Ugh, I have got to find more sensible places to sleep. I don’t feel as tired as I was though, so I have that in my favour.
I was met by a pair of white-clad soldiers, and a pony who wasn’t dressed in white, but was white. All of them were equally unwelcome from my point of view.
One of the soldiers reached up and removed my horn clip, but I was a bit too tired to argue. Then they moved towards me rather menacingly.
“Stand down, both of you,” Rarity commanded. “I shall take him from here.”
The two soldiers nodded, and both stood by a double door on the other side of the foyer.
I started tugging at the restraints which bound me so that I was virtually immobile, but I swear they only got tighter.
“Don’t struggle,” said Rarity, placing what was apparently supposed to be a comforting hoof on one of my exposed hind legs. “I’m so sorry, Hex, but until you’re where she wants you, there’s nothing either of us can do.”
“You’re a bitch, you know that?” I told her. “A great, big traitorous bitch! Call yourself the Element of Generosity? You should be ashamed of yourself for what you’ve done.”
“Please, you must believe me,” said Rarity. “I am working for the benefit of both of us. When I am finished with what I am trying to do here, everypony shall be better off-”
“You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you?” I asked. “I don’t suppose you ever thought about your little sister, did you? Or about Braeburn? I met him down there, and he doesn’t even know you betrayed him! Would you like to tell him? Would you like to explain to the stallion who loves you to the ends of the earth that the whole time you’ve been constantly stabbing him in the back?”
Rarity had nothing to say to that. She closed her eyes, and the smallest of tears trickled down her cheek.
“You make me ashamed to call myself a unicorn,” I stated. “I thought Equestria would give me a new life away from all the nastiness, but it turns out there’s more of that here than any other place in the multiverse. Thank you, Rarity. Thank you for systematically destroying my faith in Equestria.”
Okay, so I may have been exaggerating a little, but what’s important is that she realises that what she’s done is wrong.
I started to slide along the rail towards some sort of office, and I heard two voices coming from the open doors. One of them made me feel nauseous. The other was one that pretty much anypony would be happy to hear.
“…ancient stars colonized by sentient fungi,” said the nausea inspiring voice of a mare. “Gas giants inhabited by vast meteorological intelligences. Worlds stretched thin across the membranes where dimensions intersect... Impossible to describe with the Great and Powerful Trixie’s limited vocabulary!”
“You know something?” said the welcome, English-accented voice of a stallion. “I’ve seen that too. Quite frankly, I’ve grown slightly bored with them. But I’ve also seen what lies beneath the surface of that wonder. Mostly it’s genocide. Indescribable evil…”
The Doctor trailed off as I was carried into the office where he hung, restrained as thoroughly as I was, in another carrier supported by a mechanical arm. Trixie was facing him with her back to me, but turned around after the older stallion’s gaze fell upon me.
“Oh, good grief,” he swore in an exasperated voice.
Another mechanical arm grabbed my carrier, and I was roughly placed alongside the Doctor, where I finally got my first proper, up-close view of the Great and Powerful Trixie.
Once upon a time, she may have been attractive. She may have been rather pretty – I think beautiful may have been a step too far – but thanks to the ravages of time, stress and good old Combine puppeteering she could just about have passed as a moderately attractive elephant’s arse. She has bags under her eyes that could carry a month’s worth of groceries, and her purple eyes are so muddy that when I look into them, I want to shower until my skin falls off.
Plus her cutie mark, which I’m guessing is supposed to be a magic wand sprinkling pixie dust, looks suspiciously like the flag of the Communist party. And when she smiles, she looks like the wrong end of an elderly greyhound.
Oh smeg, she’s smiling right now.
“Well, what do we have now?” she sneered. “We meet at last, Hex. Or should I say Haydon Arthur Baxter?”
I’m guessing that was supposed to get some sort of rise out of me. It didn’t. I’ve got used to people I don’t know somehow having knowledge of my full name. I’m a bit more interested in the prison pod on the far wall: I have a feeling it contains somepony I know.
“That’s right,” she said as if I had responded. “Trixie knows your true name, Mr Baxter. And might the Great and Powerful Trixie say it is a great pleasure to finally meet you in the flesh.”
“Let me tell you,” I said with a cocky smile, “the pleasure is all yours.”
