Korengal Valley, Afghanistan
It was just too easy.
While the fighting in Helmand continued to be your traditional type of counter-insurgency warfare, out here in the Korengal it was good old fashioned ‘here’s the enemy- shoot’ type.
And Master-Corporal Williams was loving every minute of it.
Why shouldn’t he? It was what he signed up to do. He sighted in with his Tac-50 and fired another round. One shot, one kill.
Another TB member down for the eternal count.
He and his squad had done this particular routine for the last week. Fly out to a hamlet suspected of being a Taliban stronghold, search, destroy, collect. So far they had confirmed over fifty enemy killed, while suffering none in return. Not only that, but they had also obtained valuable intelligence regarding the overall effort by the Taliban. With the heavy fighting in Sangin, they were determined to step up their campaign in other districts, to try and draw forces away from there.
But if they couldn’t step up their campaign, they couldn’t seek the relief that the Sangin Taliban so desperately wanted.
With the hamlet now cleared, Williams and his team called in for the bird to come and pick them up. Back to Camp Currie for some chow and some rest.
When they arrived at Currie, they noticed the base commander standing near the LZ. Curious. He was rarely seen, always busy with administrative tasks, as well as trying to coordinate efforts with other units in the area. He moved to them and began talking.
“Gentlemen, welcome back. Successful mission I hope?”
“Yes sir. Another hamlet cleared. No casualties,” Williams said.
“Outstanding. Listen, I need all of you to come with me back to my office. There’s something to discuss.”
“Aye, sir.” With that, the men of Team Edge, JTF-2, took their first steps toward a serious shift in how they understood the world.
Meanwhile, Back at the Plot
“So what you’re saying is, you can somehow shatter the visible light spectrum at the same time you break the sound barrier?” Sauls said.
“Yep! It’s called the Sonic Rainboom! It’s pretty much the sum of everything that’s awesome about me.”
“Sounds pretty hardcore. Like some Blue Angels shit,” Daniels said.
“Who are the Blue Angels?” Dash asked.
“It’s the Navy’s flight demonstration team. They fly the F/A-18 Hornet. Another superb aircraft. Then you got the Thunderbirds from our own Air Force. They fly the F-16 Falcon,” Daniels said.
“Wait, what do you guys fly again?”
“The F-22 Raptor,” Sauls said.
“You guys have more types of planes?”
“Oh absolutely. Each plane fills a specific role. You have bombers, which are used to destroy enemy facilities on the ground, fighters, which are used to achieve and maintain air superiority, multi-role aircraft, which can be outfitted for either close air support or air-to-air, depending on the needs of the mission, and then ground-attack vehicles, which are used exclusively for roles like tank-busting,” Daniels explained.
“Tanks are the big ones you guys talked about earlier, right?”
“Yep. You might see some get sent here. But I doubt it. As far as combat goes, this mission is a bust. But you never know,” Sauls said.
“Why do you guys have so many things built to destroy?”
That stopped the pilots for a moment. How best to explain this one? They looked at one another, and Daniels decided to try to tackle it. He was the more eloquent speaker between the two.
“Well, it’s like this: there are a lot of different types of people where we come from. Some are good, some are bad, some are in the middle. For the most part, we really try to get along. We do. It’s just, humanity isn’t really good at that sort of thing. War has been going on, in some way shape or form, since one ape slapped another.
“We build weapons of war so that our people may continue to live in peace. It’s oxymoronic, I know. But the way it works is, sometimes the bad people get worse. They decide that, in the effort to further their cause, whatever it may be, it is necessary for them to take lives. A war. We build these machines, we manufacture these weapons, we develop these vehicles, to stop them from taking lives. People still die, no matter what our efforts are. It’s just the way things work over there.
“The hope is, less people will end up dead at the end of the war if we are able to stop it quickly. That’s why we constantly strive to make new fighters, new bombers, new tanks, new rifles. To let everyone know, ‘we’ve got the best people in the best equipment, so any bullshit you try is going to end. Quickly.’
