Celestia’s billowing tail for dear life.

Luna trotted to the edge and stomped lightly, causing the whole carriage to pitch.

Shane gripped the edge of the carriage with white knuckle force, somehow pressing himself closer to the floor than he already was. “I hate you so much right now,” he informed the Lunar princess through gritted teeth.

Luna smiled back at him innocently. “Turbulence,” Luna blamed still smiling.

“I want off.”

“Feel free to jump,” Luna offered.

“You first,” he quipped back.  

“That’s enough, you two,” Celestia interrupted. “We’re close.”

Everypony looked toward the horizon. The moon was barely enough to light the valley. They soared between two monolithic ridges. Ancient rivers had carved a pass through the rolling mountains. The canyon was perfect for the Wonderbolts. The mountains on either side protected from the worst of the elements, allowing them to practice their stunts without the worry of dangerous crosswinds or updrafts. The only drawback was its rather inconvenient distance from the capitol. When construction on their new headquarters finished, this facility became largely abandoned. They sometimes still used the facility for recruit training drills, but otherwise it remained empty.

The transportation of the recovered wreckage had proven difficult, but a few clever unicorns managed the task quite successfully.

The princess’ carriage banked around a bend, and the lights from the hanger could be seen through the darkness. Several white lights lined a small landing pad on the roof.

Celestia’s guards alighted delicately upon the roof of the hangar.  

The very second the carriage landed Shane began to eagerly untangle himself from Celestia’s tail and threw himself over the side, hitting the deck with a very undignified thud.

The rest of the party disembarked much more gracefully.

Applejack trotted over to the prone human. He was still embracing the floor with unbridled relief.

“Ya’ll right, sugarcube?” she asked with a small laugh.

He held up a thumb.

She laughed and poked him with a hoof. “C’mon now, it weren’t that bad.”

He shrugged away from her prodding hoof. He took a deep breath and gently slapped himself on the cheek a few times. He pushed himself to his feet and cracking his neck, causing Twilight to shudder in annoyance. “Alright,” he breathed, “I’m good.”

“So like I was saying,” Dash started, landing next to Shane, “Then there was Tradewind. She was the third Captain of the Wonderbolts. She was supposedly the one that actually patented the Reverse Fire Flash. Ever since, only ten other ponies have ever been able to do it!” she gibbered excitedly. Rainbow polished a hoof against her coat, proudly. “I’m pretty close to doing it myself. Just few more tweaks and I’ll have it nailed.”

“…cool,” he deadpanned, not even bothering to try and sound interested. She didn’t seem to notice though, and continued weaving for him the complete historical tale of the Wonderbolts, and every obscure detail that allowed.

The soft echoing of hoofs on metal stairs rang in the night, attracting everypony’s attention.

Across the empty roof, the soft glow of a lantern pierced through the darkness. The dim yellow lantern light bobbed toward them. The pony that carried the lantern was hardly visible. He was a dark green pegasus stallion with a rusty brown mane.

He approached the group, setting down the lantern, and bowing to the Princesses. “Highness,” he greeted, casting uneasy glances at Shane who still seemed a bit queasy. “Welcome. My name is Chaser. We heard you would be coming. I assume you would like to personally oversee our progress.”

“Something like that, yes.” Celestia answered, remaining intentionally vague.

“Very well. If you’ll please follow me, I’d be happy to show you the way.”

The staircase led down along the outside wall of the hangar. The hangar itself was an enormous rectangular building. The three story high structure had massive doors which could slide in and out of place to seal the hangars shut. The doors alone were taller than Twilight’s library and longer than hoofball field in length.

The forest green pony led the group along the outer walls of the facility. Rather than walk all the way to the front to enter through the large hanger opening, he led them to a more adequately sized side entrance. No guards stood watch outside the door, nor did it seem to be protected by any magical spell Twilight could recognize, for the green stallion pushed it open without hesitation. He wedged a hoof into the base of the door, propping it open and gesturing with a hoof for his party to enter.

Celestia smiled gratefully and stepped inside. A gentle nudge from Twilight prompted Shane to enter next. Twilight followed close behind him, not keen on letting him out of her sight.

“I’ve heard about this place.” Rainbow Dash said in a strangely reverent tone. “I never thought I would actually get to see it. I mean…this is where the Wonderbolts were born.” Rainbow landed softly before squeeing happily and prancing inside the door, joining the others.

The massive hangar was bigger than Twilight expected. It seemed to stretch on forever. The far walls were barely even visible. However, it wasn’t the dimensions of the building that commanded her attention. The hangar was full of unicorns in lab coats, hustling back and forth from ad-hoc stations set up all over the hangar. White tents were pitched here and there, hermetically sealed in protective plastic bubbles. Tables laden with microscopes and petri dishes and all manner of scientific equipment dotted the area. Massive power cables snaked their way throughout the facility.

The center of the room was the massive pile of wreckage. The broken vehicle hardly looked anything like a ship, more so a mountain of twisted steel. The charred steel exoskeleton that made up the exterior of the ship was bent and rippled from the sheer force of the impact. The ship itself seemed to be split into two. Twilight was not sure if that was due to the damage in the crash or if it had been done so that the behemoth would fit through the hangar doors. Several unicorns surrounded the broken vessel, some wielding blow-torches, busily cutting sections of the ship’s exterior off for study. Others were merely taking careful notes or running their own magical tests. A few brave souls clad in respirator suits dared to enter the vessel through a hole that had been cut in the top. Many were hauling out piles of equipment or mechanical devices, anything that they felt warranted study. The alien devices were sorted and sent off to various tables for examination. Most of the unicorns seemed too busy to take notice of the new arrivals.

“Princess!” An excited voice echoed across the room, drawing their attention to an ash-grey pegasus with a charcoal mane. He raced toward them, landing a few yards away. He pushed a set of goggles up unto his forehead and beamed; sweeping a hoof across his chest in a hasty bow, to which the princess inclined her head in return. “Welcome. You’ve arrived at a very exciting time! We’re right in the middle of several major breakthroughs!” His enthusiasm was evidence enough.

Twilight noticed the pegasus’ fur was singed in places and he seemed to be smoking slightly.

“It’s nice to finally have some good news,” Celestia said with a smile. “I apologize for not being able to oversee the project myself, but you seem to be handling it quite well.”

“Thank you, highness. It’s a true honor to be here. The things I’ve learned are…astounding. Some of these technologies are infinitely more advanced than anything I have ever encountered. This is…a whole new level of technology.”

“Well if anypony can figure them out it’s you. You were not selected for this arbitrarily.”

“Thank you, Princess. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

“Of that I have no doubt,” she assured.

“Goodness, where are my manners?” he started as he noticed the group behind Celestia. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Doctor Cornelius Bolt. I’ve been overseeing the recovery project here for the passed few weeks.

“I know you,” Twilight began. “You’re the Director of the Ministry of Technology, aren’t you?”

Bolt smiled, “Impressive, I usually tend to work behind the scenes.”

“You were a guest speaker for one my classes at the university. You gave a lecture on the corporatization of cloud-based mechanical engineering.”

“I can see why you’ve chosen her as your pupil, highness. Not many students manage to stay awake during my lectures,” he noted with a chuckle.

“I thought it was very informative,” Twilight said earnestly.

“You are too kind. But I doubt you came to hear about my university days, especially when there is a bit of an elephant in the room, so to speak.” He nodded toward the alien vessel parked in the center of the hangar.  “It took quite some time to move the wreckage in its entirety so we’ve only recently been able to begin our analyses in earnest, but we’ve already learned a lot. It’s very exciting! If you’d like I would be honored to sho…” he stopped in mid sentence as he apparently took notice of the human in the group. “Oh my. What have we here?” He flapped gently into the air coming to a hover in front of Shane, scratching his chin with a hoof. “Hello, I don’t believe I’ve ever met one of you before. Where are you from exactly?”

Shane didn’t answer outright. Instead he merely raised his arm, pointing a finger at the broken ship in the center of the hangar.

Bolt looked back and forth between the human and the wreckage a few times. His eyes steadily widened as realization dawned upon him. “Could it be true?”

“Director,” Celestia began, “I’d like you to meet Major Shane Doran.”

“Of course! Welcome, Major!” He beamed with excitement. “My goodness, I didn’t think it was possible. I mean, just from looking at the level of damage I never imagined anypony could have…well …lived. I have so many questions for you. You might just be the key to piecing this all together,” he was practically bouncing with excitement. “Please come with me. The sooner we get started the better.”

He motioned toward the pile of wreckage, beckoning the group to follow. Twilight followed close behind him, Shane in tow. They got closer many of the unicorns stopped their work to gawk at the strange bipedal creature.

“Here we are,” Bolt began, “The main attraction. It’s impressive, but I’m afraid it’s been so badly damaged that it’s not much more than a metal shell anymore. Most of the complicated machinery was destroyed or too dangerous to transport. We were still able to map out a decent picture of what it may have looked like whole.”

“What are they doing?” Shane finally spoke, pointing at all the unicorns darting to a fro about the ship.

“Data retrieval, mostly. We’ve been taking a few samples. We salvaged what we could.”

“Clear them out,” Shane ordered dryly.

“I’m sorry, what?” Bolt asked, confused.

Make all these ponies go away,” he clarified, annoyed.

Bolt seemed puzzled but he didn’t object. He shouted a few orders to all the unicorns working around the wreckage, and without hesitation they all began to disperse.

“What are you planning?” Twilight asked Shane sounding worried.

“I’m gonna go inside, and try to find my stuff.” he stated simply. “Why? You wanna come?”

“Yes!” She answered immediately, throwing Shane off guard. Apparently he wasn’t expecting that response. Twilight on the other hoof was more than eager to get a closer look at the human vessel. Even in its broken state she would love to get a look at the inside.

“No, get everypony out,” Bolt barked at one of the nearby unicorns. “Clear the inside as well…I don’t care just tell them to take five or something. But I need this place sealed off for a bit….Don’t worry about why, just do it.”

After the last few ponies emerged from the bowels of the ship in an agitated huff, Shane made his way up to the craft, Twilight directly behind. The actual entrance to the ship was an airlock hatch on the other side near the cockpit, but the vessel was so large neither Shane nor Twilight would be able to reach it, so they made their way to one of the large gashes on the outer shell of the ship. It was large enough for them both to fit through. But still quite a few feet off the ground.

Shane jumped up and pulled himself through first, careful to avoid the sharp edges of the torn metal. Once through, he turned and offered a hand to Twilight. She was grateful for the help. She was, after all, a bit shorter. She stood on her hind legs and reached up toward the proffered hand. Shane leaned out and grabbed onto the lavender mare’s hoof and with little trouble, plucked her off the ground and pulled her through the rent in the side of the ship.

Once through, Twilight took view of the inside. It was dark. Twilight’s eyes took a moment to adjust. They were in some sort of tubular passageway, either side ending in circular hatches. Twilight’s horn began to glow softly, casting a violet glow on the walls, giving them just enough light to see by.

“This way,” Shane said making his way down one end of the passageway. Twilight followed. Evidence of damage was everywhere. Wires and pipes jutted from the walls, the plastic side tiles were cracked or missing, revealing bundles of circuitry and dead machines.

They reached the end of the short tubular passageway. Shane pulled a large yellow lever and the door swung open, squeaking slightly. He ducked his head and stepped through, Twilight stepping directly behind, the light from her horn now the only illumination in the ship.

“Where are we going?” Twilight asked.

“Cargo bay,” Shane answered, “It’s somewhere near the back, just don’t wander off.”

Twilight had absolutely no intention of doing so. The interior of the ship was oppressive and pitch black. Fascinating as it was, she was eager to get back out into the open.

“How long were you stuck in this thing?” Twilight asked.

“Before we jumped? We were sitting in orbit, on standby, for about a week. They had to PMCS the thing like eight million times. Then we just sat around while they ran system checks for like two days.” He ducked under a snapped metal beam. “Fat lotta’ fucking good it did.”

She followed Shane closely through the ship. They were continually forced to maneuver around wreckage and debris, but they reached the cargo bay without too much difficulty. The unicorns must have cleared away most of the obstructions when they were scavenging the ship. The cargo bay itself was fairly empty, and seemed to be one of the most intact rooms. Being near the back of the ship, it must have been spared the brunt of the impact. Several large olive drab shipping containers lay on their side, emptied of whatever contents had once been inside them. The scientists must have decided that they held something interesting because the containers were picked clean. “Looks like your friends were already here.” Shane noted. “Better not have touched my stuff,” he muttered to himself.

Shane directed Twilight toward a bulkhead covered from end to end in black wall lockers. He passed over most of them, stopping at one marked with the number forty-seven in silver numbers. The locker door was bent inward, apparently something slammed into it during the crash. The latch was jammed sideways wedging the door closed. He pulled on the broken handle experimentally, but it didn’t budge. “…awesome,” he muttered angrily.

He looked around the floor. A broken steel bar grabbed his attention. He scooped it up and jammed the sharp end of the pole into the broken handle and began to pry it open. With some strain and one final jerk, the handle broke off with a loud metallic ping.

He discarded the steel bar and opened the locker. First he pulled out a large olive-green sea bag, tossing it behind him with a soft thump. He pulled out another bag. This one was some sort of backpack. The pack was coyote-tan and by the look of it, empty. There were more straps and buckles than Twilight could possibly imagine a use for. The exterior of the pack was almost entirely covered in pals webbing, and two velcro patches adorned the front, one was a flag she did not recognize, the other was a nametape reading “U.S. MARINES”.

He threw the pack on his back and tossed the green duffle bag over a shoulder. “Ready? Or did you wanna explore some more?” he teased.

“No. I think I’m quite ready to leave. There’s nothing left in here anyway. Anything worth studying has probably been scooped out.”

Shane chuckled at her apparent discomfort. He hefted the bags on his back and headed back out the hatch through which they came. They quickly retraced the path to the exit.

Once there Shane tossed both his bags out the hole in the side of the ship, allowing them to fall to the hangar deck. He quickly followed suit, jumping off the edge and down to the ground. He turned and waited for Twilight, who was eyeing the drop uncertainly. It looked much higher from up here.

“You got it?” he asked, amused.

“Yes. Thank you,” she defended. She jumped and immediately tripped on the edge of the jagged entrance. With a small yelp she fell the good six or seven foot drop to the deck below. Luckily she landed on Shane’s green duffle bag, which cushioned her fall somewhat. It still wasn’t exactly a soft landing.

“Smooth,” Shane teased as he picked Twilight up and setting her on her hooves. She dusted herself off, and Shane shouldered his bags.

Most of the others had dispersed. Luna was off with Bolt at one of the stations. Piles of wires and electronics seemed to be their focus.

Celestia and Applejack were inspecting a large pyramid of alien cargo boxes. One of which was open, revealing several sealed brown plastic bags. Celestia scrutinized one, turning it around and carefully reading the tiny black wording that was printed on the outside of the bag. Most of the lettering was too small for Twilight to see form this distance. The only part she could make out was ‘MRE” in bold across the front of the package. She could go study them for herself later.

Rainbow Dash was nowhere in sight. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were watching a group of scientists analyze various alien artifacts through a clear plastic window in the side of one of the tents.

Shane scanned the hangar for a few moments.

“What are you doing?” Twilight finally asked.

“Shopping,” he answered simply.

Twilight was just about to ask what he meant but he grabbed his pack and set off towards Luna.

~~~~~

The young stallion’s breath came in heaves. His hooves echoed off the walls of the vacant Canterlot streets. Nopony was ever out this late…or so he would have thought.

 He hadn’t stopped running since it happened. He galloped up to the apartment complex and barreled through the doors, not even slowing to say hello to the doorpony. He hurtled up the stairs, skipping every other step, and doing his best to ignore the burning pain in his legs and lungs. Living on the fifth floor didn’t help. He just had to make it home.

He sprinted down the hallway, his camera bouncing wildly around his neck. He skidded to a halt in front of his apartment, swearing under his breath as he fumbled with the large brass key. He jammed it into the lock, giving it a good twist before barging through and slamming it shut behind him. He leaned himself against the door, still breathing heavily, as he locked every single bolt into place. He even darted to his kitchen nabbing a chair and bracing it under the handle.

Once satisfied that no unwelcome visitors would be coming through the door, he finally stopped to catch his breath. He clutched his camera to his chest, clinging to it as if it might disappear at any moment. He made his way to a room in the back of his apartment, shutting the door behind him. He was instantly surrounded by inky blackness. No trace of light existed in this room. He fumbled along the walls with his still shaking hooves, soon finding the small light switch. He gave the switch a flick, and the room was bathed in an eerie red light, illuminating walls lined with developing photographs.

He dashed over to a small work bench laden with pans of a special fluid. The viscous liquid was expensive but laden with heavy developmental enchantments, which never came cheap. He pulled off his camera, setting it on an empty space on the bench. With trembling hooves he popped the backing off the camera. He pulled out the film strip and delicately laid the film in the enchanted fluid. He shifted impatiently, watching with awe as the strip of film began to reveal a sequence of pictures.

His breath caught as the squares confirmed what his eyes could not. The images were blurry, but there was no denying what he saw. Not just one, but both princesses walking the streets of Canterlot in the middle of the night, but that was not what made these photos unique. What he couldn’t tear his eyes from, was the tall bi-pedal beast that accompanied them.

~~~~~

DUN DUN DUUUUUUN

~POST~

It’s been over a year.

One whole year since I started this.

I just want to take a brief second to stop and thank everyone that has helped this fic along.

Readers, Pre-readers, editors, threads, everyone. You rock.

As you may or may not have known, I left for the Marine Corps back in May. Graduated from Parris Island, South Carolina, a fully fledged United States Marine.

I suffered three months of hell for my title. I wouldn’t trade it for all of King Midas’ silver.

3rd Battalion, baby. Spittin’ out the hardest killers this Corps has ever seen.

I just wanted to thank you guys for all the support and encouragement. All the comments saying good luck and don’t quit. They helped.

I still remember humming the songs to myself while standing firewatch. Counting the days till’ I can get back home and let the technicolored equines wash the pain away.

So I suppose what I’m trying to say, if anything at all;

Is it’s good to be back.

NOW

To the story. Most of this was written before I left. When I kept on writing well past where this ends. I decided to chop it into two so I could get this out much sooner.

Hopefully that means 9 will be out relatively soon as well.

I’m also working with an almost entirely new team of editors. (And am beta-testing a few others) So we’ll see how they do.

Let’s Thank them now.

KnightShadow

Brawny

Thank you for stepping up to the plate. You guys are amazing.

Give them both a motivated YUT.

Also, Fun Fact

Apparently I have a TV Tropes thing.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/Article2

I discovered that when I got back from boot. I’m flattered.

Also on FimFic for those of you that feel the need to follow this on multiple websites.

FimFic and my Thread DO usually get the updates a day or two earlier...just saiyan.

http://www.fimfiction.net/story/5433/ARTICLE-2

As always my friends, Comment, Like, Favorite, do whatever kids are doing these days.

Emails are also always welcome. [email protected]

I’m also on Skype now.

Muppetz540 (creative little bugger aren’t I?)

Enjoy the resurrected Pony Chan thread. Had to walk my ass into the depths of Tartarus  to get it back though.

http://www.ponychan.net/chan/fic/res/124229.html

Also we have AKShooter/ Bolt/ The brilliant man behind all my fanart.

http://akshooter.deviantart.com/gallery/35023312

Come on guys he’s showing you up.

Here we go,

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC IS OWNED BY HASBRO

ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS

NO PROFIT WAS MADE IN THE CREATION / DISTRIBUTION

I DO NOT REPRESENT THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE OR THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

Also I’ll take the time now to say,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARINES!

Saturday marks the 237th anniversary of our Corps.

I’m sure you will all be at the Marine Corps Ball celebrating and remaining perfectly sober, while watching the new season premiere on our phones.

Remember It’s not mandatory...but you have to be there.

Semper Fidelis

And speaking of which guys, I really appreciate all the emails I get about those of you interested in Military service. I really love helping you guys out. But I am NOT a recruiter. If you want someone to talk to or answer a few questions I’d be more than happy to help. But you have to understand that I’ve only been in the fleet for like 5 months. I am still learning. I will do the best I can with your questions, or if you just want someone to talk to, Feel free. But I don’t have all the answers, and I will be the first to admit it.

I’ll probably be in here for awhile, adding things I forgot to mention.

For now, I’ll say goodnight, and Sleep well.

If this hits 1500 likes I'll post a video of me terrorizing my hometown in a robot suit.....in HD


ARTICLE 2

Part IX

By: Muppetz

 

 