Rarity entered, telekinetically carrying my super-charged horn clip, and presented it to the middle-aged (though you wouldn’t think it) mare.
“What in the world is that?” she demanded. “Place it on Trixie’s desk for Trixie to examine it later.”
Does she always speak in the third pony? It’s starting to get a bit annoying.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie holds you with great gratitude,” she continued. “Had she known that the One Free Stallion would deliver himself to her, virtually on a silver platter, she would not have bothered hunting you in the first place.”
“That’s true,” I commented, “but I wouldn’t have got a chance to kick your troop’s arses so hard, would I?”
I can tell she’s getting annoyed, especially since the Doctor’s starting to laugh.
“Having not only the last of the Time Lords,” she continued, “but also the greatest scourge of the Combine since the rising of the Blue Demon in central Equestria allows the Great and Powerful Trixie to dictate any bargain she may make with the Combine.”
“Yeah,” I said, “can you do me a favour: kill me and then talk? I’d like to die without covering the floor in vomit, please.”
By the looks of things, the Doctor was doing everything he could to avoid laughing out loud. Even Rarity gave a small smile at her boss’ growing irritation.
“Great and Powerful Trixie, if I may be so bold, the bargain we should be making is for Hex’s life,” she said, sidling a little closer. “With his assistance you could develop technology to ever tighten your grip on Equestria!”
“You may not have noticed, Rarity,” said the Doctor, “but not everypony is as big a sell out as you.”
He winked at her.
Is there something I’m supposed to know about?
“It is thanks to your collaboration that the Great and Powerful Trixie has everything she needs regarding those sorts of things,” said the blue pony to the white one. “You, my dear Rarity, have seen more than enough of Mr Baxter’s technology to continue with his work. However, what neither you nor Trixie are able to do is convince that lowlife rabble in the streets that their cause is not worth fighting for.”
Just for a moment, Rarity’s gaze flickered to the window, where City 17 was spread thousands of metres below us like a giant technicolour table cloth.
“And yet,” Trixie said, turning back to me and the Doctor, “neither the Doctor nor the so called ‘One Free Stallion’ seem willing to speak the words that could save every one of them.”
“Save them?!” The Doctor was aghast. “For what?”
“Yeah,” I added. “Plus, is it any wonder they won’t listen to you when you’re so ugly, when little foals go to your house on Nightmare Night, they give you candy?”
The Doctor snorted with laughter, Rarity covered her mouth to hide a smile, and Trixie snorted in annoyance.
“Very well,” she said with a sigh. “If neither of you will do it for the sake of the innocent population of Equestria, perhaps the two of you shall do it… for only one of them.”
The prison pod split open and a mechanical arm brought the awakening pony into view and positioned her between me and the Doctor. Her lavender face filled me with joy, and at the same time, with despair, particularly the presumably non-reverse-engineered ring around the base of her horn.
“Twilight,” said the Doctor. “Thank Celestia you’re okay.”
“Wha… Doctor?” Twilight said groggily. She saw me next to her and whispered “Hex? No…”
I bowed my head and said “I’m sorry, Twi.”
“Celestia damn you, Trixie,” said the Doctor with renewed anger, “You release her this instant!”
“The Great and Powerful Trixie does apologise,” said Trixie with as much conviction as she had likeableness, “but that is all up to the two of you. Will you allow your short sightedness-” (I don’t know about you, but I was particularly offended by that comment) “-to condemn your people to extinction…”
She started stroking the side of Twilight’s face, almost as a lover would. It was very disturbing to watch.
“…or will you allow dear Twilight here the chance at life that her brother never got?”
Twilight spat in Trixie’s face, her stunning purple face contorted with anger.
“How DARE you speak of him!” she roared. “How DARE YOU!”
“Well, Twilight,” said Trixie, “it is plain to see that along with a few cheap parlour tricks you have gained Princess Celestia’s steadfast nature.”
Twilight wrenched her face away from Trixie’s hooves and said “You haven’t seen a bit of it yet.”
Her voice dripped with pure poison. Remind me never to speak ill of Twilight’s brother. I suspect the only thing keeping Trixie alive right now is the magic restrictor around Twi’s horn.
“We shall see how it holds out,” Trixie continued (smeg, I wish she’d just shut up) “when you are stranded on the far side of a Combine portal.”