“It sucks, it does. But it’s a fact of life. If we don’t make a more efficient missile, our enemies might, and more people might end up dead. Most of us will probably move on from this event in our lives, go to someplace new. Some of us will probably end up getting killed.
“But at the end of the day, the anticipation is that the men and women who did die in the line of duty did not do so in vain. They died doing the right thing. They died trying to protect those who were unable to.
“They died as heroes.”
The three figures sat there for a moment, digesting what had transpired. The pilots knew that this question was coming sooner or later. Eventually all of them were going to wonder why exactly they had all this gear specifically designed to crush hostiles.
Daniels and Sauls sat there looking off into the distance. These men were no strangers to war; both had been deployed several times to the Middle East in support of combat operations before being selected as Raptor pilots. Both of them still felt as strongly about the decision to serve as they did the day they joined. Not even seeing a land filled with happiness could convince them there was another way to life. Human nature simply would not allow it.
Rainbow Dash sat there and soaked in what Daniels had said. He sounded so sure of his words, and of the things they felt were necessary. She vaguely recalled history lessons from her school days, talking about the ancient Pegasi military. The battles they had fought before the Harmony that bounded Equestria was forged. Her character in the Hearth’s Warming Eve play wasn’t named ‘Commander’ Hurricane for nothing.
Still, it shook her to hear them talk like that. She had been brought up in an age of peace that had lasted for a thousand years. It rattled her to know that elsewhere, even if she had never been there, even if she hadn’t even heard about it until today, fighting was a constant fact of life.
As she sat there, she wondered what made them decide to join their military. Was it a desire to fly? To see more of their world? To serve their country? All three?
They sat in silence for a long time. No one dared to break it. They were all too busy pondering. They were so busy with their thoughts, they didn’t notice what was going on back at the main square.
At Sugarcube Corner, there was a great commotion. Two loud bangs had been heard recently, and while they sounded like the type generated by teleportation, ponies were still spooked, given what had happened this morning. A third one now sounded and everyone clamored around the door to try and peek inside. The Royal Guardsponies posted at the door tried to maintain order, but the weight of the crowd was becoming too great for them to try to stop. Suddenly, the door swung open, and Princess Celestia ambled out.
The entire congregation immediately bowed, and pricked their ears up. It was time to find out what had been discussed.
“My loyal subjects, today has been a momentous one. Strange new beings have come to our land, in search of new things, new ideas, new cultures.” Kind of hard to come up with material on the spot Celestia thought to herself. Given that nothing, not a single thing, had been accomplished at the meeting, Major Picante suggested that she try what he called an ancient and mystical art- ‘Bullshitting’. It was better than nothing, and she asked how it was done.
“Alright, bullshitting is a wonderful tool used to get yourself out of a sticky situation. Let’s say you’re an employee somewhere, and your boss catches you talking to your buddy instead of doing your job. Rather than take the ass-chewing, you bullshit him.”
“How does one do that?”
“Simple. Let’s roleplay real quick. You be the boss, I’m the employee. You just caught me talking instead of working on that expense report you asked for. You don’t know what I was talking about, but clearly I was up to no good.”
“Alright. Uhm-hmm. Excuse me! I thought I told you that I wanted that report at the end of the day. You don’t appear to be working very hard on it.”
“Oh, me and Jim here were discussing some things that popped up while I was doing the expense report. We figure we might have some ideas that could save some money and increase the profit margin. We were just working out the feasibility of our thoughts.”
“That…that sounds good.”
“That’s bullshitting. For all anyone knows, me and my buddy Jim could have been talking about the Celtics game the night before. But I covered it by spouting out some quick bullshit. And maybe it wasn’t entirely a lie. Work probably did come up at some point. That’s the art. You have to sound like you know what you’re talking about, without forcing it.”
“You’re asking me to lie to my subjects about what we’ve been up to in here.”
“Not lie. Bullshit them. Lies are easily detectable and you can get called out on them quick. But if you’re good at bullshitting, people will more often than not accept it as gospel truth.”
