Chapter 23: Take A Brake
James lay on the side of a small hill in a nearby park, eyes to the sky and headphones in. Up above, Rainbow Dash was showing off some new tricks for him. At the moment, she was corkscrewing through the air while performing a loop. It was very impressive. Back in his world, not even the most advanced performance aircraft could ever hope to pull that off. Dash finished her loop and doubled back towards James in a split-S. She flared her wings and came down beside him in a soft landing as he stood up, clapping.
"Awesome flying there, I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like that before." He complimented.
"Thanks," She said while catching her breath, "You should've seen the routine I did for the Best Young Flyers competition!"
"I heard about that. Saved some ponies AND performed a 'Sonic Rainboom'. Wish I could have been there for that. Still haven't seen that 'Rainboom' by the way."
"Hmmm... I might be up for it. For a price."
"Oh? And what would that be?" James asked suspiciously.
Dash wore a smirk on her face as she answered, "How 'bout dinner?"
"Dinner, huh? Ok, I'm game. You pull it off, dinner on me tonight."
She shot up high into the sky, becoming no more than a microscopic dot. James took his iPod from his pocket and turned on the camera. There was no way he was gonna let this go undocumented. Hell, even if she really could break the sound barrier, it would make for a great video. Too bad he wouldn't be able to share it with his buds back home. They would've gotten a kick out of it. He trained the lens on the approximate location he thought the athletic pegasus to be and tapped the record icon. James squinted his eyes against the sun, trying to get a good look at her. Soon, he spotted her, plumeting towards the ground at a high rate of speed. He almost thought he could see an opaque haze building up around her.
"No way. No fuckin' way..."
Just as he began to think she would plow into the ground, there was a flash of white followed by a deafening explosion. A ring of ethereal multi-colored fire expanded out from the point of origin as the mare left a rainbow trail behind her, arching high into the air at an impossible angle. James dropped his iPod and stared, mouth ajar. He didn't even care that his ears felt like they were bleeding. Dash slowed down and came around for a landing.
"Ha, now you owe me two things. So whad'ja think?"
"How... whad the.... there was the boom, and fire, and then.... you were like a damned light cycle!"
"Nothing, it's not important. Anyway, that was ridiculously amazing! I didn't thick that could ever be possible! I mean, the shear mechanics of an organic being achieving those velocities without injury is mind boggling!"
"Ah shit, sorry." James apologized, shaking his head. "Point is, I owe you a great dinner for showing me something so amazing."
"You're darn right you do."
"So what'll it be, you want to go out on the town or home cooked?"
"What's with the choice?"
"Well I figured anyone can buy dinner, but home made has that special touch."
"I'll see you at eight, your place." With that she took off, leaving the human behind.
"The hell did I get myself into?"
James picked up his iPod and checked the screen. It read 15:52. That gave him just over four hours to run into town, get some groceries, get back, clean up and cook dinner. If he hurried, he could make it with some time to spare.
James looked at the spread laid out on the kitchen counter. Rice, carrots, lettuce, apples, tomatos, potatos, bell peppers and other greens. He even managed to score a slab of tofu. James wasn't really much of a health food eater, but once again, it wasn't like he had a choice. At least if he seasoned it right, he could fry it up and pass it of as meat to his taste buds. Dash's would be done a bit differently. He set a pot of rice on the stove and turned it on, then began chopping up the greens to put in a salad, more for her than for himself. He was in the middle of seasoning his tofu 'steak' with some herbs and soy sauce when flash trotted in from the living room.
"Woah! What's going on in here?"
"Nothing, just whippin' somethin' up."
"This ain't 'nothing', you're cooking a full blown meal! I didn't know you were a chef."
"No, not really. More like a line cook. I'm just trying to go off some tips a friend taught me a while back."
Rocka had been the team's "Premier Chef." He was a good cook out in the field, but was a down right culinary magician when he had an actual kitchen and some real ingredients. A couple years back, James had asked him for some cooking advice in order to impress some girl that ended up not wanting to have anything to do with him. He had just gotten back from a deployment and was still a little jumpy. A back firing car on the street had kind of freaked him out. Needless to say, the girl, being a civilian, was a bit concerned by his strange behaviour and took off. Thankfully, there were no cars here.
"So who's the lucky lady?" Flash asked his friend.
"Huh?" James feigned ignorance.
"C'mon, you can't fool me. You're obviously cooking for two and it definitely ain't for me. Or is it?" Flash said teasingly, an eyebrow raised.
"Not in your wildest dreams. Anywho, what you been up to lately?" James asked, trying to change the subject.
"Not much, just hangin' out with Ditz."
"Now, back to before you tried to change the subject....."