 

~~~~~

 

“I’m sorry, Princess, but it’s just not possible. Maybe if we had more intact parts to study, but were working with melted hunks of plastic. We’re not sure where one part begins and another ends.”

Luna’s visage remained impassive, but here heart was heavy. It was the news she expected, but not what she wanted. “Is there any hope at all?” she asked quietly.

Bolt sighed deeply. “Princess…I could build you a rocket. I could probably even get it into space…but you’re asking me to take twisted scraps and melted goo and reconstruct a device that will not only tear the fabric of time-space, but also safely transport a vehicle.” He shook his head and gave a humorless laugh. “Unless your friend is able to explain to me, in detail, exactly how this machine goes back together and how each part works down to the very last nut and screw...” He shrugged, defeated. “As much as I would like to say I could, I can not. The technology simply does not exist.”

“I see,” she said, deflating.

“I’m sorry, Princess. I truly am. If it’s any consolation, we won’t stop working. We still have mountains upon mountains of data to quantify. It’s still possible that we might reach some breakthrough, but barring some massive development, there’s only so much we can do.”

“I understand.” Luna stared at the broken ship, inwardly wishing it would simply surrender its secrets on its own accord.

As if in response, the ship spat out a large green duffle bag, which fell to the ground with a soft thud. The green bag was shortly followed by a tan backpack. Like some game of ‘follow the leader,’ Shane jumped down after his effects, landing quite well on his two feet. Luna was once again surprised by how well balanced he was, considering his bipedal nature. Twilight spilled out next, crashing down on top of Shane’s duffle bag. Luna suppressed a grin. Shane pulled Twilight to her hooves before shouldering the assault pack and looking around the hangar. He turned and said something to Twilight before making his way toward Luna.

The two halted a few yards away, a table laden with scientific equipment separating him and Twilight from Luna and Bolt. There was an awkward silence. Luna knew she should probably break the news to him now, but she hated constantly being the one to deliver all the grim tidings.

Shane slipped the pack off his shoulders, setting it on the ground in front of him. “What are we talking about?” he finally asked.

“…nothing.” Luna breathed.

“Uh huh,” he noted cynically. He began to make his way around the station, inspecting all the alien devices that the scientists were studying. Most of the alien artifacts were protected inside glass cases on top of the tables. Only a few were out on the tables themselves.

Shane stopped at a table laden with small rectangular black tablets. They found several of them in the alien ship but so far had been unable to puzzle out their function. Shane picked one up. He toyed with the device for a few seconds before tossing it over his shoulder and picking up another.

Bolt had to visibly restrain himself from diving to catch the alien device before it clattered to the floor. Shane’s careless disregard for the artifacts was apparent. Luna reminded herself that despite the fact this technology was infinitely more advanced than their own, it was all probably rather commonplace equipment to the human. He fiddled with another device before tossing it like the last, with an unsatisfied grunt. “Cheap shit,” he muttered to himself. He grabbed a third. He depressed a small button on the side, the glossy black front flickered white for a split second before a red lightning bolt flashed on the screen, and the device died back to black, shutting itself off.

The spark of activity seemed to be enough to satisfy the human who walked over to his pack and tucked the device into a side compartment.

“What’s that?” Twilight asked, watching him studiously.

“We call them Blackboards. Just a data pad,” he said casually. “It’s a little tablet computer. They break a lot, and they’re cheap, but they make mundane work like inventory or communication a bit easier….usually.

Twilight magically lifted one of the ones he discarded off the floor. “What’s wrong with these?”

“Broken.” He plucked the tablet from Twilight’s magical aura. He hooked a fingernail on the side of the device, and with a bit of effort removed the plastic backing on the device. He took one look at the insides of the device. “Yup, See?” he turned it over to show Twilight. The circuitry was charred, black, and looked like it had been cooked from the inside out. “When the fail safes kicked us out of slip-space, we had some sort of massive electronic failure. Pretty much anything that ran on a circuit got fried. Some random stuff survived. Now I get to sift through all this crap trying to find anything useful that still works.”

“We’ve been working on these devices for the past few days,” Bolt interjected. “Like you said, most of it seems inoperable. We found a few working devices but they’re giving us some trouble. They aren’t particularly…hoof friendly. We haven’t had much luck with them.” They grey pegasus stretched his wings and jumped, gliding to a large container on the far end of the station. He motioned for Shane, Luna, and Twilight to join him.

“This is where we’re keeping the functional equipment.” He flipped two latches on the top of the metal container lifting the lid. A sheet of glass protected the artifacts, which rested on a soft cushion. There were only a dozen or so, a disappointing amount.

“Ha!” Shane burst, upon seeing the collection. “I was wondering where that went.” Shane pulled on the edges of the glass lid, attempting to pry it open. It didn’t budge. The case was locked up tight.

“Hang on,” Bolt turned and started, “I’ll get somepony to come unlock th-”

“SHANE DON’T-!”

*SMASH*

“It’s cool. I got it open.” The human noted nonchalantly, discarding a heavy microscope.

Luna smacked a hoof to her face, shaking her head. “I can’t take you anywhere, can I?”

Shane ignored her, picking up one of the devices. It was a sleek silver pad, very similar to the tablet computer but much smaller. One side was a highly polished black screen; the other was made of some sort of lightweight silver metal. Two black oval buds somehow clipped onto the sides. A strange orange and purple symbol was etched onto the back of the machine.

“What is it?” Twilight asked.

Shane didn’t answer. He popped the two black buds off the side of the device, cupping them in the palm of his hand. With his free hand he beckoned Twilight closer with a finger.

Confused, Twilight looked back at Luna for advice. The Princess merely shrugged her wings. She had no idea what he could be playing at.

Twilight edged closer, Shane grinning at her hesitation. He took a black bud into each hand, setting the small silver pad aside. He reached for Twilight’s head and she recoiled.

“Aw, now you’re starting to hurt my feelings,” he teased at her reaction. “All this quality time together and you still don’t trust me?”

“Not really,” Twilight admitted with a small grin.

“Hmm. I guess I should be proud of you. Now come here, you wanna see what it does or not?”

Twilight reached her head back toward him, comforted with the knowledge that Luna was watching the human like a hawk. He pinched the black buds in between his fingers. He held Twilight’s head in place with the heels of his palm, and as gently as he could, plugged a bud into each of Twilight’s ears.

It certainly wasn’t what she was expecting, but she was willing to play along for the time being. He released Twilight’s head and picked up the silver pad. He swiped and prodded at the mirrored screen which Twilight saw was now glowing with activity.

Twilight watched him curiously. With the buds in her ears, the world had become strangely muted. Her own breathing seemed much louder than usual. Limited hearing aside, she was still able to understand him when he began to speak.

“Probably ought to start you off with something a bit tamer. Wouldn’t wanna culture shock the shit out of you….yet. Here, see how this strikes you.”

He poked the screen one final time before lowering it and watching Twilight, apparently waiting for her reaction.

She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. She didn’t feel any different. She was just about to say something when the soft line of a violin echoed through her head. The note faded away, only to come back. The uplifting notes were slowly joined by an entire symphony of instruments. Twilight felt like there was an entire orchestra in her head. “Its music!” she announced, infinitely excited. It was so delightfully unexpected. She never even stopped to wonder about humans having an artistic side. She couldn’t help but laugh.

Shane genuinely smiled. Bolt and Luna moved forward, both instantly fascinated. Shane set the silver pad down in front of Twilight, allowing her to see the glowing screen. There was a small black and white picture on the display. It was a clearly aged human male. Bold white words floated across the screen under the picture.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky-1812 Overture’

There was also a running timer informing her how long she had been listening. A small lightning bolt in the top corner of the screen glowed dull yellow. Inside the little bolt were numbers. ‘23%’ She watched it for a moment, and noticed the number was dropping it now read ‘22%’. She realized it must signify the charge of some internal power source.

Luna seated herself next to Twilight, ready to explore the mysteries of the alien music box. Twilight touched the screen with the tip of her purple hoof. A small display of symbols superimposed themselves upon the screen. Twilight selected one, a small circle with two parallel lines. She touched it, and it flashed in response and the symphony immediately ceased, leaving only silence. A tiny word appeared at the bottom; “Paused”.

Twilight’s brow furrowed. She went to press the button again, but another symbol had replaced it; a circle with a sideways triangle. For lack of a better option she tapped it. It flashed, and once again the music flowed. Twilight smiled. She magically pulled the buds from her ears and offered them to Luna enthusiastically.

 

Luna eyed them curiously. She could hear the faint melody drifting from them, but the device was clearly meant to be enjoyed by one individual at a time. She delicately lifted the buds with a spell and secured them inside her own ears. Orchestral music reverberated through her head, as if she were surrounded by an invisible symphony. It was certainly a delightful invention. Much more convenient than the hoof cranked phonographs that most ponies in Equestria used. Few enough owned electronic stereos, and even those tended to be bulky and expensive. How the humans had managed to compress such a device into something as small as the black ear buds was simply beyond her.

With Luna and Twilight successfully enthralled with the mp3 player, the human took to continuing his examination of the rest of the working devices. He selected a few, stuffing them into various pockets of the assault pack. Bolt watched him studiously. His heart aching slightly as he watch this creature steal away some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs Bolt was likely to ever encounter in his life, even if they weren’t technically his.

Twilight and Luna had made several great strides in puzzling out the mysteries of the alien music pad. They discovered the double triangle symbols would change the song. They were now busy cycling through a seemingly endless list of song titles. Luna was fascinated by the enormous variety of human music. It was almost eerie in a way. She, despite the similarities in language, knew the words that echoed through the buds were of humans, not ponies. It almost served as a reminder that Shane was not a lone oddity. There were indeed other humans out there, somewhere, recording the songs of their people and stuffing them into little music pads.

Luna tapped the ‘next’ symbol. It flashed and two voices began to sound a haunting melody.

-Oooooooooohhh. Ooooooooooooooooohhhh.

-I’m a dead man walking here. That’s the least of all my fears.

-Oooh, underneath the water.

-It’s not Alabama clay, keeps my tremblin’ hands away.

-Please forgive me father

 

Luna tapped the icon again.

-Whoooa

-The hot summer night, fell like a net. I’ve gotta fiiiind my baby yet.

-I need you, to soothe my head. Turn my bluuue heart to red.

-Doctor, Doctor, gimme the news, I gotta bad case of lovin’ you.

 

Luna chuckled at the lyrics. The variety alone was staggering. The little pad seemed capable of producing everything from the pulsing synthetic beats of the nightclubs, to the rolling twang of the country guitar. She wished she could explore it longer, but she was acutely aware of her more pressing duties. Still, a few more moments couldn’t hurt.

She returned her attention to the silver pad at her hooves. The screen was no longer providing her with the control symbols. The glowing screen had returned to a lifeless, glossy black. Luna tapped on it, confused. The buds were still playing their song. She could still hear the lyrics describing the story of the stallion that had inadvertently fallen in love with his physician.

She turned toward Shane who was still busy fiddling with random electronics. “HUMAN, THIS DEVICE SEEMS TO BE EXPERIENCING SOME TYPE OF MALFUNCTION. WE REQUEST YOUR ASSISTANCE REPARING IT!”

Shane ducked and clasped his hands over his rounded ears to shield them from the force of the princess’ royal Canterlot voice, teeth firmly gritted in pain. He worked his jaw in circles as he walked back over to the Lunar Princess. He reached by her head and snatched one of the black buds from her ear. “You don’t have to scream,” he began annoyed, “WE can hear just fine.” Shane picked up the device, “It just went to sleep. The battery is almost dead. It shuts off the display to save power.”

“Clever little thing,” she commented, fascinated.

“…yeah. If it does it again just push this button on the side.” He returned the device to Luna’s care and went back to his scavenging, this time Twilight accompanying him. Luna looked at the pad, display now fully revived. Luna noticed the little yellow lightning bolt in the corner had changed from yellow to a bright red. “19%” was now flashing directly beneath it.

She didn’t have much time before the device ran out of power. Luna turned, quickly spotting her sister standing with Applejack near a large pyramid of boxes. “Celestia! Come and see this!”

Princess Celestia exchanged a few words with the farm pony, who nodded enthusiastically. Celestia tucked one of the brown plastic packages under a wing and began to trot briskly over to her younger sister.

Celestia came up to her younger sister and excitedly produced one of the brown plastic packages. “Look Luna, Human food!” She floated the package to her sister.

The brown plastic packaging was sealed up tight, most likely to ensure a long shelf life during travel. ‘MRE’ was stamped across the front in big black letters. Underneath were a few smaller words. ‘

Meal, Ready-To-Eat, Individual

Menu No. 23 – Chicken Pesto Pasta’

Warfighter Recommended

Warfighter Tested

Warfighter Approved

 

THE WORNICK COMPANY

CINCINATTI, OH 45242

 

U.S GOVERNMENT PROPERTY

COMMERCIAL RESALE IS UNLAWFUL

 

FLAMELESS RATION HEATERS ARE PROHIBITED ON COMMERCIAL AIRLINES UNLESS SEALED IN ORIGINAL MRE MENU BAG

 

“Which one did you get?” Shane asked, wandering over. Celestia levitated the bag over to him. He snagged it out of the air, turning it over in his hands. “Pesto,” he shrugged, “eh… that one’s actually not bad.” He pulled apart the end of the bag, he dug around inside, selecting out yet another vacuum sealed brown bag. “These are pretty good though,” he announced, ripping open the package. He pulled out some sort of bread square, breaking off a stick and biting a chunk, chewing happily. He held the package out, offering it to the princess. Celestia cast a questioning glace at Bolt.

“We tested all of them,” he announced. “They’re safe to eat…technically. They pack enough preservatives to mummify a small cat…but…you know…your call, Highness,” he shrugged.

“Celestia’s horn glowed as she levitated one of the bread sticks from the package. She sniffed it cautiously. The breadstick smelled of garlic and plastic. She took a tentative nibble, everypony awaiting her verdict. She chewed for a few second before shrugging herself. “It’s actually quite good,” she agreed, and popped the rest of the bread snack into her mouth, munching thoughtfully.

Shane stuffed the empty wrapper back in the larger MRE package and set it on a nearby table. He went back over to his table with Twilight, who was watching him work on yet another strange device.

Luna began to eagerly explain to her elder sister the wonders of the music pad.

 

~~~~~

 

“What’s this one?” Twilight asked nudging one of the machines Shane was toying with.

“A corpsman’s best friend,” he elaborated subversively.

“What does it do?” She poked it with a hoof.

He pulled it out of her reach. “If I can fix it I’ll show you.”

“What wrong with it?” She questioned immediately.

He sighed, “I don’t know.”

It was a thin plastic band, maybe three or four inches wide. It was hinged, so that the device would open into two half circles, like a large electronic vambrace. One half housed a display screen similar to the music pad, about the size of a playing card. The inside of the plastic band was lined with several metal sensor plates.

“What do you need it for?” She continued.

“I don’t really,” he admitted. “But I’d still like to get it working. I probably won’t even use it, but I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”

“Luck favors the prepared,” she added.

“So I’ve heard. Here, make yourself useful.” He tossed the device toward her and she fumbled attempting to catch the alien hardware in her hooves. “Take out those screws and try to get the backing off.”

Twilight examined the inside of the band behind the screen. Four tiny silver screws held a small plastic plate in place. Shane stepped past Twilight and began digging through a bin filled with what looked like scraps.

Twilight’s horn began to glow softly, as she began to magically manipulate one of the silver screws. It seemed stuck at first, but eventually the tiny metal screw began to twist out of place. Once it was out, she set the miniscule rivet on the table. It took her less than a minute to repeat the gesture for the last three.

Shane finished digging. He returned with a silver cylinder, which looked much like an ordinary coffee thermos. He also managed to find a second device, identical to the white band he was working on.

Shane presented Twilight with the second device. “If you would be so kind,” he encouraged.

“With pleasure,” she replied happily. She set about removing the backing of the new device. Once done she handed it back to him.

Shane examined the innards of the new band carefully His fingers would be too big to do any fine work on the inside of the tiny machine. He knelt down to give Twilight a look. “See that small blue square piece?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied somewhat confused.

“Yank the little fucker out.”

Twilight complied curiously and passed it to the human who set it on the table. Shane tossed the now gutted device back toward the bin, missing but apparently not caring enough to go pick it up.

He had Twilight repeat the same spell on the old device, removing the blue square, which he discarded as well. Shane carefully fitted the new square into the old device. The screen flickered a bit but died back to black. Shane excitedly reached for the silver cylinder. He unscrewed the lid, and pulled out a large rubber mat. The mat was rolled up like a carpet, a long black wire wrapped around it keeping its shape.

Shane unwound the wire from the mat and set it on the table giving it a tiny push and rolling it out flat. The inside was covered in hundreds of tiny black mirrors. The black wire was connected to the corner of the mat, ending with a small golden jack.

Shane plugged the wire into a port on the side of the white device. The screen lit up.

Twilight smiled, “Solar panels?”

“Mmm hmm,” he confirmed absentmindedly.

“Clever,” Twilight noted.

 A bright red cross flashed happily on the display. “CLS-Support Systems” scrolled across the bottom, followed by “Awaiting Host”. Shane seemed satisfied enough with the device. He unplugged it, rolling the mat back up and placed it back inside its protective cylinder. Shane grabbed up his now functional toy and the metal cylinder, walked back to his pack, and stuffed them inside.

 

~~~~~

 

“Luna, I don’t think it did it on purpose.” Celestia attempted to reason.

“I do not care what its intentions were,” Luna replied, still blushing. “I will not sit here and allow this thing to speak to me in such a vile fashion. I will not be shaking my…’money maker’ for anypony. Regardless of how enjoyable he seems to think it may be.”

Luna had the device laying face down on the floor, so that it would know what it had done. Celestia suppressed a grin. Shane stepped past the two, reaching down and plucking the device off the ground. He looked at the title on the screen, then back at Luna before chuckling and stuffing it into his cargo pocket as he walked away.

“Where are you going?” Celestia asked.

He didn’t answer. He merely snagged the strap on the green sea bag and slung it over a shoulder, walking off toward where Applejack was still sorting through the piles of alien food rations.

~~~~~

 

 

AJ rummaged through the cardboard box. She eventually realized that the same twenty five or so varieties just repeated themselves. She did not envy whoever had to survive of these things for any period of time. She also noted that an overly large number of the meals featured some form of meat. So far she hadn’t seen any pony flesh on the entrees, but there were still ones like ‘pork rib’ or even worse ‘beef stew’ and she couldn’t help but think of Daisy Jo. She decided that she probably shouldn’t introduce Shane to any of her bovine friends.

“Whatcha’ doing?” came a deep voice from directly behind her, making her nearly jump out of her skin. She spun around to see Shane watching diligently.

“Gracious, sugarcube. Ya’ll nearly scared me half ta death. Aint’cha ever been taught not ta sneak up on ponies?”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “I casually walked over here. There was no sneaking involved. Maybe you just need to work on your situational awareness,” he retorted with a smug smile. He shrugged off his bags and stepped past the young farm pony.

He climbed up to the pyramid of boxes. He grabbed two cases from near the top tossed them down toward his duffle bag. He snapped the white plastic straps that held the lids on the cases closed.

He opened his sea bag. It looked as though it was stuffed with clothes; he fished around in the bag for a moment, producing a strange eight pointed hat, made of the same material as his utilities. He stuffed the cover in a cargo pocket before diving right back into the bag. He began to remove and discard several random sets of clothing. Most were identical to the ones he was wearing. She also saw him remove a few olive drab skivvy shirts and pairs of extra-short shorty short shorts, which she suppressed the urge to comment on.

When he was satisfied with his abridged wardrobe, he started stuffing the bag with MRE packages. Applejack wandered closer.

Shane stopped after looking at a particular package, grimacing. “Veggie Burger,” he groused. “Why do you even exist?!” he demanded of the plastic package. It gave no response, and Shane threw it over his shoulder with apparent repulsion.

  “I’m pretty sure the Princess will keep ya fed, sugarcube.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he answered. “However, I’ve never found it a good idea to get dependant on someone for something. Generous as you all seem, I’d like to maintain some level of self sufficiency. Besides, your diet tends to be a bit …conservative for my taste.”

“Ah guess that makes sense,” she admitted reluctantly, as Shane resumed packing MREs into the sea bag. “So ya’ll really do eat meat, huh?” she examined one labeled “Beef Brisket”.

“You guys seem kinda fixated on this, huh?” he noted.

“Sorry, sugarcube, it’s just kinda…strange. I don’t reckon I come across many carnivores that ain’t trying ta eat me.”

“Would it make you feel better if I killed and ate someone?” he laughed.

“That ain’t exactly what ah meant.”

“Then try saying what you mean,” he suggested.

Applejack though for a second, trying to rephrase the question. “How do you do it? I mean don’t it make ya feel bad?”

“Nope,” he answered plainly. “I refuse to apologize for my nature. But if it helps try to look at it like this,” he started. “Do you feel bad for eating a carrot?”

“No, but a carrot’s just a plant.”

“So, if I were to magically drop you in a world of sentient carrot people, how would you justify all those innocent carrots you ate in your life?”

“Ah guess ah see yer point,” she admitted.

“I promise it’s nothing personal. I wasn’t the one who decided to make animals delicious.”

“I suppose it ain’t really mah place ta question nature. It’s just mighty strange ta know this here used to be some poor critter.” She nudged a package with a hoof.

He laughed bitingly at that. When AJ asked him why, he answered; “The legitimacy of MRE meat products is somewhat of an object for debate. I’d like to believe that was at one point a living animal. But that shit has been processed so many times; to call it ‘beef’ is really more of an insult to cows.”

Applejack couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. So she gave him one of those half- hearted, uncertain chuckles and a wavering grin. She wasn’t sure if he’d actually bought it, but it seemed to satisfy him because he returned the grin and went back to work packing his food.

Soon the point came where he could no longer force any packages into the green sea bag. He closed up the opening on the top of the sea bag, barely getting the clasps to clip together. He snaked an arm through one of the shoulder straps and grabbed his backpack by a handle.

“Will that be enough?” she asked.

He shrugged. “It’ll last awhile. If I’m smart it can last two weeks. If I really stretch it, maybe three.”

“What now?” Applejack asked.

Shane looked back at Celestia and Luna who were busy talking to Bolt about something. Twilight had wandered over to where Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were observing the lab technicians running various chemical tests inside a plastic bubble.

His eyes wandered over to Rarity who was off by herself examining the contents of yet another station littered with olive drab pelican cases.

“Let’s go see what Curly-Cue is up to,” he suggested, clearly already having made up his mind.

“That’s Rarity, sugarcube,” Applejack corrected, knowing the fasionista probably wouldn’t have appreciated the nickname.

“Rarity,” he repeated.

The walk was brief, but Shane surprised Applejack when he made a strange attempt at small talk. “So what’s your story?”

Applejack thought for a minute, wondering at this newfound curiosity of his. Until now he seemed relatively disinterested in everypony. “Ain’t much ta tell I suppose. Grew up on mah family’s apple orchard with Granny and mah brother and sister. Been runnin’ the family business ever since ah was old ‘nuff.”

“Hmm,” He scratched his chin with both hands, irritated with the stubble that was growing on his cheeks.

“What about you?” Applejack asked. “You ain’t said much about yourself since ya got here.”

“That’s true,” he nodded, saying nothing more.

Applejack cleared her throat, “Hint hint,” she prodded.

He grinned, “Maybe someday,” he relented, “But not today.”

AJ rolled her eyes, fairly unsurprised. They came upon Rarity who was inspecting a large alien crate, lined with black padding. The dark green box was filled to the brim with a strange assortment of gear. What seemed like hundreds of random straps and buckles were in a tangled mess in the box.

“Heya, Rare. Whatcha got there?” Applejack greeted warmly.

Rarity turned and beheld the two.

“Hello, darlings. I’m not entirely sure to be perfectly honest with you.”

Shane peeked into the pelican crate. He let out an exited “Ooh,” and snatched a tan buckle pulling it out and shaking it free of all the tangled straps that attempted to accompany it. Once free, he pulled it back. The buckle was attached to a tan thigh holster, identical to the one the Princesses had taken away from him back in the hospital. He happily strapped the empty holster to his right thigh. “I’m feelin’ better already,” he announced excitedly, flexing his leg. “What else is in here?” He continued digging. He pulled out several straps and pouches that looked like they would attach perfectly to the pals webbing that covered his pack.

 

Once he picked the crate of prizes, he moved to another. He unhooked the latches and popped it open. This one was full of thick-looking vests, unsurprisingly also covered in the same pals webbing.

If nothing else,” Rarity decided, “It’s certainly exceedingly customizable.” Rarity levitated one closer. It was heavy. The inside of the vest was lined with thick, semi-flexible plates. She opened a velcro flap, and removed one of the armor plates. The plate was made of several hundred overlapping discs, each a little more than half an inch thick. The discs were arranged in a pattern greatly resembling scales. Each individual disc was woven out of heavy, tight-knit fibers.

Shane dug a larger vest out for himself. He also selected several attachment plates from a bin on the side.

He slipped the vest over his shoulders, wincing slightly, as he poked his arms through the holes. He began attaching the extra plates. One was a high back yoke made of the same thick material as the vest. Another two wrapped around his shoulders, covering a good portion of his biceps. There were extra plates that looked like they attached to the bottom to cover his hips, but he didn’t bother with them.

His upper torso was now almost entirely encased in armor plating. He rapped his knuckles on the front of his chest a few times, and smiled. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” He said happily.

“It’s hardly a fashion statement,” Rarity noted, “but I doubt that was its intended purpose.”

“Functionality, Darling.” He retorted, doing his best to mimic the unicorn’s accent. Rarity shot him an unamused glare. Applejack could only chuckle, deeply amused by the little gibe.

Shane just grinned wolfishly, drumming his fingers on his empty holster.

~~~~~

 

“Bolt,” Celestia began carefully, “…are these what I think they are?”

The ashen engineer’s smile was almost wide enough to split his face in two. He was clearly saving his favorite revelation for last. “Weapons, your highness.” He said with nothing but prideful excitement in his voice.

The inside of the tent was lined with steel plates and sandbags. Two long racks flanked either side, all lined up with an arsenal of human assault weapons. Several black pelican cases lay open to reveal thousands upon thousands of shining brass rounds. It was an impressive display, to say the least.

Bolt began to eagerly dash around the armor plated tent, like a foal in a candy store. “It’s amazing, Princess. It really is. It’s some of the most advanced pieces of simple machinery I have ever encountered.” He hefted one of the larger heavy-looking machines off the rack, using a wing to steady the machine gun, and rested it on the steel table in the center of the tent. This weapon was much thicker than the other, more sleek, rifles, but it still radiated a deadly purpose. “The concept is simple enough,” he began to elaborate. “In all honesty this is nothing more than a fancy miniature cannon. It’s designed to send little copper slugs out this barrel at supersonic speeds.” Celestia already had a basic idea of how the weapons functioned from her brief study of their smaller cousin she had confiscated from the Major.  “It’s designed to fire these,” he scooped a few brass rounds from one of the containers and let them fall onto the metal table with an annoying clatter. “The calibers vary slightly but they all function under the same basic principle. Either an electric pulse or the strike of a small pin sets off this tiny primary ignition charge on the back. That ignites a secondary charge inside the cartridge. The round is pushed out of the casing by the expanding gas, which propels it down and out the barrel. Most of the projectiles are little copper-jacketed lead slugs. But there are a few cases of specialty rounds, some packed with a burning incendiary phosphorous. Then there’s my favorite,” He pulled long shining belt of rounds from a case off to the side, and clicked the first round into the feed tray of the weapon. “These babies have the same phosphorous packing, with a secondary tungsten carbide core. This sucker could punch through an inch of tempered steel like butter...” Bolt was a little too excited about the arsenal of human weapons.

Luna stalked carefully around the room, examining the human weapons with a poorly concealed look of awe. They were beautiful in the most terrifying way. They were sleek, elegant, and powerful. They made the few cannons in the castle armory seem like ancient relics.

 

 Celestia didn’t know what exactly the humans expected to encounter to warrant such a store. She felt a very unnerving chill run down her spine. She recalled the deadly potential of just Shane with his small handgun. Just one human. What chance would Equestria possibly stand against entire armies of assault rifle toting Shane Dorans?

They were, to put it bluntly, hilariously outgunned.

Celestia, however, did not find herself envying the humans weapons. She reflected on the emotion running through her, somewhat surprising herself when she settled upon pity. What manner of existence must they have suffered through to warrant the need for such measures?

 

Luna surprised the young stallion when she spoke. “Director, would you mind stepping out for a moment. I would like to have a word with my sister in private.” She was not unkind with her words, but she was clearly not making a request.

“Oh…um, of course, your highness. Please take your time,” Bolt replied with a small bow, somewhat caught of guard. He exited the tent through the steel-plated plastic door, leaving them alone amongst the machines of war.

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POST

EDITS FOR PART IX

Thanks go to KnightShadow!

Everyone clap.

In regards to the chapter, like I said, I broke this off of a much larger chunk so I could post something before finals hit.

And before you guys ask me why Shane has music from the 80s on his Mp3 player if this is supposed to be the future, know that they were just the first two songs that came up shuffled on my playlist. Nothing more or less.

I didn’t feel like coming up with original music and lyrics. Besides, I like people being able to recognize some songs. Because this isn’t the last time we play with music.

 

I’d also like to thank this TV Tropes that I apparently have for over 1700 referrals. I’m not sure what it means but that’s a big number so it sounds important.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/Article2

 

Speaking of big numbers hooray for this story on FimFic breaking 1600 thumbs.

The FunnyJunker in me is so proud.

Show me how high you can get it and I’ll post more ridiculous stuff.


“This chapter made me hard as a rock.” -Oplindenfep

These are the kind of comments that make it all worth it.

 

 

 

New Chapter inbound VERY soon.

Big X and I am pretty excited. These recent chapters have been pretty fun to write. I’m also excited about the upcoming few. It gets a bit more comical which I like. Some relief before shit gets heavy again.

 

I need people to friend me on this Ponyville game on my phone. I have no idea what I’m doing. Muppetz540 It keeps telling me I need to visit other cities, and I’m all like “Bitch I don’t have any friends to visit!” But she never listens, and then everyone at the hospital looks at me weird for yelling at my phone.

 

On an unrelated note.

If anyone got Celestia in one of their blind bags I WANT IT.

I will trade you a pile of Marine Corps swag that I’ve stolen from various duty stations. My house is full of fun stuff I’d be willing to part with in return for that figurine. For srs Email

[email protected]

Or Skype me

Muppetz540

You think I’m joking but I’m not. I want it.

 

 

~SPOILERS~

For those of you that don’t bother reading the updates or blogs or anything.

First of all.

I DID post that robot video. I’m the one in the silver suit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeQ1OubI7SY

And also that teaser chapter I posted awhile ago has been updated.

BE ADVISED

Teaser chapter DOES contain spoilers. You have been warned.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DX-ND_dkAWfGGyuqssC_iKBW9erXKeI2seABmMi1978/edit

 

 

That’s all for now folks!

See you again very soon.

 


ARTICLE 2

Part X

By: Muppetz

~~~~~

Shane took a knee so that the young mares could have a better view. The girls all nudged closer, careful to make sure they didn’t crowd the human. Shane pulled out the device Twilight helped him fix earlier. He adjusted the shoulder plate on his body armor. The curved ballistic plate reached over his shoulder; connecting to the long high-ballistic yoke that protected his neck. He hooked a finger under the Kevlar shoulder plate, snagging the end of a small braided wire ending with a small golden tip. He pulled the slack of the cord from under the shoulder plate, plugging the golden tip into a small port on the back side of the yoke. Twilight watching fascinated as the human worked together the internal wiring of the armor.