“What?!” I know I shouldn’t have given in, but the thought of Twilight trapped in the same smeg-forsaken world as the Combine is one that I never want to dwell on. “You do that and I’ll tear you to pieces, you stuck-up smeghead!”
“Fine then!” shouted the Doctor as Twilight writhed and struggled against the restraints binding her. “Show us the door to another universe, see if I care! It won’t be the first time it’s happened to me, and it definitely won’t be the worst!”
“Oh, Trixie can do so much worse than that,” said Trixie, “although you may find that hard to believe upon your arrival.”
“Great and Powerful Trixie,” said Rarity in a slightly pleading tone, “such a harsh punishment is hardly necessary-”
“The Great and Powerful Trixie does agree that it would be a total waste,” said Trixie, and she turned to face me, “but those petty Resistance foals have shown that they are willing to accept a new leader, who has proven to be a truly valuable asset to those who control him.”
“Excuse me,” I said. “I am still here, you know, and unlike a certain other unicorn I’m not an absolute sheep.”
“Good on you, Hex,” said the Doctor encouragingly.
“Yes, don’t listen to her!” said Twilight. “If you listen to her, I’m breaking up with you!”
“We were dating?” I asked hopefully.
“Trixie implores you to consider her offer, Mr Baxter,” said Trixie. “Did you ever think that you may not have to work under the G-Colt’s supervision for the remainder of your life?”
That was one question I had no response to other than:
“How the smeg do you know about that guy?”
“Let’s just say that Trixie has her little ways,” said the bitch with a smug smile.
“Hex would never make that kind of deal with the likes of you!” shouted Twilight. “Never!”
“Of course,” said Trixie, “The Great and Powerful Trixie realises that this may not be a comfortable issue for us to talk about in front of your friends. They shall be sent on their way.”
As I watched, the carriers holding the Doctor and Twilight were lifted into the air and stowed in a large hole in the ceiling. All I could see was the bases of their hind hooves.
“Twilight, try not to struggle,” the Doctor advised.
“Doctor,” said Twilight, “I’m sorry.”
“So,” said Trixie to me, “what’ll it be?”
I leaned forward as much as possible and said in a steady voice the insult that I had been preparing since I first arrived in Combine-controlled Equestria:
“Suck my fat one, you cheap side-show tramp.”
Behind her, Rarity was doing something suspicious. Her horn was glowing, and she seemed to be manipulating a console on the desk. When Trixie saw her, she smiled in disbelief.
“Rarity?” she said. “What in the wide world of Equestria do you think you’re doing?”
“I am doing what I have been working for seventeen years to achieve,” said the white unicorn, glaring straight into Trixie’s eyes. “I’m bringing your regime to the ground.”
“But-” For the first time since I’d seen her, the blue bitch was speechless. “But you’re-”
“Darling, did you ever seriously believe that I would willingly collaborate with you?” Rarity demanded. “After all that you have done to this world?”
Trixie tried to talk, but all that came out was a strangled gasping noise. I could empathise: I was just as confused as she was. So what, Rarity was never bad in the first place?
“I really expected the administrator of this whole world – not to mention the ambassador of the Combine – to have caught onto me a little sooner,” said Rarity. “You really are as unintelligent and shallow as you first appeared in your brief performance in Ponyville. I feel I must apologise at this point to Twilight and Hex, for being unable to inform them of my intentions.”
“That’s okay, Rarity,” said Twilight. “I should never have doubted you.”
“Could’ve told me before I gave you a complete verbal smackdown,” I commented.
“What?!” said the Doctor in slightly less disbelief than Trixie. “Hex, I really expected somepony as intelligent as you or Twilight to have caught on sooner! Shame on both of you.”
“That is completely alright,” said Rarity with a small smile. “One must keep up appearances, must they not? And if I do say so myself, I was rather convincing.”
Then she turned to the stunned Trixie to continue her speech.
“From the moment you approached me,” said the posh unicorn, “all I have wanted was to bring you down. If the Princesses could see what you have done to this world, you would be banished to the moon AND to the sun! You would be torn to pieces for the express purpose of imprisonment on both! You have ponies of your own race hunted down like animals and corrupted into little more than mindless monsters! I could have forgiven you for what you did to my mane all those years ago – even if it took me five hours to correctly restyle your damage – but after what your followers to my family…”
She wiped tears from her eyes with the back of a hoof.