"Aw, c'mon. Alright, I got a friend coming over for dinner in about," he checked his iPod, "an hour and I still gotta cook all this. Now, you gonna help or get out?"
"Hey, jeez, don't bite my head off. I just came in for a beer!"
James opened the icebox and pulled out a couple of beers. He put the edges of the caps on the edge of the counter and gave them a good smack, popping them off. He handed one to Flash and took a sip from his own before resuming his task.
"Since you're here anyway, you doing anything later tonight?" Flash inquired.
James thought for a moment, "Hmm, after this, no. Why, what's up?"
"Me, Feather and Myst were thinking of going out tonight, I was wondering if you wanted to come with."
"Yeah, I might. Where'll you all be?"
"The Hoof and Mouth, same place as last time."
"Alright, maybe I'll drop by."
"See you later."
Flash finished his beer and took of, tossing the empty in the trash bin on the way out. James got back to work on his creation. He had just finished seasoning Dash's tofu and was cutting them up into cubes. The rice still wouldn't be done for another few minutes, so he took another swig of his beer and set to steaming some broccoli. It was one of the few vegetables he actually liked, and only just barely. When the rice was just about finished, James put the tofu chunks into separate pans and began to fry them up. He rolled them around to get an even burn and tossed the rice in once it was ready, adding some soy sauce and a bit of lemon, he stirred. Rocka would have been proud.
The food was just about ready when there was a knock at the door. James checked his iPod again and saw that it was 19:58. Show time. He took the pans off the burner and went to the door. Before he could open it, however, it suddenly burst open, slamming him in the side of the face and chest and unfortunately, the door knob caught him in a much more painful place. Shortly after, a brightly colored pegasus trotted on through.
"Hey James, I'm here! I don't know what you're cooking, but it smells great! James? Where you at?" She looked around the living room, searching for the human.
"I'm - I'm down here." He said painfully.
"Oh my gosh! What happened? Are you hurt?"
"No way," he coughed out while curled in the fetal position, "I'm just resting."
"Uh... ok? Is dinner ready?"
"Yeah, just take a seat. I just need a minute." James said while shakily getting to his feet.
Dash just shrugged and made her way to the small dinning table set to the side of the living room. James got back into the kitchen, taking deep breaths to dull the pain. When he had composed himself, he filled a couple plates with the food he cooked and brought it out to the table with the bowl of salad.
"It ain't much, but here you go. Now I ain't much for wine and stuff, but you can take your pick of drinks from the icebox." He explained.
"It's fine. Wine is more Twi's and Rarity's thing, What'cha got?"
"Some beers, AJ's cider, you can get water from the tap of course."
"I'll just have a beer, please."
"Alright, two beers coming up."
James retrieved the beverages from the kitchen and sat down to eat with his guest. Once again, it started out awkwardly, but the cyan mare soon broke the silence.
"This is pretty good, what is it?" She asked while sampling his fried dish.
"It's just fried rice and tofu. I'm not really all that good a cook." He took a bite of his own food. It wasn't anything special, but it wasn't bad either. "So, miss Dash, how long have you been living here?"
"Meh, not long. Only a few years now. I lived in Cloudsdale for some years after flightschool working in the weather factory. I wasn't really for me though, and there were some accidents. Eventually I ended up taking a job in the weather service here. What about you? What did you do before... you know..."
*Sigh* "Not much to tell, really. I got out of highschool and tried to get through college. Unfortunately, I ran out of money and had to drop out. I couldn't really get a job anywhere, so I ended up enlisting. I originally wanted to work on aircraft, fixing up the planes, but at bootcamp I got pulled aside and offered a chance to try out for something different, so I took it. Next thing I new, I switched rates and ended up doing what I do now. That's about it."
"You mean 'enlisted', like joining the guard? What did you do there?"
"That... you don't really want know about that. Most of it ain't pretty."
"Well, what if you just--"
James quickly cut her off, "Please. Just drop it."
Rainbow Dash was a bit taken aback at this. James saw the look on her face and relized he may have handled that in the wrong way. He looked down in a bit of embarrassment and scratched the back of his head. He brought his gaze back to her face.
"Listen, I'm sorry. That was rude. It's just not something I really like to talk about."
It went back to awkward silence for a moment while they focused on eating their meals. James couldn't stand it anymore and worked up the courage to start another conversation. Soon they were talking and exchanging amusing stories from their pasts like old friends.
"...and Pinkie was distracting her so much that when she went to pour herself a glass of soda, she accidently got a bottle of hotsauce and almost drank half the cup before she knew what she was doing!"
"Ha ha ha, nice. That reminds me of the time my buddy Rocka had to take eye drops when he got too much sand in his eyes and we switched it out with lemon juice. He almost killed me! Except he couldn't see!" James said in hysterics.