He grabbed the circular plastic device popping a small latch on the side, causing the device to open like a pair of hoofcuffs. The Kevlar shoulder plate had a small groove that allowed the device to clamp around the curved plate. Shane clipped it into place, fitting it securely around his upper arm.

He shifted, giving the girls a better look at the device’s small display screen. He flicked a tiny switch on the side, and the screen flickered to life, eliciting a soft ‘ooooh’ from Pinkie Pie, who leaned in closer.

Please Wait… flashed in small white letters across the display. Soon the screen changed, the backlight shifted to a soft green. A black readout was displayed across the screen in three rows.

95 mm/Hg

85 - bpm.     ---/\---/\----/\--

97.6 f                

Is that you?” Twilight asked.

“Yep,” he smiled, interestingly enough. He usually didn’t make such a gesture flippantly. Maybe his mood was improving. “Sensor pads on the inside of these plates take readings of my vital signs.”

“Why?” Dash asked.

“If I get hit a corpsman won’t waste time having to manually check vitals; makes it a bit easier for them to figure out if I’m even salvageable or if I’m already dead. Plus, it eliminates the need to remove the casualty’s armor in the middle of a killzone. That’s all less time they have to spend in danger areas. The less time you spend in a firefight, the less shot you will get. Even after he’s stable you can use it to monitor the victim for shock or whatever. It’s actually pretty handy.”

“Are you expecting somepony to shoot you?” Twilight asked with a slight tease in her voice, as she poked the flak experimentally with a hoof.

“At the very least, I am concerned about the possibility,” he retorted, brushing away her hoof.

“I don’t think you need to worry,” she started with a laugh. “Equestria is a pretty safe place.”

The room suddenly exploded with the sound of firecrackers, as one of the white tents lit up with rattle of automatic gunfire. The air shattered with a sonic crack as a bullet tore through the space just above their heads. “GE’DOWN!” Shane screamed above the noise.

 Before Twilight could even wonder what was happening, Shane shoved her to the ground before grabbing Rainbow Dash by the tail, yanking her out of the air and dragging her down to the deck as he dove for it himself.

Applejack Fluttershy and Rarity had the common sense to duck behind a few shipping containers, Pinkie Pie continued to stand there like a blissfully confused owl as rounds continued to rip randomly through the air. Swearing loudly, Shane reached over and snagged a fistful of fluffy, pink mane and yanked the bubblegum mare off her hooves and down into a protective embrace, the object of which Pinkie soundly missed, returning the “hug” with unbridled enthusiasm.

As suddenly as the uproar started, it ended. There was nothing but silence for several painstaking seconds. Shane popped his head up, with a look of absolute fury. He struggled for a moment to pry Pinkie off and jumped to his feet. Sprinting to the tent from which the spray of gunfire had erupted, shouting some of the most creatively vulgar strings of swear words Twilight had ever heard.

“That was just bad timing. Equestria is usually very safe!” Twilight shouted after him.

~~~~~

Once Bolt was through, Luna closed the plated door, sliding a thin metal latch into place to keep it shut. She turned back to her elder sister, who was staring off at nothing in particular.

Luna sighed tiredly. “It seems we have yet another bushel of thorns to untangle.”

“Indeed,” Celestia remarked, distractedly brushing a wing over one of the pitch black rifles.

“How are we going to handle this?” Luna prodded, hoping for something a bit more contributive from her sister. “We can’t ignore something like this.”

“No,” Celestia replied quietly, “but I shudder to think of what it could mean for Equestria.”

“You mean suddenly being thrust hundreds of years forward in military technologies? Yes, I imagine it would come as quite the shock, but can we afford to let an opportunity like this slip by?”

“I am more concerned by the implications of exploiting it. The safe thing to do would be to bury all of this.”

Bury an opportunity to ensure Equestria’s protection? Celestia how can you be so irresponsible? This could guarantee peace for Equestria. Even just a small arsenal of these and no government or army would dare threaten our borders!”

“Peace is not as difficult to achieve as it once was, sister. The world has changed. One thousand years our subjects have not had to endure the terrors of war. We are at peace now. The last thing we need to be doing is starting an arms race!

“And what will happen when history repeats itself? You and I have lived too long to pretend that it won’t. How many ponies are you willing to let die because you let rosy idealism cloud your judgment? When war finally does come, and it will, how will you justify spilling the blood of our subjects, knowing you had the opportunity to prevent it?!”

“Preparing for war on such a massive scale serves only to invite it to our doorstep! You speak of our defense, but no sword will ever act as a shield! I refuse to sacrifice our souls in the name of safety. That leads only to an ever increasingly slippery slope. You want to turn Equestria into some sole military superpower? I admit, you would secure peace, but only for a time, but deterrence is not the same as peace, Luna. What may seem like our salvation now, will be our downfall later.”

Luna sighed, annoyed. “I understand the danger, sister, but if we shut our eyes and bury our heads in the sand every time some frightening new development was achieved, there would be no progress. These weapons could protect us, Celestia. And no, I do not wish to see Equestria transformed into some military industrialist. It would break my heart to see our peaceful nation corrupted by violence, and if that is what it takes to keep them safe; is it not worth it? It is better to be prepared for war than to sit praying it never comes.”

Celestia sat on her haunches and massaged her temple with a golden shod hoof. “Neither option appeals to me. I do not wish to leave us defenseless, nor do I want to see Equestria arming itself after so many years of advocating peace. It would be seen as a threat and make us a target.”

Luna sighed deeply, approaching the belt fed weapon Bolt had left on the table. She scrutinized it; an unreadable expression in her face. “Whatever we choose, we need to act soon. This is not something that is best left idle. Too many ponies have seen these weapons as it is. If we wait too much longer, covering this up won’t be an option. It may already be too late.” Her horn began to glow as she lifted the steel black machine off the table, the belt of ammunition trailing out like a brass waterfall.

“Be careful with that, Luna. You don’t know what you’re doing,” Celestia warned.

“Relax. I’m just looking, it’s not-”

The weapon fired with ear shattering report. Luna immediately severed the magic, allowing the machine gun to fall to the table as it continued to bounce around wildly, spraying bullets in every direction, the armor piercing rounds shredding through the tent’s protective plates with ease.

The two princesses immediately dove under the table, seeking the slight protection it offered. Celestia quickly severed the belt of ammunition with a spell, and a few painful seconds later, the machine clattered back to the table.

Luna cautiously poked her head over the table. She peered at the smoking machine gun lying motionless on the steel table. “…Interesting.”

The thin metal latch on the door cracked off with a sharp ping as the plated door slammed open. An enraged-looking Shane stepped through the portal, now wearing some sort of strange looking armored vest. He strode right past Luna and Celestia and snatched the machine gun off the table and racked the charging handle. He popped open the feed cover before slamming it shut. Weapon still in hand he turned his attention to the princesses. He didn’t look happy.  

“Have you lost YOUR FUCKING MINDS?!?! Do you even have any FUCKING idea what you’re doing?!” He demanded furiously. “JESUS, I thought you people were capable of displaying a shred of rational thought! Do I REALLY have to fucking babysit you two?!”

Celestia had to admit she was still a bit shaken from the rogue killing machine that had nearly turned them all into swiss cheese, but part of her could only be amused by the human’s tirade. Being an immensely powerful alicorn princess, she didn’t exactly get chewed out very often. It was a somewhat novel experience.

“I mean… Christ! You could’ve killed somebody! OR WORSE!” he added in a terrible voice, “…you could have fucked up one of my guns.

“PRINCESS!?” Bolt slammed to the ground outside the door, “Is everypony alright?!?!”

“Fine Director, thank you. Was anypony hurt?”

“No, thankfully. What happened?”

“Luna.” Celestia said plainly, as if that summed it up, earning an irritated glare from the younger alicorn.

Shane turned back to the two alicorns. “We’ll finish this conversation later,” he menaced through gritted teeth. He stepped passed the princesses, practically throwing the large machine gun back down onto the steel table, and approaching one of the long racks of assault rifles.

Celestia trotted up next to him. She knew he probably wouldn’t care for her proximity, but she wished to speak in some relative privacy.

He reached below the racks of assault rifles, pulling open a wide drawer in the steel rack. On which lay several replicas of his handgun which was still safely resting in the vault in Celestia’s office.

He reached for one, and Celestia pinned his hand down with a golden shod hoof. He shot her one of the most poisonous looks she had ever seen from another living creature.

She returned his look, pouring all her uneasiness with the situation into the stare, saying more with her eyes than she ever could with her words.

He rolled his eyes, but must have gotten the message because his expression softened considerably. He inhaled, “Princess,” he started very quietly, “I know you’re afraid, and I understand that all this is probably very unnerving for you. We haven’t exactly built a stellar track record thus far and I’m willing to take a very small portion of the blame for that.” Celestia resisted the urge to smirk, “But this is something I take very, very seriously. Up until now, I’ve been relatively content to let you handle this cluster-fuck as you saw fit, but not this. This is one thing that we are handling my way and my way only.” Celestia barely began to open her mouth when he cut her off. “This is not a negotiation. This is not a request. This is not a threat. This is me simply stating the facts of the situation. I am aware you are unfamiliar with our SOPs. So I’ll just say that ordinarily the seizure of another government’s munitions is seen by my kind as an exceedingly hostile gesture. I would be well within my rights to use whatever means necessary to make sure these weapons do not fall into the hands of …let’s face it, a potential enemy.”

“I assure you, we had no intention of inciting aggression,” Celestia quickly renounced, “We were merely trying to-”

“Calm down,” Shane cut her off, “I’m not accusing you of anything. I know you didn’t know any better. But regardless, as of right now I am re-appropriating these weapons, and any and all materials I think might prove dangerous to you, myself, or others. I don’t care how shiny and advanced they seem to you. I don’t care what you think you’ll benefit by studying them. If I flag it, it goes. No questions, no ‘buts.’ I’m doing this to protect you. This is not something you as a species are ready for yet, so I am removing the temptation.”

Celestia stared into his hard blue eyes. He was being deathly serious.

 “I need you to be on board with me here, Celestia, because one way or another, I’m confiscating these weapons from you. We can work together and do this the easy way, OR…you can be difficult about it, and we’ll do this the really easy way.”

His warning made Celestia’s spine tingle. He left zero room to maneuver, and she preferred not to think of what ‘the really easy way’ entailed. She wasn’t thrilled with the circumstances but she found herself oddly relieved. Celestia wasn’t sure if he was doing it on purpose or not but he had, in effect, given her a way out. He made the decision that she and Luna seemed unable to, and while she was never one to shy away from responsibilities, it was strangely liberating to have someone else be at the proverbial reins. “Very well, Major. You will have my support. I feel no shame in admitting that this is hardly my field of expertise. Handle this as you will, and you shall suffer no interference from me.”

Shane gave her a satisfied grin, and tried to pull his hand out from under her golden hoof, but she kept it pinned firmly in place.

“But be warned, Major. I am putting an enormous amount of trust in you. Betray that trust, and the consequences will be…unpleasant.” She tried her best to sound intimidating, but the amused smile that spread across the human’s lips somehow gave her the impression that the remark may not have had the desired effect.

He chuckled softly, “I’d be disappointed if they weren’t.” And in a deceptively cheerful tone he added, “Now please remove your hoof or I will remove it for you.” He smiled happily.

Celestia released his hand, giving him an unamused glare.

“See? We can work together.” He wrapped his fingers around the grip of one of the pistols. “And relax,” he soothed, still smiling, “I do this for a living.” He slammed a magazine into the handle, racking the slide with a satisfying ring.

Celestia watched, still not entirely convinced, as he slipped the pistol into the molded holster on his thigh.

Bolt’s voice caught their attention as he let out an exasperated groan when he nudged one of the spent brass shells on the floor. “Were those the tungsten rounds?” His head drooped a bit. “I wanted to shoot those.” He murmured, depressed.

Celestia and Luna, both gave him a curious glance.

“What? It’s fun,” he defended.

“I hate to burst your bubble, brother, but no one’s shooting anything anymore….Except maybe me, should the occasion call for it.”

Which it won’t.” Celestia reminded warningly.

“What do you mean?” Bolt asked, confused.

“Standard operating procedure dictates that it is my joyous duty to relieve you of all arms and ammunition illegally acquired from the site of a downed Naval vessel,” he recited in a bored monotone. “Seeing as I still find myself unable to provide sufficient security for remanded materials, all unexploded ordinance is to be destroyed under my supervision, along with any and all weapons platforms I deem necessary. Please be advised, non-compliance will be met with the use of deadly force. Thank you for your cooperation.” Celestia got the feeling this wasn’t the first time he had recited the speech.

“Waitwaitwaitwait…You’re going to destroy all of this?!” Bolt sounded horrified.

“Yuuup.” He selected an assault rifle off the rack, slipping his head and left arm through the loop in a complicated looking sling, before sliding it so the rifle was slung across his back.

“Y-You…but…you can’t just…I mean think of everything we could…you can’t be serious!” He stammered.

OH but I can.” Shane deadpanned.

“No no no no,” Bolt sprinted over to a rack of rifles, grabbing an armful of assorted weapons, shielding them as a father would his foals. “This research…it’s too important! I can’t let that happen.”

Shane stuck the stallion with a shadowy gaze. “Put em’ down.”

“No!”

Shane pulled the pistol from its holster, letting it hang menacingly at his side.

Celestia immediately stepped in between the two, heart racing at the sudden escalation. “Both of you stop it right now!” She commanded. “Shane, let me handle this.”

Then handle it. Or I will,” he replied coldly. Bolt merely hugged the rifles tighter, a look of righteous defiance across his muzzle.

Celestia turned to the ash grey stallion. “Director, listen to me. Give the human back his weapons.”

“Princess, please, you can’t do this. Think about what we could do with these. We could-”

“I have thought about it, Director,” Celestia interrupted sternly. “We’re toying with something we can not hope to control, nor do I wish to. I understand your intentions are well placed. However, this path will only end in violence, and I will not allow it. No peace achieved through force can last. Besides, these do not belong to us. They belong to the human, and I have chosen to heed his council on the matter.” Bolt just looked back at her, heartbroken. “Please, do as he says, Bolt. If not for him, then for me.” Bolt was clearly fighting some invisible moral battle.

With a final grunt and a muttered swear word, he released the weapons, allowing them to fall to the deck with a clatter. He crossed his arms and studiously avoided eye contact.

Celestia turned back to Shane. He returned the sidearm to its proper place on his thigh. She was slightly puzzled when she saw the look on the human’s face. He almost looked sad, maybe guilty, she couldn’t quite place it.

The human took a few steps toward the sullen engineer. He nudged the ash colored pegasus with the tip of his boot. “Cheer up some, brother.”

“Why? Your about to destroy a week’s worth of painstaking research.” His tone was hardly friendly.

“True. But you can always send it off with a bang.”

“What do you mean?” His curiosity winning over his anger.

“Well, I got all this ammo to piss away, and, if you’ll notice, I was rather mute as to how we had to destroy it.” He grinned wolfishly. “Maybe one round at a time?”

Bolt grew a twisted grin of his own as he realized what Shane was implying.

~~~~~

The rattle of automatic gunfire echoed off the walls of the hangar, setting all the scientists on edge. At least, that coupled with the maniacal laughter of a certain ash colored engineer probably added to the effect.

Shane just watched the stallion with a proud smile. On the edge of the hangar doors the pegasus sat, squarely behind a belt fed human machine gun, spraying tracer rounds into the night sky. The glowing phosphorous rounds soared across the empty valley, showering the far side of the canyon in a fanciful display of red streaks.

Luna chuckled at the smirk on the human’s face.

“What?” Shane asked, still somewhat smiling.

“You boys and your toys,” she chided teasingly.

“Kid knows his shit.”  Shane said again, nodding toward the stallion still happily burning through his own case of ammunition. Shane sighed nostalgically, “He reminds me of me.”

Luna rolled her eyes. Shane and the director had spent what seemed like hours jabbering about the various human rifles. Apparently, both of them shared quite the affinity for the machines. It was funny in a rather unusual way; weapons of war sparking friendships.

Luna soaked in much of the information as the result of sheer proximity. Each different style of rifle had its own name and tactical advantage. The assault rifle strapped across his back for example, was called an XM24, or ‘Barracuda’ as he kept calling it. When Luna asked why they had named a weapon after a fish, he merely shrugged and said, “It sounds cool.”

Shane seemed disturbingly attached to a certain weapon, with a large tubular barrel. Its name was SX-12, but he just kept calling it a shotgun. That is, if he wasn’t busy cooing pet names to the weapon like it was his marefriend. Luna didn’t know what made it special, from what she could tell it was an exact replica of its brother’s.

Celestia magically lowered another box of ammunition in an organized stack. She and Luna had been helping Shane pack away the human arsenal into one of the empty alien shipping containers. Twilight kept careful record of exactly how many cases of various calibers and types were loaded, along with the exact numbers of weapons. She asked him why they bothered since he was going to destroy it all anyway.

“Gear accountability is paramount,” was the only response she got, and he refused to elaborate further. She was beginning to suspect he didn’t quite know himself.

Suddenly there was a curious absence of gunfire. Shane didn’t bother looking up from the data pad he was tapping away on. “What the problem, chief?” he shouted in Bolt’s general direction.

“Uh…I think I melted the barrel.” He shouted back uncertainly. The tube at the front of the machine gun was indeed glowing cherry red.

“That’s… actually impressive,” Shane commented to Celestia absentmindedly. “That was Mil-PRF. You really gotta ride those things to melt the barrel.” He leaned over and shouted back to Bolt, “Just come swap it for another one.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna blow em’ up anyway. I don’t give a fuck,” he droned in reply.

Celestia resisted the urge to comment on his sudden change in attitude. He seemed much more… calm. Perhaps she should have given him a gun a long time ago. Which actually led her to her next thought. She noticed a few weapons had found their way off to the side, resting in a neat little stack by Shane’s bags.

“Major, what are you planning to do with those?” She pointed a golden hoof at the stack.

“Those stay with me,” he answered matter-of-factly.

“I thought you said you were going to destroy them,” she said, slightly annoyed.

“I’m not destroying all of them,” he replied with a small laugh. “I’m keeping those.”

“Why? I thought you said they were dangerous.”

“You know why parents don’t let their children play with matches? Because they’ll get burned.” He gestured to Celestia, “Children,” he then picked up and assault rifle from the deck, “Matches. Get it? They’re dangerous for you. Not me.”

“You said ‘to myself or others’.”

“Well, when I’m the one holding it, it’s not dangerous to me, and it’s only going to be dangerous to others if they are a threat. I like to believe I have the right to protect myself.”

“I don’t want these things in my country at all, Major. I agreed to this because I thought you were going to get rid of them. I’m uncomfortable with you toting weapons around my peaceful nation.”

He smiled, and set aside the data pad, apparently ready to argue in earnest. “Is your discomfort stemming from the weapons… or me?

“The combination,” she replied dryly.

He chuckled. “I think you’re uncomfortable that the playing field is getting just a tad more level,” he accused. “You have numbers, you have magic, you have resources, and you have soldiers. I have my gun. I think this is a fair arrangement.” Celestia was about to counter when he cut her off. “And before you argue, let me tell you what makes me uncomfortable.” He took a step closer to the snow white alicorn. “I’m uncomfortable that at any moment any one of you fuckers can whisper a spell and toss me into a fucking tree. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that you’ve been keeping me on a leash. You are afraid of me. You think I’m unpredictable. So you compensate by trying to keep me under your thumb. I’ve tolerated it so far because it served my interests, but soon we’re both going to have to make a choice. We can’t both just sitting around waiting for the other to make a move. It’s something neither of us can afford. I need your help, you need mine. I want to trust you. I really do. But how can I? This isn’t my world. I don’t know the rules here. I don’t really know you or anyone else here. My heart says trust you, but then my brain reminds my heart of how often that’s almost gotten me killed. So here I am…stuck.”

“I do not know what to tell you, Shane. I find myself in an eerily similar situation. I wish to trust you, but, intentionally or not, you are a threat to my nation and her citizens.”

Shane sighed deeply, his cold unblinking blue eyes fixated on the alicorn’s glittering pink irises, as if staring long enough might somehow convey all that he could never understand of the snowy alicorn. “Alright, Princess. We do this here and now. I’m giving you my word that you have nothing to fear from me. If you show me that you trust me by letting me keep my guns, you will have earned my trust in return. In addition to the aid and services already rendered by your government, I am willing to extend a metaphorical olive branch. To consider you an allied nation, under the full protection of the United States Marine Corps …which unfortunately is just me at the moment, but I digress.

I want us to be friends, Princess, and I promise you don’t want us to be enemies. So here I am. I wish I had more than my word to give you, but I don’t. So what do you say, Celestia. Are we friends?” Shane held an open hand to Celestia.

She scoured his eyes for traces of trickery, but could find none. He was being serious. She smiled slightly, “Do you really have the authority to authorize such a thing, Major?”

“I’m the highest ranking officer on the planet.” He reminded her with a grim smirk.

She delicately stepped out of her sparkling golden shoe, placing her pristine white hoof into the human’s callused hand. The corner of her lips raised in a smile, amused with the informality of the event. A simple hoofshake hardly seemed the appropriate gesture for such a weighty event. Perhaps the action held more significance in human society than in pony culture. She found herself suddenly eager to see what other surprises this odd creature would hold.  

The Marine gripped Celestia’s hoof, giving it an imperative shake. He smiled back at the princess. “We have a deal then?” he asked arching an eyebrow.

“Yes, Major. I would be honored to count you among my allies.” He smiled back at the alicorn. “Although I must admit, I find myself curious of what manner of friend I’ve gained.”

His smile only widened, revealing a few white teeth. “None better, Highness.” He slapped her on the shoulder with his free hand and released Celestia’s hoof.

Celestia watched him stride back to his small pile of belongings. He plucked a few strange canisters from a pelican crate, stuffing them inside the assault pack which was quickly becoming swollen with whatever random pieces of gear the human decided were important.

Luna trotted up to her sister, with a smile. “Did I miss something? What was that all about?”

Celestia did her best to recap the conversation, trying to convey the strange shift in the human’s behavior. She threw in her own opinions about possible motives, but Luna seemed only to be growing upset from the story.

“Why do I always miss all the important moments?!” she complained.

“Because you’re always wandering off and finding some form of trouble to get into,” Celestia explained with a grin.