Trixie took advantage of the moment of grief by leaping forward and activating an intercom.
“Guards, get in here!” she commanded before Rarity reached forward and knocked her hoof away.
“They know what you’ve done,” Trixie pointed out. “They know that you’ve betrayed them. They’ll turn on you!”
“Oh please,” said Rarity, “you cannot say that I betrayed them. That would imply that I was working with them in the first place. I apologise, so-called Great and Powerful Trixie, but your time has officially run out!”
However, true to Trixie’s word the guards started banging on the door. Rarity ran over to me and started to free me from the carrier.
“You’re never going to get away with this!” Trixie cried. “I can stop you myself!”
As I stepped out of the carrier, the insane blue mare slipped my overcharged horn clip onto the base of her own bony protrusion, and amidst our protests:
When I came to, Trixie had bolted into a lift leading off from her office, and Twilight and Rarity were picking themselves up.
We all cantered over to the Doctor, who was bleeding profusely from a lump in his head. Rarity and Twilight helped to sit him up straight, and I held him steady when they let him go.
“Rarity, I don’t know how I could ever make it up to you,” said Twilight, and she embraced her friend who I now know is completely worthy of the Element of Generosity.
“Darling, don’t waste your apologies on me,” said Rarity. “Besides, it wasn’t my idea to infiltrate the Combine.”
“What?” Once again, I was confused. “Whose idea was it then?”
With a meek and slightly embarrassed expression, the Doctor raised his hoof.
“As if you weren’t awesome enough already,” I commented.
“You can shower me with praise later,” said the Doctor. “Right now somepony has to stop Trixie from getting away!”
“I can take care of him,” said Rarity, taking the stallion out of my hooves. Twilight helped me up, and then placed her hooves on the shoulders of the white unicorn and the brown earth pony.
“Both of you be careful, okay?” she told them.
“Don’t worry about us,” said Rarity. “Both of you go!”
That was all the convincing Twilight and I needed to about turn and gallop to the same lift Trixie had used to make her getaway. Once there, we stopped for a small breather.
“I did not see that coming,” I commented.
“Neither did I,” said Twilight. “But I understand why Rarity wouldn’t have told us what she was up to: plausible deniability and all that.”
We stepped into the lift, and the glass doors closed behind us.
“Hex, listen,” Twilight said with a spreading blush, “I know that there’s probably been plenty of mares like me before you came to Equestria, and I know that you didn’t have to do this, but-”
She cut herself off, and pressed the button to activate the lift.
“Well,” she continued, “thanks for coming after me.”
“I did have to do this,” I told her as we ascended. “You tell me what a stallion wouldn’t do for the mare he loves.”
Twilight blushed even more. Any more heat in her face and she would’ve caught fire.
“So…” she said cautiously, “does that mean… you love me?”
I inched a little closer.
“What do you think?” I asked.
She started to lean closer to me, and I could see every lash outlining her beautiful violet eyes, and each individual hair on her delicate muzzle…
Smeg. What does a guy have to do to get a kiss around here? All I can hear is Trixie talking- oh.
“…it is Trixie you should be concerned about! Trixie can still deliver each, but not without assistance!”
“Don’t you think it’s annoying that she only ever speaks in third pony?” I asked.
“I know, right?” said Twilight. “It’s so ridiculous!”
Up ahead, Trixie continued talking.
“The portal location is unsustainable,” she stated. “There is no possible way for Trixie to survive in that environment! A host body? You have to be joking; there is no way Trixie could possibly-”
The lift reached its destination with a small ding and up ahead Twilight and I saw Trixie facing a screen with a green elephant maggot… thing on it.
“There he is!” cried Twilight, more to intimidate Trixie more than anything else.
“Alright, fine!” Trixie shouted hurriedly. “Just make it fast, they’re right behind me!” The doors opened and she swore “Oh horseapples.” Then she cantered off to the side. The creature on the screen looked at the two of us, and then vanished.
At Twilight’s enraged scream, I looked around just in time to see Trixie smugly waving at Twilight through a glass door before the lift she had entered carried her downwards into the Citadel.
“I can’t believe she got away again!” Twilight cried, but then she saw the abandoned ring of metal lying on the floor. The purple unicorn picked it up in her hooves and examined it as it throbbed with an electric blue glow.