“I suppose it’s better than telling them you and Minister Boulder spent half the time shouting at each other.”
Snapping out of her thoughts, Celestia continued:
”Unfortunately, we were not able to accomplish all that we had wanted to whilst we were in here. However, ambassadors from their race are en route now, and will be here within the week. We will be continuing the conference in the Royal Palace in Canterlot. No sense depriving Ponyville of their favorite confections for any longer than is necessary.
“Major Picante has informed me that he and his men will be staying here for the time being. I ask anypony who has the ability, to shelter them, take them in, learn from them. We have an unprecedented opportunity at hand here.
“Enjoy the rest of your day, and I’m sure I will be back here again soon to see how things are going.”
The crowd tittered amongst themselves. The humans were staying here? In Ponyville? Where would they sleep? Nopony was going to step forward and willingly say that they would let one of these frightening creatures stay with them.
The relative calm was broken by a certain party pony, who leapt at the chance to finally being setting up her welcome party.
The shout could be heard across town.
“Party tonight! You know where!”
Only that crazy pink mare could think of partying at a time like this. While everyone else began to go back home, and the princess and her escort made for their chariot, they heard an unfamiliar voice call out.
“Excuse me! Could I have the attention of the town! For one second!”
It was that man the princess had called Major Picante. He appeared to want to say something. In an effort to be polite, most of the ponies in the area made the effort to appear attentive.
“Look, I know this morning was pretty frightening for a lot of you, and I just want you to know, we mean you no harm. I am in constant communication with my superiors back in my dimension, and they assure me that they are doing everything they can to get people whose job it is to talk politics here as quickly as possible. In the meantime, I ask that you not hold judgment against me or my men.
“It was not our intent to come here and scare such a wonderful group of ponies. Not at all. We know that this is a pretty heavy event to soak in, so we ask that you remain calm, and maybe talk to us. Explain your culture to us. We’ll do our best to do the same. Thank you.” Left unsaid in his speech was that their original intent was to attack whatever possibly hostile forces lay beyond the portal. Better just bury that concept deep. Didn’t want to spread around any rumors.
As everyone began to leave, Spitfire sought out Rainbow Dash. She hadn’t seen the kid since the morning, and wanted to thank her, and see if she was doing alright.
Looking around, she finally spotted that familiar blaze of colors off in the distance, next to two of the humans. Looked like they were just sitting there. Spitfire walked over to them, wondering what she was going to say to the two humans.
As she got closer she could hear them talking. She pricked her ears, trying to make out what they were saying.
“So…have you ever had to kill anyone?”
Whoa. What the hell were they talking about over here? Spitfire walked closer, slightly uneasy.
“That’s…that’s not something I really feel comfortable talking about. Nobody in the military is comfortable talking about that for the most part. Do we all recognize it as a byproduct of our job? Yes. Does that mean we relish the opportunity to take lives? Absolutely not,” she heard one of them say.
“Not only that, at the end of the day, when you kill someone, it’s an irrevocable change. No matter how just your cause was, or his cause, or whether or not he was evil, that was a fellow human being. It’s not something you can just do and walk easily away from,” the other one said.
“But then why do your people do it? Can’t they find other ways to settle things?”
“We try. We try hard. But things don’t always work out. And when they don’t work out, things go to hell in a hand basket faster than you can say ‘what the shit?’”
Spitfire chose this particular moment to make her presence known by loudly clearing her throat. All three turned around to look at the new source of noise.
“Sorry to interrupt. Mind if I borrow Rainbow for a minute?” Spitfire said, determined not to show weakness in front of the humans.
“Go for it bro,” one of them said. Something on his chest said ‘Sauls’.
“That’s a chica you moron, not a bro. Fuck man,” the one with the word ‘Daniels’ on his chest said.
“Oh, since when did you become an expert on the gender of ponies?” Sauls said.
“Since forever. I’m just that much better than you,” Daniels responded.
“Fuck you,” Sauls said.