“I call the next one,” Luna declared, childishly. Celestia wouldn’t be surprised if she were serious.

~~~~~

“What are all these gizmos for again?” Pinkie asked, expertly balancing the barrel of a large rifle on her nose.

Twilight immediately snatched it away. “Don’t play with those Pinkie. Humans use them to kill each other,” Twilight explained, setting the rifle in the rack with all the others inside the shipping container.

“That’s silly,” Pinkie declared, “Humans are silly.”

“Silly.” Twilight mused, with a poorly hidden smile. The culmination of Celestia knows how many years of war and bloodshed, was silly. Pinkie was either being incredibly naíve, or she was stating something infinitely profound. Twilight couldn’t tell. She learned to stop trying to understand the reflections of her young pink friend.

Shane stepped into the container, followed by Rarity.

“Really?” Rarity cooed as she followed the human into the container.

“Hands down, the sexiest uniform you have ever laid eyes on,” he promised the starry eyed fashionista. “I’ll show you some day. You will flip your shit. I think I have an old copy of ‘Leatherneck’ in my bag somewhere. There’s bound to be a few pictures in there because I can’t draw worth a damn.”

“I shall hold you to that, Major.”

“Please do,” he added, sounding genuine. “What’s my count, Sparkle?” he asked, somewhat surprising Twilight.

“Oh, um, well everything is loaded, but I’m afraid I’m still missing a few things,” she said, unhappy with the stubborn figures.

“You’re short two M45’s, one XM24, one Mk-7, one R-686, my SX-12, and a few cases of assorted ammunition, correct?” he asked poking away on his data pad.

“That’s right,” she was surprised he remembered it all.

“Good, we’re up.” He declared, reaching over and plucked a small canister from a crate. He smacked the top on an ammo crate, popping off the plastic lid. It looked strangely similar to a can of shaving cream.

Shane walked over to the first rack of weapons, aiming the nozzle of the canister squarely in the magazine well. He depressed the nozzle with his index finger, sending a stream of lime green foam into the weapon. The foam expanded rapidly, quickly oozing out any hole in the machine it could find. The foam dried considerably fast, hardening into a solid almost instantly.

He never released the button as he moved to the next rifle, leaving a rapidly hardening bridge of foam between the two.

Twilight watched, fascinated as he moved down the line dousing each rifle in the strange lime-green foam. It seemed a slightly anticlimactic way to destroy the weapons, but she wasn’t complaining.

A few minutes and about half a dozen cans later, the inside of the container was a spider web of green. He even sprayed the insides of the ammunition crates with the expansive substance. Shane discarded what was left of a canister, tossing it into the crate. He produced a handful of tiny silver pins, pushing the strange little silver thumb tacks into the hardened foam at what seemed like random points.

He turned and dug through his pack for a few seconds. He produced a small hand-held device. It was nothing more than a handgrip, housing a small button trigger and a thin black antenna.

Shane flipped a cap on the device in his hand, exposing a small switch, making sure to keep his index finger off the trigger. The primed thumb tacks glowed soft red. It was almost like a nightmarish, foamy version of Hearth’s Warming lights. Shane closed the cap, and the lights flickered out.

“What’s all that…gooey stuff?” Rainbow asked, hovering next to Shane’s head and peering into the crate.

“An oxygen-reactive foaming, semi-solid adhesive det resin.

“Oh…..what’s that mean?”

“I have no idea. I just make it go boom,” he admitted.

 “…boom?” Twilight confirmed.

Shane sighed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “Yeah, it’s some kinda RDX variant. Someone much smarter than myself figured out how to…like…make it all foamy and put it in a can. Its actually technically a liquid when its in the can, it reacts with air and hardens. Much more convenient than carrying around bricks of C4.”

“RDX?” Twilight continued to prod, growing nervous.

“Or ‘C-7,’ depending on who you ask. Its chemical name is like…cyclotrimethawabablabberry or something equally frustrating to pronounce,” he panned.

Twilight frowned. “Is it…stable?”

Shane smiled. “It is right now.”

Twilight had heard enough. “Priiincess! Shane made a giant bomb!”

“…wow you would tattle.” Shane panned, sealing the container doors shut.

“What’s the matter, Twilight?” Celestia sighed on her approach, well aware of her student’s penchant for over exaggeration.

“Shane’s going to blow up the container.” She told the approaching alicorn.

“I am well aware of the Major’s intentions, Twilight,” Celestia soothed.

“What? Did you think I was just going to wish them away?” Shane mocked.

“There has to be a less…extreme way to do it,” she reasoned.

“Not as fun though,” the human mumbled.

“I’ve offered,” Celestia continued. “Major Doran, declined. I have given him permission to do as he wishes with them. Although I would have preferred you not do it here.

“I’m not setting it off in here,” he noted with a hint of annoyance.

“Where do you intend to set it off then?”

“You guys, are going to use your magnets, and we’re gonna chuck it out the front door,” he beamed.

“Magic. Is. Not. Magnets.” Twilight corrected, infinitely irritated by the prospect.

Shane ruffled her mane, chuckling. He sighed happily. “Yes it is.”

She pushed away his hand. Already formatting the grand magic lecture she was going to blast him with the moment events allowed.

“Whoops. Almost forgot.” Shane stuck two fingers in his mouth, whistling loud enough to hurt Twilight’s ears.

The rattle of the machine gun fire ceased momentarily as the Director turned to identify the source of the whistle. Shane waved him down with some sort of sweeping arm gesture that Celestia could only assume meant “knock it off”.

Bolt stood up, grabbing the still smoking Mk-7 by the carrying handle. He flapped into the air, straining only slightly with the heavy weapon. He landed a few paces away trotting up to the group, careful to keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction.

Shane relieved the stallion of the machine gun, resting the bulky weapon over his shoulder with a smile. “Satisfied?”

Bolt inhaled, composing himself, clearing his throat. “Yes. Thank you. I must say, I still think it’s a mistake to destroy such elegant machines.”

“Heartbreaking,” Shane commented, “I agree. But I can’t loophole my way out of this. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Last thing I need is CNN doing some piece about how the heartless Marines are arming the shit out of impressionable, underdeveloped nations.”

“…underdeveloped?” Luna panned.

“Deal with it,” he cracked open the door to the shipping container, taking the Mk-7 off his shoulder and unceremoniously chucking it in. He shut the door, locking it in place. He smacked his hands together rubbing them together voraciously. “Alright, who wants to see a shit load of taxpayer’s money go up in a big fiery ball?!”

~~~~~

The shipping container floated out the enormous hangar doors, gliding silently through the golden haze of Celestia’s magic. It sailed steadily into the night, out into the empty space of the canyon. An ordinary unicorn would have likely passed out from such a feat of magic. The container must have weighed close to a ton, and Celestia hadn’t even broken a sweat.

The cliff face dropped away, leaving the container hanging out over a considerable drop of expansive forest. Celestia pushed the large box out further into the canyon. They watched as the softly glowing container sailed into the night air. It must have been almost a mile away before the human spoke up.

“That’s good. Set it down.”

Celestia nodded, and the crate lowered itself, slowly pushing its way through the upper canopy of trees. Soon only the glow of Celestia’s magic could be seen shining through the leaves.

Celestia severed the spell, and the soft golden glow of celestial magic winked out in the distance.

Shane pulled out the same hand held antenna device from earlier. It looked like a hand grip and trigger from one of his rifles, minus the rest of the weapon.

Grinning like a foal with a present, he began to speak, “I would just like to take a moment to dedicate this detonation to the United States Marine Corps. Proving, once again, that not even the constraints of the physical universe can keep us from blowing something up.”

“Poetic,” Luna noted, somewhat sarcastically.

Shane ignored her, flicking the safety cap off the trigger. The girls all stared into the darkness expectantly. “Hang on to your horseshoes, ladies.”

The trigger clicked sharply. The ground shook slightly as a chunk of forest immediately ceased to exist as it was engulfed in a brilliant display of fire and shrapnel. The shockwave could be seen screaming away from the epicenter in all directions. The shock closed the distance to the hangar in seconds. Twilight felt like someone had slapped her across the face when it finally hit, bringing with it the deafening roar of the explosion. The entire building rocked with the concussion, even knocking dust from the high rafters.

“AMURIKA!” Shane put two victorious fists in the air, laughing like he was staring at the fiery manifestation of the funniest joke ever told.

“Oooooooh!” Pinkie cooed, amazedly, “Pretty!”  

Rarity was all in a tiff as the concussion knocked a few expertly styled curls out of place in her rich purple mane.

The conflagration began to fade into a pillar of swirling black smoke, and settling debris. Shane’s enthusiasm settled with it, his laughter dying to a chuckle. “Ah man. That was great.” He let out a contented sigh, “Alright, fun’s over. Back to work.”

“Aaaawww,” Pinkie visibly deflated.

Shane ruffled her bubblegum colored curls, “I know. Work sucks. But we can’t just dick around all night, we got stuff to do.” Pinkie didn’t seem overly convinced. “Tell you what. If you help me get done sooner, I’ll show you how to make an MRE bomb.”

“No!” Twilight started, but it was too late.

“Yay! Pinkie hopped around before leaping up onto his back, wrapping her forelegs around his head, and nearly knocking the both of them over. “Onward!” Pinkie declared proudly as she piggy backed on the human, almost knocking them both over.

Twilight’s jaw fell, horrified that her friend had surely just signed her own death warrant. She was just about to magically teleport her pink friend to safety, when a strange noise caught her attention. He was….laughing.

He reached up and removed the mare’s forelegs from around his face, shifting them down so they wrapped around his neck, freeing his eyes and mouth. He was indeed chuckling. Twilight had no words. She was absolutely certain that such an action would have been the height of folly for anypony else.

Shane laughed out a few words, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re on but it must be some heavy stuff.”

“I’m on you, silly!”

He shook his head, muttering. “In Soviet Russia, horse…aw fuck it, you guys wouldn’t get the reference anyway.” Shane turned and started back toward his gear. He stopped in the middle of a step, fixing Bolt with a curious stare, “…the fucks wrong with you?”

Bolt was struggling to fold his wings back down to his sides. The feathery appendages stuck stubbornly out, refusing to cooperate.

“Oh my…” Fluttershy murmured behind a yellow hoof.

Rainbow Dash immediately burst into a fit of sparsely controlled laughter. “I like fireworks too but jeez,”

“Shut up! It’s not what it looks like,” the grey pegasus defended resolutely, although the slight blush in his face betrayed him.

Shane shook his head, apparently deciding the event wasn’t worth the time. He strode back to his pile of gear, still toting his giggling pink charge. He had accumulated a small arsenal of various supplies. Aside from the obvious, none of it looked overly dangerous.  

Shane crouched, allowing Pinkie Pie to hop to the ground, which she did somewhat reluctantly. He then immediately went to work sorting through his pile of gear. He loaded various articles into his bags with the precision of one who had done it many times before. He strapped a large Kevlar helmet to the side of his assault pack. On it was a device looking somewhat like futuristic electronic binoculars, along with a set of polarized goggles which were protected by a sleeve of fabric.

“Oh wait!” Bolt suddenly exclaimed before disappearing in a small blur of feathers. Shane cocked an eyebrow at Luna, but she merely shrugged, just as confused.

Shane shook it off. He reached over his shoulder, grabbing for the pistol grip on the Barracuda, slung across his back. He cradled the weapon as he walked over to the black pelican crate of ammunition. He flipped the two latches, popping open the top. He pulled out a smaller plastic olive drab case, marked with white lettering. ‘6.8x 47mm NATO’. Another latch and the container opened to reveal several shimmering brass rounds, all neatly stacked on ten round stripper clips.

Shane detached the magazine from his rifle, retrieving two more from his bag. He plopped himself down on the floor and beginning the tedious looking task of filling the empty magazine with bullets, one round at a time.

Luna watched him work, apprehension growing in her stomach. She knew full well that every bullet he pushed into the magazine was another life, potentially cut short. She didn’t like it. But this was the deal. She kept telling herself that it was all in the name of equality. This was the fair solution. They had numbers and magic, He had immediate lethality. She didn’t need to be an expert to know a bullet could be let loose much more quickly and effectively than most spells. But such an action would lead to his inevitable demise, for no matter how fast or effective, he was still just one man. He would never survive if he decided to turn on the Equestrians. He had to know that. Luna could only assume that it was never an issue of winning for him, but rather, how many he was going to take with him.

Shane pushed one of the three, now filled, magazines into the well of the rifle giving the bottom a quick smack to ensure it was seated properly. He tucked the other two into long pockets on the front of his body armor, re-slinging the rifle across his back.

With a grunt he sat on the pelican crate. He leaned over and picked his shotgun off the deck, resting it across his lap affectionately. He fished around in his assault pack for a few moments. He paused, letting out an irritated groan, and pulling out a pair of sleek sunglasses. One of the polarized lenses was webbed with cracks.

“…ffffuck,” Shane muttered. “I liked these.”

“Can’t you replace the lens?” Luna suggested.

“I don’t have any replacements, and I doubt there’s an Oakley distributor nearby.” He stared at his sunglasses somberly. “Three hundred dollar frames,” he commented bitingly, before tossing them on the ground with a slight plastic clatter.

Twilight padded over, lifting the sunglasses with her magic. With hardly any effort at all, the spell sealed the cracks in the lens until its glossy polarized surface shined like new. She levitated them back over to the human, who plucked them from the purple aura with a noticeable grin.

He turned the frames over in his fingers, inspecting the sunglasses, and shaking his head slightly, in amused disbelief. “Fuckin’ magnets,” he cooed softly, giving Twilight a thankful smile.

A pair of unicorns approached at Bolt’s direction, levitating a heavy green case. “Gently,” he reminded the two.

The crate lowered to the deck with a soft thud.  It was almost identical to all the other containers that littered the hangar. But this one lacked the simple metal latches the others had. Instead a small screen and number pad took their place.

“What is this?” Celestia asked, confused.

“One last thing,” Bolt started, “It has some numerical locking device. We haven’t been able to get it open. I was hoping he might be able to.”

“Why didn’t you just cut it open?” Luna asked.

“We don’t know what’s inside. I didn’t want to potentially damage something.”

Shane stepped forward, eyeing the crate curiously.

“What is it?” Celestia asked the human.

“I dunno,” he admitted. “I’m not supply.” He kicked the crate experimentally with his boot. He leaned down and tapped a few keys on the number pad. A little red light winked in response. The case remained locked. “I got an idea,” Shane said turning and padding over to his pack.

Celestia stepped up to the case, gingerly tapping random numbers on the pad. The red light winked back at her stubbornly. She could easily set up a spell to continuously type possible combinations of numbers into the lock, but it would be impossible to tell how long it would take to work.

The sound of a charging handle being racked broke Celestia from her thoughts.

Move,” Shane ordered, leveling the barrel of his shotgun at the lock.

A soon as Celestia scurried out of the way, a deafening boom roared through the hangar as Shane blew a sizable chunk out of the locking mechanism.

Celestia shot him a furious glare, which he returned with a friendly smile.

Shane flipped open the lid with the barrel of his shotgun. The lid fell back exposing the contents for all to see.

Shane chuckled happily, “There is a god.”

~POST~

Here we are again, another post game.

Thanks BRAWNY for the editing and the speed with which he does so.

This was a short one. But I am excited to see things making a turn for all of our characters.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this chapter.

There isn’t a whole lot that I think is terribly confusing.

I enjoyed shifting back the balance of power. Cliche though it may have seemed it was something that needed to happen.

And guys...I love you...I really do...but I have a bit of a bone to pick.

I have gotten this email too many times, from too many people This is what I have sent everyone that tries to pull this.

YES they would absolutely take AP ammo and LMGs. That’s how Marines fight. Every fire team has a SAW gunner or a guy with like a 240gulf.

We take them EVERYWHERE.

And WHY do you guys seem to think these guys are popping off shots INSIDE the ship while its in space?! I have NO idea where that came from. There is never any mention of an in-ship firefight. The guns are in cages unloaded in the armory. No one was shooting at the hull of the ship

But when they land somewhere and they need suppressing fire...

“whoops we didnt feel safe having LMGs on board so we left them at home?”

 No.

Cut me some slack guys. I know what I'm talking about.

How bout the fact that he's conversing with sentient magical equines, that's okay, but the fact they brought a certain type of round is just out of the question ridiculous?

...got it.

Sorry if that came off as a rant. But you have NO idea how many of these kind of emails I get from some 16 year old civilian telling ME what a Marine would and would not do.

It's exhausting.

Okay now that is behind us. Let me remind you guys that I DO love you. But seriously guys...keep it in perspective.

Hopefully the next chapter is out soon. It’s almost done.

I’m excited about the story getting a little bit more comical.

Now we can finally get some character development that isn’t limited to angry banter.

Though I do love me some banter.

And that’s all I have to say...about that.

Goodnight gents. I’ll see you again in a week or two.


ARTICLE 2

Part XI

By: Muppetz

~~~~~

The smell of gunpowder filled her nostrils as Luna stepped over. The crate was filled with random boxes; all marked with brightly colored labels. The first she noticed was a large red and white cardboard carton with bold lettering that read “Marlboro”.

“Sweet merciful Jesus.” Shane reached down and plucked a carton from the crate. He tore open an end and dumped out several dozen much tinier boxes. He grabbed one; tearing off its protective plastic wrapping. He flipped the lid grabbing a slender white paper stick with his teeth. He practically skipped over to his pack; digging a plain silver light out of a pocket before setting the stick in his mouth on fire.

He sucked on the orange end of the smoldering paper stick, exhaling a cloud of bluish smoke which drifted lazily off toward the rafters.

“What in the name of Equestria are you doing?!” Twilight asked infinitely confused by this behavior.

“What does it look like?” He mumbled before taking another long drag, dreamily blowing twin jets of smoke from his nostrils. The acrid smell filled Twilight’s nose. It smelled chemical and dry.

Pinkie tittered lightly at the spectacle, “He’s just like Spike!”

Bolt had one of the packages in his hoof eagerly examining the box carefully. “STOP!” He zipped over to Shane swatting the smoking stick out of the human’s mouth.

“Hey!” Shane cried angrily.

“Those are toxic!” He flapped over and stomped on the still smoldering poison stick, extinguishing the toxic fumes that were still drifting from the tip. “Good thing I read the label. You almost breathed that st- WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” he cried as he turned to see Shane igniting another stick.

“It’s a cigarette, dipshit. It’s SUPPOSED to be full of toxins. Thankfully one of these wondrous little toxins is called nicotine. You inhale the smoke and it gets into the bloodstream and hits the brain with a buzz that’s …just fantastic.”

There wasn’t a closed jaw in the room. Everypony stared at the human like he had lost his mind.

“You realize that could kill you, correct?” Bolt affirmed.

He raised the slender stick to his lips, taking another deep drag on the cigarette. He closed his eyes rolling his head back and blew a billowing cloud of grayish blue smoke toward the ceiling. His head came back down, opening at the ponies and smiling. “Didn’t she tell you?” he nodded toward Celestia, still smiling. “I already died.” Thin trails of leftover smoke slipped past his teeth as he spoke. He chuckled at the still flabbergasted faces of his equine audience. Even Celestia’s regal mouth was hanging loose at the turn. “You want one?” He proffered the pack to the group.

Pinkie raised her hoof. “I do!”

“NO!” the other five immediately shot her down, causing the pink mare to shrink back a bit.

Celestia finally regained her composure, unsure of how to handle this. “Major, I admit that I am hardly the authority on human customs, but I can’t help but be worried about this. If you know they’re dangerous, why continue to do it”

“A psychologist would probably feed you some bullshit about me having some repressed masochistic tendency for self destruction,” he nodded, casually taking another puff, “But the short answer is that they are highly addicting. In my line of work, long term health concerns are usually the last thing on our minds. Nicotine helps take the edge off, keeps me somewhat calm. And that is good for everybody.”

Celestia eyed him with suspicious disapproval. “Very well, Major. You are apparently an adult and I suppose you are capable of making your own decisions. But please know that this habit is very disturbing to me, and I would implore you to quit as soon as possible. I’m sure I could schedule an appointment with a substance abuse counselor.”

“Aw, are you worried about me, Princess?” Shane teased.

“Let’s just say I have a vested in your continued good health,” she answered with a small grin.

“That’s so sweet,” he said with his typical sarcasm, “but how about this. You can worry about you, and I will worry about me. Deal?  Good.” He turned and grabbed an armful of Marlboro cartons. He dumped them unceremoniously into his pelican crate. What space was not occupied by ammunition was quickly filled with cigarettes and the boxes of colored plastic tubes.

Celestia didn’t feel like arguing about it right now. She just planned to strategically nag him about it until he decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

“Ho-lee shit!” He exclaimed as he continued to dig in the crate. He pulled out two white packages with calligraphic writing spelling out ‘Jack Daniels’ in flowing script. They appeared to be filled with some sort of powder but Shane looked at them like they were made of diamonds. She swore she saw tears brimming in his eyes.

“It’s just like fuckin’ Christmas!” he hopped over to his assault pack. “We’re saving these for a special occasion,” he idly commented, tucking them safely inside.

He went back to the container, pulling out a few plain white boxes, emblazoned with a small blood red symbol Celestia recognized as medical label.

“Why was it all locked up like this?” Twilight asked.

Shane popped one open, letting out a satisfied whistle. “Because this is where they kept the good stuff, otherwise known as controlled substances.”

The box was filled with slender capped tubes, a bit shorter in length than a quill. They came in a variety of colors, purple, red, green, and a few yellow ones. Each colored label spelling out minuscule paragraphs that were too small for Celestia to read without her glasses. “Chems, stims, morphine,” he murmured to himself. Shane tapped a few idly. “…antibiotics, adrenaline…” He stared at the crate of human treasures for a moment. “I don’t think I have room in my bag for all this,” Shane started, disappointment evident in his speech.

“Is it important?” Luna asked curiously, lifting one of the purple tubes, squinting to read the unreasonably tiny print.

CPP-(AutoInj.)

          1000mg Acetaminophen

        15mg Meloxicam
       400mg Moxifloxacin

Kinda,” he droned. Plucking the purple plastic tube from a cloud of Luna’s magic before she could read on.

“We can take it with us. Another box isn’t going to make much of a difference.” Luna offered.

“Really?”

“I don’t see why not. I’m actually surprised you aren’t taking more.”

“Traditionally speaking I prefer to travel as lightly as possible… that said, I’m also used to having the luxury of resupplies. Somethin’ tells me that’s not gonna happen out here.”

“Well are you going to blow it up if we don’t take it?”

“No,” he almost laughed.

“Why not? You seemed pretty adamant about not sharing before,” Luna teased.

“Not sharing weapons,” he corrected. “This is different. I don’t care if you guys want in on some of these. It’s medical. At that point I think it becomes humanitarian aid. I don’t know exactly how far your magic can take you healthcare wise. You all seem like you got a pretty good handle on it, but I’d have no problem with you guys studying some of the medical tech. Maybe you’ll learn something and be able to save some lives.”

Celestia was actually touched. Every time she thought she had him figured out he pulled something like this. “Are you allowed to do that?”

“Why not?” he shrugged, “We hand out medical aid and supplies on humanitarian missions all the time. Consider it an act of diplomatic good will,” He smiled.

“How kind,” Celestia laughed, amused, but genuinely appreciative of the gesture.

“I take of my own, Princess,” he smiled back. “But before you make me out to be a saint, know that I came here fully prepared to burn this building to the ground.”

“Don’t worry. You were never in danger of being labeled a saint,” Luna jabbed.

He chuckled.

“So what about that?” Twilight finally interjected, pointing a hoof back at the monolithic twisted spacecraft.

“What about it?” Shane asked.

“Well, what should we do with it?”

“Do whatever. I don’t want it,” he said dismissively.

“Aren’t you worried about it like…advancing our technological development too rapidly or something?”

“No. There’s nothing there. It’s a metal husk. Go nuts. The engines exploded in orbit, we weren’t carrying spare parts, the only thing left is half of a slipspace drive. The pieces of which, that are left, are well beyond fucked. And if you want me to be brutally honest, I don’t think you guys could figure it out if you wanted to.” Luna snorted slightly at the remark.

Twilight didn’t have much of an answer so she settled back down into contemplative silence

 Luna hated to admit it, but he wasn’t exactly wrong. The chances they would be able to piece the mysteries of the twisted metal vehicle back together were laughably small. And the odds of getting it to function beyond the theoretical were even more so. “Wait,” she halted, as his a few of his words sank in. “You weren’t carrying spare parts?”

“Nope.”

“Why in the world would you not bring spare parts? What if something went wrong? How would you fix it.”

“We wouldn’t,” he deadpanned, sounding appropriately unhappy about the notion.

“Then what would you do.”

“Die, probably,” he said far too casually. “Apparently the operation was too high risk to jeopardize losing more equipment. That slipspace engine is probably the most expensive thing mankind has ever created. They didn’t want to risk losing another one if shit went sideways.”

Luna almost laughed. “So in an effort to reduce potential losses…they deny you the equipment you would need to avert a potential loss.”

“Kind of a bitch, ain’t it?”

Luna was actually having difficulty giving voice to her bewilderment. “That…is absurd to the point of being outright offensive.”

“The Suck…Welcome to it,” he replied cryptically pulling another cigarette from the box and igniting it with his silver metal lighter.

“Come to think of it, a lot about this doesn’t sit very well with me,” Luna continued. “What was the purpose of this mission? Why were you carrying such strange cargo? Too much of this doesn’t make sense. Even beyond the scope of flawed government bureaucracy. Any being capable of even the most remote intelligence could see the illogicality of all this. What were your people doing, Major? ” Luna finally demanded.

Shane drew a long burn on his cigarette, exhaling it thoughtfully. His face became grave, as if he were deciding on something dangerously final. He sighed apprehensively. “If I had to guess…I’d say you’re looking at humanity’s early attempts at a colonization project.”

The group became quiet, all acutely aware that this wasn’t something he was comfortable doing. Nevertheless Celestia felt obligated to interject. “You guess?”

He nodded, “I have my assumptions. The actual mission objectives were well above my pay grade,” he leaned in slightly, “Which is saying something. I make a pretty decent living, if you know what I mean.”

She did, but she continued anyway. “They sent you on this mission and didn’t even tell you why?”

“They didn’t tell ME why; I’m sure someone knew.”

“I still don’t understand the reasoning.”

He exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Me neither.”

“If this is all so secretive why are you telling us all this?” Celestia asked.

“I was never privy to mission directives. So technically I’m not leaking information. This is all just me thinking out loud. The only reason I know as much as I do is because I have nasty habit of sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. My orders were basically just ‘tag along’. Myself, and two other Marines on board, we’re told to speculate and plan for the possibilities of future missions. Just train in zero G, watch, learn, and just kinda see what it’s like. If I had to guess I’d say, when we got back, they were going to put us in charge of training more security forces if they ever wanted to launch a full scale surface landing. Everyone else on board was either Naval or civilian contracted scientists, mechanics, or whatever.

This was all just supposed to be a dry run. That ship could carry over sixty people if it had to. We crewed it with eleven. I think they just wanted to make sure the ship could make a jump with all its rattle. You know, make sure none of the gear reacted to a slipspace rupture, and…you know… to see if the crew would survive.”

“You were guinea pigs,” Twilight breathed, still slightly shocked.

“…pretty much.”

“You knew this and yet you did it anyway?!”

 “That’s what they pay me for. I get orders, I carry out orders.”

“Like a loyal little war hound,” Luna mocked.

He blew a jet of smoke at the lunar princess. “Woof.”

Luna flapped an indigo wing at the smoke, trying her best not to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cough. This habit of his was going to be a problem.

“Well what about the rest of the stuff? All this technology? You don’t care that we see all that? I thought like…half of your motivation here was to keep us on the right technological chronology.”

“There isn’t much left. Everything I though was dangerous is in about a zillion pieces at the bottom of a crater. I have virtually everything that isn’t. I don’t think some wires, circuitry, and outdated blackboards are gonna spark some industrial revolution. I don’t even see why you would want to. It’s not like you need any of this. You aren’t stupid so there’s obviously a reason you didn’t already develop this stuff yourselves. You never needed to. You’d be wasting a whole lot of time and resources on something you can all probably already do with magic. I mean what’s the worst you’re gonna do with it, send me emails?” he punctuated with an over exaggerated look of fear. “I guess I could destroy it just out of spite that you didn’t actually develop it yourselves but I guess I’m just not that petty.” He looked back over the leftovers. “Keep it, learn from it. Call it a gift. I may not be ready to arm you all just yet, but as allies I can’t have you embarrassing me in front of all the other dimensions.” He teased. “Welcome to the modern age.”  

Celestia gazed over the alien prizes the human had just left to her care. The gesture meant more than the human probably knew. An ‘industrial revolution’ is exactly what this could spark. This stuff may have been commonplace in the world he came from. But such technology if successfully marketed could in fact make somepony insanely wealthy. At the time, virtually all complicated machinery was reliant solely on magically charged gemstones. A process that was complex, expensive, and solely reliant on high level unicorn magic. The implications made Celestia’s head spin. A society where everypony had access to advanced technologies. Bulky and complicated equipment now packed into a hoof-held device. Machines that no longer required gem-fueled spell matrices. The market would be flipped overnight. It would change the face of society. Business, economy, the very fabric of Equestria, if not handled carefully.

Twilight spoke softly as if unsure how to phrase it. “…aren’t you worried about us, you know…becoming a threat?”

It took him a split moment to register her words. He startled the entire room when he started laughing. He continued to chuckle boisterously, much to the chagrin of a blushing Twilight. “Yeah, be careful. You might cute someone to death.”

“Why you little!” Applejack caught Rainbow Dash’s tail just in time before she could flying tackle the laughing human. Shane didn’t seem to notice.

“Ah man,” he started to calm down, still chuckling slightly. “I needed that.”

“Well isn’t that why you destroyed all the weapons?!” Twilight demanded, stomping a hoof, very offended by the outburst.

“Sure but come on. That was practically a formality. Standard procedure. I don’t know anything about this place. You all seem nice enough but I don’t know your politics or history or disposition. How do I know your not about to go off start a war with the ponies next door? It’d be a slaughter. I’m not gonna be the guy that started that. “I’m only keeping my guns to protect myself.”

“From what?” Twilight drilled.

You,” he said far too easily. He smiled down at Twilight’s stunned visage. “Don’t act surprised. I’ve known you for all of about two days. That’s not exactly an ideal span to develop and informed opinion.”

“What happened to trust?” Twilight said with a frown.

“Don’t go making this about trust again,” he rolled his eyes. “I do trust you. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be here right now. I just dropped out of the sky into a world of strangeness and magic the likes of which I will probably never understand. I don’t know what’s out there.” He gestured vaguely to the rest of the world. “I’m not giving anybody any weapons.” He leaned a little closer to Twilight. “I’ll let you in on a little secret. Guns ain’t that tough to figure out. If you actually had the need to build a better death machine, you’d have done it by now. You said it yourself. ‘A safe little peaceful nation’. I’m in a world I know nothing about. So I’m removing the wildcard of weaponry from our already overly complicated hand. I assume there are other nations other than yours on this rock?”

“Yes, of course,” Twilight confirmed.

“If I had landed in their backyard and then you found out I was arming them to the teeth with some alien killing machines… I don’t know about you but I’d probably wig the hell out and do something drastic. I’m playing the big picture here, and I’m not about to go paint a target on the back your heads, OR piss off whoever lives next door.”

“You seem awfully confident.” Luna noted. “How are you so sure we won’t turn on you?

He smiled strangely. “Insurance plan number one,” He tapped his shotgun lovingly.

“You don’t seriously think that you alone pose a threat to an entire nation.” Twilight pointed out.

“No,” he admitted. “But I’m confident enough that I make a mess big and bloody enough to make it not worth the effort.”

Luna’s ears perked as the human voiced her thoughts from earlier.

 “You take such twisted pride in your own brutality. I cannot help myself but wonder what goes on inside your head.” Luna noted coldly.

Shane took a long drag on his cigarette, drawing the hot ashen haze into his lungs. “You really don’t wanna know.”

“Are all humans are so violent then?”

“No,” he dismissed annoyed, “If you’re using the words ‘all’ and ‘humans’ in the same sentence, you’re wrong. Very few humans are inherently violent. In my experience, most humans will do just about anything to avoid a fight. Unfortunately such a social schema tends not to bode well for the survival of a species. We didn’t have a choice. We didn’t grow up on ‘Planet  Rainbow Sunshine’. We’ve been fighting a war of survival for hundreds of thousands of years on a planet that did everything in its power to snuff the life out of us. It was get good at killing or die. So that’s where people like me come in,” he patted himself on the front of his armor. “We do the dirty work so that the rest of the world gets to be happy, safe and ignorant. So do please spare me the hippie shit.”

“I’ve no argument against self preservation,” Luna replied, her words holding an edge that only thousands of years of sisterly familiarity allowed Celestia to pick up on. “but when it becomes a glorious pursuit rather than a gruesome necessity I’d begin to grow concerned for the mental states of those involved.”

“Yeah, great. When I need a lesson on Just War Theory from some pacifist pony princesses, I’ll be sure to come straight to you,” the human mumbled.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Shane said innocently.

As much as Celestia wanted him to elaborate she felt compelled to interrupt. “There is clearly still much we have to learn about one another. Let us each agree that we have both adapted as best we could to the world in which we live and leave it at that for now,” she looked out into the night. “The dawn is coming. It would be wise to get moving.” Celestia severed the argument before someone said something regrettable.

Shane ground a cigarette butt under the heel of his boot before nodding, ready to go.

“Major,” Celestia continued, “This will most likely be the last time we can visit here again for quite some time. Do you have everything you need?”

He looked over his shoulder, eyes lingering on the broken ship.

“Yeah. Let’s go.” He walked over to his bags selecting the last of the three rifles he decided to keep. It was much longer than the other two. The long telescope on the top giving it a somewhat unusual appearance. Shane popped a few pins out of the sides breaking the long weapon down into smaller sections, which he carefully tucked inside his pelican crate, before closing it and snapping the latches shut. He adjusted the assault rifle toward his side so that he could wear his pack without obstruction.

After donning the tan pack, and hooking an arm through a strap on his sea bag, he was beginning to look much like a fully loaded pack mule. He tried to lean down to pick up his precious shotgun, but he seemed to be having some difficulty bending over under all the weight.

Luna let him struggle for a short moment, the more sinister side of her enjoying the brief moment of weakness, especially after he called her a ‘hippy’. She lifted the weapon off the deck, and into his outstretched hands.

“Thanks” he flashed a small smile after realizing what had just occurred.

“Don’t mention it,” she replied with a flip of her astral tail.