The food had long since been eaten and they'd nearly cleaned out the beers in the icebox. James looked at his iPod and saw that it was nearly 22. His sky blue companion noticed and decided to start clearing the table. James helped her and together had all the dishes and cookware clean.
"So, what are you doing tonight?" She asked the human.
"Nothing much, thought that maybe I'd stop by the bar and see some friends. You wanna come along?"
"Alright, let's go."
The duo left the house and made their way into town. They reached it soon and went straight for the bar. After entering, James almost immediately spotted his teammates at the same table that they had sat at last time.
"Gentlecolts, Lady, I hope you don't mind, but I invited my friend here to join us."
"Not at all."
"I... might actually have somepony coming too." Flash said.
"Oh, your cousin coming?" James asked.
"No, somepony else."
"Well who... wait, it's that mare from the house party, isn't it?" James guessed, smiling mischieviously.
"Y-yeah, it is." Flash blushed a bit.
"Wow, good for you buddy, I can't wait to finally meet the lucky lady."
"Wait, what happened?" Myst asked.
"Oh, we got drunk, dragged Sparks all over the place, lead half the town on a rager and Flash here got lucky. It was before you got here." James explained.
"Ah, I see."
"By the way, how's the ship looking?"
"It's certainly seen better days. I want to try slapping some armor on there, but it has to be light. I already talked to Sparks about it before he left. He said he knew of a friend of his that did work in metallurgy and would bring some samples back from Canterlot."
"Outstanding. Lookin' forward to it. Ok, enough about business, let's get some drinks, huh?"
The group chipped in for a couple pitchers and some shots of whiskey. James even played a game of pool with Myst who of course cleaned his clock on the table, but he knew better than to put down money. Later, he even taught Dash how to play. Flash and Feather started going shot for for shot. The jukebox in the corner was blaring rock 'n' roll and everypony and the human were having a blast. Then Pinkie Pie bounced in out of nowhere, beaming with her impossibly large, ever present smile.
"Hey everypony, hi James. Ooh! Dashie, I didn't know you'd be here!"
"Hey Pinkie, What brings you here?" James asked the curley maned mare.
"She's here with me." Flash said from across the table.
James didn't process this information right away, but his face lit up as soon as the light bulb in his mind did. He leaned over to his friend.
"Wait, so that night.... you..."
"Yes, that's right."
"Aw, no way man. Congrats there brother."
"Just one thing I'm curious about. Why?"
"I like her energy."
"I bet you do."
So Pinkie joined the party and kicked it into overdrive. Before they knew it, she had convinced them all the head over to one of the clubs. There was apparently a guest DJ by the name of Vinyl Scratch who played music similar to dubstep. The group entered to the throbbing wubs of the electronica, everywhere ponies were jumping to it. James wasn't exactly a fan of the music, preferring the more old school stuff, but his friends seemed to be enjoying it so he went along and just enjoyed being in their company. They hung out there for a couple hours, but as it got late, James decided to excuse himself and head back home. He checked his iPod as he stepped out past the bouncers, 0136. Not bad, but it was time to get home. Nothing good ever happens after 2 AM. The house party incident was a testament to that. James hadn't gotten far when he heard hoofsteps following behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw Dash approaching. He slowed down to let her catch up.
"So... you doing anything else?" The pegasus mare asked him.
"Nah, I'm kinda tired. Think I'll just head home and get some rest."
"Oh... ok. Well, I guess I'll see you some other time?" She asked with a tinge of gloomyness.
"Yeah, I think I'd like that. And Dash?"
"Thanks hangin' with me. I had a lot of fun."
"Yeah, me too." She perked up a little.
James set off in the direction of his house. He had only gone about thirty feet when there was a whirl of wind and he felt what he thought was a pair of lips briefly peck his cheek, but it was gone as quickly as it came. He stopped and absently rubbed the spot, rapid flapping fading behind him. He scowled a bit and continued walking. He wasn't inexperienced, he could read the subtle hints, that last one not being so subtle, but he was still uncomfortable about the whole thing. The different species issue was part of it, but not all of it. It just seemed like every time he found someone he liked or got involved with anybody, they just moved on as soon as he left on his next deployment. James silently meditated on this all the way home.
'Oh well,' he thought as he unlocked the door to his house and made his way to his room, 'it's not something I should dwell on right now. I got other things to worry about. Like that damn orb thing.'
He stripped down and flopped onto his matress, pulling the covers over himself. James pushed his headphones into his ears and flipped down the albums to Sublime.
"Why shit so crazy?" He muttered while fading out of a slightly drunken consciousness.