Spitfire sat there not sure what to make of what just happened. They talked so quickly they could have given that party pony lessons. Still, they seemed to be okay with her talking to Rainbow. She jerked her head in a direction away from the humans and started walking.
When they got far enough away, she turned to face Rainbow.
“You doing alright kid?”
“Yeah. Still a little freaked out by earlier, but it’s nothing major. Remember those really fast ones? Those guys FLY them!”
“Really? Interesting. Anyways, just wanted to say thanks for saving our lives. Again. I don’t want to think how I look splattered across a flying monster.”
“Wasn’t nothing special. The whole morning is still kind of a blur to me. But things are picking up. You guys sticking around?”
“Nah, we have to get back to Canterlot. I’m about to leave actually, we’re part of Celestia’s escort back there. I might come back with some of the ‘Bolts later tonight. I guess that friend of yours is throwing a party.”
“Go figure, right? I swear, she would find a reason to throw a party for just about anything.”
“Good talking to you kid. Thanks again. We’ll see you soon. Take it easy,” Spitfire said as she held out her hoof for a bump. She figured they were at that level of knowing each other by this point.
“Likewise Spitfire. Have a safe flight back to Canterlot,” Dash said as she completed the respect hoof.
Walking back over to the Royal Chariot, Spitfire thought more about what Dash and the humans had been talking about.
She didn’t bring it up during their brief conversation because she didn’t have much time, and wanted to make sure her thanks to Dash was heard.
It frightened her to know that there were professions dedicated to the concept of taking lives. No matter how easy going these men appeared to be, nothing could change the fact that they had been trained to kill other members of their species.
She didn’t imagine it would be that hard for them to shift to ponies.
Korengal Valley, Afghanistan
“So that’s the gist of it anyway. NATO tried to pull some of you guys early on, but operational commitments prevented this. With your rotation back home coming up, they saw an opportunity. You’ll be taking your post-deployment leave as planned, but after you come off it, you’ll be sent down to Edwards Air Force Base in Nevada for an orientation brief.
“NATO, along with Russia and Israel, for some reason, will be sending representatives to a city beyond the portal known as Canterlot. They asked if you could provide the security for the meetings. I said, hell, why not?
“So that’s what’s going on. You’ll be leaving here in the next three days as planned, take your well-earned rest time, and then get ready to go back at it. Any questions?” General Treak, commander of Camp Currie said.
“Are they serious about this whole…pony…thing sir?” Williams asked.
“As a heart attack. Like I said, you’ll be getting an orientation brief at Edwards in a couple weeks. Early reports are suggesting that it is a non-hostile environment, but they still wanted men to provide security. The men who were part of the original insertion group are going to be conducting recon missions throughout the land and will be unavailable. They wanted the best for the security element you see.”
“Aye sir. We’ll be ready.”
“Outstanding. Carry on.” With that, the group broke up, and Team Edge headed back to their hooch.
No rest for the weary it seemed. No matter. Security at a conference attended by ponies couldn’t possibly be that difficult.
A/N: No footnotes this time! Didn’t see any concepts that would be that unfamiliar. For the record, the Tac-50 is a .50 Sniper Rifle. Why was Williams shooting a .50? Because he’s a fucking boss, that’s why.
Hopefully things aren’t moving too slowly for you guys. I had to shift gears slightly when someone brought up how slowly things seemed to be developing. While this will still likely be a multi-parter, some elements have been hacked out in the rough outline I have going for this. Like I said, I’m in the lab with a pen and a pad, trying to get this damn story off.
Hopefully Spitfire’s dialogue and thoughts didn’t come off as too forced. It’s hard to write for a character that has about a billion different interpretations in the fandom. On the plus side, OC’s that are OG’s, like Boulder, will be a blast to write up.
As always, if you have any of the following: comments, questions, concerns, saved rounds, bitches, gripes, moans, groans, complaints, you know what to do. Until next time ladies and germs. This is Za Raapini saying ‘Stay classy.’ Good night, and good luck.
P.S. Two chapters in one day! I’m on fire. I need to get some sleep….