~~~~~

Both of Shane’s crates settled delicately onto the back of Celestia’s carriage. The Princess of the sun spent a rather long time arranging the containment of the rest of the leftover alien hardware. As soon as they assured it wasn’t dangerous, she instructed the research staff to lock it away. She couldn’t in all good consciousness destroy it as the human had suggested, it was too valuable. But its secrets were too revolutionary to spring on an unprepared Equestria. Goodness knows they were going to have enough on their plates as it is. No. Deep underground is where it would stay for the time being.

“Yeah…no,” Shane eyed Celestia’s carriage dubiously from under the low brim of his newly donned eight point cover.

“Stop being a baby,” Luna scolded, frustrated.

“I’m not getting back on that thing,” he marked resolutely.

“Well then how do you expect to get back?” she demanded.

Shane had no answer he just kept eyeing the carriage with poorly concealed fear.

 Luna brightened as an idea struck her. “Very well, Major. I didn’t want to do this but…” she beckoned him closer with a hoof, looking around secretively.

Shane leaned down compliantly, instantly curious.

Luna spoke in a hushed tone. “What if I told you I could get you back to the castle in the blink of an eye. You won’t have to get back on the carriage and you won’t have to lift a finger."

“I’d say you have my attention.”

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” she cautioned theatrically,

“…Go on.”

“Luna what are you doing?” Celestia broke in with worry in her voice.

“He’s a big boy, Celestia. I’m sure he can handle it.” She dismissed. “Unless,” she added with a furtive smile, “You doubt yourself.”

Shane snorted, insulted. “Do it,” he challenged.

“Are you suuure?”

“Do. It.” He repeated sternly.

“So be it. Come,” she beckoned with a hoof.

He leaned down to the alicorns eye level.

“Closer,” she encouraged.

He inched nearer the princess.

Closer,” she repeated.

He frowned but complied until his nose was almost touching Luna’s. His muted blues staring into her bottomless sapphires with poorly concealed apprehension.

Luna smiled and twitched her head, tapping him on the head with her horn as a jolt of magic flashed.

Like a stringless puppet, Shane collapsed on the deck. His unconscious form crumpled at Luna’s hooves, fast asleep. She beamed proudly over him.

Smiling happily, Luna scooped her human up on a cloud of starry magic and dumped him unceremoniously into the carriage. Pinkie Pie found the trickery highly amusing.  

Celestia’s hoof met her forehead. Luna’s cavalier attitude was going to come back to bite her at some point. She would have to have a talk with her sister about it very soon, but for now, they needed to get back to the castle. Already Celestia was feeling the unmistakable pull that told her the sun would soon need raising.  

Celestia stepped into her carriage. Luna had propped the human against the back, arranging his unconscious form so that he appeared to be merely napping. “He’s not going to be happy when he wakes up, you know,” Celestia warned.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Luna smiled knowingly.

Celestia shook her head, unwilling to argue about it as the carriage began to move slowly toward the edge of the hangar. It sailed out into open air, diving down into the valley before leveling off and soaring into the still starry sky.

The ride back was relatively quiet. Shane was still out cold, sleeping deeply at Celestia’s hooves. All the girls were lost in their own thoughts. Luna stared into the expanse of night sky, no longer wearing her smug smile.

The amused titter of Pinkie Pie’s laughter broke the growing wall of silence. “Aaaw, look,” she pranced over to the sleeping human staring at him amusedly. She pointed a hoof at his boots, which were twitching rhythmically. “He’s dreaming he’s running!”

No sooner than the words were spoken that Celestia cast an alarmed glance at her baby sister, who was still studiously staring into the night.

“Aww, ain’t that cute? Look at ‘im go.” AJ chuckled.

“Humans can dream?” Dash interjected, sounding genuinely surprised by the prospect. “I thought only ponies could dream.”

“Even dogs dream, Dash,” Twilight noted, “I wonder what a human dreams about,” Twilight mused out loud.

Luna finally broke out of her disinterested trance and her eyes glazed over the prone form of the sleeping human. “…It’s a nightmare, actually.” Luna noted quietly, returning her gaze into the distance, no traces of her former frivolity remained.

All the girls looked to the lunar princess, waiting eagerly for some form of explanation. None of them knew how the princess could have possibly known. But the powers of an alicorn were hardly something one applied reason to.

Celestia rested a golden hoof the human’s shoulder, comfortingly, but it didn’t seem to help. He continued to grimace and twitch in his sleep, as he fought with whatever unconscious demons assault the dreams of slumbering humans.

The rest of the trip was silent. No longer was anypony laughing at the subtle twitches or unconscious reflexes of the sleeping human.

~~~~

~ POST ~

Edited by:

BRAWNY

I’m back, and I brought a short chapter with me.

You’ve all probably figured out the deal by now. I usually write like 25,000 word chapters and the I break them down into smaller more manageable chunks. Mostly because ya’ll have the attention span of squirrels and sixty something page chapters tend to get half read then forgotten. Such is life.

So long story short you should be getting the next few updates possibly rather soonish.

If you talk to me on Skype or whatever you’ve probably read a lot of this new stuff already. Such are the benefits of being my friend. You’ll probably get chapters before they’re released. Along with the little A2 spin-off stories I write and don’t publish.

AT went well. I brought Rainbow Dash with me.

She seemed to have fun, mostly because she got to chill in my pocket while we carried all the heavy shit. Ask me to show you the pictures some time. I probably will.

Ive really not got much else.

Pretty much just all the standard stuff.

As usual feel free to hit me up through email or Skype

Muppetz540 - Skype

[email protected]

Or just leave a comment.

I usually read all of them.

~~~****~~~

HEY!

FAGGOTS!

DO YOU LOVE GUNS?!?!

FUCK YOU! OF COURSE YOU LOVE GUNS

GUNS ARE SEXY AS FUCK

DO YOU LIKE LOOKING AT SEXY ASS FUCKING GUNS

SHUT THE FUCK UP! I ALREADY KNOW YOU DO!

IF YOU WANT TO SEE ALL THE HOT DREAMY LEAD PUSHERS YOUR PATHETIC VIRGIN EYES WILL EVER SEE???

THE FOLLOW THIS MOTHERFUCKER

http://bolt-carrier-assembly.tumblr.com/

AND HAVE ALL YOUR GUNPORN DESIRES SATIATED IN ONE SUPER CONVENIENT FUCKING PLACE!

P.S.S

I’m still looking for someone who has a Celestia blind bag figure.

I found someone once but I had to go away for a bit and I lost his email.

If anyone has one they’re willing to part hit me up and trade you something for it.


ARTICLE 2

Part XII

By: Muppetz

The golden carriage landed with a subtle bump as it alighted in the castle court yard.

Shane jolted awake as they came to a halt. He looked around wide eyed and clearly confused. “What happened?” he mumbled, apparently attempting to shake off his drowsiness.

“I knocked you out.” Luna said flatly

“Why?” he asked puzzled.

“I couldn’t let you walk back, so I put you to sleep for the ride home.”

“…oh,” Shane rubbed his head. He sat upright. “Thanks.”

“Your wel- Thanks? You’re not mad?”

“I’m not happy,” he assured, still rubbing his eyes. “I mean shit, I probably would have let you do it if you just asked first,” he shot her an annoyed glance, “Then again, you did care enough to apply peer pressure...” He smiled, seeming strangely okay with Luna’s trickery.

Luna fumbled for a noticeable span, exchanging looks with Twilight Sparkle. Twilight merely shrugged, no closer to understanding than the princess.  Appreciation was the last thing she expected from the human. “You’re…welcome,” Luna eventually stammered,  mentally congratulating herself. She had to admit she was fully prepared for the human’s wrath.

“I thought you’d be….angrier,” Luna said somewhat haltingly.  

He stretched, arching his back like a cat, and smiled. “Compared to the stuff you’re normally doing to me, the sweet embrace of unconsciousness sounds like a pretty beguiling prospect.” Luna rolled her eyes at what she considered to be a grievous over exaggeration. He stretched again rolling his broad shoulders and cracking his neck, causing Twilight to shudder and groan.

 “Have any interesting dreams?” she asked casually.

“No,” he either lied, or genuinely didn’t remember “Are we back then?” He continued, sitting up in the carriage and inspecting his new surroundings..

“We are indeed,” Luna confirmed a nod.

“And not a moment to soon,” Celestia cut in, dismounting her golden carriage. “If you will excuse me, I must go and raise the sun.”

She trotted a few paces into the open courtyard, closing her eyes and settling into a calm meditation.

“She’s doing what?” Shane asked confused.

“Shush!” Twilight warned, eagerly watching her teacher perform her eminent responsibilities. “She has to raise the sun.”

Shane stared at her with a curious smirk. “Raise the sun?” he confirmed.

“You know…the big fireball in the sky?” Twilight reminded annoyed.

Shane twisted in the carriage toward Celestia, grinning in disbelief. “They think YOU raise the sun?!” He began chuckling. He turned back to see the appalled faces of the six young mares. “Holy shit! They do.” His laughter intensified. “You devious bitch. You actually have them convinced YOU raise the fucking sun! Hahaha! That’s brilliant! God, you probably wake up laughing!”

Twilight was too horrified to do anything more than keep her jaw from hitting the ground. Celestia, on the other hoof, merely looked back with a small smile, nodding ever so subtlety at Luna.

The night princess caught Celestia’s slight gesture immediately. With a flap of her splendid azure wings, she hopped off the royal chariot to join her sister.

They both sat in perfect meditation, horns and eyes aglow with cosmic magic, while the human continued to laugh his happy ass off in the background.

Almost before he realized what was happening, the courtyard was thrust into the daytime; golden sun shining down on Equestria in all of its brilliance. The laughter was notably absent as Shane gazed about perfectly baffled by the sudden radiance. Just as he seemed to get his bearings, Luna brought back the night, formerly golden valleys were now bathed in the silvery veil of twinkling night.

Shane stepped down from the carriage; past the alicorns who were bending the titans of the cosmos to their will. His jaw hung slack at what his eyes were telling his brain. The sun and moon switched placed a few more times before settling to a slowly rising eastern sun.

 His eyes were as wide as an infant witnessing the world for the first time. Celestia smiled at his amazement, relishing at his face as a lifetime’s worth of irrefutable truths shattered in an instant.

He raked his fingers over his cropped mane, before lacing his fingers on the back of his neck, staring at the slowly rising sun for several minutes. “Done,” he announced, throwing his hands up submissively. “I’m done.” He eventually rubbed his eyes vigorously before reaching into a pocket and sticking another cigarette between his teeth. He set the slender stick ablaze with a flick of the silver lighter, before turning back and marching toward the carriage, shaking his head in denial.