“This is so strange,” she commented. “My horn clip was destroyed by the confiscation field, but if I didn’t know any better, I’d say this one was supercharged. What in the world have you been doing with this thing?”
“Well,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck as innocently as possible, “I did develop my telekinetic powers to the point where I can levitate my own body with complete ease. I expect it may also have something to do with my… unusual background. You know, being human and all?”
Twilight smiled and slid it back onto my head.
“Trixie doesn’t have a clue what it’s for, does she?” she asked.
“Not even the foggiest,” I said in agreement, “but what in the world was she doing up here?”
As if to answer her question, the screen which had showed the maggot thing withdrew into the ceiling, and the metal shields behind it split apart to reveal what was outside.
A hole was opening in the sky right above the Citadel. Beyond it, I could make out a red and purple sky studded with stars, and towers of eldritch architecture similar to the Citadel. Underneath it, some sort of teleporter seemed to be charging up, and it had a large transparent pillar underneath it.
“Oh my gosh,” said Twilight fearfully. “That’s the Citadel’s dark fusion reactor! It powers their tunnelling entanglement device!”
It didn’t take me long to work out what that meant, although I bet you have no idea. In layman’s terms, it’s the technology the Combine used to enter Equestria in the first place. And now it looks like Trixie’s going to use the same technology to enter the Combine’s homeworld.
“We’ll never get a chance like this again,” said Twilight. “We have to stop her!”
She ran over to a console and tapped away like crazy, but stopped after only a few seconds.
“I can’t shut it down!” she reported, her voice rigged with terror. “It looks like she’s turned over control to the other side.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” I commented. “Let me guess: I have to go down there and close it by myself. Direct intervention and all that.”
“I’m afraid so,” said Twilight. “You’ll have to go right down to the core and go everything you can to shut it down. You get into the lift and I’ll send you right down there. And don’t forget to charge your suit, whatever you do.”
“Okay, Mum,” I joked as I entered the lift.
Twilight sighed and walked over to me.
“I know I might seem overly worried,” she said, “but I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
She kissed me on the forehead, just below my horn.
“Come back safe.”
“I will,” I told her. “I promise.”
The doors closed, and she placed her hoof on the glass. I placed my hoof on hers, but seconds later we were separated by the descending lift.
Not the whole thing with me and Twilight, but… it kinda feels my whole life has been leading up to this moment. This one moment of my handing Trixie her arse on a silver platter.
If I should die here – if something should happen and I don’t return to Twilight – she should carry on with what I was doing. She should escape and do everything she can to bring Trixie and the Combine down.
When the lift arrived, I stepped out into a small, foyer like room, and up ahead was a massive tower with the pillar I mentioned earlier at the centre. Trixie hovered in a glowing orb at the bottom, the energy balls powering her device rushing upwards towards the widening hole in the sky.
“Can you see her?” asked Twilight through my suit’s radio.
“Yes,” I replied. “And I sincerely wish I couldn’t.”
It was then that Trixie saw me, and her expression became one of abject triumph.
“Mr Baxter!” she cried joyfully, savouring every syllable. “You know, you really should not be out there. At the moment of synapse, as the Great and Powerful Trixie teleports away, this entire chamber will be bathed in deadly particles that have yet to be named by pony science. Perhaps, when Trixie has the pleasure to do some work of her own, she may name one after you. That way you won’t be completely forgotten!”
Yeah, I get it, you’re a bitch. You don’t have to rub in in everypony’s face!
“When the singularity collapses,” she continued, “the Great and Powerful Trixie shall be far away from here. In another universe, in fact: a concept which I know is familiar to you! You, however, shall be destroyed in every way that is possible… and, maybe, some ways which are impossible too!”
Oh for smeg’s sake, shut up! I’m well aware that if you win I’ll be blasted to smeggereens; you’ve made it glaringly obvious! Now just! Shut! UP!
Wow, electromagnetic shields blocking my path. Whatever am I going to do? It’s not like I could just telekinetically grab the energy balls powering them and throw them at the soldiers who’ve started to shoot at me, is it?
“Where did those soldiers come from?” asked Twilight. “Why are they still here?”
“I do not know what you could possibly hope to achieve,” Trixie continued as I climbed ever further upward, “apart from your own complete and total annihilation!”