“I fuckin’ hate this place,” he groused as he passed the smug pair of alicorns.

~~~~~

The human was safely deposited back in his padded cell. He immediately set to happily checking his gear. He seemed somewhat pleased at being able to furnish the padded room with a few of his own possessions. Celestia somewhat dreaded the scene, it was only going to make convincing him to move to an actual guest room that much harder.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to excuse myself,” Celestia said. “I have a make up meeting with internal revenue in an hour.” She turned to her sister. “Do you have anything to do today?”

“Nothing terribly pressing, no.” Luna admitted.

“Would you mind watching him for the day? He probably needs to be fed again.”

Shane sat down next to Twilight, mumbling, “I wonder if they’ve considered fitting me for a leash yet.”

Twilight chuckled. “At least you’re house-broken.”

“Who said I was house broken?” he raised an eyebrow playfully as he removed the assault rifle from his back, leaning against his cot next to his shotgun.

Twilight rolled her eyes, but smiled.

Shane pulled some Velcro tabs on various sections of his armor shedding the vest and letting it fall to the floor with a heavy thud. He cracked his neck both ways causing Twilight to shudder and shoot him an irritated groan.

Apparently having decided on a game plan, Celestia spoke, “Major, I shall see you tonight. I’m leaving you in Luna’s care until then.”

“You’re leaving me with her?!” he whined in mock distress.

“Oh come now,” Luna sounded hurt, “…try to think all the good times we’ve shared.

That shouldn’t take long, I’ve still got the bruises,” he jabbed.

“Self inflicted, albeit indirectly. I shall schedule you an appointment with a psychiatrist,” she noted with a hint of tease in her voice.

Shane chuckled, “There isn’t enough therapy in the world, princess.”

“I am quite aware you are already psychologically damaged beyond repair. I merely hoped to salvage whats left and examine it for educational purposes,” Luna teased.

Celestia sighed. The two would probably be verbally sparring for hours if left to their own devices. Luna was the younger sibling, but she was still old enough to be considered ancient, older than almost any being in existence. Yet the lunar princess still had an immature streak a mile wide despite Celestia’s numerous attempts to correct it. This human wasn’t helping. He was perhaps the only other one she had ever met who could potentially rival Luna in snarkiness.

Shane pulled a medical box from the crate with the busted lock, and sat down on his cot. The six younger mares eyed him curiously but he didn’t seem to mind. He unbuttoned the outer blouse setting across his lap. He unwrapped his still bandaged arms, revealing several very unattended cuts.

“Why have those not been stitched yet?” Luna asked exceedingly annoyed. She was tired of this argument. “I sent a doctor down here yesterday morning. I though she was going to take care of you.”

“Yeah, she was here,” Shane confirmed casually. “Oddly enough she suddenly recalled a pressing engagement and had to go away forever,” he explained. “Very sad.”

“You chased her off somehow didn’t you?” Luna sighed.

“Me?! Pfft! Come on now…  ...maybe

“She was just trying to help,” Luna said from behind the hoof massaging her forehead.

“She did… She helped marvelously by going away.”

“You are impossible.” Luna complained.

I learned it from watching you,” he almost seethed through a grin.

Celestia couldn’t help but smile a little. “You can lead a human to medical care…” she murmured to Luna.

Princess Luna snorted softly, but cracked a small grin.

Fluttershy moved foreword, more than willing to step in and offer her services once again. Shane stopped her with a finger, “Nah ah ah, You stay over there. We’re still not friends.” The human growled at the mare, with considerable bite.

Fluttershy hung her head and slunk away behind Applejack, still thoroughly depressed. The human’s rejection stung Fluttershy more deeply than anypony probably knew. She only ever wanted to help, to make amends. Why wouldn’t he let her? It was her special talent, the thing that defined her, and he hated her for it.

Celestia finally took her leave, already late as it was.

Apparently realizing this was about as exciting as it was going to get for the day, Rainbow Dash took off as well, mentioning an aching desire to get back into the clouds.

Applejack took Fluttershy away before the human could reduce her to tears. Soon only Pinkie, Twilight, and Rarity remained with Luna and the human.

Shane was busy setting out an array of strange tools and supplies. “Hold this,” he handed Twilight a purple tube topped with gray plastic caps, apparently appointing her his assistant. He opened up a baggy filled with tiny silver staples. He rested his left arm across his knees and selected a staple, appraising a long tear near his wrist. He took a deep breath and pushed one end into the skin on the edge of a large gash. A pained groan escaped his lips before he muscled them shut. He pinched the incision closed before bridging the staple across and pushing the other end of the staple through the skin on the opposite side.

Rarity took the opportunity to turn green and excuse herself. Pinkie followed to make sure Rarity was alright.

Twilight watched with hesitant curiosity. His fingers were amazingly dexterous, manipulating the tiny pins with only slight trouble as he was limited to working with only one hand. She wasn’t squeamish, but even her nostrils flared every now and then from the unsavory sights. For the most part she just tried to focus on assisting whenever he asked.

A few more staples went in. Beads of sweat began forming on his face and neck. Another staple went in, he swore under his breath when his fingers slipped and blood began to leak out of the incision, streaking across his hide like crimson tears.

By the time he finished the first cut, his hands were shaking slightly. At his direction, Twilight handed slender tube, not unlike toothpaste. He unscrewed the cap with his teeth. He lined several beads of clear oozing liquid across the now stapled gap in his flesh. The silver pieces of metal held the wound closed as the liquid sutures apparently dried.

It was an ingenious way to treat such a wound she had to admit, if not somewhat impractical.

Twilight levitated a silver pair of tweezers to the human, who blew softly on the wound before seizing the first staple in the row between the pincers of the tweezers, removing the metal piece from his skin. He took out a few more before dropping the tweezers and swearing at his finger’s lack of cooperation.

Luna stepped up, confident she understood the procedure. She levitated the tweezers. ‘Here,” she beckoned with a hoof. “Just let me do it. You’re making a mess.”

Shane eyed the alicorn dubiously, which she returned with a stern motherly glare. He reluctantly extended his arm to the alicorn, still looking a bit skittish about the idea.

Luna was as gentle as possible as she removed the tiny steel staples from around the dried liquid stitches. Shane still winced or swore under his breath every so often.

He looked away form Luna’s work, apparently searching for something to distract himself, his blue eyes settling on Twilight. “So…what’s up?” he asked in a deceptively casual tone, despite his pained wincing.

Twilight chuckled at his faces, trying to think of something to take his mind off the pain. “Is it really as bad as you make it out to be? Earth?”

Shane snorted, amused by the question. “No,” he admitted. “I wasn’t lying…but I may have a tendency to over exaggerate to get my point across. If you can manage to get passed the existential nightmare that is life on Earth, you’ll realize it’s a pretty amazing place, filled with amazing things, and amazing people. It’s true, Earth is full of scary shit, yet despite that, there is good. Which, without getting too philosophical, I think makes it all the more special. Humans are a fun bunch, if not a tad unpredictable. I think you’d like the most of them. I kinda wish you could. I’m not a good example of the average human. I feel rather bad knowing that I’m the only one you’ll get to meet.”

Twilight felt bad too, the more she learned of this one, the more curious she became.

“Switch,” Luna commanded, as she finished up his left arm. The ability to magically manipulate several items at once sped the procedure considerably, and Luna was making short work of the human’s wounds. Shane shifted on his cot allowing the alicorn access to his other arm.

The shiny golden oak leaves pined on the human’s collar caught the purple unicorn’s attention. It was a question she had been meaning to ask. “Forgive the ignorance…” she began, “but you seem awfully young to be a Major. Isn’t that a pretty high rank?” Twilight knew it was. Having a brother in the military called for a rudimentary knowledge of such things. But it very well may have been different for humans.

Shane laughed. “Yeah it’s fairly high up there, and ordinarily you’d be right. You’d be hard pressed to find someone my age with this rank.” He flicked his collar with a free finger. “It’s very long and interesting story. I might tell you someday,” he grinned.

“How old are you exactly?” Luna asked still busy with her work, but genuinely curious. It was a question that had been in back of her mind for some time.

“Assuming I don’t have to convert it to like…pony-years? I’m twenty-six.”

“You’re not that much older than me,” Twilight nudged his shoulder playfully.

“Still so young?” Luna said in a whisper, finding the figure unusually difficult to digest.

 “You can’t be all that much older. I thought horses only live to be about forty or so,” Shane retorted at the azure princess upon hearing her hushed remark.

Luna scoffed at the prospect. “I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that ponies live much longer than that. And I’m afraid I’m considerably older than twenty-six.”

“So, what? Forty? Fifty? Gimme a ballpark here.”

“Six…”

“Sixty isn’t that bad.”

“…thousand.”

Shane pulled his arm away from the princess and fixed her with an odd look. “…What?”

“I am six thousand three hundred and forty seven years old,” she said finally.

Shane regarded the alicorn for several minutes, eyes narrowing in and out as her inspected the princess. He looked over at the purple unicorn by his side.

Twilight nodded, affirming the figure.

Shane looked back to Luna who was beginning to blush slightly under his critical gaze.

“Oh…wow” he finally whispered. “…well…uhm…you look great,” he nodded exaggeratedly, as if to console the ancient creature. He turned back to Twilight and grimaced, mouthing what looked like ‘yikes’ causing the unicorn to stifle a chuckle.

Luna rolled her eyes at the two. She was more than certain his mind was racking itself to formulate all the old-mare jokes and jabs he could possibly conceive.

. “So is that a normal thing for ponies or did you like sell your soul for immortality? Because, I’ll be the first to admit I aint exactly the best judge of this kinda thing but you don’t look that much older than her.” He nodded toward Twilight.

“Most ponies live to be about one hundred or so. Earth ponies always seem to last a bit longer,” she explained briefly. “Celestia and I are …different. We are among the last of the true alicorns. Magic permeates every fiber of our being, and links us to the sun and the moon. Longevity is merely an interesting side effect. Barring any cataclysmic injury or illness, we shall endure.”

“For how long?”

“We shall see…”

“That’s…kinda depressing,” Shane decided.

Luna smiled. “It has its occasional advantages. How long do humans tend to live?” She asked hoping to get the topic off herself as she restarted her work.

“Depends,” he stared, “On average I’d say about a hundred thrity-ish. Hundred forty if you’re lucky. Hundred fifty if you’re lucky and rich. It’s another one of those things. I’m afraid any in-depth answer won’t make sense if you don’t know anything about bio-technology or our healthcare systems.”

Luna nodded sagely, returning to her work patching the rents in human tissue.

“Well I can’t wait to teach you all about Equestria,” Twilight beamed, thrilled at the opportunity to put all her lessons on friendship and magic to the test

“…All of my joy,” Shane panned, wincing as Luna jabbed him extra hard. She shot him a “be nice” glare, to which he rolled his eyes.

Twilight chatted with him idly about random things while Luna finished her work, Shane jerking or wincing every few minutes.

“Done,” Luna declared proudly, as she removed the last staple from his arm. “An innovative procedure. It seems a bit delicate for combat care though, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Yeah, you’d never find this stuff in the field,” Shane agreed. “This is more high level care, stuff they do in actual hospitals. These are just nicer than stitches because they’ll dissolve after a few weeks. They even threw in some antiseptic strips. You’d never actually waste time painstakingly stitching someone up in the middle of combat. It’s pretty much, slap a tourniquet on, wrap his ass up like a mummy and pray he survives till a corpsman gets there.”

“That seems oddly primitive,” Twilight noted.

Shane shrugged, “Not every grunt can be a surgeon. If your buddy springs a leak that you can’t fix, plug it up and take him to someone who can. You’d be amazed at the shit they can fix at actual Naval hospitals, but in combat, primitive is usually all you got. So we make do.” Shane flexed his arms happily rid of the bulky cloth bandages. He grabbed the purple plastic tube from Twilight, gripping the center of the tube in his right hand, pulling one of the grey safety caps off with his left. The cap was concealing a small silver needle.

He pulled the primer cap off with his teeth, spitting it on the ground before unceremoniously jabbing the needle into his thigh. The needle punched easily through the tough fabric of his utilities and into the meat of his leg. Twilight jumped slightly with surprise. The tube was emitting some sort of mechanical whirring sound as a tiny motor pumped the tube’s contents into the human’s leg.

“What is that?”

“Antibiotic,” he said grimacing slightly, “and a painkiller, all in one convenient, easy to use, auto-injector,” he quoted with a slight accented smile, sounding like he was quoting an advertisement.  He removed the injector from his thigh, massaging the site, gingerly, before replacing the safety cap over the needle and tossing the spent auto-injector on his cot.

A royal purple coiffure poked into the doorframe. Rarity’s sapphire blue eyes quickly inspected the room, ensuring there would be no more stomach turning medical procedures.

Pinkie nudged Rarity inside, eager to get back amongst the others. Bouncing into the room, she seized her usual uncomfortably close seat on the cot next to Shane.

He amusedly reached over and scratched the pink mare behind her ear. “Mommy never taught us about personal space, did she?”

Pinkie Pie hummed contentedly rolling her head around his dancing fingers, “Mmmm…Nope!” she finally answered.

“Pinkie, dear, you really must show more restraint, especially in front of the Major. Whatever will he tell of us when he returns home? I simply won’t have all of humanity thinking ponies are so undignified.”

Pinkie stuck her tongue out very maturely at the unicorn’s scolding.

Rarity’s words struck a chord in Luna’s heart. She still hadn’t exactly told Shane that he was likely going to be stuck here forever. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t told him yet. Maybe she was worried about how he’d react. He probably knew. He was certainly pessimistic enough about the idea. But Luna couldn’t help but think that somewhere under his abrasive demeanor was nothing more than a lonely man clinging to the shred of hope that he might one day see his home.

She looked up from her slightly grim thoughts, to find the human watching her from the corner of his eye. She hoped desperately he hadn’t gleaned anything from her reaction to Rarity’s quip.

Shane leaned back against the wall, releasing Luna from his gaze with the ghost of a smile on his lips. Luna relaxed a bit. She made a mental note not to be more cautious with her guard when the human was near. He would likely seize any opportunity to get inside her head, if he wasn’t already.

“So I have a question I’ve been meaning to ask,” he finally spoke to the three young mares. “I get her,” he pointed at Luna, “but why did they drag the six of you into this mess?”

“I suppose it would seem strange from your perspective,” Luna explained, “but do not let their appearances fool you, Major. Those girls’ power combined is host to one of the most powerful and ancient of magics known to pony kind.”

“…If you say Captain Planet I’m leaving.” he stated, confusing the shit out of everyone.

“What?”

“No? … Nevermind then. Continue,” he dismissed with a swish of his hand.

Luna shook her head deciding the issue wasn’t worth pursuing. “The Elements of Harmony,” she explained with gravity. “Each of those six mares represents her own element. The power of the Harmony elements is unparalleled. They stand as Equestria’s last line of defense, and have more than once saved Equestria from disaster.”

“The fuck is an element of harmony?

“Every one of those mares is the physical embodiment of one of the Elemental aspect of magic itself.  Harmony. They, and only they, are intimately linked to the most potent and powerful energy in Equestria.”

“How powerful?” he asked still looking at them like they were about to laugh and tell him they were pulling his leg.

“…very,” Luna elaborated.

“So let me see if I’m understanding this… each of you is an element of harmony?” Shane looked to the three girls, who nodded enthusiastically. Shane pointed to Rarity expectantly before the snow white unicorn caught on.

“Generosity,” Rarity answered his unspoken question, beaming proudly.

“Magic,” Twilight answered as the human’s finger shifted over to her.

Shane looked over at Pinkie Pie. “No, let me guess,” he started eyeing Pinkie head to hoof, “Cocaine,” he guessed.

Pinkie snorted out a laugh. “No silly! Laughter.”

Shane looked around dubiously, obviously trying to puzzle out whether or not the mares were messing with him. “Well…I guess it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve heard today,” he concluded tiredly.

“I suppose it isn’t,” Luna agreed with a smile. “So what shall we do today, Major? Despite my sister, I have no intention of keeping you hidden away when my there is so much Canterlot has to offer a foreigner. The Archives, The crown jewels, the gardens, Tia’s golden apple tree. What would you like to see?”

Shane scratched his chin contemplatively, feeling the stiff bristles that had been growing steadily since his arrival. “A shower sounds pretty nice.”

Luna smiled at the simple request. “Easy enough.” Lunathought for a moment. You can use the amenities in my quarters. I don’t think it would be wise to let you walk into the barracks facilities, and the royal apartments are probably rife with wandering eyes at this hour.”

Shane nodded, seemingly satisfied with the plan.

“Well girls, if I were you I would find the others, the kitchens should still be serving breakfast. They can cook you whatever you like while I give the human a bath.”

Shane snorted at the phrasing. Twilight gave him a reassuring smile. Luna moved to inform her guards of the plan. She requested two to escort them, the rest were to maintain their posts. Large troop movements tended to draw attention, and moving in the light of day was risky enough.

Happy with the admittedly short term game plan, Shane collected a few articles of clothing; a clean set of desert cammies along with some brown socks and a set of olive green skivvies. He meticulously folded them into a bundle and tucked it under his arm and grabbing a small brown tan bag from his bottomless green duffle.

Rarity cast an almost disapproving glance over his possessions. “They really should consider something that isn’t tan or green,” she commented idly.

“I’ll be sure to bring that up at our next meeting,” Shane smiled.

“Don’t get me wrong darling it’s a striking uniform I just don’t think it would kill them to have a little variety in their wardrobe. Maybe something in a blue or even a yellow.”

He laughed.

“Or perhaps not,” she deflated somewhat. “Regardless, you must get bored of wearing the same thing every day.”

“Not really,” he shrugged. “All my cammies broken in and comfortable. I own civilian clothes too, I promise. They’re just at my house. Or they should be. I haven’t been home in… awhile,” he recalled somewhat wistfully.

“But you’ve only been here for a little over a week,” Twilight noted.

“I mean like home home. As in, my personal place of residence.”

“So where were you before you came here?” Twilight prodded as they walked.

“Would the name of place in a totally alternate dimension really mean anything to you?”

“I suppose not,” Twilight relented. “But there’s something to be said about the benefits of the simple act of sharing.”

The doors to the courtyard open from the arcane influences of the two unicorn guards posted on either side. Shane pulled on his strange eight point hat, pulling the bill down low, obscuring his eyes in shadow. He sighed, “Nevada. We left from a place called Nevada. Before that we were in Ohio, before that we were in Colorado. It’s been almost…two years since I was home home.”

Twilight jolted slightly at the names. It was most likely just wild coincidence that the humans had similarly named locations. She decided not to pursue the subject, but made sure to keep a mental note for later consideration.

Luna could see ponies in the distance. So far it seemed that none had really noticed them. Luna saw Shane eyeing them. Even from under the brim of his cover, she could see apprehension cross his face. Perhaps more concerning was the way his fingers were drumming on the grip of his holstered sidearm.

“Relax, Major.” Luna soothed, “There is no cause for alarm. You are not the strangest thing to have walked the halls of this castle. However if you keep acting like an alien conspiracy I am quite certain everypony will react accordingly. Remain calm and act like you belong here and everypony will assume the situation is well in hoof.”

“Is it?”

For the moment,” she assured. Which is all the more reason I need you to follow my lead. You have ‘covered your bases’. Let me cover mine. Your arrival marks a monumental era in our history. If not handled carefully… It will go very wrong indeed.”

“…This is going to get messy…isn’t it?” he said rather quietly.

Luna looked back at him, an almost apologetic look in her eyes. “Yes.”

Shane looked down at the purple unicorn mare by his side, as if to ensure she was still there.

She offered a reassuring smile, but he just frowned and continued to let his eyes wander about the grounds.

“Don’t worry, Shaney! Everypony is gonna be super happy you’re here. And we’re gonna throw a BIG party to celebrate and everypony will be invited and there’ll be cake and dancing and songs and ice cream…” an evil grin came across the pink filly’s lips, “…and peppermints,”

“So there won’t be any candy?”.

Twilight’s ears folded in preparation of the impending debate.

~~~~~

Twilight, Pinkie and Rarity bid their farewells once they reached the castle walls leaving Shane alone with Luna, a prospect he seemed less than thrilled about when Twilight voiced their departure.

His demeanor rapidly changed when Luna made a tempting promise of half a bottle of cherry wine she kept in her cabinet. It could be his if he behaved.

Twilight shook her head, amused by the strange character. The girls all chatted as they made their way to the kitchens, but Twilight’s mind was firmly on her bed. From the looks of it, the others were tired as well. They were up all night after all. Even Pinkie was showing signs of fatigue. Rainbow Dash was probably well passed unconscious on a cloud above Canterlot somewhere. Applejack and Fluttershy were sure to be around if not already in their rooms.

As soon as her stomach was full, Twilight planned on taking a nice long nap. Her brain needed time to properly process the past twenty four hours. Rarity agreed wholeheartedly. Staying up all night was a nightmare for her complexion. She could practically feel bags growing under her perfect blue eyes.

~~~~~

“I like your room.” Shane commented randomly as his eyes wandered Luna’s bedchamber.

Luna had to almost do a double take of the human at the remark. It was the kind of casual compliment that she had come to associate with everything that he was not. “…Thank you. I am rather fond of it as well,” Luna said after a moment, “My sister seems to think it gets cluttered but I cannot help myself. These baubles and trinkets hold many memories for us.”

Shane nodded absent mindedly. He unclasped the buckles strapping the holster to his thigh. He peeled off a strap of Velcro that wrapped around his belt, removing the holster and sidearm entirely. He set the bundle housing the heavy forty-five on Luna’s desk before turning to the starry alicorn. “Alright, I behaved. You owe me a drink.”

Luna frowned, “I normally wouldn’t give a reward for merely maintaining the absolute bare minimum of social conduct. But I suppose I did promise.” Luna opened a drawer in her desk forking over a slender bottle of cherry wine she kept for the occasional nightcap.

Shane smiled, pulling the cork with his teeth. He saluted Luna with the bottle and took a hefty swig before scrunching up his face. “Jesus, that’s sweet.” He took another swig regardless, licking his teeth like a satisfied wolf. He offered Luna the bottle.

Luna regarded him and the proffered bottle with a slightly dubious smirk. Shane shook the sleek glass bottle temptingly with a questioning lift of an eyebrow. Oh why not? Luna thought throwing her better judgment to the wind for the moment.

She levitated the bottle from his offering hand, however pausing to also telekinetically pull a tall crystal glass form the same drawer in her desk. She proceeded to fill the glass with the bright, almost pink, cherry wine. “We can at least pretend were not complete savages, Major.”

Shane sighed, “If the shoe fits…”

Now it was Luna’s turn to smile. “Finally admitting it then?”

“Never denied it. We can’t all be perfect little pony princesses now can we?”

“No I suppose we can’t,” Luna beamed as she sipped her drink. “Perfection is so rarely found these days.”

“Hmm,” Shane grimaced, “I need to go wash all this royal egotism off before it infects me.”

“I have a feeling you were lost to narcissism long before we ever met, Major.”

“A moot accusation,” he noted. “Regardless I still strangely feel the need to clean myself… Also shave before some salty ass Sergeant Major pops out of a bush and tells me to un-fuck myself.” Shane picked up the brown ditty bag, full of various hygiene instruments.

Luna smiled, despite not quite understanding the remark. “Through there,” Luna pointed a hoof though an open marble archway. “Do you need anything?”

Shane pulled the pistol from the holster on Luna’s desk. “I need this.” He waved the black steel piece a bit. “And this…” he snagged the bottle of wine out of Luna’s magic, before turning on the spot and heading for the washroom.

 “Shower booze,” He explained in advance. She didn’t even bothering to ask why he needed the gun. He shut the dark oak doors behind him; Luna heard the brass lock click into place.

She rolled her eyes at the sheer strangeness of her situation. In the past two weeks her world had been turned on its head. From Empyrean stream theory, to extra-universal transit, to inter-dimensional creatures themselves, it had been a busy week. Although Luna had to admit even she was expecting aliens to be a bit more like the campfire stories of little green ponies with huge black eyes that built crop circles in their flying saucers, full of some ancient galactic wisdom.

But a little green pony, Shane was not. Sociopathic frat boy, was a more appropriate description in Luna’s opinion. She heard the water turn on. Luna settled down on her dais with a stack of legal documents that needed her signature.

A gentle rapping came from the other side of Luna’s chamber door. At the princess’ word, a Night Sentinel nudged it open favoring Luna with an eager bow.

“Yes?” Luna spoke, after nodding the stallion to return to his hooves.

“Forgive the intrusion, your majesty, but will you be dining in your chambers this morning?”

Luna was rather hungry. She also supposed the human probably needed to eat soon. The last thing she needed was a hungry carnivore loose in the castle. She gave the guard her orders, to be brought back to her room.

The Sentinel cleared his throat rather awkwardly. “And what of your…guest, highness?”  

“Hold on,” Luna trotted over to the door, unlocking the brass mechanism with a flash of magic, before striding into the washroom purposefully.

The guard stood for a moment in silence before overhearing the princess speak.

“Major?”

“WHAT THE FUCK?! GET OUT!”

The guard winced at the ruckus coming from the bathroom, it sounded like someone took a rather nasty fall, followed by breaking glass, the human shouting obscenities the whole time.

Luna ducked back out the doorway before turning back around. “Oh Calm down! You are overreacting! It’s not like I haven’t already-EEP” Luna yelped and ducked just in time as a large boot whizzed over her head. “I just wanted to know what you wanted for-” Luna shrieked and slammed the door shut just as something collided into the other side with considerable force.

Luna blew an errant strand of starry hair out of her face. She turned back to the guard, smiling somewhat embarrassedly. “He’ll just have what I’m having.”

The guard bowed, eager to be free of the awkward situation, and departed.

Luna sighed, turning back to the washroom door. “Was that really necessary, Major? I just wanted to ask you something.” She spoke through the door, annoyance heavy in her speech.

“I don’t have any clothes on!” he shouted back.

“I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m not wearing clothes either.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT BETTER!!! If anything that makes it worse!”

“Well excuse me for not knowing humans were so self-effacing.”

“Then consider yourself educated, because next time I’m just going to shoot you.”

“I don’t think you will. You need me.” She challenged teasingly.

“Keep pushin’ it then. We’ll find out together.”

Luna chuckled at the flustered human, wandering at the creature’s obsession with constant clothing. It might make sense for a race with no fur coat to develop a nudity taboo. She settled back down to her paperwork contemplating the information.

Luna worked diligently through her stack of paper work and legal documents. A noticeable span of time past while Luna worked, her ears occasionally overhearing the sounds of human hygiene rituals. She signed yet another form with the phoenix quill Celestia gave her. Carefully allowing the nub scratching softly against the parchment.

Another knock at the door made it clear to the lunar princess that she was, in fact, not going to get any work done today. “Come in,” Luna spoke, attempting to keep the annoyance from her voice.

Aegis poked his nose inside the door tentatively scanning the room but finding only the princess sitting at her desk expectantly. He pushed into the room, pausing to lower his head in a reverential bow.

“What is it, Commander?” Luna questioned.

Aegis looked uneasy. “I’m not sure, Highness. Possibly nothing.”

Luna cocked an eyebrow at the armor clad stallion.

“A missive arrived this morning,” the stallion began to explain, “…from the Griffon Prime Minister…”

‘Strange.’ Luna perked up, suddenly very interested. She was on friendly terms with the griffon, but he was hardly the type to play pen-pal. “What did Celestia say? The court is hers while the sun continues to shine. Why do you bring this to me?”

Aegis scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “Well, highness…It’s addressed to you…specifically.

Now Luna was thoroughly puzzled. She beckoned with a hoof. The Guard Commander stuck his muzzle into the saddlebag resting neatly over his armored flank. He pulled out a sharply marked envelope, complete with Magneus’ personal crest stamped onto the wax seal. Luna turned it over on a telekinetic bed of starry magic.

The brass knob of the bathroom door broke Luna’s attention. As the human walked out now dressed in a new set of desert digital pants and form fitting green skivvy shirt. His slight limp made Luna realize he was still missing the boot he threw at her after their…exchange.

He was busy thoughtfully contemplating the bottle of Luna’s shampoo, while scratching his head with the barrel of his pistol. “Un nom à consonance française,” he read the label aloud. “Moisturizing formula with crushed crystal berries and sweet almond oil is sure to bring out the luster in even the most ethereal and astral manes.” He snorted amusedly but kept reading, “Guaranteed to rope in the stallion of your dreams.” He looked up and around the room expectantly. “Well? …Where’s my stallion” His eyes fell on Aegis. “It better not be him,” he frowned.

Luna chuckled at the thought. “It’s just an marketing gimmick, Major. You don’t actually get a stallion.”

“Pffttt,” he tapped the shampoo bottle with the pistol. “Your soap made promises of a romantical nature and I expect you to live up to them. he asserted adamantly.

“We won’t though. Plastic bottles do not a binding contract make, Major.” Luna chuckled.

He was only playing. His poorly concealed smile made that clear, but Aegis still felt compelled to lean into Luna and quietly question, “What’s gotten into him?”

Shane set the now empty wine bottle on Luna’s desk with a soft clink.

“Ah,” Aegis concluded to himself.

Shane strolled over to where his boot lay, pulling it over his brown socked foot. He tied and tucked the laces before neatly blousing his trousers at the boot.

Luna and Aegis both watched with admitted fascination as his fingers worked the slender laces into complex positions without any magic at all.

Shane stood back up and noticed the two staring. He furrowed his brow, apparently confused by the attention, but shrugged it off before snagging his holster off Luna’s desk. He secured the top strap to his belt, and the other two around his upper thigh. He stuck the pistol in its tan housing with an unnecessary little twirl.

He pulled out the pack of cigarettes from his cargo pocket, grabbing a slender stick between his lips.

Luna stirred out of her observational trance. “Nah ah ah,” she scolded, telekinetically removing the stick from his mouth before he could fish out his lighter. “Not in my castle! If you insist on spewing noxious fumes, you will do so outside.

Shane rolled his eyes, snagging his cigarette from Luna’s magic and walking to the ornate glass doors leading to the princess’ balcony. He popped the brass latch, and strode out onto the sunlit marble mezzanine, pushing the door closed behind him. He seated himself on the edge of the golden banister and bringing the silver lighter to his lips. He lowered it, exhaling a cloud of hazy gray smoke, and staring out into the expanse of Equestria.

Luna and Aegis watched him through the massive glass doors for a few seconds, before Aegis finally spoke. “He’s doing what?” he asked confused by the princess’ remark.

“Some masochistic human ritual,” she sighed. She shook her head to get her thoughts back on track. She stared down at the missive on her desk, the bright red wax seal still staring back at her expectantly.

Well, gawking at it won’t make it go away. She thought to herself, tearing into the envelope. She pulled the letter out and set her shining sapphire eyes to scanning the elegant scrollwork of the Prime Minister’s script.

Her Majesty Princess Luna,

I do hope I’m not overstepping my bounds by contacting you directly, but I simply could not restrain myself. There have been trappings of rumors floating about parliament of some sort of meteorite landing somewhere in Equestria. It very well may be just the gossip of idling politicians, but I’ve always had a small affinity for astronomy, and so few actually make it through the atmosphere… I apologize for wasting your time with my hobbies. But if it is in fact true could you find it in your heart to send a copy of your notes on the rock to your dear old friend?

As always give your sister my best,

~Magneus

Aegis sat dutifully awaiting the princess’ explanation.

Luna set the letter down on her desk, finished reading a perfectly indecipherable expression on her face.

“Well?” Aegis prodded expectantly. “What does it say?”

Luna should have seen this coming. She had known Magneus kept an eye on the skies. Of course someone else could have seen the ship, it was a giant fireball tearing through the upper atmosphere. But in all honesty she wasn’t as worried about her own subjects, most of whom just seemed to assume the princesses had the cosmic venue under control. The ‘meteor’ received relatively little attention in the Equestrian media. So she dismissed the issue. She had failed to consider eyes from beyond her borders.

It seemed word of the event finally spread across the sea. Luckily for her it seemed the attention was nothing more than an idle curiosity. She silently wondered if he had even bothered to bring it to the attention of the queen herself. She had no reason to suspect he knew the true scope of the situation.

Yet she hadn’t the slightest idea of how to proceed. She knew Celestia was planning on revealing the human’s existence at some point. That was technically the next logical move.

A sudden thought struck the lunar princess. Luna set the letter aside. She could spare a few days to respond. It was just an idea, but she should probably run it by her sister first.

Luna realized she never answered the patiently waiting stallion. She brought the old war horse up to speed.

He ruminated on the incident for a few seconds. “I met him once,” he started. “If it is any comfort to you, highness, I think your secret is still safe. Griffon politics can be a bit underhanded but even he doesn’t strike me as the type to play something so roundabout. If he knew, he’d have asked already.”

Luna agreed, but couldn’t afford not to assess the situation from all angles. She looked out onto the veranda. The human’s cigarette was gone. He was just sitting there, perched on the marble banister with one leg cocked up to his chest and the other dangling out over empty space.

She considered going out and telling him to get down before he fell, but knowing his seemingly never ending love for irritating her, he’d probably jump off out of spite.

She noticed him fussing with something. It was quite small but he held it reverently. A small black square. He held it up against the sunlight, twisting and turning with studied curiosity. He brought it back down, tucking in his pocket and looking around. His eyes caught Luna staring and froze.

Luna blinked… he blinked back. This went on for several seconds. He eventually just frowned and turned back to his view, sticking another cigarette in his mouth, leaving Luna to her conjecture. His constant air of furtive up-to-something-ness was growing more and more worrisome. She could never tell if his behavior was genuinely suspicious or if it was all misinterpreted cultural differences. It irritated her.

“We aren’t going to worry about this now” Luna said to the waiting stallion. “I have a few ideas. But I shan’t be doing anything without first running it by Celestia.”

Aegis nodded and bowed. “Of course, highness. If you’ll excuse me, I believe your breakfast is waiting. I have a few things to take care of. I’ll come check on you in a few hours.” The older stallion excused himself with another bow. Sure to his word, he opened the door to find two carts laden with breakfast foods. The servant was gone, the staff tended to know better than to disturb the princess when she was meeting with somepony. She never actually got around to figuring out how, but they always seemed to know when she busy with something.

She smiled and pulled the two carts in herself, parking them by a few cushions by her obsidian fireplace. She flicked the brass latch on the doors leading to the veranda.

Shane didn’t turn to look back at her. Instead he stared out over the sprawling green hills of Equestria as it basked in the morning sun. Idle pockets of rolling storm clouds cast powerful columns of shadow. Luna had not looked upon the weather schedule in a few days. It had been almost a week since their last good rain. They must be overdue. The tall spires of darkness were still far off. They contrasted the brilliant blue skies with hauntingly beautiful efficiency.

The two were quiet. Luna was perfectly content to keep the silence. It was nice to have a moment just to sit and simply be. Luna stretched her glorious wings, her indigo feathers drinking in the warmth of Celestia’s sunrays. Contrary to popular belief, Luna held no aversion to sunlight. It was true, she preferred the cool embrace of her velvet night, but the sun was not without its charms. She even enjoyed it…in small doses. And there was no denying that the view was spectacular. The far-flung storm casting shadows across the shimmering greenery, the rays of sunlight trying to pierce the inky black clouds. It was stunning display of nature, beautiful and terrifying. Like a super-model with a chainsaw.

The human seemed oddly contemplative of the distant thunderheads. Luna came to the golden banister by his side, admiring the view as well. Shane put the cigarette between his lips. A long drag cut the smoldering end to the filter, and Shane flicked it away. He closed his eyes and blew the ashen poison from his lungs toward the sky, where it was whisked away up into the crisp Equestrian atmosphere.

“It’s pretty,” Shane said, almost startling the lunar princess. His, now open, eyes glossing over the view.

“It is,” she agreed quietly.

“I’d say it looks like home,” he started wistfully. “But all the little things give it away.”

“Oh?”

He nodded. “You really only notice the differences when you really pay attention,” he clarified as if Luna could understand the distinction of which he spoke.

“Like what?” she prodded.

“I gotta admit the whole sun and moon show was bit much,” he said scratching the back of his head.

Luna chuckled. It was more of a chirping amused noise rather than an actual laugh but she continued all the same. “Perhaps it was. But we were trying to make a point. I take it nopony raises the sun back on Earth?”

“…no,” he panned. “I’d tell you it’s impossible but I’m getting kinda sick of pointing offences to the laws of physics when you guys clearly don’t give a shit about them.”

“Forgive me if I am wrong but it sounds like you’re building to something.”

“Is it just you and her? Or are there more?”

“What do you mean?” Luna asked, confused.

Shane was quiet for a minute, ignoring Luna’s query. “This morning I saw you moving the sun around like it was on a string.” He was almost whispering.

“Celestia was moving the sun. I was moving the moon,” Luna corrected.

Shane scoffed. “Oh! Well that makes MUCH more sense. I don’t even know why I was confused in the first place. OF COURSE you were moving the moon!” If Luna had a container, she would have tried to see if she could capture the pure undiluted sarcasm leaking out of every orifice on the human’s body.

“Point made, Major.

“Can I ask you something?” he finally spoke.

“Of course,” she assured.

“What are you?” he asked seeming genuinely curious.

“I am many things,” Luna said, unintentionally mirroring their past conversation. “Narrow your search and it may yield more fruitful results.”

“I don’t even know how to ask it,” he admitted. If he had normal ears, Luna was sure they would be laid flat. Still watching the rolling clouds, he let a resigned sigh. “I’ve seen a lot of weird shit since I got here. I let a great deal of it slide because there are clearly different rules here. But that? …a lesser man might even venture to say such feats were, dare I say, Godlike?” he asked, straight out of left field.

It was an amusing question if not posed somewhat unexpectedly. Although it would be a lie if she were to say he was the first to have asked it. Luna smiled. “Ah…It’s that question.” Shane nodded. “If told you yes, would you start being a little nicer?”

“No,” he said perfectly serious.

Luna’s grin widened. “What difference would it make then?”

“Humor me.” The human finally turned to look at the princess directly.

Dancing around the question got her nowhere in the end, so she chose her words with great care. Religion was a walk of razors. “Short answer; ‘Yes’ with an “If”. Long answer; ‘No’ with a but’. I am what I am. Nothing more or less,” she started cryptically. “I am the harbinger of the night, keeper of the moon and stars, and patron of darkness. I am a goddess, yes. But I think not in the sense you are implying.

I am an integral part of this world and have done my share to shape it…But I did not create it. This plane was here well before I was born, and shall continue well after I am gone. The Old Gods are long from this earth. They return only fleetingly to wander like shadowed memories in a forgotten dream.”

Shane listened attentively, but kept his gaze focused on the horizon. It was a difficult thing to communicate to a mortal, especially one not of this world.

He nodded as if he understood. She couldn’t know if he actually grasped what she was trying to say or if he was just nodding for lack of a better response. But he didn’t inquire further.

 “What of you, Major?” she prodded, hoping to coax the human from his brooding. “Such questions betray a familiarity of such things. Have thou any inclination to the divine in your world.”

Shane shrugged, “Some do,” he said vaguely. “Afraid it’s another one of those things where every human you ask is going to have a slightly different opinion.”

“What about yours?” she clarified.

“I doubt God would have any interest in me,” he smiled almost painfully. “In my humble opinion… if there ever even was a God…He left us a long time ago.” Shane looked back at the palace tower and frowned. “He sure as fuck ain’t sitting in a castle in Washington. If that’s what you’re asking.”

The silence returned. Luna didn’t know enough about human culture to comment, so she stayed silent lest she make a fool of herself, or worse, offend him. She felt like she was on thin ice as it was. Luna could see the conflict in the human’s eyes. The subtle traces of turmoil in his voice told her that it was a sensitive issue. So the silence continued.

Shane rolled his broad shoulders and stretched, cracking the bones in several key joints. “Storms coming,” he noted in a quiet mumble.

Luna looked out at the looming thunderheads smirking. “What clued you in?”

He tapped his waist with a fist. “Hip,” he said with a straight face, seemingly un-offended by Luna’s jibe.

Luna didn’t ask what he meant. She stood and nudged his shoulder with her muzzle. “Come. Eat with me, Major. I had breakfast delivered.”

The human got up without question. The promise of food apparently enough to spur him from his thoughts and follow the alicorn inside.

~~~~~

Shane picked at his food, clearly wishing for some form of meat. He was pleased to find scrambled eggs under one of the silver trays.

“Thought you guys were like vegan or something,” he accused smiling happily. He speared a fluffy yellow morsel with a fork and seizing it with his carnivorous front teeth.

“Hardly,” Luna clarified, amused. She nibbled at a piece of toast. “Pony’s digestive systems were simply not made to handle meat. Seafood is not uncommon fair for cities along the coast.” she noted, “The fact merely is there are not very many civilized carnivorous species native to Equestria. So a bit of a social stigma took root. When most ponies hear ‘carnivore’ they will naturally think of the wild hydra or fearsome manticore, rather than a civilized species. Experience has taught them so.”

“Makes sense,” he said idly, cleaning his third plate. Luna was almost impressed with the amount of food he could put away. She wasn’t complaining though. If anything she encouraged it. She had no desire to see what havoc a hungry carnivore could reek on her court.

Luna had finished as well, she levitated the tea set over to low oak table they were sitting at and poured herself a cup. She filled the cup nearest the human as well.

Shane stared at the swirling dark liquid in the delicate teacup in front of him. He watched the cup for an inordinate amount of time as if not sure what to do with it.

Luna couldn’t imagine what where the lapse in understanding was stemming. “Do you not like tea, Major?”

He shrugged. “I like coffee,” he offered.

Luna smirked. “Cadence drinks coffee too,” she mused.

“Who?”

“Princess Cadence,” Luna clarified. “I’m sure you’ll have a chance to meet her soon enough.”

“Jesus…Another princess? Do you guys just slap the ‘princess’ label on any chick that walks in the door?” he asked rubbing his head.

“We most certainly do not,” Luna rejected somewhat offended.

“I’m never gonna remember all these princesses,” he murmured poking his still full teacup with a finger.

“Yes I can see how three whole names might be a bit much for you…” Luna noted.

“Yeah but they’re like…improper nouns and adjectives and shit. That’s not how names work,” he complained, still contemplating his teacup. He lifted the cup to his nose sniffing curiously.

“Try it,” Luna encouraged, sipping at her own cup.

He shrugged idly before tossing the teacup back like a university student with a shot glass. His face immediately soured, nostrils flared, his unhappiness apparent.

Luna had to forcibly restrain her laughter at the scene.

To his credit he did try to hide his revulsion at the beverage as quickly as he could.

“You don’t have to drink it,” Luna reminded.

He set the cup down as quickly as he could without shattering the delicate porcelain.

Luna chuckled amusedly. It isn’t for everyone I suppose.

The day carried on somewhat uneventfully, all things considered. Shane wandered around Luna’s room investigating the mysterious belongings of a dark alicorn princess. Luna sat and watched him explore while she worked at her desk. She equated the sight to a puppy in a new home, eagerly prodding about, curious of every nook and cranny.

He settled down on a plush dais, inspecting Luna’s crystal chess set, the scene of his past defeat at her regal hooves. He started setting the pieces back in their proper starting places.

“Keen on a rematch so soon?” Luna quipped from her desk.

“…I don’t think so,” he smiled.

“Hmm pity. We can never seem to get ponies to agree to a second game.”

He muttered something under his breath that Luna was quite certain it was better she not hear.

“If it’s any comfort to you, know you did better than most tend to their first time,” she offered.

He grinned deviantly. “What makes you think it was my first time?”

“First time playing me,” she clarified ignoring the blatant innuendo.

“I’m a bit out of practice,” he excused. “I haven’t played chess in years.”

“You played often?”

“Used to, till I got kicked off the chess team.”

Luna seized the little fact immediately, grinning at the implications. “You were on a chess team?

“It’s that tough to believe, huh?” he smiled, voice colored with mock offence.

“Yes, actually,” she chuckled softly. “Why and how did you manage to get kicked off of a chess team?”

“Starting fights,” he recalled, whimsically knocking a king on its side.

Luna finally allowed herself to laugh out loud. The thought a little too painfully obvious for her to have not considered. Shane smiled good naturedly, allowing the alicorn to have her moment of mirth.

~~~~~

After several hours sitting on her throne, it felt good to finally stretch her long slender legs. Had she more time she may have even taken a small fly around the castle. Alas, time was not a luxury she enjoyed much of these days.

The door to Luna’s chamber came quickly. The two night sentinels snapped to as she approached. Celestia walked in the door tiredly. Stopping in her tracks as she noticed Shane sitting cross-legged on Luna’s bed with a puzzle of black steel pieces laid out in neat display. It took the princess a moment to realize they were the pieces of his handgun. He wiped a small piece with a spotty white rag before setting it down and selecting another. She dismissed the initial thought that the weapon was broken, realizing he was merely cleaning it.

His face actually brightened when he saw Celestia. He even greeted Celestia with a familiar little wave.

Luna was gathering the scattered pieces of her crystal chess set from where they lay strewn about the room. Despite the chore, Luna held a victorious smirk. It didn’t take a genius to riddle out what happened. Luna finally turned and noticed the new arrival. “Ah! Hello, sister. You’re back early. Have your courts convened already?”

“I’m afraid not,” Celestia sighed. ‘I merely ordered a short recess for a midday meal. I was going to check up and make sure you two hadn’t caused too much trouble. I hope nothing to catastrophic has occurred?”

“Luna tried to rape me in the shower,” Shane noted casually.

“WHAT?!” Luna bellowed in disbelief. “I did NO such thing!”

Celestia’s wings sagged. She was probably a fool for thinking that time spent with her sister and the human would be some sort of respite from the monotony of politics.

~~~~~

~ POST ~

EDITED BY:  BRAWNY

I’m back again. This time with a bit of a chunkier chapter.

I had fun with this one. Mainly because it was a bit more progressive and light.

I always have fun writing Luna because I like the idea that she’s a total smartass.

The next few chapters I tended to get somewhat silly. I thought it would be a nice break from all the dreary situational tension. Now we can work in earnest of character interactions.

The end of last chapter was supposed to be kind of a turning point for the story. Our concerns shift from the more immediate to a more broad scope if issues. Namely from worrying about Canterlot and immediate danger to worrying about the nation and political concerns.

At east for the next few chapters. I’m just looking forward to some fun bantering along with the antics that they might get into living at the castle.

Credit to whoever spots the two Simpsons references.

Thats about all I got guys.

If you have any questions or want the story behind the stories, Feel free to ask.

As always gents, Comment, Friend, Follow. Do whatever it is kids do with things things they like. Or I at least hope you like. Some three hundred pages later I assume anyone that hates it has left already, but maybe not.

Muppetz540 - Skype

[email protected] -Email

Here’s that TVtropes again.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/Article2

Which is always fun to read. For me at least.

And for those of you that don’t believe I did it.
http://i.imgur.com/IDFmFN8.jpg

Where is you’re god now?


ARTICLE 2

Part XIII

By: Muppetz

Aegis paced outside the facility, his armor left back in the office. To the eyes of the city he was just another moving pony, idling about his business. He felt horribly exposed without his metal cocoon. His uniform white coat now back to its original dusty brown. The electric blue mane now back to his soft grey. He wasn’t sure if he felt better or worse for the loss of his armor. Seeing his natural colors helped lend some perspective. He was still a pony under the metal plates. But the other hoof, the uniform was his entire life. He couldn’t help but feel like half himself without it.

A cream colored unicorn sporting an orange safety vest came abreast of the Commander. Seeing his colleges and brethren without their uniforms was an unusual experience. Although necessary, it was rather awkward. “We’re ready to move, sir,” The cream colored unicorn murmured.

“Load em’ up. Let’s get this done,” he ordered, sending the unicorn off to bark the orders at the rest of the un-armored guards.

To the casual observer, they were nothing more than an average team of moving ponies, hired to ship heavy cargo for well-to-do clients. The true nature of the chore was much more gruesome.

Ten large rectangular unmarked wooden boxes floated from the open doors of the facility. Under the shimmering magical influence of several unicorn guards, they were gently placed in the moving wagons.

He probably could have delegated this to one of his officers, but he so rarely got to go into the field with his men he was rather insistent on personally attending the matter. Was it imperative he head the movement himself? Probably not. But he had been in command for nearly twenty years. He could get himself an interesting detail every now and then. It beat the paperwork that awaited him in his office.

A forest green earth pony climbed into one of the wagons, casting a cautious glance at the commander. Aegis nodded, and the stallion nodded in return, pounding the side of the wooden vehicle twice. The wagon lurched forward as the pegasi buffeted the air with powerful strokes.

Soon the entire train of moving company wagons was off. They knew their destination. Deep within the bowels of the ancient castle, The Crematorium.

Aegis sighed, and began the long walk back. He refused to get in the wagon with those things. He wasn’t above admitting they spooked him just a bit.

The plodding sound of hoof falls on cobblestone filled his ears, as he joined the traffic of ponies going about their day, none of whom would ever really know what they had all just witnessed. He sighed again, trying to clear his head.

A fat raindrop landed squarely on the stallion’s nose, followed by another, and another. Soon the skies broke open, drenching the air with sheets of summer rain.

At least the weather is nice,” he smiled to himself as he set course back to the castle.

~~~~~

“Say it,” Luna demanded.

“No,” Shane folded his arms resolutely.

“Fluttershy!” Luna shouted toward the door.

“Waitwaitwaiteh ah ah ah nah ah no,” he began to chatter, waving his hands in a deescalating fashion.

“Say it, then,” she ordered, suppressing a small grin. Fluttershy was nowhere near the tower. Luckily he didn’t seem willing to call her bluff.

He sighed, shoulders slumping. “I’m sorry I accused you of rape,” he mumbled.

“…and?” Luna awaited.

He gritted his teeth in frustration. “Rape is not an appropriate subject for joking no matter how funny I think it is,” he repeated Luna’s demands.

Luna nodded, satisfied. “Now. I have some work to finish.”

“What kind of work?” he prodded.

“Paperwork,” she droned none too happy with it herself.

Princess paperwork?” he tacked on, grinning.

Luna sighed, “Yes, Major. Princess paperwork.”

 Shane chuckled in a fashion that Luna would have sworn challenged the border of a giggle. Celestia had long since left them to their squabbling. She had to get back to her courts and meetings. Luna had yet to mention the letter to her. It could be done later. She had some time to spare.

It was raining now. The pitter-patter of droplets on the glass doors was soft and rhythmic. Luna plopped herself back in front of her desk, horn softly glowing. She dipped her quill once again and set back to glazing over legal forms before signing off on them.

Shane idled around Luna’s room while she worked. He poked at a large globe by Luna’s bookshelf. It was quiteunique. It mapped, not the land, but the night sky. After ensuring it did not open into a mini-bar, he made himself busy by spinning it for several moments.

A brief time passed before the human became bored again. He wandered over to the princess, entertaining himself by leaning over her shoulder and watching her work in an exceedingly distracting fashion. She allowed him to watch for a moment, knowing he would more than likely soon become bored again and wander off. Which he did, more quickly than she expected. He leaned on the edge of her desk and watched the rain through the glass, impatiently waiting for her to finish her work.

He picked up a tiny black notebook from Luna’s desk, thumbing the pages disinterestedly, only to find it blank and placing it back where he found it.

He sighed loudly, letting it be plainly known that he wasn’t happy with being ignored. “So what’s on the agenda here?” he asked clearly having enough of the silence.

“I’ll play with you later, Shane. I have to finish this first.”

No. I mean long term. Game plan.

“I’m afraid I don’t have much in the way of specifics,” she said as she continued scratching the quill against the parchment. “I imagine Celestia will want to begin orchestrating your formal public reveal.”

“Do I have a vote in that?” he asked. Luna wondered if it was apprehension in his voice or that was just her imagination.

“Yes, and no,” she answered frankly. “Our citizens have a right to know what’s happening around them. Your arrival is a momentous milestone in our history. More so than you may truly understand,” she tacked on giving his a sideways glance. “You, intentionally or not, have rewritten the way we understand the world around us. Rather drastically as well.

“Good?”

“It is neither good nor bad. It merely is. I shan’t lie to you, human. I can think of no more than a few who will be less than thrilled to see you. Great changes are rarely bereft their share of conflict. Some ponies will not be ready to hear the truths that your existence denotes.” Luna turned, looking at the human. “How do you think most humans would take the news were our positions reversed?”

“Not well,” he admitted.

“Then you understand our difficulty.” She turned back to her papers.

Shane’s brow furrowed at the prospect of being thrust into the spotlight. Luna preempted the question. “We shan’t be throwing you to the wolves, Major. Nopony will force anything on you….but your cooperation will take that much more of the heat off of Celestia and I, if you understand my meaning.”

He nodded. Luna wasn’t sure if he actually understood or was merely nodding reflexively.

“I would worry overly much about it now. We have much to do before such thing come to pass. I am certain Celestia will want to learn more about you before we go and announce you’re here. It would be rather awkward making such an announcement and then be unable to answer any of the obvious follow up questions. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I suppose it would,” he murmured, his mind clearly elsewhere.

There was another knock on the door. Luna called for them to enter, pretending she hadn’t seen the human’s hand slip down to rest on the grip of his handgun.

Aegis poked his head in. Checking up on them as he promised he would.

“Hello, Commander,” Luna smiled at the stallion.

Shane’s eyebrow perked as the title left Luna’s mouth.

“Good afternoon, Princess.” Aegis bowed. “I merely wished to inform you that the humans have been moved to the lower chambers, we are just waiting on the final order before we begin the cremation.”

“Proceed, Commander,” Luna ordered.

Shane leaned toward Luna somewhat hesitantly. “…Uhm…You don’t think it’s at all possible for me to…uh…go...to that, do you?”

Luna regarded Shane with sympathetic eyes. “I don’t think it would be wise, Major,” The human almost did a good job of hiding his disappointment behind a quick mask. “I’m sorry, Shane. But we’ve attracted a lot of attention today as it is.”

He nodded in understanding.

Aegis listened to the exchange with an odd face.

 Luna was right, though. It would require them to traverse through several heavily populated areas of the castle. It was not a smart idea. Duty often left desire in want.

Shane nodded again, as if convincing himself it was for the best. It was clear he wished otherwise but he wasn’t about to protest.

Celestia appeared in the doorway moments later, visibly relieved to be through with politics for the day. Aegis rushed to bow after the admittedly stealthy alicorn had come up behind him.

Shane threw on a ghost of a smile. “Look who decided to show up.” Despite the slight teasing he actually sounded rather happy to see Celestia.

“Hello, sister,” Luna greeted warmly.

“Good afternoon everypony,” Celestia said with a tired sigh and a soft smile.

Luna waiting for the human to correct Celestia’s greeting, but he never did.  “How did it go?” Luna asked Celestia interestedly.

“Not terribly. Dull if nothing else. I had more than a fair share of questions about our little light show this morning.”

“What did you tell them?” Luna asked grinning.

“Oh you know how such things can skew after so many millennia. They just need the occasional recalibration.” Somewhere far away a Turian smiled.

Luna grinned, happy with the excuse. “I do so hate to bring more to the plate, sister. But it seems another issue has reared its ugly head.”

Celestia paused, giving Luna her attention. “What’s wrong?”

“I received a letter from Magneus this morning,” she said weightily.

Celestia became very still, suddenly very interested. “What about?”

“I’ll give you three guesses,” Luna sighed, nodding toward Shane. Celestia grew silent, contemplative.

“You don’t think-”

“No. I don’t think he knows,” Luna cut her off. “I have an idea. But I’d like to discuss it with you first.” Luna didn’t have to say it. It was clear, that she had no intention of discussing in present company.

A small awkward silence ruled for a brief second.

“Well,” Shane grinned. “I can take a hint.” He stood from where he leaned against Luna’s desk. “I need to go get some sleep anyway. I’ll leave you to it.” He pulled on his new desert blouse and grabbed his cover and effects. “Night, ladies.”

“It’s daytime,” Luna noted casually.

“No one cares,” he replied, mimicking her tone. He stepped toward the door, cocking an eyebrow at Aegis. “Wanna walk me home, sir?” He said with an amused grin.

Aegis smirked back at the pseudo formality but nodded toward the hallway. “I rate a sir from you now?” he noted as they left started down the corridor.

“Yeah. I never was great with the navy’s chain, but I’m pretty sure you outrank me.”

“…what?”

The door shut under Luna’s magical influence, leaving the two alicorns to their chat.

Celestia blew an astral strand of mane from here eyes. “Alright, Luna, what is the problem now?” She spoke tiredly, feeling foolish for thinking that they may have enjoyed a brief respite from trouble.

Luna merely levitated the missive to her sister, allowing the solar alicorn to read it for herself.