“Don’t listen to her, Hex!” Twilight almost yelled into the radio. “I know you can do this!”
I didn’t say anything in response. There wasn’t really anything to say.
“I have warned you that this was futile,” said Trixie.
“Will you just SHUT UP ALREADY!” I shouted.
“She’s bluffing, don’t listen to her!” Twilight commanded.
Having reached a sufficient height, I jumped onto the supports which were holding up the column in the centre of the tower, and started to climb them up to the top.
“Great work!” said Twilight encouragingly, followed by a slightly less encouraging “Oh no, Trixie’s started her ascent!”
And true to her word, Trixie’s glowing orb started to move up inside the tower.
“Hurry, Hex, before she escapes!”
“What the smeg do you think I’m doing?” I bellowed over the increasing noise of the teleporter above.
I was getting close. I could make out some of the finer details on the other side of the portal. Plus the teleporter was getting louder and louder the closer I got to it, and everypony had to shout to make themselves heard.
“I could tell you that this is pointless, Mr Baxter,” said Trixie as she too drew nearer.
“WILL YOU STOP CALLING ME THAT?!” I screamed.
“Go, Hex, go!” cried Twilight.
Trixie still had a lot to gain on me. Her orb was rising a lot more slowly than I was, and I was only a single small lift away from the very top of the tower.
“Are you still with us, Mr Baxter?” asked Trixie. “Not for much longer, I think.”
And with that, I finally reached the very pinnacle of the Citadel. Two gunships appeared and started to shoot at me, but with so much temporal distortion this close to an interdimensional portal, the bullets were slowing down and falling out of the sky before they got anywhere near me.
“Oh my gosh,” exclaimed Twilight, “the portal’s almost fully open!”
“I do hope you have said all your farewells,” Trixie said mockingly.
Without any more hesitation, I grabbed energy balls from the transport channels nearby and started shooting them at the teleporter, which began to fall apart.
“Go BACK, Mr Baxter,” commanded Trixie as if I would listen to her, “you have no idea what you are doing!”
“Yes I do!” I cried. “I’m stopping you!”
“You have no idea what you could unleash!” Trixie shouted. “You could bring down this whole citadel! Think, you fool! Think of the ponies below!”
“Oh yeah!” I shouted sarcastically. “They’re really gonna be hurt by an explosion two thousand metres above the ground!”
With that, I kept shooting until only a single piece of the teleporter (but still enough to send Trixie to the other side of the portal) was left.
“I almost forgot!” I yelled to Trixie. “A friend of mine asked me to deliver a message!”
“What message would that be?” asked the blue bitch.
I fired the energy ball.
The teleporter completely shut down, and the orb carrying Trixie dissipated into nothing. She hung for a moment in mid-air, and then began to fall, screaming all the way down.
The shout came before the pony: Twilight, having removed the magic suppressor from her horn, teleported almost on top of me and pulled me into a hug which I was all too happy to return.
“I can’t believe it!” I cried (and I was being honest) “We did it!”
“No, Hex,” said Twilight, looking right into my eyes, “you did it.”
She kissed me on the nose. Maybe next time, she’ll move a little lower.
“Now come on,” she said. “We have to get out of here. I think we still have-”
The teleporter exploded.
It happened in slow motion. I stepped back, and Twilight raised a foreleg to cover her face… and then it stopped.
Oh come on. Not now…
“Is it really that time again, Mr Baxter?”
He appeared, walking as if out of nowhere, and stood before everything else as if it were a backdrop.
“It seems as if you’ve only just arrived,” said the G-Colt. “You have done a great deal in a short time span. You have done so well that I have received some interesting offers for your services. Ordinarily I would not contemplate them, but these are extraordinary times. Rather than offer you the illusion of free choice, I will take the liberty of choosing for you. If and when the time comes again.”
Everything faded away except for him. The Citadel, the fireball… Twilight… within seconds, they were gone. Everything, save a small greenish light in the darkness.
“I do apologize for what must seem to you an arbitrary imposition, Mr Baxter, I trust it will all make sense in the course of… well, I am really not at liberty to say.”
The greenish light disappeared, and all that was left was blackness with a door-sized area of white.
“In the meantime, this is where I get off.”
The G-Colt straightened his tie and stepped into the light, leaving me in the lonely blackness until I was needed again.