~~~~~

The door shut behind the human and the armored stallion. “It’s probably different for you guys,” Shane continued as they walked. I just thought I’d be nice and extend the courtesy. Is it a special billet or your actual rank?”

“Both, actually.” Aegis noted.

“Oh-five?”

“Normally yes, but the but the station of Guard commander is actually an Oh-Seven billet,” the stallion clarified.

The human whistled softly before saying something under his breath.

 Aegis just shook his head and began to walk down the corridor, pausing only when he realized despite the sound of boots on marble, the human was not following.

Shane was walking in place outside the princesses’ bedchamber door, his footfalls become slightly less heavy with each step until they sounded faint and far off.

Shane then just gave the Commander a grin and a thumbs up as he pressed his ear to the oak door.

“…What are you doing?” Aegis asked, smiling at the human’s attempted eavesdropping.

“Tactical information acquisition,” he whispered. Now shut up. I’m trying to hear.”

You’re  trying to spy on the princesses?

They’re hiding something. That’s not nice.” He adjusted his head against the door, struggling to make sense of the faint murmurs from the other side.

You keep plenty of secrets,” Aegis pointed out, wondering how long it would take for the human to realize the room was sound proofed.

I never once claimed to be nice,”

“You’re not going to hear anything.”

Shane nodded as if confirming something. “Yup…Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm.”

“There’s no way you can actually hear through that. It’s been soundproof-”

The doors both swung inward leaving Shane frozen in his very compromising position. Aegis smacked a hoof to his forehead as the human was caught red handed attempting to spy on the alicorns. 

Shane slowly turned his head to the Princesses who were silently scrutinizing his position with cocked eyebrows and expectant visages.

He righted himself, coughing awkwardly into his fist, before nodding exaggeratedly. “Yep,” he tapped the door with a knuckle. “…Oak. That’s a …fine door buildin’ material there.” He nodded again. “WELP! I should get going. You two…just …keep doing what you doing.” He turned and walked back to his armored escort. “Goodnight, girls.”

“It’s still daytime,” Luna noted once again.

“And I still don’t care!” He shouted back down the hallway.

“Interesting,” Luna murmured. Once the human and Aegis were well beyond hearing range. Luna shut the door to her chamber door, turning back to her sister.

“I hope you’ve thought this through, Luna. Once we send this we won’t be able to take it back.” Celestia’s words were cautious and worried, very uncharacteristic for the white alicorn.

“It will happen sooner or later whether we wish it to or not,” Luna said sternly. “It is better we dictate the tempo of events lest somepony else do it for us. If we take the initiative the odds will fall, however slightly, in our favor. The risk is great but stagnation will only serve us ill.”

Celestia sighed. “...Very well.”

Luna levitated the neatly folded parchment to her sister.

Celestia’s horn flashed brilliant gold, like the sun, before the scroll vanished in a globule of green fire. The sparkling gray smoke sped for the open window and into the rainy sky faster than any natural breeze could carry it.

~~~~~

Finally back to its cell, Aegis stopped at the door stepping aside to let the human back into its appropriated dwelling. He allowed a breath of pent up apprehension dissipate. This was the first time the human had not been under direct alicorn supervision. Nothing went wrong. The walk had been quiet and uneventful.

Shane dumped his old clothes and diddy bag on the floor, unceremoniously kicking the mess underneath the cot and out of the way. He turned and plopped himself down on the canvas bedding, absentmindedly pulling out a pack of cigarettes before thinking better of it and stuffing them back into a pocket.

Aegis watched the human for a few short seconds before speaking. “You’ll be alright for the rest of the day?”

Shane ran a hand over his head taking a deep breath. “...Yeah. I think I’ll survive,” he murmured.

Aegis nodded, turning to leave.

“...Wait,” the human said softly.

Aegis turned back, curious. The human was looking at his boots, clearly uncomfortable.

“...Listen. I know you don’t owe me anything,” Shane said slowly. “And I probably got no right askin’ this of you.” Shane paused. “But I need you to do something for me.”

Aegis lifted an eyebrow at the human, giving the creature his undivided attention. .

~~~~~

His hooves were sore, but he wasn’t about to move. His watch would be over in a few hours. He wasn’t upset. The past few weeks had been more exciting than almost the entirety of his career. He was guarding a real life, no joke ALIEN. The first contact with an extra terrestrial in Equestrian history and HE was a part of it. It was exciting, like some wild story book. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The step of armored hooves broke Auburn Sky from his thoughts. He snapped upright, as the guard commander exited the alien’s cell. Aegis didn’t acknowledge the young royal guard, nor the identical stallion opposite the door. The commander trotted briskly down the hallway, looking deeply concerned with something. Auburn imagined a conversation with an alien would indeed give one a lot to think about.

The commander had left the cell door open. The princess made it clear during their last briefing that the alien was not a prisoner, but she had also made it clear that it was rather fighty, and not overly fond of strange ponies. Auburn wasn’t on duty when the princess sent a young doctor down to try and stitch the human’s lacerated forelegs. But apparently she ended up fleeing the cell less than a minute later. Nopony ever found out why.

A smarter pony would take the obvious signs to avoid the creature. But the mystery of it was only fueling Auburn’s curiosity. He heard it...him speak before, it sounded like he spoke fluent Equestrian.

His list of questions seemed endless. But he knew he couldn’t just walk in and ask it. They were told specifically not to approach the thing. Just keep ponies away, and if he tried to leave, gently encourage him to turn back and stay in the cell. Even if he refused they weren’t supposed to physically touch the alien. The princess made that explicitly clear. If he became agitated they were merely to isolate and contain it, until one of the alicorns could intervene and detain it. They were only to use physical force against the creature under life or death circumstances.

Needless to say the rule irked more than a few royal guards. Just what was this thing capable of that was so terrible not even her majesty’s elite were able to handle. Granted it was big, and the bizzare black metal clubs it carried around looked rather nasty. But there was only one of him. And from what the briefing said he couldn’t even do magic.

Auburn let the questions ping around in his head for a bit. Letting the clock tick away the remaining hours of his shift. He could hear the alien rummaging around in his cell, doing whatever it is alien monsters do to pass the time.

The rummaging stopped. Auburn listened carefully, wandering what the alien was up to. He heard what sounded like the fluttering of pages in a magazine, before the creature let out a long, appreciative whistle.

Auburn craned his eye to his partner, Plate Mail. The identical armored stallion’s eyebrow cocked from under his golden helm.

A flash of movement caused the two to freeze.

The alien had stuck his head and shoulders out the door frame. The two stood perfectly still as the alien came uncomfortably close. He would swing his head back and forth like a wolf sniffing the air as he inspected the two guards posted outside his door.

Auburn did his best not swallow nervously. To his credit he didn’t even flinch, even when the alien swung his head over to stare through the eye slots of Auburn’s helm.

“Hey,” the alien finally said in perfect Equestrian.

Auburn blinked, registering what had just happened.

The alien paused, after the lack of noticeable response. “You guys speak english?”

“Y-Yessir,” Auburn eventually confirmed not exactly sure what he meant by english.

“Good.” it grinned mischievously. “You wanna see something cool?”

~~~~~

Twilight let one amethyst eye flutter open. She could hear the patter of raindrops against the window pane. Not surprising. Who knows when the last time the pegasi gave Canterlot a decent soak? From the sound of those thunderclouds, not in a good long while.

She favored herself with a languished stretch, arching her back like a cat and savoring the texture of her downy sheets. The sun hadn’t set yet, although you would barely know it through the pitch black storm clouds. Twilight had slept almost the entire day. She made a mental note to ensure the sleeping pattern not become habitual.

She let a long throaty yawn to escape before she settled in front of the well stocked vanity mirror in her room where she proceed to brush the tangles and knots from her long lavender hair.

Her morning ablutions complete, scant though they may be compared to Rarity’s, she ventured out into the hallway. She was eager to jump back into her research. She trotted along happily humming to herself.

Twilight poked her head in Rainbow Dash’s room. The snoring emanating from the bundle of sheets was more than sufficient to tell the unicorn that Dash would not be accompanying her this evening.

She sighed and retreated back into the hallway, quickly checking on the rest of her friends. Rarity was likewise asleep, but Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Applejack were nowhere to be found.

The lack of coordination bothered Twilight slightly. They really needed to get on a consistent schedule. Their current, almost constantly, scattered status pretty much negated their usefulness as the elements of harmony.

She shook it off, deciding that she was merely being overly cautious. Still the thought warranted some further contemplation. She mentally filed it away for later.

Several hallways and passages later she happened upon a familiar orange pony in a familiar brown Stetson.

“Hey Applejack,” Twilight beamed, happy to see a friend in the waking world.

“Howdy, Twilight! I was just lookin’ fer you,” AJ smiled warmly. “Ya’ll ain’t seen Fluttershy ‘round here by any chance have ya?”

“Sorry, I haven’t seen her since yesterday.”

“I’m getting a mite worried about that girl,” Applejack shook her head. “I think she’s lettin’ this human thing get to her head.” AJ shook her head. I just wish the big lug would let her off the hook.”

“I wish it were that simple, AJ,” Twilight mused sadly. “I’ll try and talk to him again, but I don’t think this is the kind of thing an apology fixes. It’s gonna take time.

“I know,” AJ relented, “I just hate seeing her so broken up. Besides, remember last time some critters gave Shy the cold shoulder?” Applejack smirked.

“Wow,” Twilight chuckled. “There’s a scary thought.”

They laughed at the memory as they walked along, absentmindedly making their way to the library so Twilight could drop off the textbooks she borrowed a few days earlier. The elderly mare at the desk of the library made a small red stamp on the card inside the book’s binding, furthering Twilight’s spotless return record. She was very proud.

Twilight’s horn glowed purple as the two mares prepared to step outside and into the dizzying downpour. A faint disc of purple appeared a few inches above their heads. Applejack smiled when she noticed the raindrops sliding off the side of the the sides, leaving the two perfectly dry.

“Handy little trick you got there,” Applejack noted with a teasing smile.

“Mmhm,” Twilight beamed proudly as they made their way toward the imposing black dungeon. It was the most likely hiding spot for the human during daylight hours.

The guards opened the onyx doors for the two and they stepped inside, just in time for a peal of lightning to light the world for brief moment. The guttural rumble of thunder came only a second later, powerful enough to be felt deep in their chests as it shook the sky and earth.

The onyx doors shut behind them, sealing them away from the elements. After thanking the two armored guards, they set down the familiar corridor toward the maximum security cell that acted as Shane’s living space.  

It felt strange. Twilight couldn’t place the feeling. Nothing appeared out of place. The hallways were empty and, minus the storm, everything was relatively quiet. Something was wrong. She just couldn’t place it. She looked toward Applejack. The orange mare was peering about curiously but did not seem otherwise concerned. Twilight decided not to broach the subject. She was probably just being paranoid.  

“What did ya need here again?” AJ asked.

“I was hoping Shane would let me write down some of the stuff he told us for my research.” She pulled a little fresh notebook form her bag. “I really just wanted some more raw data before I bother starting any serious analyses. It won’t take long. In and out. I promise.”

They turned the final corner. Shane’s massive steel door hung ajar. Twilight stopped, she finally realized what was different, why the silence was so out of place. She touched Applejack on the shoulder, halting the earth pony.

“What’s wrong, Sugarcube?”

“…Where are all the guards?”

Applejack started to reply only to have the words die in her mouth. Twilight could almost see the realization washing over her. No guards stood outside the cell. They had not passed a single patrol. The only guards they saw were the two at the front door.

“One way ta find out,” Applejack took the first step toward the open cell door. Twilight followed closely.

The subtle sound of voices carried from the cell, piquing their curiosity. Getting closer she recognized one. It was the human’s voice. “Alright, shut up, shut up. Check this out, you’ll like this one,” he announced to whoever else was in the room. “This is the centerfold.”

Now she was just confused. The two mares poked their heads through the threshold, their jaws dropping slightly at the scene. There must have been ten armored guards packed into the cell, all of whom were crammed behind the human trying to get a better look at the flashy looking magazine the human was holding out in front of him. This was absolutely unprecedented behavior. The human had never even shown any hint of a semblance of interest in social interaction with her species. Yet here he was out of the blue surrounded by ponies he didn’t even know! Twilight couldn’t help but feel slightly snubbed.

“Ready?” Shane asked through the unlit cigarette in his teeth.

The mass of armored stallions muttered their impatient affirmative.

Shane let the sheet slip down, the centerfold unfurling into its three sectioned pages. Every head in the room cocked to the right to admire the centerfold in earnest.

Several sets of eyes grew very wide, and there were more than a few appreciative ‘ooohs’. One stallion let out a whistle. Another seemed to finally find his voice. “I’m not even sure what I’m looking at…but I like it.”

Shane chuckled, “Well, you’re a dude, and some things are universal.”

What are you doing?!” Twilight finally spoke, causing the mass of guards to shoot apart like they had been caught stealing cookies. Applejack attempted to conceal her chuckling.

“Uh oh,” Shane smiled, “Alright, everybody out. Party’s over.” He gave long sweeping gestures as if to cast the guards from the room, letting the magazine flutter along. There were a few grumbles but the guards all filed out, returning to their various posts.

Twilight picked up the magazine from the cot, not entirely sure she wanted to see what had all the stallions so worked up. She looked at the slightly wrinkled centerfold. She paused confused. “…what is this?”

That is an Audi R8 v10. Pretty idn’t it?” He smiled proudly. His smile slowly faded when he saw Twilight’s still confused face. “…It’s a car….You know…car.” She still wasn’t getting the message. “You drive them around…to get places. It’s like…a carriage…only less gay...because it goes zero to sixty in like four seconds.

Applejack joined Twilight inspecting the picture. “Wow, it’s fancy, whatever it is.”

Twilight had no choice but to agree. The machine was jet black with gleaming chrome accents. The lines were sleek and stylish. The tinted glass reflected light like polished basalt mirrors. It was an impressive looking machine. She spun through a few more pages. Finding more and more of the complicated vehicles in all manner of shape size and color.

“Okay, well…alright then. Sorry,” she stammered levitating the magazine back to the human.

“Why, what did you think it was?” Shane laughed.

~~~~~

You don’t have to do anything. Aegis thought to himself staring a hole in his desk. The princess had made her wishes clear. He had little to no choice but to see them carried out, even if he disagreed. ...Then again it was the very same princess who had made it clear she wished him to use his better judgment if he saw fit. Could this be a test? He quickly dismissed the idea. The time of tests and games were long past. There were no safety nets anymore. He tried to distract himself with busywork, knowing very well that the window to act would eventually close and make the decision for him.

He scribbled on the parchment, listening to the large clock in the corner of his office slowly tick away the seconds.

He swore under his breath, standing up and throwing the quill back in its stopper. His mind repeated the potential consequences of his actions over and over, but above it all he could only hear one thing. Its hallowed request.

He was about to go do something very stupid. He pulled open the drawer at the bottom of his desk. The soft click of metal rising from the motion. The princesses may trust that thing. But he did not, so he would be taking as few risks as possible.

Aegis pulled the metal bands from the drawer, leaving his office before his common sense made him change his mind.  

The old war horse trudged through the howling rain. The sun had yet to set. It even made fleeting attempts to pierce the midnight black thunderheads. The sheets of rain still poured relentlessly. The stallion pulled his cloak closer around himself. Throwing back his hood so the two door guards could identify him and open the large onyx doors.

He plodded down the corridors. Rain still dripped from his form as he walked the dim torch-lit passageway. He rounded the final turn. The door was already open.

He stood in the opening. The human was alone. Good. He was sitting there, scribbling in a little black notebook. It didn’t take long for him to notice the Commander. He stopped writing. Looking at the stallion with a flinty curious glare, he waited patiently for the commander to speak or attack, appearing equally prepared for either eventuality.

A peal of thunder seemed to accentuate the mood of uneasiness between the three.

“Follow me,” the stallion beckoned.

A glimmer of recognition entered the humans eyes as he stood.

“One condition,” Aegis stipulated. Causing the human to cock an eyebrow curiously.

Aegis threw a set of gleaming silver shackles at the feet of the human.

~~~~~

Celestia finished the last bit of her rose petal salad. It was a favorite of hers. She indulged herself every now and then. The rain was still hammering at the city, from the looks of it, it would continue through most of the night. Perhaps even into the morning.

The setting sun meant that soon she would be able to release Shane for the night. With Luna on the throne she actually found herself looking forward to the distraction of human-sitting. She had to admit, he had an interesting character. He was a puzzle piece that did not belong to her set. The more time she spent with him the more she gleaned about his own. She would be lying if she said that her academic and philosophical sides weren’t quite enjoying the case study as well. After all, for as troublesome as it was, she was enjoying a position that most scholars and philosophers couldn’t have conjured of  in their dizziest daydreams. She still had much to learn about the human. And with that letter almost certainly on the griffon’s desk by now, she would have to learn quickly.

She strolled leisurely to the dungeon, Shane’s would-be apartment. Horn aglow, she maintained a small protective spell as the elements howled against her magical barrier, leaving her perfectly dry and her feathers un-rustled. She entered the doors to the large black edifice, nodding thankfully to the bowing guards.

Luna would be raising the moon momentarily which should give her ample time to find out what…

She stopped. Part of her was thoroughly sick of these types of things. Her brow furrowed as she stood in the open doorway to Shane’s cell. Shane’s…empty cell.

“I should never have stopped locking him up.”

~~~~~

The rhythmic beat of armored hooves could be heard even over the furious din of rain and wind. Shane had no difficulty keeping pace with the stallions at his sides. His long stride made up for his bipedal predilection. He didn’t seem to mind the rain. In fact he seemed rather amused by the entire situation. He occasionally gazed down, fondly contemplating  the steel braces locking his wrists together.

He followed the Commander. Paying little attention to his armored escorts. His boots falling almost softly on the pathway compared to the click of hooves on stone.

They walked toward the back half of the castle. It was late. The average pony would be home by now. Unfortunately the rain had caused several to linger. It was not a pleasant situation but Aegis was not about to go back on his word now.

An unexpected noise drew his attention. Shane was chuckling at something. The commander followed the humans gaze to a window in the rear wall of the castle.

There may have been a flash of movement. It was difficult to tell through the storm. “What was it?” Aegis shouted though the rain.

The soaked human merely grinned and shook his head. Continuing to walk though the howling storm

~~~~~

Star Shimmer rested her chin on the pane of one of the large castle windows. She didn’t like the rain. She never did. Her father loved it, but he was a pegasus. He was supposed to like it. She on the other hoof had never cared for the stuff. It made everything mushy and humid and miserable. ‘Although’, she conceded to herself as she admired the cathedral of thunderheads. ‘I suppose nopony can say it isn’t pretty in its own way.’

An arc of lightning streaked across the sky, lighting the dark world for an instant. The glint of gold drawing her eyes to something she missed before.

There was a small formation guards making their way across the courtyard. ‘What are they up to in the middle of this?’.

Another flash of lightning revealed the answer. Her heart began to beat at the sight. “What the hell is that?” she whispered to herself. It was tall, almost twice the size of anypony she had ever met. It two forelegs were bound in shiny steel braces like a prisoner. It stalked forward on two long legs following inside the center of guards. “Sweet, Celestia,” she breathed.

As if it heard her his head turned to see the unicorn looking back out at him. Her blood froze. Could it see her? Should she move? Her pupils shrank as the thing curled back his lips, revealing a set of teeth that no herbivore would have any business having. He was smiling at her. The smooth rise and fall of his shoulders implying a kind of depraved amusement.

Her brain finally managed to get the message to her legs as she ducked out of sight. Her heart was hammering inside her chest. There was something very wrong going on in this castle. There was no denying it now. The past few weeks had been strange enough. She hadn’t been the only one that noticed either. Guard shifts were erratic. The princesses were acting strangely. The entire hospital wing was closed. Now this? What was that thing?! Was it a prisoner? It was certainly no pony. Nor was it any creature she had ever seen, and when you work at the castle you tend to see quite a few. Prisoners don’t ...smile like that. She reasoned. Why was it here?

It was time for some answers.

~~~~~

Celestia rarely came to this part of the castle. It was dark, and dreary. She hadn’t been down here in ages. She could already feel the oppressive heat through her fur. If it were not for the testimony of the door guard she might have no idea where they had gone.

Her destination came into view. Aegis stood outside the old iron door, along with six other guards. She was in the right place.

“Princess,” Aegis bowed, not appearing overly surprised by her sudden appearance.

“I will deal with you later, Commander.” The words were cold. She stepped past the stallion and pressed a golden hoof against the seemingly ancient iron door. The noise it made when she pushed was like a desperate cry for oil from the throats of a thousand rusty hinges.

She stepped inside the near pitch black room. The heat nearly choking the air from her lungs. There were several small reinforced windows inside several blast doors along the one wall. Through each window a roaring inferno could be seen, providing the only light in the blackness.

The crematorium.

She could wager a guess or two about who the unfortunate souls were inside the ovens. Which would also explain the lone human sitting on the floor along the far wall. He pressed his back against the wall, resting his arms over his knees. A slender cigarette sat between his fingers. His head rested against the dark stone as he watched the flames with a steely expression. He didn’t even turn to look at Celestia.

The princess sighed, slowly walking over to where the human sat. She seated herself next to him, barely close enough for their shoulders to brush as they sat and watched the orange tongues of fire lick at the small rectangular windows.

Neither one said anything. It wasn’t necessary. She hoped just the simple act of being there said all she needed to. Minutes passed as she idly wondered how he could stand to smoke in the already hot thick room.

It was Shane that eventually decided to speak first. It was soft, but loud enough for Celestia to make out. “I wish I could say I was used to it by now,” he took a hefty drag on the cigarette. “Then again part of me’s kinda glad I’m not.”

Celestia understood, probably better than anypony. Unfortunately there was little she could do to ease the human’s grief. There were no shortcuts to be had here. It was merely a fact of life. “You were close to them?” Celestia asked quietly.

He took awhile to respond. “You could say that,” he whispered back, still staring at the flames. “We were a family. A twisted, broken, fucked up parody of a family. But still family.” He crossed his arms over his knees, shaking his head, frustrated. “I…I wish I had the words to explain it… But it’s just something you know. We didn’t even get along half the time. But it’s still there. It’s something you only understand if you’ve been there.” Celestia carefully listened to the human try and communicate his feelings. His shoulder slumped as his head sagged. Clearly feeling as though he failed to convey his point. “They were my brothers…” he finally whispered. “And I’ve had to bury far too many of them.” Shane stuck what was left of the cigarette in his lips, burning the stick down to the filter. The human snorted.  “Boohoo, right?” he added icily. He stuck the smoldering stub under the heel of his boot, grinding it into oblivion.

It took a considerable amount of resolve to force back the lump in Celestia’s throat. The human’s confession hit closer to home than she was willing to admit. She didn’t let any tears fall. They wouldn’t help either of them. She didn’t say she was sorry. He would have felt only contempt for her pity. She just leaned over slightly. The soft pressure of her shoulder against his letting him know she was there. She worried that he might not appreciate the contact. He was rather touchy after all.

Her worries vanished when she felt the human actually lean back into Celestia. It was an unexpected gesture, though not entirely unwelcome. She could not ease the pain. But she would try. If that meant simply being the company to his misery, then that is what she would do.

They sat a bit longer, both content to watch the inferno through the glass until Celestia finally thought to speak. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to swing ‘American soil’. But I’ll make sure we find them a good place to rest.” She spoke with an almost hint of tease, nudging him with her wing, hoping she wasn’t overstepping her bounds.

Shane scoffed, grinning painfully, at the unexpected remark. “Make it a place with a view,” he demanded, mimicking her teasing tone.

“I think I can arrange something,” she smiled back.  She finally stood. Turning back to the still seated human. “Come along, Major. It’s best not to burden the dead with our troubles. You’ll have to suffer though us, for the time being.” She smiled sweetly, offering her hoof to the human.

Shane regarded the proffered hoof with a sad grin. “Well...seeing as you’re all I got left...” He reached up grabbing hold of Celestia’s golden shod hoof and allowing her to help him to his feet.

Celestia left through the old iron portal. Shane looked one last time at the row of blazing furnaces. He blinked a few times